We need to listen to Elon Musk

Focusing the 100-millimeter Mastcam [detail] 

Elon on the Future of Humanity
[Via Rands in Repose]

Via Aeon:

‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’

#

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 I agree with him. Humanity will not survive if we remain on Earth. If we move off of it, and inhabit the Solar System, we actually could not only save huanity.

We could save all life  on Earth.

Bill Clinton’s book recommendations need to be read

 Black Ants Fighting taken using Samsung Galaxy S2 Camera + Macro Lens

Bill Clinton: Two books you should read – Global Public Square – 
[Via CNN.com Blogs]

Mr. President, we usually have an end segment where I recommend a book of the week. We are blowing it out all for you, so I’m giving you the last word, which is what book would you recommend? You’re a voracious reader. If you were to tell our readers, what should they read?

If you’ll give me two.

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No matter what you thinnk of Bill CLinton, his book recommendations should be read by anyone wishing to understand the world today.

The two books –  Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Ketler; and The Social Conquest of Earth by E.O. Wilson.

Both of these books are very important. Because they help offer insights into how the world is changing. And how the solutions that are being sought are already part of our social instittutions. We just need to grab the opportunities,

They have certainly informed me in my model of authoritarian hierarchy and distributed democracy.

Nice to see a politician seeing the same things.

(h/t Mark Minie)

West Coast climate more affected by ocean than by air

 Malibu Beach, California

Changing Winds Explain Most Pacific Coast Warming 
[Via SFCC]

Changes in winds over the eastern Pacific Ocean explain most of the warming trend along the West Coast of North America in the last century, according to a new analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Similar atmospheric shifts are known to drive fluctuations in Pacific climate over decades in the form of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), a long-recognized pattern of seesawing ocean temperatures. The new research indicates that similar changes in regional pressure and winds can also drive trends in sea surface and coastal air temperatures that extend over a century or more.

This study used independently measured ocean and land-surface air temperature records from 1900 to 2012 to confirm an already well-documented increase of approximately 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius in the northeast Pacific Ocean and nearby land areas. What’s especially interesting and new about this work is that independently measured atmospheric sea level pressures over the past century show that circulation changes account for nearly all of the year to year, decade to decade, and century long surface temperature changes in the northeast Pacific Ocean and West Coast states since 1900.

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A nice discussion from the authors of their research all over the news about West Coast warming. Here is the relevant graph:

ocean

First, you do not see the same sort of temperature trend for West Coast temperatures as seen globally. One of the benefits of living on a coast – the oceans modulate the temperatures. As shown in this paper. This is not new and has been known for some time.

What is new is that almost all of this can be modeled using ocean-driven winds, not by direct impacts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

It has been known for a long time that coastal temperatures have not risen as rapidly an interior temperatures. The question was, was any effect due to direct emissions of greenhouse gases? The model the authors present indicate that West Coast air temperature change fits best with changing wind patterns than with CO2 release.

As the authors state:

This study used independently measured ocean and land-surface air temperature records from 1900 to 2012 to confirm an already well-documented increase of approximately 0.5 to 1 degree Celsius in the northeast Pacific Ocean and nearby land areas. What’s especially interesting and new about this work is that independently measured atmospheric sea level pressures over the past century show that circulation changes account for nearly all of the year to year, decade to decade, and century long surface temperature changes in the northeast Pacific Ocean and West Coast states since 1900.

Changes in winds explain most of the temperature differences, most of which took place before 1940. And the winds are determined by ocean currents and ocean temperatures. 

They make the point that regional variation is not the same as global. While at a global level, we can see changes, at more granular levels, such as regions, other factors can dominate. It is not surprising that being near an ocean can ameliorate temperature changes since this is one reason people like living near oceans – it is not nearly as hot or as cold as living inland.

So, the change in wind patterns explains most of the atmospheric temperature variability for parts of the West Coast. But what is causing the wind patterns to change? As the authors state:

This study shows that atmospheric circulation changes, essentially changes in winds, were the proximate cause for West Coast/NE Pacific temperature changes from 1900 to 2012. If anthropogenic effects were important for NE Pacific / west coast warming from 1900 to 2012, they likely occurred through an indirect circulation pathway that that is not well simulated by current global climate models. The more we understand the regional climate dynamics discussed in this research the better we can understand how they may interact with human-caused climate change, and what the combined effect on the region’s climate may be.

