Two cheers for Covid 19 vaccines, not three

If there’s one thing that distinguishes the readers of LSS from other people, it’s that we think. We think that truth is subtle, nuanced and requires a lot of examination before you pronounce on it. We don’t take one story from the media and yell to the heavens that it proves everything we have ever thought about is eternally true.

We are not without feeling-we genuinely believe the achievements of the scientific teams who evolved the COVID- 19 vaccines are among the greatest of mankind. But we do think that even these truly awesome accomplishments may be hedged around with caveats, which the clever people at Nature and The Conversation have for us today.

What happens when your placebo people take the vaccine?

They are heroes too. They deserve a real dose. But what happens to your long term data? This is what Nature says about a dilemma posed by early vaccine approvals.

Scientists are concerned that the early deployment of promising COVID-19 vaccines could compromise ongoing clinical trials that seek to show conclusively how well they work. Following the release of early data from phase III trials on 9 November, vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech have sought regulatory permission to deploy their vaccine under emergency-use rules. The developer of another leading vaccine, Moderna, is expected to do the same within weeks. Once a vaccine is granted emergency approval, trial participants who received a placebo will be understandably keen to get the real thing. But if too many people cross over to the vaccine group, the companies might not have enough data to establish the long-term effects of the vaccines, including safety, how long protection lasts and whether the jab prevents infection or just the disease.
Nature | 6 min read

How to get the vaccine out there

What about all the people who won’t take a vaccine? LSS readers may have their own opinions here-but we urge a thoughtful approach. How do you get people to realise their obligations to others, whatever their own feelings? Here’s Tim Solomon in The Conversation:

Oxford vaccine results are in: here’s how to ensure it is used (

#vaccine #Sars-Cov-2 #covid-19 #coronavirus #placebo

Message for nostalgists-no one in the past had CRISPR

Before you go off to wallow in nostalgia for some lost Golden Age, think what it was like to have cancer back then. Or many other diseases. In a nutshell, think of a world before CRISPR, because here’s what it can do.

Israeli scientists at the University of Tel Aviv have started using the technique to successfully cure cancer, so far its only in mice, but the implications are enormous We won’t spoil the story from Charlotte Mitchell for the Mail online, but here’s a taster:

[Professor Dan] Peer said that his team plan to develop the treatment for all cancers and that the technique could be ready to use on humans within two years.

We frankly confess that CRISPR can be a bit hard to understand for us. We’ve posted a link to Wikipedia if you want to dig deeper. Spoiler alert; it’s not like a thriller novel that you take on the beach for your holidays!

Good news always puts a song in our heart at LSS. WE are reminded of the word of Fleetwood Mac, a popular musical singing group, from their 1977 Album Rumours:

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow//Don’t stop. It’ll soon be here//It’ll be better than before//Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

writer: C McVie

Israeli scientists kill cancer cells with ground-breaking DNA-altering treatment CRISPR | Daily Mail Online

CRISPR – Wikipedia

#CRISPR #cancer #fleetwoodmac #geneedit #cas9 #diagnostics

Weekly round up of facts from near and far

Going green won’t cost the earth

We at LSS strongly support UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s initiative on renewable infrastructure. Of course sensible people will ask how it might be paid for. Jim Armitage of the London Evening Standard suggests the answer lies in the enormous pension pots held in the City. We’ll let Jim speak for himself, but he concludes there is a potential sum of £100 billion waiting to completely transform the economy:

Here’s a simple way Boris Johnson could get the City to put billions into his green revolution | Evening Standard

We thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for the lead to this story

Let’s see all the bones

Fans of human evolution will recall the exciting 2002 find called Toumei. It was over six million years old and if it walked erect, as its discovers claimed, it was a major candidate for the original human ancestor. Problem is, according to Dan Avery of the Mail, they paid too much attention to the skull, and not enough to the post cranial material- things like leg bones etc. In a box alongside Toumai’s head was a femur which may or may not have belonged to the creature-and which told a different story. Then suddenly it seemed to vanish after some other researchers had studied it. All very mysterious, and all centred on the University of Poitiers in France. Read on!

Humanoid that lived 6 million years ago walked on all fours and may be closer to chimps than humans | Daily Mail Online

Education for girls will help us all

Nothing so holds back humanity as the systematic oppression and blind prejudice which denies education to girls in third world countries. We’ve linked to a charity called Care who have made it their business to tackle this societal atrocity head on. Here’s just one little cherrypick from their site:

Nearly two-thirds of the 77 million children not attending school worldwide are girls.

Need we say more?

Educating girls | CARE (

Fake News, Hoaxes and the clash of belief and reason

Earlier this week, we moaned that one of the curses of our age is ability of people to dump fake news into the internet in sufficient quantities to change people’s beliefs about what is “real”. According to The Conversation, hoaxes have been round for a very long time. Here’s a well-written piece by Keith Williams about the Great Moon Hoax of the nineteenth century, and how it depended on what people wanted to be true. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

Batmen and unicorns: inside the original moon hoax (

That’s enough reading for this week for us all-enjoy your Saturday night,and we hope that your team was one of the successful ones.

