Neil deGrasse Tyson moderating a debate on selling space

From March 2014. We live on the cusp of an amazing age. It will save us all.

Isaac Asimov discussing global warming and the exact way the world needs to be saved – 25 years ago

An amazing speech that could be given today.  Done without notes.

And it recapitulates almost everything I have been focussed on for some time. Talk about walking in the footsteps of giants!

Oncoming global warming. The amazing benefits of the Cold War. The changing aspects of nation states. National security. 

The sticks that are driving cooperation between nation states. And the carrots.

How the Constitution shows us a path forward. How Westward expansion produced a united country, not one with Southern separatists.

It will be about getting into space and beaming power back to Earth.

We now no longer can simply have one nation state fight another. Because what they do affects us all.

We need to figure out how to deal with the effects of humanity that transcend all national boundaries.

It is well worth watching the whole thing. It will be 45 minutes that could make a difference.

The disruption of Health will be distributed

 DNA / Protein function finder from @WellcomeTrust @SangerInstitute @emblebi @YourGenome

[Crossposted at SpreadingScience]

Advances in health IT must be viewed as a whole
[Via O'Reilly Radar]

Reformers in health care claim gigantic disruption on the horizon: devices that track our movements, new treatments through massive data crunching, fluid electronic records that reflect the patient’s status wherever she goes, and even the end of the doctor’s role. But predictions in the area of health IT are singularly detached from the realities of the technical environment that are supposed to make them happen.

To help technologists, clinicians, and the rest of us judge the state of health IT, I’ve released a report titled “The Information Technology Fix for Health: Barriers and Pathways to the Use of Information Technology for Better Health Care.” It offers an overview of each area of innovation to see what’s really happening and what we need to make it progress further and faster.


Health has always been intimately connected with technology, from removing the handle of a drinking well to a handheld ultrasound wand.

Dealing with human health is probably the most complex system of endeavor mankind us currently trying to solve. Old, authoritarian, top-down approaches are giving way to newer, distributed, bottom-up paradigms.

And new digital tools are driving this.

Often we can only solve health problems because of the technological tools we have access to.

But healthcare has been slow to activate the greatest impacts of the digital revolution – to connect people and communities in ways to solve very complex problems. Healthcare’s natural attraction to the status quo for many medical needs– after all, if a doctor makes a mistake, people can die – means that therapeutic benefit often has to be shown BEFORE anything changes.

Patient healthcare data and its mining does not easily fit this paradigm. Authoritarian approaches stemming from the  medical edifice we all face still drives almost all our health concerns. So change is slow.

But it is coming. Faster than many of the authoritarian processes can deal with.

This has not stopped people from doing the mining themselves. From places like 23andme, patientslikeme to crowdfunding projects, individuals are now taking much greater control of their health data.

And finding out all sorts of interesting things.

Often without any form of mediator, because they can.

(It reminds me of the battle I was part of almost 20 years ago. We needed to connect to the internet because it was becoming critical in order to do our biomedical research. The IT department was very reluctant and stonewalled, due to fear of disrupting things. We simply said we could connect to the internet without needing them. Our IT needs had become decentralized , distributed, and we could simply dial-up without needing the IT department at all. So we did.)

Medicine is becoming a more distributed system, decentralizing access and the practice of medicine. It is, in many way, at right angles and in conflict with the authoritarian processes we find in medicine today.

This holds tremendous opportunity to revolutionize what we know about medicine. But with tremendously disruptive effects on the status quo.

There will be real battles here but the conflict between the old, authoritarian system and the new, distributed system will find a balance which eventually helps us all.

Because it has real benefits. And it cannot really be stopped anyway.

The more ignorant the American, the more they want to send the military into Ukraine

The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene
[Via Washington Post] 

Since Russian troops first entered the Crimean peninsula in early March, a series of media polling outlets have asked Americans how they want the U.S. to respond to the ongoing situation.  Although two-thirds of Americans have reported following the situation at least “somewhat closely,” most Americans actually know very little about events on the ground — or even where the ground is.


