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Mon, 23 Jan 2017
The World for People who Think

Science & Technology

Ice Cube

Skeptical climate scientists coming in from the cold

In the world of climate science, the skeptics are coming in from the cold.

Researchers who see global warming as something less than a planet-ending calamity believe the incoming Trump administration may allow their views to be developed and heard. This didn't happen under the Obama administration, which denied that a debate even existed. Now, some scientists say, a more inclusive approach - and the billions of federal dollars that might support it - could be in the offing.

"Here's to hoping the Age of Trump will herald the demise of climate change dogma, and acceptance of a broader range of perspectives in climate science and our policy options," Georgia Tech scientist Judith Curry wrote this month at her popular Climate Etc. blog.


Scientists unlock the secret medicinal toolbox of plants

© Krivosheev Vitaly/Shutterstock.
Using molecular movie technology, scientists have confirmed for the first time that a cluster of enzymes discovered unlock a plant's secret medicinal toolbox.

The metabolic activities of higher organisms are highly coordinated. At the cellular level, compartmentalization into organelles and substructures thereof optimizes the concentration of substrates targeted by enzymes.

Metabolons are temporary structural-functional complexes formed between sequential enzymes of a metabolic pathway. They increase the efficiency of the metabolic pathways by channelling substrates between the enzymes.

The discovery has been hailed as a "milestone," and the renowned journal Science called it "a watershed in metabolon research." The paper, featured in a recent issue of Science, shows how plants activate complex mechanisms in concert to respond so efficiently to challenges in their environment.

Microscope 2

Experimental brain cancer treatment injects 'biological assassin' cells into brain that 'seek and destroy' cancerous cells

© AP Photo/ Wong Maye-E, File
An experimental brain-cancer treatment successfully eliminated tumors in a man's brain, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The treatment, which involves injecting cancer-killing cells into the part of the brain that produces spinal fluid, has been called 'striking' and 'remarkable' by neurosurgeons in early-stage testing.

50-year-old Richard Grady was diagnosed with a brain tumor known as a glioblastoma, or GBM tumor. The American Brain Tumor Association describes GBM tumors as "usually highly malignant," "[growing] rapidly," and "difficult to treat." Rare Disease Report writes that GBM tumors develop rapidly, and that the life expectancy for patients who develop a GBM tumor is 12 months, even with treatment. Grady received the typical treatment of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, but it proved ineffective and his cancer returned within six months.

Grady was then enrolled in a clinical trial which experimented with CAR-T cell therapy, a treatment technique in which immune cells known as T-cells are modified in a lab to become "biological assassins" that seek and destroy cancerous cells. CAR-T therapy is usually used to treat bloodborne cancers, but doctors at City of Hope cancer center in Duarte, California, believe it may also be effective against solid tumors.


NASA's Near-Earth Object hunting mission spots a Comet and a body that's 'either a Comet or an asteroid'

On Thursday, NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (Neowise) mission announced the discovery of two objects — one of which is a comet while the other is a mysterious object that seems to straddle the line between a comet and an asteroid.

The comet, C/2016 U1 NEOWISE, made its closest approach to Earth on Dec. 12, when it flew by at a distance of 0.71 AUs (1 AU, or the mean distance between Earth and the Sun, is roughly 93 million miles). As it nears the sun, there is "a good chance" that it might be seen with a pair of binoculars next week, although it's hard to be certain, given the unpredictable nature of a comet's brightness.

"As seen from the northern hemisphere during the first week of 2017, comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE will be in the southeastern sky shortly before dawn," NASA said in a statement. "It is moving farther south each day and it will reach its closest point to the sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, on Jan. 14, before heading back out to the outer reaches of the solar system for an orbit lasting thousands of years. While it will be visible to skywatchers at Earth, it is not considered a threat to our planet."