Indirect pathways in ocean circulation  are what we would expect from anthropogenic release of CO2 into the atmosphere. We are not putting the CO2 or heat directly into the ocean. We do know that the ocean is soaking up a lot of atmospheric heat. 90% of the additional heat is being stored in the oceans.

This will likely have an effect on ocean circulation and thus atmospheric properties, but an indirect one rather than the direct effect.

Getting a better idea of the effects on ocean circulation patterns will help inform us a lot, not only at the regional level but at the global.

We really do not have a great idea of all the drivers behind these ocean changes (such as El Nino or the Pacific Decadal Oscillation), although we are gaining a better understanding all the time.The oceans are the greatest heat sink we have but since we do not live there, we do not have as much data as we have with atmospheric data. 

Understanding this as fast as possible will make for better models. That is what science does.

Afghanistan from the inside – a culture in transition and a country with no culture

Afghanistan 

Absurd in Afghanistan
[Via The AmCon » Articles]

Five American troops moved briskly through the streets of Kandahar, their weapons at the ready. It was not yet mid-morning, and things had already broken down. Separated from their convoy, they were following an Afghan prosecutor to the city’s judicial headquarters. Afghanistan is generally not kind to foot patrols or improvisation, and that July morning in 2011 was quickly acquiring an aura of misadventure. Their mission was to kiss the ring of an Afghan judge to obtain the release of a young boy who had been arrested for no other reason than that a police chief found him attractive. Joseph, one of the Americans from that patrol, later explained that it was a uniquely Afghan problem requiring a uniquely American solution: “Begging for a favor while carrying a gun.”

While in police custody, the boy would be dressed in girl’s clothing, made to dance suggestively, and then sexually abused in a ritual practice known as bacha bazi (literally, “playing with boys”). The community had come to the U.S. battalion commander, pleading with him to intervene and secure the boy’s release.

“The commander was a rising star who’d spent months building schools and digging wells to win the loyalty of the village,” Joseph recalls. “He gathered us in a room. Everyone knew the stakes. We were risking our lives. He was risking his career. A firefight on an unauthorized mission in another regiment’s battle space is a quick route to early retirement.” A firefight on a crowded street where the enemies are indistinguishable from civilians would be a quick to route to the front page of the New York Times—and a court-martial.

“This is the tribalism of Afghanistan,” he says. “There is no public consensus on how to act in any situation. Everything is personal. That’s what ‘tribal’ means—it focuses on who is involved: Ask this guy to do you a favor to help you with that guy. Everything is about relationships and demonstrations of power. Who can protect you? Who can pull strings to deliver a favor? Every soldier in Khost and Zhari and Nangahar knows this.”

Joseph—whose full name is being withheld due to his ongoing affiliation with the military—had virtually no combat training prior to his arrival on the streets of Kandahar, but he was more seasoned than most of the soldiers around him. After a classical education at elite schools, his early career on Wall Street was followed by law school, JAG, and then Afghanistan. By the time he arrived, he was in his late 30s—the same age as British novelist Evelyn Waugh when he saw combat in World War II, and every bit as unlikely a soldier. Over an espresso in a Washington, D.C., suburb in the autumn of 2011, I begin a conversation with Joseph that continues off and on for three years, in which he reflects on the military’s helplessness in the face of violence and absurdity, particularly the violence of that July morning at the hands of America’s allies.

“We lacked the confidence even to say, ‘You may not rape little boys.’ All we had to offer was administration and technology, and they sensed this.”

Joseph believes that, in a peculiar way, this parallels America’s institutional system. “We have no consensus either. Nobody can agree on any normative reason to do anything,” he says. “So we default to an institutional structure. Our tribalism is institutional. Afghanistan was an encounter between these two systems. The first lieutenant leading a foot patrol stands square at the pressure point between these two tribal systems: one fluid, personal and violent; the other rigid, impersonal and violent. A quarter mile away from any soldier is a guy in a grape hut who wants to cut his head off. Nine thousand miles away is a guy in an air-conditioned room with video screens contemplating his pension who wants to drop a bomb on the guy in the grape hut.”

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An intriguing discussion. I think it hits some important points – especially about America being in a place where normative behavior is in transition, thus allowing institutional systems to dominate.

We have no consensus because the world is changing too rapidly. America’s historical balance between hierarchical authority and distributed democracy has been put under a lot of stress trying to respond.