They surveyed over 2000 people. They asked them to find Ukraine on a map and to indicate whether the US military should intervene against Russia.

Their results:

The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

The more ignorant, the more they wanted to use force.

Here is the map, red if they were close to where Ukraine to blue if they were way off:


Only 16% of Americans knew where Ukraine was. Fifty percent were over 1800 miles off.

Even the demographics are depressing. Members of military households were no more likely to know where Ukraine was than non-military, Seventy-seven percent of college graduates failed to find Ukraine.

Both Republicans and Democrats were similarly ignorant. Younger people did slightly better than older but not much better.

And how does this correlate with their attitudes regarding military action?:

However, the further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95 percent  confidence level.


Like something from “The Andromedra Strain”, our sewer pipes are being dissolved by microbes

Concrete tubes 

Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers | 
[Via Gizmodo Australia]

Underground in places nobody likes to look, bacteria are doing terrible things to our sewage pipes. The concrete pipes that carry our waste are literally dissolving away, forcing engineers into a messy, expensive battle against tiny microbes.

“The veins of our cities are in serious trouble, and they’re in serious trouble because of corrosion, and this corrosion has been unanticipated and it’s accelerating,” said Mark Hernandez at a symposium on the microbiology of the built environment in Washington DC yesterday. Hernandez is a civil engineer, but he’s meeting with microbiologists because this problem is bacterial. Essentially, it’s an infection of the nation’s sewage system.


Now this could really bring us down- our underground sewer pipes simply dissolving. It makes sense. 

Some bacteria turn sewage into hydrogen sulfide. Others turn the hydrogen sulfide int sulfuric acid, which dissolves the concrete.

In The Andromeda Strain, the foreign organisms ate through plastic. Here we have normal organisms eating through concrete.

Hope we find a solution that works.

Personal genomics solves a genetic mystery

 chromosome I

Three grievous losses for St. Charles County couple, all blamed on genetics 
[Via : Lifestyles]

Three times Laura and Rob Sheppard experienced inexplicable and unimaginable loss. All three of their daughters were born with the same lethal problems, including under-developed brains. All three babies died shortly after being born. Each time, Laura Sheppard looked to her daughters’ MRIs to understand what happened to their brain development. “I needed to see, I needed to understand,” said Sheppard, a St. Charles County resident who works in pharmaceutical research and development. She described herself as a scientific person. “I find comfort in cold hard facts.”

But nothing could explain what caused their children to be born with such a host of problems. Laura Sheppard worried that it was something she had done or was exposed to.

“‘What did you do?’ That’s all I could remember thinking,” she said.


Thanks to new technologies, this is how doctor’s can now comfort parents getting the devastating news about why their children died, As Dr. Cole told Laura Shepard:

I have a lot of really smart people who work here, and I will work for years to try to figure out what happened.

And he did. Only it did not take as long or cost as much as it would have just a few years ago.

While this was not easy to accomplish, the low cost of getting genomic information, coupled with the 6 personal genomes they had from one family, helped them identify the problem.

This was an entirely new human gene defect, one that would have been very, very hard to find by searching the standard databases of diseases.

And it offers real hope for the parents to attempt to have further  children. The genetic defects can be picked up long before brain development stops. In fact, advances from in vitro fertilization techniques might allow them to only select embryos which do not have the defect.

And, in what I think will be a continuing trend, the parents are not hiding behind anonymity but are coming forward to tell their story. As Laura Shepard said:

Through their [the Shepard's daughters] lives they have touched and changed more people than their deaths ever will.

Congress wants us dependent on Russian rockets by cutting commercial space projects

Expedition 39 Launch (201403260005HQ) 

Space debate: Bolden vs. House Space Committee |
[Via  The Space Reporter]

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden testified Thursday before the House Space Science Committee, regarding NASA’s 2015 budget request.

During his testimony, Bolden argued for “the critical need for this nation in space.” He stated that granting what NASA has requested for the next year would aid in keeping a program on track that supports American companies developing spaceships to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Currently, American astronauts have been hitching expensive rides aboard Russian spacecrafts.


