Category Archives: Science/Medicine

Why Atmospheric CO2 Should Be Part of the Weather Report

I don’t necessarily want to associate myself with every word in John’s Buell’s post at Informed Comment, The Politics of the Local Weather Broadcast: Call your Station and Demand News of Climate Crisis, but it inspired me to wonder why it is that the local and national weather news doesn’t include the latest figure on atmospheric carbon dioxide. I’m not a climate scientist, but the overwhelming scientific consensus seems to be that the more CO2 in the air, the more the earth traps heat. That should be of concern to everyone. And the data are not hard to find–such as at CO2.Earth, which reports a current number of 409.95 ppm, which is certainly the highest number in the past 1,000 years.

Mentioning the weekly CO2 number as a routine part of the weather report would not only make the point that weather forecaster think carbon matters, it would sensitize the public to the so-far inexorable rise in a key heat-trapping gas.

This is a international issue, but it’s one of particular salience to South Florida: There’s a pretty simple thermodynamic correlation between atmospheric heat and water temperature. And we know that hurricanes get stronger when they go over warmer water. Higher temperatures also contribute to ice-cap melt, raising sea level. Want to avoid more of this? Time to call or email your local weatherperson?

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Fusion Allegedly Just Five Years Away — BBC

I’ve written before on how fusion power is always coming, never here. About a year and a half ago I posted this:

Fusion Power is Only 15 Years Away, we’re told. I guess that’s progress since in just the last few years people have said its Always 50 Years Away, or maybe Always 30 Years Away, or maybe formely 30 years away, now its more like 50 years away, or maybe just forever 20 years away, or 13 Years Away.

So ten years away is progress, right? Then again three years ago it ten years away so maybe we’re going backwards?

Or maybe we’re looking at the wrong scientific advance here: what we really have is an odd form of time travel?

But comes now the BBC to tell us that according to some startups, maybe fusion power is just five years away, which certainly seems like the frontier is getting closer…or some startups have at least got fusion going on their hype…

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New Math

This octonion math looks very cool. I wish I understood it. Anything that explains quantization in nature has something going for it.

Obligatory Tom Lehrer video:

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The Jerky (Not the Onion)

Study: Eating Beef Jerky Might Be Linked to Manic Episodes in Some People.

Not from the Onion, but I had to check.

a strange pattern began popping up among people diagnosed with mania, a state of hyper excitement, arousal, and delusion frequently followed by periods of severe depression in people who have bipolar disorder. Compared to the control group, people with a manic episode reported eating more cured meats such as beef jerky. Overall, they found that people with a recent history of eating cured meat were three times more likely to be hospitalized for mania, even after adjusting for factors like age or socioeconomic status. The same pattern couldn’t be seen with any other type of food eaten.

As for how jerky could be triggering mania, Yolken suspects it involves the microbial environment, or microbiome, of the gut. In a healthy person, the gut and brain regularly “talk” to one another through hormonal and nerve signals to keep the body regulated, the so-called gut-brain axis. In recent years, researchers have started to find that our gut microbiota is integral to keeping those airwaves clear. But if the gut microbiome is imbalanced (through changes in diet or antibiotics, for instance), that might set off a chain of events that wreaks havoc on both the brain and gut, often through chronic inflammation. This inflammation then might make people more susceptible to developing mental illness, or worsening its symptoms.

And indeed, when Yolken’s team looked at the guts of nitrate-fed rats, they found clear changes in the gut microbiome, in the form of an increase of certain kinds of bacteria, compared to normal rats. Those particular bacteria have previously been associated with behavior and cognition changes in animals. There was also evidence of minute molecular changes in the brain associated with mania in these rats, though Yolken cautioned that the results can’t prove that the gut changes led to the brain changes. They also can’t prove that nitrates are responsible for any similar changes in people.

Jerky is not my thing, but I wonder if the effect extends to cured meats like salami?

And of course the obvious question: Does Trump eat jerky?

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Parody Project

Parody Project’s “Confounds the Sciednce”, says David Brin, is “One of the best pieces of musical political satire I’ve seen in years!“:

Parody Project are prolific. Leaving the science tag, I like What Does the Gun Say?, Where Have all the Statesmen Gone?, The Age that Will Bury Us, and Battle Hymn of the Republic – Modified for Relevance:

There’s lots more where that came from.

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On UMiami Football

The last time UM had a winning football team both the team and the fans behaved badly. They called it ‘swagger’ but it was mostly rudeness. I was embarrassed for all of us.

Now the U’s football team is “relevant” again: UM beat FSU, is undefeated, and justly ranked 3rd in the College Football Playoff Rankings. And the U has the Turnover Chain (soon to be a beer near you).

So far at least the swagger has been cleaner; the Turnover Chain is a team celebration, not so much in the face of another team or its fans.

Of course, even if “the U is back” it’s far from cemented in its new status. The team has yet to equal its past domination, and remains far from a national championship, although that dream seems less ridiculous than it did two weeks ago. Until then, however, the team’s, and the fans’, ability to avoid the ‘swagger’ excesses of yore remains to be tested.

Meanwhile, the campus and the county are going nuts in a fun way even if the rest of the country hates us. Even UM President Julio Frenk gamely tweeted out a video supporting the football team. I like good PR as much as the next guy, but it has to be admitted that the sports media is totally in the tank for UM–presumably because it’s great copy, great visuals, and Miami is much nicer place to visit in November and December than, say, Madison, Wisconsin or Norman, Oklahoma.

Of course, as a world-class authority on public health, President Frenk must also be aware of the human toll that football takes on its players: college football causes many injuries including concussions, and creates a real risk of brain injury even without actual concussions.

Perhaps we’ll get to see President Frenk do a video on that topic in his last week on the job. It probably would be his last week, whether or not he intended it that way.

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