The nature of the other object, named 2016 WF9, is less clear. Scientists at NASA believe that given its 4.9-year-orbit — which, at its closest approach on Feb. 25, will bring it to a distance of roughly 32 million miles from Earth — it can have multiple possible origins. It may once have been a comet, or it may be a dark asteroid that has strayed from the asteroid belt.

Monkey Wrench

Dr. Jim Kozubek warns that gene editing could wipe out future generations of geniuses

© The AntiMedia
While the development of new genome-editing technology that could one day ensure that children do not inherit unwanted diseases and disorder sounds like a magnificent breakthrough, one scientist is warning that the latest technology runs the risk of eliminating future geniuses like Thomas Edison and Stephen Hawking.

According to Dr. Jim Kozubek, author of Modern Prometheus, eliminating conditions such as depression, autism, schizophrenia or Asperger's through the new CRISPR-Cas9 human genome editing technology runs the risk of seeing future generations of geniuses wiped out.

Express reports:
Dr Kozubek said a world without depression, autism, schizophrenia or Asperger's might also mean one without the likes of playwright Tennessee Williams, as figures show that writers are ten times more like to suffer from bipolar than the general population and poets are 40 times more likely to be diagnosed with it.

Dr Kozubek said: "Thomas Edison was 'addled' and kicked out of school. Tennessee Williams, as a teenager on the boulevards of Paris felt afraid of 'the process of thought' and came within 'a hairsbreadth of going quite mad'.

Comment: While gene editing is 'set to revolutionize how we investigate and treat the root causes of genetic disease' there are concerns about the 'other applications' of this type of technology: The overlooked threats of gene editing
Perhaps no technology yet has been poised to change the world so profoundly. All life on Earth, every living organism, now stands the possibility of potentially being "edited" on the most basic genetic level, enhancing or degrading it, but forever changing it.

Gene editing or "gene therapy" performed on children or adults changes the genetic makeup of targeted cells after which and upon dividing, impart this new genetic material on each subsequent new cell. This is why treatments for diseases using gene therapy often are successful with only a single shot. The "treatment" self-replicates perpetually within the patient's body. Everything from leukemia to congenial genetic defects have been overcome in clinical trials using this method.

The Biggest Threats: The Jab and Slow Kill

Talk of gene editing usually revolves around its use to treat diseases and produce super-crops and livestock to "save the world." But as history has shown us, any technology is but a double-edged sword. Whatever good it is capable of, it is proportionally capable of just as much bad.

The first and foremost danger of human gene editing in particular is its use in weaponized vaccines. Such fears are founded upon what was revealed by the United Nations during the apartheid government in South Africa where a government program named "Project Coast" actually endeavored to produce vaccines that were race-specific in hopes of sterilizing or killing off its black population...

Another danger is "slow kill." This would be the process of using gene editing to affect individuals directly or through a genetically modified food supply subtly, infecting or killing off targeted demographic groups over a longer period of time. The advantage of this method would be the ambiguity surrounding what was causing upticks in "cancer" and other maladies brought on by degraded immune systems and overall health.

Fireball 2

Comet 45P to make New Year's Eve Northern Hemisphere appearance

Even if you're not a fan of New Year's Eve fireworks, you'll have another reason to look to the skies Saturday. NASA says that as we ring in the new year, a comet will near the moon and be visible to those looking west.

But here's the catch — you'll need a pair of binoculars to see it. NASA says comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, named for the astronomers who discovered it in 1948, takes 5.25 years to complete its orbit.This year, it was first visible on the low western horizon on Dec. 15. On New Year's Eve, it will appear in the sky right near the moon.
The comet will be observable from the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, and here's an easy way to check if it will be visible in your location on New Year's — go to TheSkyLive.com. It will reach its perihelion — the point of orbit when an object is closest to the sun — on New Year's Day, making its orbit around the sun and disappearing from visibility from Earth. It will be viewable, and reach its maximum brightness, once it swings back around the sun in 2017.