So, in order to keep the cash going for the Orion project, they want to cut the commercial space program, the only real hope to provide American access to the ISS.

And they cannot understand why the administration blames Congress for us being dependent on paying the Russians for access to space.The inability to understand cause and effect is telling.

Why in the world are we nickel and diming NASA to death, making all its efforts subject to such stupid political games? Yet we are paying billions for military hardware the military does not even want?

Because we keep electing so many idiots and anti-science representatives? Soundslike a reasonable hypothesis.

Creationists doing what they do best – whining

Visions of Jupiter 

Creationism Is Not Being Ignored On ‘Cosmos’ — It’s Actually The Focus
[Via | ThinkProgress]

Danny Faulkner, a “scientist” working for the same group that runs Kentucky’s creation museum was complaining last week that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey doesn’t address creationism.

From Mashable: Faulkner claimed the 13-episode series has a distinct “evolutionary bias,” and agreed with Mefferd’s concern that Cosmos doesn’t even present creationism as an alternative theory. “That was struck in the first episode where [Tyson] talked about science — how everything’s up for discussion, it’s all on the table — and I thought to myself, ‘No, consideration of special creation is definitely not open for discussion’,” he said.


It was hard enough to get Fox to put this program on. That takes too much effort for the creationists who can only complain about it in their own communities. 


We destroy ourselves when we lose the ability to support scientific research

 Lab Bench

World’s Oldest Direct Measure Of Atmospheric CO2 May Lose Its Funding
[Via Think Progress]

The oldest and most well-known direct measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide is in danger of losing its funding, according to USA Today.

The Keeling Curve is run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, and was started by scientist Charles David Keeling in 1958. Since then it’s grown from a single measurement taken near the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii to 13 different measuring sites spread across the globe. It’s the longest-running record of direct instrumental readings of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Other records trace back hundreds of thousands of years, but rely on indirect measurements using data from ice cores and the like.


How a once proud nation destroys itself – refusing to provide needed support for scientific research. The selfishness of a decaying society, its inward turning, has historically heralded it coming collapse.

The stupid and frankly worthless budget battles of the last few years have been devastating to our ability to support basic scientific research. Not only is the scientific infrastructure being tremendously damaged, as seen here, but we ae destroying the seed corn of American innovation – research scientists.

We are spending less on research than we did 13 years ago. We account for only 45% of the global biomedical research budget, down from over 50% just 7 years ago. Two-thirds of research scientists are receiving less money than they were in 2010. We have lost reagents that cannot be replaced and had to euthanize animals that took years and millions to produce.

A new brain drain may be in the offing, as about 20% of American researchers say they contemplate moving elsewhere to continue their work.

One great thing about America in the past has been its ability to reverse this trend.

Unfortunately, I do not see anything like that happening yet. One side would rather toss the baby out with the bath water. All to the detriment of us all.


Heat vision eyewear will be so cool

 Contact Lens 2

Thermal vision: Graphene light detector first to span infrared spectrum
[Via Eureka! Science News - Popular science news]

The first room-temperature light detector that can sense the full infrared spectrum has the potential to put heat vision technology into a contact lens.


This is awesome technology - especially being able to do it at room temperature.

Not only could we see things in the dark, but it would allow doctors to see blood flow much easier.

Just think about a pair of glasses which could be switched on or off to allow infrared vision? Or even contacts?

We shall see where this goes.

Using chickens to track human migration in the Pacific


Chicken bones tell true story of Pacific migration
[Via Eureka! Science News - Popular science news]

Did the Polynesians beat Columbus to South America? Not according to the tale of migration uncovered by analysis of ancient DNA from chicken bones recovered in archaeological digs across the Pacific.


Cool. They found a specific genetic marker for the chickens that the Polynesians took from island to island. One not found in European populations.

So they were able to show that chicken bones found in South American were derived from European chickens and not those of  Pacific Islanders.

