A return to normality, at least as much normality as I can summon up in a post-apocalyptic, Orange-Hitler-as-President kind of world. Some news stories of interest from over the past week:
Other animals have genes for speech — I, of course, love birds. I love attracting birds to my yard, with a small feeder complex outside of our sun room, and trees and bushes to attract birds. Unfortunately, the feeders also attract other critters. Some…Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels…are cute and I don’t mind. Others…Deer Mice…are not wanted guests, particularly if they try to occasionally get into your home! We’ve taken measures to get rid of them, but after reading this study, perhaps I overlooked one method…a simple conversation! According to this research, many mammal species have been found to have the same kind of genes that regulate speech in humans. This includes mice, the focus of this study. Next time a wayward Deer Mouse decides he wants to investigate our house, perhaps a stern discussion will be all that’s needed to convince him to head back outside where he belongs.
Scientists react to election — From Nature, a summary of opinions from a number of scientists on what Trump’s election means for science in the U.S. Some pretty high-minded statements about what Trump should consider as the government science agenda likely becomes realigned. To the ten or so scientists offering their opinions and advice? You’re giving the Trump administration FAR too much credit if you think there’s this much thought that’s going to be placed into their science agenda. Look for far simpler motives (corporate profit, political motivations) than what these experts have outlined.
2016 set to break climate records — 2015 was the hottest year on record. 2016 is almost certainly going to break that record. Perhaps this is why climate change doesn’t get anywhere close to the amount of attention it should be getting? Is it pure boredom? The same old same old story? Indeed, at this stage you can take the title of this paragraph, leave the “2016” blank, and just fill in the current year from her on out, and there’s a good chance you’ll be correct. Despite the lack of “novelty” in stories like this, perhaps the media should focus on how frighteningly commonplace such headlines have now become and what that means for our future.
Beer Pong Bacteria — I wasn’t ever a huge drinker in college. Perhaps I was just being smart. In what has to rank as one of the most “fun” science experiments ever, scientists studied what happens from a sanitary standpoint when people play beer pong. It’s not pretty! As you can imagine, if you bounce a ping-pong ball on a table, it hits the floor on occasion, it’s bouncing from cup to cup after people have been drinking from them…the biodiversity that starts to build up in the cups gets to be a little disgusting. Perhaps that morning-after feeling isn’t all just from the alcohol…
Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya all in one bite — Our vacation in 2015 was to the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’d never been in the Caribbean, and had a lovely cottage that we rented, with our own private beach and ocean access. It was wonderful, and we really enjoyed the privacy, the snorkeling, and the beautiful weather. One thing that was NOT enjoyed…the mosquitoes. OH MY GOD, the mosquitoes. Upon arriving, the Virgin Islands were in a very bad drought, to the point they were shipping in fresh water. We were told that because of the drought, mosquito populations were very low. Somebody forgot to tell the mosquitoes that! I’ve never had so many mosquito bites in my life. In one way we were fortunate…”Chikungunya” disease had swept through the Caribbean the previous year, a new mosquito-borne virus that infected a very high percent of inhabitants across the region. It had largely burned itself out by our vacation, and despite the dozens of bites, none of us were ill. As this story notes, scientists have now found that mosquitoes in North America have the ability to carry THREE tropical viruses…Zika, Dengue Fever, and Chikungunya. For you lucky folks in the southern U.S., central America, or the Caribbean, you could strike the lottery and get sick from all three illnesses, all from a single mosquito bite.
Facebook and Google cutting revenue to “fake” news sites — For anyone on Facebook, it can be rather annoying to see sensationalist “news” stories, often which include propaganda and other material that is anything BUT “news”. During the campaign and after the election, stories were coming out that revealed a shockingly high proportion of the American Public relies on social media as their primary news source. Given the preponderance of fake news (aka, “bullshit”) on Facebook, this week both Google and Facebook have cracked down on fake news sites, greatly reducing advertising revenue to sites that attempt to titillate or serve as click-bait for fake news. Fake news didn’t decide the election (no, I’ll blame an ignorant, hateful electorate), but this is a nice move on the part of both Facebook and Google. Both entities have such a massive influence over the distribution of information…it’s good to see them recognize the harm that can come from misleading information.
Skim Scum Stops Sickness — Is it possible we are just TOO focused on cleanliness, and that it is making us sick? Our skin is home to a bacteria-filled mini-ecosystem, one that we simply do not understand very well. This research highlights the beneficial role one kind of bacteria plays in protecting the skin from diseases such as psoriasis, dermatitis, or even skin cancer. With allergies and other select other diseases exploding over the last several decades, scientists are finding several similar situations, where our very cleanliness and focus on sanitation may have a negative impact on immune response and the progression of disease.
Gun Control Laws Work, Says Science — Americans seem hell-bent on ignoring fact and logic, despite the best efforts of scientists and other “truth-based” occupations. While I’m sure this will be ignored by the vast majority of gun-loving, weapon-toting Americans, here’s yet another study that shows how incredibly effective gun control laws are at preventing violent crime. Americans, this is now your cue to 1) start screaming about the 2nd amendment, 2) start screaming at the people behind this study as liberal nincompoop, and 3) go out and purchase more guns and ammo for your in-home arsenal.
Leper Squirrels Invading Great Britain!! — There’s nothing to immediately panic about, my British friends. Not yet, anyway. But alas…those cute, cuddly Red Squirrels running around your yard could very well be infected with the same leprosy bacteria that caused such misery for humans in past centuries. Leprosy dramatically declined in Europe after the Middle Ages, and is almost completely absent in today’s world. However, scientists unexpectedly found that two different strains of leprosy bacteria have been found in Red Squirrels, strains that are remarkably similar to centuries-old versions that caused disease in humans. Scientists are now working to understand how the bacteria has survived for so long in another host, and whether squirrels or other mammals may serve as a reservoir of the bacteria that could someday re-emerge and start infecting human beings again.