Democracy, while often eventually providing the wise solution, usually takes a long time to respond. This has allowed the institutional aspects of authority to dominate. Because authority really only exists by taking actions.

So when we go to a country with no real unifying culture, one where distributed approaches extend so far that authority changes by the minute, we have balance to offer. 

Authority is blind to the complexity of these problems – often sub-nation state in size. Afghanistan is all sub-nation state tribes. It would be a difficult nut to crack even if we did understand  and could bring the balance needed.

Authority wants to fight the old battles, ones it knows how to win, ones involving national governments, laws, justice and culture. That is not going to happen.

These battles will not involve lines on a map.

Because we mostly won that battle. Most nation-states today want to see the benefits of a balanced government,  one with strong authority and democracy. In the early 70s, there were only 40 democracies in the world. By 2000 there wee 120. Roughly 60% of the countries today are democracies. 

Authority wants to keep fighting that battle, a war between nation-states. Distributed democracy sees the problems but keeps talking about possible solutions, not accomplishing any of them.

This is the battle of this generation – seen at all sub-nation state levels, even at the state and local levels here: Finding the balance between the actions of hierarchical authority and the wisdom of distributed democracy.

We are slowly finding it.

 [corrected title. Know I should not write that late at night ;-)

Ebola DNA changes may hold key

 

EBOLA DOCS
from Science – (LEFT TO RIGHT) MAMBU MOMOH; SIMBIRIE JALLOH; PARDIS SABETI; MIKE DUBOSE*

Scientists found the origins of the Ebola outbreak — by tracking its mutations – 
[Via Vox]

One of the big mysteries in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is where the virus came from in the first place — and whether it’s changed in any significant ways. These unanswered questions could be making it more difficult to diagnose the disease and find treatments.

Now scientists are starting to get some answers. In a new paper in Science, researchers reveal that they have sequenced the genomes of Ebola from 78 patients in Sierra Leone who contracted the disease in May and June. Those sequences revealed some 300 mutations specific to this outbreak.

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I wrote about this almost a month ago. There was something different about this outbreak and it might be due to new variants of the virus.

Now we have sequence data that shows this virus outbreak has a new strain(s) involved.

Researchers are also planning to study the mutations to see if any of them are affecting Ebola’s recent behavior. The number of mutations found is completely normal, and it isn’t necessarily the case that they’ll have a big effect. But it’s possible that something intriguing could turn up.

For example, this outbreak has had a higher transmission rate and lower death rate than others, and researchers are curious if any of these mutations are related to that. (Right now, social factors are thought to be the main causes of these two changes.)

Higher transmission rates coupled with lower mortality. That is what has usually been seen with other viral outbreaks in humans. Until there is a balance reached.

The changes are found throughout the genome and by studying them, they have been able to put together a ‘genealogy’  of the virus variants from the first outbreak in 1975.

ebola strains

I expect we will have treatments for this rather rapidly. Now that we have some data.

Tragically, this paper ends in something I have never seen before in a research paper:

In memoriam: Tragically, five co-authors, who contributed greatly to public health and research efforts in Sierra Leone, contracted EVD in the course of their work and lost their battle with the disease before this manuscript could be published. We wish to honor their memory.

Such brave people. Their pictures are at the top.

When a major journal’s needs to not match the scientific community’s

 Rasur des Tages 02.01.09

Who governs science? | Stephen Curry
[Via Occam's corner | The Guardian]

Traditionally, science holds itself to account, primarily through internal systems of peer review. But the recent retraction of two papers on stem-cell research by the journal Nature highlights weaknesses in this self-regulatory framework that scientists need to address

To err is human, so why should science be any different? The frailties of science can be easy to overlook because it remains one of humankinds greatest cultural and intellectual achievements; working hand in hand with technology, it has transformed our understanding of the world and our capacity to shape it. But as any scientist will tell you, the daily grind of research is often laborious and repetitive and regularly punctuated by failure either through error or miscalculation, or when our cherished theories cannot withstand the pitiless exactitude of experiment. What keeps us going are the moments of revelation or insight that every now and then swell the heart and the head with a warm pulse of satisfaction. Those small victories are all the more important because science is an intensely competitive career; the endless struggles for funding or the space to publish in the most acclaimed journals, which have failure rates as high as 80 or 90%, means that there are demons of disappointment crouching in every laboratory.

