Notes for Philcon “Recent Science Headlines” panel
Links for various topics I prepared for the panel
- Phase down (not phase out) of fossil fuels including coal – thanks, Australia (and China and India).
- Developing countries say they need fossil fuels to help their people
- Sinking countries (e. g. the Marshall Islands) point out that this policy can cause their entire nations to cease to be
- Creation of a carbon market (nations can reduce emissions more than their quota and sell the “credit” to another country)
- Poor countries continue to be promised funding that nobody actually supplies (except Scotland)
Mostly promises, little action. See you in Egypt next year.
Climate Change Causes Disasters
Booster shots – we’ve all heard about ‘em.
Treatments coming online!
Spinal Cord Repair!
Astronauts hide in shelters as thousands of debris particles are generated. Russia inexplicably accuses the West of “hypocrisy”.
Example: Boeing/Blue Origin team up for “Orbital Reef”
China, too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiangong_space_station
Toliman searches for extraterrestrial habitable planets
Human beings are not the same thing as monkey cells: no, don’t start taking fenofibrate
Audacy (a site for radio stations’ online presence) reports, “Cholesterol drug cuts COVID infection rate by 70%: study”.
Actually, no, that is not what’s reported.
70% reduction in infection would be incredible, so naturally I read the article. I even read the actual journal paper they refer to.
Bonus points for this being an actual, peer-reviewed, published paper in a real journal, Frontiers in Pharmacology Translational Pharmacology. It just does not say anything about infection in humans. It says that the virus failed to infect monkey cells in culture media by up to 70%.
This is a really interesting paper, and I look forward to future work. This could potentially be a useful treatment.
That does not justify the utterly false headline. Audacy reporter Stephanie Raymond apparently either did not read the paper or did not know what Vero cells are and did not bother to look it up. Certainly she did not interview any of the scientists involved. One wonders if she worked off a press release.
Note: in the subject line I said not to start taking fenofibrate. I of course mean, “Unless it’s prescribed by your doctor, for a valid reason.” I am not a medical doctor and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t start any prescription med unless it is prescribed by a licensed practitioner.
Resurrections in Spain!
According to the Worldometer, 1915 people returned from the dead today (May 25, 2020). Specifically, COVID-19 victims.
I thought this would be the result of a statistical correction, maybe Spain reclassifying a bunch of deaths as being caused by something else, but their News section says nothing about that. My Spanish is very rusty, but their source also doesn’t say such a thing.
I was never that great of a programmer, but surely someone at the Worldometer could have inserted sanity checks for things like the dead rising from the grave. Is Spain threatened by a zombie apocalypse, in addition to the pandemic?
On that same page, they also show that -372 new cases appeared today, and that no one in Spain has recovered from COVID-19 since March 18.
I emailed to let them know about that last anomaly a couple of days ago. No answer so far.
I like the Worldometer’s coronavirus pages and look at them regularly. I have no idea why this slipped through and never got corrected.
No, I don’t think the Thais have cured the Wuhan virus
Did you see that Thai doctors have cured the Novel Coronavirus?
https://www.ibtimes.co.in/cocktail-flu- … and-812699
Don’t hold your breath. They claim to have used anti-HIV drugs. Those are almost all antiretrovirals. Coronavirii are not retroviruses. It seems very unlikely meds that work by inhibiting the enzyme reverse transcriptase would affect members of the Coronaviridae, since the RNA of a coronavirus is not reverse-transcribed into DNA.
Oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu), their third drug, is specific to influenza and again would not be expected to work against a totally different type of virus. I actually found a Chinese study that tested it against the SARS virus (close relative of 2019-nCoV) and found no activity.
The whole media brouhaha is based on … one patient.
I can’t rule it out. I can and do doubt it a lot.
The Washington Post embarrasses itself
I just dashed off an angry letter to the Post about their recent article, UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact. I reproduce my text below.
The above article is apparently a fairly subtle joke that has taken in the Post’s editorial team. Surely you wouldn’t post something so afactual and nonsensical without a disclaimer in a serious “Perspective” demi-editorial? Surely you should at least have had an article by a person competent in some sort of science? I find it hard to believe you were taken in.
On the off-chance you took that … set of words … seriously (I’m eliding my more strident description), may I suggest you consult Professor Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY), or Professor Steven Novella (Yale Med), or someone from the CSI (Center for Skeptical Inquiry)? Massimo in particular as a philosopher and scientist could point out both the factual incorrectness of some of the assertions, and the logical fallacy blatantly present in the phrase, “… but even those skeptics could not completely rule out the possibility that extraterrestrial activity was involved.”
I await your retraction.
The article is a hot mess of nonsense. I’m embarrassed for every newspaper editor, just because their colleagues published this waste of photons.
(Image courtesy Wikipedia user D J Shin)
Gluten sensitivity: is it a thing?
First off, there is most certainly a real medical condition called celiac disease. It involves a measurable immune reaction to foods that contain gluten. Gluten is a protein-starch complex (but often described in non-technical and medical writing as just protein) found in some grass seeds, such as wheat, rye, and barley, but not others like rice and corn. It is not found in any foods other than those made from these specific grains.
Celiac is apparently found in about 1% of the population.
Some medical authorities and lay people also assert the existence of “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity” (NGCS). As you might expect, this describes people who are sensitive to gluten in some way, but not through the (partially) known mechanism of celiac disease. To quote a BBC article by “Doctor Chris” van Tulleken, “Although many people who do not have coeliac disease claim to suffer gut symptoms like bloating and nausea when they eat gluten – and even other things like “brain fog” and tiredness – these have not been linked to any physiological changes that can be measured and hence used to make a clinical description and diagnosis.”