Gravitational waves now offer 'a new window for astronomy' - the 'Breakthrough of the year'

© Gary Cameron / Reuters
Dr. Kip Thorne of Caltech
From celebrity deaths to presidential politics, 2016 left many feeling like they have a black hole in their chest. But Shaon Ghosh, a University of Wisconsin postdoctoral researcher, tells RT how this year's top scientific discovery truly changed how we see the universe.

Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted that gravitational waves would one day be detected from Earth, when he published his theory of general relativity in 1915. Then in February 2016, physicists using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) did just that. Science magazine has dubbed their work the "breakthrough of the year."

Airplane Paper

Uber plans self-flying drone taxis to beat city traffic

The Ehang 184, a passenger drone
If you summon an Uber in 10 years' time, you will probably get a car that drives itself. But then again, you may not be travelling in a car at all.

The taxi-hailing app is working on technology that would allow airborne passenger drones to fly its users short distances around cities, it has emerged, raising the prospect of a future in which skylines are dotted with Uber aircraft shuttling commuters back and forth.

Jeff Holden, Uber's head of product, told technology website Recode that the company is researching "vertical take off and landing" (VTOL) technology. Instead of the helicopter-style rotor blade drones, VTOL aircraft have fixed wings like planes, enabling them to fly silently, while taking off and landing vertically.


Scott Adams' climate science challenge

Scott Adams, author of the famous Dilbert Cartoon, has challenged readers to find a qualified scientist who thinks climate models do a good job of predicting the future.

The Climate Science Challenge
I keep hearing people say that 97% of climate scientists are on the same side of the issue. Critics point out that the number is inflated, but we don't know by how much. Persuasion-wise, the "first offer" of 97% is so close to 100% that our minds assume the real number is very high even if not exactly 97%.

That's good persuasion. Trump uses this method all the time. The 97% anchor is so strong that it is hard to hear anything else after that. Even the people who think the number is bogus probably think the real figure is north of 90%.

But is it? I have no idea.

So today's challenge is to find a working scientist or PhD in some climate-related field who will agree with the idea that the climate science models do a good job of predicting the future.

Notice I am avoiding the question of the measurements. That's a separate question. For this challenge, don't let your scientist conflate the measurements or the basic science of CO2 with the projections. Just ask the scientist to offer an opinion on the credibility of the models only.

Remind your scientist that as far as you know there has never been a multi-year, multi-variable, complicated model of any type that predicted anything with useful accuracy. Case in point: The experts and their models said Trump had no realistic chance of winning.

Your scientist will fight like a cornered animal to conflate the credibility of the measurements and the basic science of CO2 with the credibility of the projection models. Don't let that happen. Make your scientist tell you that complicated multi-variable projections models that span years are credible. Or not.

Then report back to me in the comments here or on Twitter at @ScottAdamsSays.

This question is a subset of the more interesting question of how non-scientists can judge the credibility of scientists or their critics. My best guess is that professional scientists will say that complicated prediction models with lots of variables are not credible. Ever. So my prediction is that the number of scientists who ***fully*** buy into climate science predictions is closer to zero than 97%.

But I'm willing to be proved wrong. I kind of like it when that happens. So prove me wrong.

Arrow Up

Cooperation: NASA joins Russian investigation into accident involving Progress cargo spaceship

A Russian Progress resupply vehicle
The US space agency has joined Russia's investigation into the accident involving the Progress M-04 cargo spaceship, which was lost just six minutes after launch on December 1, Russian media report.

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, decided to seek NASA's assistance due to the complexity of the issue, Izvestia daily reports. The investigation has been underway for over a month, but reportedly has not yielded any definitive answers that would explain the mishap.

The accident occurred 382 seconds into the flight at an altitude of 190 kilometers (118 miles) over a rocky unpopulated area in the Russian Republic of Tyva. Most of the wreckage burned up in the atmosphere, although some of the fragments landed some 60-70 kilometers west of Tyva's capital city, Kyzyl.