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Fri, 30 Oct 2020
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How Covid deaths are over-counted

covid suits

Who you gonna call? Virus busters
The system for counting deaths from Covid is not working properly and we are over-counting Covid deaths. This can be fixed, easily, by improving cross-checking and retesting all alleged positive PCR test results. Accurate data is a basic prerequisite for good policy choices. The remedial steps needed are simple and relatively inexpensive. Central government should mandate them to be done immediately.

When trying to understand the impact of increased testing on case numbers we look to the percentage of tests reported as positive. In a similar way, it is important to double check other data points against each other, as percentages, to truly understand how the epidemic is progressing. Using this approach, it appears that we are over-counting deaths because there are not enough severely sick people from Covid to account for them. In other words, there are proportionately more Covid deaths per case and per hospital admission since the Summer. This paper explains this phenomenon and calls for proper scientific cross-checking to be instituted before a Covid outbreak is declared.

Contradictions in the data

The ONS carry out random testing of the population to estimate how many people have Covid in the UK each week. A sample of people are randomly tested and then modelling is used to predict what proportion of the population test positive at that time. This estimate includes all 'asymptomatic cases' so should be higher than the number that eventually come forward with symptoms and are diagnosed as true positive cases. (Whether asymptomatic cases can be considered 'true' infections is a separate matter entirely, which will not be discussed here.)


Finnish daycares built a 'forest floor', and it changed children's immune systems for the better

child play dirt immune system
© Halfpoint Images/Getty Images
Playing through the greenery and litter of a mini forest's undergrowth for just one month may be enough to change a child's immune system, according to a small new experiment.

When daycare workers in Finland rolled out a lawn, planted forest undergrowth such as dwarf heather and blueberries, and allowed children to care for crops in planter boxes, the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of young kids appeared healthier in a very short space of time.

Compared to other city kids who play in standard urban daycares with yards of pavement, tile and gravel, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds at these greened-up daycare centres in Finland showed increased T-cells and other important immune markers in their blood within 28 days.

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MindMatters: The Weird World of Color Perception and Adaptation: Interview with Dr. Katie Tregillus

Everyone likes a good optical illusion, but fewer understand them. Today we interview Katie Tregillus PhD about her research on color perception and adaptation. Katie takes us through the strange and complex world of color, from basic physiology up to conscious perception. How can different people looking at the same image 'see' totally different colors? How do colored lenses change our perception of the world of color? And what are some of the craziest visual illusions and perceptual adaptations known in the field today? All this and more today on MindMatters.

Running Time: 01:28:16

Download: MP3 — 80.8 MB

Blue Planet

DNA tracks mysterious Denisovans to Tibetan cave, humans mated with two of their populations

Archaeologists wearing anticontamination gear sampled Baishiya Karst Cave on a winter night.
For today's Buddhist monks, Baishiya Karst Cave, 3200 meters high on the Tibetan Plateau, is holy. For ancient Denisovans, extinct hominins known only from DNA, teeth, and bits of bone found in another cave 2800 kilometers away in Siberia, it was a home. Last year, researchers proposed that a jawbone found long ago in the Tibetan cave was Denisovan, based on its ancient proteins. But archaeologist Dongju Zhang of Lanzhou University and her team wanted more definitive evidence, including DNA, the molecular gold standard. So in December 2018, they began to dig, after promising the monks they would excavate only at night and in winter to avoid disturbing worshippers.

After working from dusk to dawn while temperatures outside plunged to -18°C, then covering traces of their dig every morning, the scientists' persistence paid off. Today in Science, Zhang's team reports the first Denisovan ancient DNA found outside Denisova Cave: mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) gleaned not from fossils, but from the cave sediments themselves. Precise dates show the Denisovans took shelter in the cave 100,000 years and 60,000 years ago, and possibly as recently as 45,000 years ago, when modern humans were flowing into eastern Asia.

Comment: Modern humans may have been in the area for a lot longer: Previously unknown "proto-hominin" species suggests ancestor of humans evolved in Europe not Africa

Comment: See also: Also check out SOTT radio's:


'Weird little molecule' detected on Titan - never been found in any atmosphere before

titan jupiter moon
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho
Cassini's near-infrared view of Titan's lakes
Titan, the already pretty weird moon of Saturn, just got a little bit weirder. Astronomers have detected cyclopropenylidene (C3H2) in its atmosphere - an extremely rare carbon-based molecule that's so reactive, it can only exist on Earth in laboratory conditions.

In fact, it's so rare that it has never before been detected in an atmosphere, in the Solar System or elsewhere. The only other place it can remain stable is the cold void of interstellar space. But it may be a building block for more complex organic molecules that could one day lead to life.

"We think of Titan as a real-life laboratory where we can see similar chemistry to that of ancient Earth when life was taking hold here," said astrobiologist Melissa Trainer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the chief scientists set to investigate the moon in the upcoming Dragonfly mission launching in 2027.


Common mutation leads to 'night owl' sleep disorder discovery

© Illustration by G. Carlo Parico
Cryptochrome is one of four main clock proteins that drive daily biological rhythms. This illustration shows a “pocket” in the clock protein complex where binding of the “tail” of the cryptochrome protein helps regulate the timing of the biological clock.
A new study by researchers at UC Santa Cruz shows how a genetic mutation throws off the timing of the biological clock, causing a common sleep syndrome called delayed sleep phase disorder.