Someone with my background wonders if a claimed syndrome that has such a wide variety of symptoms which correlate to nothing measurable might be a result of pareidolia, the tendency of the human brain to find patterns in noisy data, even when no such pattern is real. Examples of what I have just named “pareidolic diseases” include Morgellon’s Syndrome, chronic Lyme disease, and Candidiasis/Yeast Allergy. They share having relatively common, non-specific symptoms (e. g. fatigue, stomach upset) and not being detectable by any lab tests, even when (as with Lyme disease) there is a well-known, effective test available.
Dr. van Tulleken’s “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” team conducted a study to test the reality of NCGS. The found 60 people, some of whom claimed to experience NGCS, and put them on a gluten-free diet including (experimenter-supplied) gluten-free pasta, but for two weeks (randomly selected?) of the study period, each was given pasta containing gluten instead. The team then analyzed the subjects’ reported symptoms, and also performed lab tests to show inflammation and IgE (antibody) levels. The study was double-blinded, in that neither researchers nor subjects knew in which two week period the subjects were eating gluten until after the study concluded. The subjects acted as their own controls by experiencing both with- and without-gluten diets.
The results: subjects did in fact report feeling fewer gut-related symptoms like bloating during the gluten-free weeks. Variation in other symptoms (e.g. tiredness) was not statistically significant. There was also no significant correlation between gluten-free diet and the lab values being measured.
Dr. van Tulleken does state in the linked BBC article that it’s likely at least some subjects knew which weeks they were eating gluten-containing pasta. And as he concedes, this can easily explain the slight variation in the digestive symptoms.
A weakness he apparently did not realize in his analysis: the two pastas are very clearly made with different recipes. It’s perfectly possible that the gluten-containing pasta that was used has some other difference from the gluten-free one that explains the gut symptomology, perhaps an herb or a preservative that some people are really slightly sensitive to. It’s possible that the gluten-containing pasta just has less fiber (for one possible example), and that the additional fiber in the gluten-free food aided the subjects’ digestion. Dr. van Tulleken doesn’t provide the recipes/brands for the two foods, making it hard to speculate beyond that guess.
Also, the subjects were eating food they selected and purchased themselves, aside from the pasta. Since as far as one can tell from the BBC article they weren’t asked to record their consumption, it wouldn’t be difficult for this dietary variation to randomly cause one group to score higher on some symptoms.
I’m surprised that Dr. van Tulleken did not report whether the self-diagnosed NGCS sufferers showed greater incidence of gut symptoms than the non-diagnosed. If NGCS is real (and not universal in the population) then a difference between NGCS patients and the rest of the subjects would certainly exist.
It is not stated in the article, but I suspect Dr. van Tulleken’s group does not plan to publish these results in a peer-reviewed journal, which seems to me to be disappointing. I’d love to read in more detail about the protocol and results.
As published, the results seem completely compatible with NGCS being a pareidolic disease. They are also consistent with NGCS being a real syndrome, but with only a small effect (at least in the experimental circumstances). Note that with its weak protocol and small sample size (n=60) it isn’t strong evidence for anything.
I suggest that Dr. van Tulleken’s group or someone else repeat the experiment but with the subjects eating identical diets (entirely supplied by the experimenters, ideally, not just gluten-free with the subjects buying their own food). However, each subject would be required to swallow 10 identical capsules per day. For the “control” period the capsules would contain a non-gluten protein. For the “experimental” period, the capsules would contain gluten proteins. That would make it impossible for the subjects to detect which weeks include gluten from the flavor/texture of their food, and also eliminate the possible effect of other ingredients in the two different pasta recipes.
Jimmy Kimmel gets the remarkably-uncoveted “Media Gets It Right” award for his take on vaccination.
Media Getting It Right: Anger at Antivaxxers
There are lots of blogs and columns that take bad science coverage to task. I want to provide balance, so I’m starting a new subcategory here: good science journalism. I think those who put forth the effort and spend the time to get things right deserve some recognition.
Anyone who cares about the truth of things on the Internet knows about Snopes, the site that documents and analyzes urban legends. Today I read an article on Snopes about a mother’s fury at how antivaxxers, with their lies, laziness and lack of a conscience have now very possibly exposed her son Griffin to deadly risk of measles, an almost-totally-preventable disease.
I’m with Jennifer Hibben-White:
If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you.
I blame you.
You have stood on the shoulders of our collective protection for too long. From that high height, we have given you the PRIVILEGE of our protection, for free. And in return, you gave me this week. A week from hell. Wherein I don’t know if my BABY will develop something that has DEATH as a potential outcome.
I appreciate Hibben-White’s reasoned and powerful rage, and I appreciate Barbara and David Mikkelson’s help in spreading the message.
Je suis Charlie
Fox News Fails Chemistry
This is astonishing. I used to be a chemistry teacher, and I would have been embarrassed to have a story this nonsensical turned in by one of my high-school students.
Oxidation is combining with oxygen? Combining with oxygen derived from iron oxide is somehow not oxidation? This reaction will somehow not produce carbon dioxide or any other “pollutant”? Really?
I happen to work for an energy company. There really is “clean coal,” at least in theory. It’s a combination of removing pollutants like sulfur dioxide from the byproducts of combustion (smoke, ash, etc.) with sequestering the produced carbon dioxide so it doesn’t add to the greenhouse effect. Problem is, I just explained it better than Fox’s whole article, in one sentence.
This is what happens when you stop having science journalists and make “general” reporters cover technical stories–they make no sense at all.
The scary thing is that Fox has actually published a worse story on clean energy.