#greatmoonhoax #Care #fakenews #womensrights #sahelanthropus #greeneconomy #borisjohnson #pensionfunds #paleontology

Friday Night Cocktails-A classic Brandy Alexander

This week our guest is Mrs Margaret Foster of Dorset. We know from personal experience that she is a fine cook too-but that might be for another week.

What is your favourite cocktail?Brandy Alexander
IngredientsVodka, brandy, crème de cacao, cream, grated nutmeg
MethodPut three ice cubes in a shaker. Add one measure brandy, one of vodka and one measure of crème de cacao. Shake hard and pour to a classic cocktail glass without the ice. Sprinkle the grated nutmeg to decorate
Where do you drink it?At home-the best place to be
Who are you with?My husband, Foss and as many cats as we can cram in. They get any left-over cream!
Why is this cocktail good?Cream, chocolate, brandy – what’s not to like!
What is going on around you?Log fire and Scandinavian contemporary jazz
Who else likes this one?Foss, my husband
Anything else?Don’t drink more than four-there could be unfortunate consequences.

#brandyalexander #scandinavianjazz #scandinaviandetectives #cremedecacao #brandy

If Jeremy Clarkson hadn’t been on TV he might have been the greatest teacher ever

Image courtesy pixabay

The first principle of teaching is to get them to enjoy it. Once people are having fun, they’ll want to learn. No one understands this principle better than Jeremy Clarkson, who uses wit and sparkle to convey really rather complex messages in things like science, history and engineering. (spoiler alert-yes, we know he has his faults. So did Beethoven.)

That’s why revisiting some of his earlier ouvres can still make for joys unexpected. Take Who Killed the British Motor Industry? (2000). The way a nation makes designs and runs a huge industry is a sure indicator of how educated, modern and skilful it is. The sorry history of British Leyland is certain evidence of just how deficient Great Britain PLC had become. Who did kill it? Bad managers? Bloody-minded unions? Dreamy Governments? Clarkson certainly hands out the blame. But he also finds a deeper, more worrying flaw.

British Leyland were a portmanteau company, a series of forced mergers between such disparate foes as Austin, Morris, Triumph and many others. All of them deeply proud of their plants and their identities. All predisposed not to co-operate. None of them big enough to stand on their own any longer. So when Triumph came up with a half decent idea like the Stag, they were never, ever going to use a Rover engine, even though it was from the same company. In every town, Austin, Morris and Triumph dealers cut each others’ throats for a few pence-because they were the enemy. Identity to a time and place can be a source of pride and strength. It can also hand victory to the fiendmachten (sorry-that’s enemy in German). Shaken by defeats in war, European and Japanese manufacturers learned to sink their petty differences and soon cleaned out the squabbling Brits.

But don’t take our word for it. Watch the link below and enjoy a master story teller at his fun best. It applies to many other things twenty years on

#britishleyland #austin #morris #triumphstag #jeremyclarkson #nineteenseventies #thecaryears

Reasons to be Cheerful-parts five and six

The dual news of vaccines coming over the horizon from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech give reasons to be cheerful, as Ian Dury would have it. But it will take months to work up the manufacturing and dosage capacity. In the meantime there’s a lot of sick people out there who need treatment. So we are pleased to offer two small rays of hope to get on with.

Mouthwash- a surprise kill

Aisha Zaid of Sky News has an intriguing story about how cetylpyridinium chloride (that’s CVC to the ordinary Joe) can wreak terrible mortality on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Where to find CPC ? In your humble bottle of mouthwash. The sort of news to cheer Donald Trump at one of his press conferences-there’s plenty of mouth to wash.

We thank Mr Peter Seymour of Hertfordshire for this lead

Don’t inflame the situation

As very schoolchild will tell you, one of the terrible problems for Covid-19 sufferers is the “inflammation storm” as the body tries to react to the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in its midst. We understand this to be in part due to the complement system of the blood, part of the body’s natural defences. Bryan Paul Morgan of the Conversation discusses a drug which blocks the C5 protein of this system, bringing new hope to sufferers everywhere. It’s called ravulizumab. The downside is that it costs $6400 a dose. So make sure your country has a good health service, or you’ll soon be putting your house up to mortgage again!

We thank Mr Gary Herbert of Buckinghamshire for technical advice with this blog

#ravulizumab #cvc #Sars-coV 2 #covid-19 #coronavirus #donaldjtrump #nhs #cytokinines

It’s hard to waste money on science research-here’s why

The advent of supercomputers, artificial intelligence and and real stress tested algorithms gives us opportunities to understand the world in ways that our grandparents could never have dreamed of. Already they are proving their worth in things like weather forecasting and epidemiology, turning in great results in influenza and Ebola mapping. With Covid-19 the situation is problematic, partly because there’s so much emotional and economic baggage riding on every decision.

Today we are going to offer two pieces for your perusal. Both are critiques of the models used to understand the pandemic. We would like to stress that both the writers and the scientists who created the models are intelligent honest individuals of the highest integrity, driven by facts and a search for the truth. Unlike some of the sneering critics, who seem to have very different agendas. They’re good articles, but for us the real point is different.