People with this condition are unable to fall asleep until late at night (often after 2 a.m.) and have difficulty getting up in the morning. In 2017, scientists discovered a surprisingly common mutation that causes this sleep disorder by altering a key component of the biological clock that maintains the body's daily rhythms. The new findings, published October 26 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal the molecular mechanisms involved and point the way toward potential treatments.

"This mutation has dramatic effects on people's sleep patterns, so it's exciting to identify a concrete mechanism in the biological clock that links the biochemistry of this protein to the control of human sleep behavior," said corresponding author Carrie Partch, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz.

Daily cycles in virtually every aspect of our physiology are driven by cyclical interactions of clock proteins in our cells. Genetic variations that change the clock proteins can alter the timing of the clock and cause sleep phase disorders. A shortened clock cycle causes people to go to sleep and wake up earlier than normal (the "morning lark" effect), while a longer clock cycle makes people stay up late and sleep in (the "night owl" effect).


Sprites and elves discovered in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno spacecraft has detected brief, powerful flashes of ultraviolet light in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. They are believed to be the Jovian counterparts of sprites and elves on Earth — electric phenomena in the atmosphere that can sometimes be seen high above powerful lightning discharges.
Sprites and Elves on Io
© NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI
A sprite — a bright, brief, flash — is circled in yellow in this ultraviolet image of Jupiter's south pole from NASA's Juno spacecraft. The UV image also captures the auroral ring around the pole, as well as the magnetic "footprint" of the moon Io.
Scientists found the flashes in data from Juno's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph, Rohini Giles (Southwest Research Institute) told the virtual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) on October 27th. Between August 2016 and July 2020, Juno saw a total of 11 UV flashes.

They can't be lightning bolts themselves, explains Giles. "Jupiter's atmosphere is very opaque to ultraviolet radiation, so the flashes must originate much higher" than the planet's ammonium-rich thunderclouds, she says — probably some 260 kilometers (160 miles) above the 1-bar pressure level in the atmosphere.

Each flash lasts for just a few milliseconds and looks like a point source to Juno, which means the source cannot be larger than 1,000 kilometers across or so. The flashes occur above turbulent regions in the atmosphere known to host thunderstorms.


'Super White' paint that reflects 95.5% of sunlight created

white paint
© Caspar Benson/Getty Images
Scientists have created a super white paint that is the yin to Vantablack's yang.

While ultra black materials can today absorb more than 99.96 percent of sunlight, this new super white coat can reflect 95.5 percent of all the photons that hit it.

Instead of warming up under direct light, objects painted with this new acrylic material can remain cooler than their surrounding temperature even under the Sun, which could allow for a new energy-efficient way to control temperature inside buildings.

Other "heat rejecting paints" we currently have can only reflect 80 to 90 percent of sunlight and cannot achieve lower-than-ambient temperatures.

Comment: See also:


3% of Starlink satellites have failed so far

starlink satellite
SpaceX has drawn plenty of praise and criticism with the creation of Starlink, a constellation that will one-day provide broadband internet access to the entire world. To date, the company has launched over 800 satellites and (as of this summer) is producing them at a rate of about 120 a month. There are even plans to have a constellation of 42,000 satellites in orbit before the decade is out.

However, there have been some problems along the way as well. Aside from the usual concerns about light pollution and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), there is also the rate of failure these satellites have experienced. Specifically, about 3% of its satellites have proven to be unresponsive and are no longer maneuvering in orbit - which could prove hazardous to other satellites and spacecraft in orbit.

In order to prevent collisions in orbit, SpaceX equips its satellites with krypton Hall-effect thrusters (ion engines) to raise their orbit, maneuver in space, and deorbit at the end of their lives. However, according to two recent notices SpaceX issued to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over the summer (mid-May and late-June), several of their satellites have lost manoeuvring capability since they were deployed.

Comment: Earth's magnetic field and the conditions in the atmosphere are evidently changing, and there's been a significant uptick in space rocks, and so one wonders what impact this will have on orbiting objects:

Fireball 2

'Fireball' meteorite contains pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds

The meteorite fragment that fell on Strawberry Lake which contains pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds
© Field Museum
The meteorite fragment that fell on Strawberry Lake which contains pristine extraterrestrial organic compounds.
On the night of January 16, 2018, a fireball meteor streaked across the sky over the Midwest and Ontario before landing on a frozen lake in Michigan. Scientists used weather radar to find where the pieces landed and meteorite hunters were able to collect the meteorite quickly, before its chemical makeup got changed by exposure to liquid water. And, as a new paper in Meteoritics & Planetary Science shows, that gave scientists a glimpse of what space rocks are like when they're still in outer space — including a look at pristine organic compounds that could tell us about the origins of life.

"This meteorite is special because it fell onto a frozen lake and was recovered quickly. It was very pristine. We could see the minerals weren't much altered and later found that it contained a rich inventory of extraterrestrial organic compounds," says Philipp Heck, a curator at the Field Museum, associate professor at the University of Chicago, and lead author of the new paper. "These kinds of organic compounds were likely delivered to the early Earth by meteorites and might have contributed to the ingredients of life."

Comment: Michigan Meteor Event: Fireball Numbers Increased Again in 2017