But the coolest thing is that some populations of chickens on isolated Pacific Islands maintain the Polynesian marker, not the European one.

So this diversity might be used to help our current breeds which suffer from too much in-breeeding.

Would we have developed electrical power lines if we could see in the UV like many animals?

power to the people!

Animals Avoid Power Lines Because of Frightening UV Sparks
[Via D-brief]

Researchers know that high-voltage power lines have some strange influence on animals. Creatures from reindeer to elephants to birds tend to avoid the areas around power lines. This was mysterious because the structures seem passive and simple to walk or fly past.

However, scientists now say this may be because power lines emit ultraviolet light, invisible to human eyes, that appears as frightening flashes to animals that can perceive ultraviolet light.

This paper is the first to offer a simple explanation for the power line-avoidance behavior. If true, the theory could explain fragmentation of wild habitats.


Nice explanation. And it helps support why these power lines are helping create fragmentation of local animal populations.

The herds avoid the lines, which now act as physical barriers like mountain ranges, to prevent groups from crossing over to other ones.

I wonder if we would have developed a different system if we could see in the UV also?

Could Healthbook change everything, once again?

Blood Pressure Monitor 

This is Healthbook, Apple’s major first step into health & fitness tracking
[Via 9to5Mac]

Seven years out from the original iPhone’s introduction, and four years past the iPad’s launch, Apple has found its next market ripe for reinvention: the mobile healthcare and fitness-tracking industry. Apple’s interest in healthcare and fitness tracking will be displayed in an iOS application codenamed Healthbook. I first wrote about Apple’s plans for Healthbook in January, and multiple sources working directly on the initiative’s development have since provided new details and images of Healthbook that provide a clearer view of Apple’s plans for dramatically transforming the mobile healthcare and fitness-tracking space…


Personalized health is one of the changing aspect of medicine. For example, being able to test blood sugar before and after every meal can provide data regarding exactly which foods are a problem or not for the individual.

Now, Apple needs to sell hardware ot really make its profits so I expect the Healthbook to work with products Apple will sell – like a wristband that provides much of the physical data.

I know just having a lot of data showing how my weight fluctuates has helped me understand my metabolism more.

Having more data could tell us each a lot more about ourselves.

Of course, the FDA will have something to say about al this.

Making water flow uphill


The Leidenfrost effect
[Via Boing Boing]

From Science Friday, a video by Luke Groskin about something amazing that we see whenever we cook, but rarely think about.

In the Leidenfrost Effect, a water droplet will float on a layer of its own vapor if heated to a certain temperature. This common cooking phenomenon takes center stage in a series of playful experiments by physicists at England’s University of Bath, who discovered new and fun means to manipulate the movement of water.

Really cool. They could make water droplets move in whatever direction they wanted. 
How if there were only a practical use for this.

$1000 genome sequence actualy costs $15,000 and misses perhaps 20% of known inherited disease genes

Illumina MiSeq 

Clinical Whole Genome Sequencing: Not Quite Ready for Prime Time?
[Via DNA Science Blog]

When I posted “Why I Don’t Want to Know My Genome Sequence here in November 2012, I got a lot of grief. Still do.

Now researchers at Stanford University have put whole genome sequencing (WGS) of genetically healthy folks to a limited but telling test, and the results appear in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association. (My version’s at Medscape.)

I can’t improve on the clear and compelling language of the JAMA article:

“In this exploratory study of 12 volunteer adults, the use of WGS was associated with incomplete coverage of inherited disease genes, low reproducibility of genetic variation with the highest potential clinical effects, and uncertainty about clinically reportable WGS findings.”

I’m not surprised. DNA science, any science, is by nature uncertain.


One of the reasons we are not yet to the point of sequencing everyone’s genome is not due to the ability to generate the sequence data.

It comes from assembling the individual DNA sequences of each patient and annotating just what genes are there, in what forms and doing what.

This is what adds so much cost to getting a detailed genome report for each patient.

We will get there. It’ll just take a little more time.


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