The human side of science was thrown into harsh relief by news on the 5th of August of the suicide of Japanese stem cell researcher Yoshiki Sasai. Sasai was a senior coauthor on two papers published in January this year by the high-profile journal Nature that reported a remarkable breakthrough: the generation of stem-cells by subjecting mouse cells to mild stresses such as pressure or acidic conditions, a procedure dubbed stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP). But soon after publication the claims made in the papers came under intense scrutiny; there were concerns about reproducibility, a key test of any scientific report, and accusations of image manipulation and plagiarism. By the beginning of April an investigation by the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) where most of the work had been carried out found the lead author Haruko Obokata guilty of misconduct for having manipulated data with the intent to deceive. Sasai was cleared of misconduct but criticised in the investigation report for not properly checking the experimental data. On 2nd July both papers were formally retracted by Nature for reasons of plagiarism. A month later a serious and unfortunate incident became a desperate human tragedy when Sasai took his own life.

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This all has to do with a series of papers on stem cells published by Nature that had to be retracted because apparently they were just wrong.

Nature is a journal presented as without peer for its impact and with a scarcity of pages to ensure that it has the pick of the best science. Getting published in Nearer can get a researcher tenure.

So, there is obviously an incentive to write the perfect Nature paper based on making up the data. Peer review is not supposed to replicate the experiments but to make sure the data presented match the conclusions, that confirmation and other biases have not arisen, that the protocols are ethical, etc.

Add this to Nature’s need to publish provocative papers  – thus increasing the impact factor and justifying its price – and we have a recipe for disaster.

Which appears to have happened here.

Now, scientists are people and they make mistakes. The key of to deal with those mistakes. Science over the last 400 years has determined that open investigations are the best antidote.  Secrecy opens the way for fraud.

This is what separates science from alchemy.

Yet Nature, in response to this incident, has done very little in the open – telling us to trust its processes even as it hides them from view.

So how do we know it is fixed? How can we trust any other paper in Nature if we do not know what it does to prevent being gamed? Is it really trustworthy?

In truth, we don’t. we can’t, and probably not

That is because Nature is a business that needs subscribers. Its incentives for success do not always align with science

Unfortunately, corporate nature of company (in our case NPG) is not about encouraging the openness and improving science. It’s against it! Taking in account recent retractions (6 in half of year), closed access (even decade after publication!), closed flawed peer review, shameless promotion of its impact factor (while everybody knows that IF is a joke), absence of feedback and dialogue with peers… you can see how “frontier of scientific publishing” losing its credibility and trust.

So looking at the reviewer’s comments, to get some idea of how the process failed, would be helpful. But Nature says no and to just trust it.

This might not bode well for Nature’s future. Open access approaches tend to align much better with the needs of researchers. We are seeing a sea change in scientific publishing.

Stonewalling the community may not be the best way to go.

 

Olive Oil and climate change

 Growing Olives

A Mega Drought Is Threatening To Drive Up Olive Oil Prices
[Via ThinkProgress]

Southwest Spain is experiencing its worst drought since record keeping began 150 years ago, and agricultural crops, especially olives, are suffering badly. With climate models and Spanish researchers both predicting that Spain’s droughts will get more intense and more regular than before, this is the second year since 2012 that heat and drought have threatened the country’s trademark olive harvest.

Spain produces around half the world’s olives and is the number one producer of olive oil. The drought has speculators, including forecasting agency Oil World, worried that olive yield could drop up to 40 percent year-over-year in 2014. Olive trees flower and start to bear fruit in the late spring and early summer which was an especially dry time in Spain’s main olive-producing regions this year.

“The drought in Spain and its impact on the olive market is potentially very significant,” Lamine Lahouasnia, head of packaged food at Euromonitor International, told the Wall Street Journal. “If the drought does end up adversely affecting Spanish yields, it is very likely that we’ll see rising consumer prices in 2014.”

European olive oil prices are already up over 30 percent since the beginning of the year, a phenomenon driven by above average temperatures and low precipitation across the Mediterranean olive-growing belt. According to the IPCC, the Mediterranean may be one of the most impacted areas of the world from climate change. Already a hot, semi-arid region, hotter summers and more intense and frequent droughts will threaten water supplies and agricultural production.

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It may sound minor but this will happen more and more.

Climate change will severely disrupt agriculture in many countries. Places that got a lot of water will no longer. Other places will get too much.

We have designed our civilization based on relatively stable climate conditions. With those changing, so too will our civilization. 

Changing the lives of billions.

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