Nature* points out the enormous potential for crossover, by using techniques developed in meteorology to help epidemiologists. Adam Kucharski in the Guardian* points out that bringing several different models together has enormous benefits, as the work of one group complements each of the others. In other words if you put effort into developing some good honest research, or a clever piece of technology, someone somewhere will also get the benefit. It’s facile to state how Kepler benefitted from the solid research of Tycho Brahe, or Watson and Crick from the advances in crystallography made by others. A society that values science for its own sake will eventually grow rich. A society that does none at all, because of tax cuts, is going in a different way.

Nature: Forecasters can learn from climate models

Epidemiologists predicting the spread of COVID-19 should adopt climate-modelling methods to make forecasts more reliable, say computer scientists. The researchers have spent months using a powerful supercomputer and techniques that are used to stress-test climate models to audit CovidSim, one of the most influential models of the pandemic, which helped convince British and US politicians to introduce lockdowns to prevent projected deaths. The analysis shows that, because researchers didn’t appreciate how sensitive CovidSim was to small changes in its inputs, their results overestimated the extent to which a lockdown was likely to reduce deaths. But the model correctly showed that “doing nothing at all would have disastrous consequences”, says chemist and computer scientist Peter Coveney.
Nature | 6 min read
Reference: Research Square preprint

The guardian:here’s why we need covid models,evenif they’re controversial

#covidsim #neilferguson epidemiology #covid-19 #computermodels

Did Paul the Mystic Octopus know something?

Football fans will still recall the life and times of Paul the Mystic Octopus (26th January 2008-26th  October 2010) the underwater inhabitant of Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in Germany. Paul correctly called the results of four out of six of Germany’s matches in the Euro 2008 tournament and a whopping seven out of seven in the 2010 World Cup.

All luck? Aren’t invertebrates all supposed to be dim? Aren’t humans supposed to be the clever ones overall, while cetaceans like dolphins are the Einsteins of the seas? Well you may be in for a shock. According to philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey Smith, Cephalopods (octopuses, squid and cuttlefish) are:

“an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals

Captive ones can squirt water to put out light bulbs or at people whom they dislike. They have as many neurons overall as dogs-or three year old children. Except theirs lie in diffuse nets across their whole bodies, rather than exclusively concentrated in brains as in vertebrates.

Intelligent writers like JBS Haldane and Isaac Asimov have hinted at the intellectual capacities of out eight-legged chums, but only now is it being properly followed up.   Here Philip Hoare reviews  Godfrey Smith’s book The Octopus-the evolution of intelligent life (William Collins 2017). Once again, has an evident truth been staring us in the face for hundreds of years?

we thank Dr SP Day of Norfolk for today’s story.

#octopus #cephalopod #intelligentlife #marineconservation

Weekly roundup-mainly from Nature and The Conversation

With all the breathtaking news and turnarounds from politics, we thought we’d suggest a few more calming things this week.

Remember a guy called Donald J Trump and how hydroxychloroquine was going to be a quick cure for Covid-19? Except it turned out to be not quite so simple. One of the great curses of our age is that if enough people state something on the internet, it takes on a de facto truth of its own. Here Nature reproduces a fascinating piece by Adam Rogers in Wired. Warning-a slightly longer read than normal, but well worth it. Hope, Hype and Hydroxychloroquine-nice title!

Hydroxychloroquine is a time-tested treatment for malaria, a failed drug candidate for COVID and one of the pandemic’s most notorious political footballs. Starting with the drug’s origin as a traditional remedy in Peru, Wired explores the laundry list of clinical trials that struggled to test it in an atmosphere of distrust, its role in the Surgisphere scandal and the collision between science and the White House.
Wired | 32 min read

As winter sets in, thoughts of romantics among us may be turning to the coming spring, daffodils, lambs gambolling in green fields and everything nicely back to normal with a lovely coronavirus vaccine safely under our belts. Sadly, Sarah Pitt of The Conversation foresees a few bumps in the road…

Where, oh where, did Sars-Cov-2 originate, and why, oh why? Tensions between the worlds two great superpowers only muddy the waters. Anyone with a science background will love reaching back in time and space to solve a tricky problem. If we do, we may be able to solve the next one. Here’s Nature, WHO Takes on fraught search for source:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its plan to investigate the origins of the COVID pandemic, starting in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first identified. It’s a daunting task. Nailing down the animal origin of a virus can take years, if it can be done at all, and the investigation will have to navigate the highly sensitive political situation between China and the United States. “Finding an animal with a SARS-CoV-2 infection is like looking for a needle in the world’s largest haystack. They may never find a ‘smoking bat’,” says virologist Angela Rasmussen.
Nature | 5 min read

And finally….anyone who has a reasonable telescope or even a pair of good binoculars will know the calming power of the Night Sky. When it’s not drowned out by light pollution! Here Nick Dunn of Lancaster University makes a heartfelt plea for dark clear night skies-and it might even save us energy too! This one’s from The Conversation.

#lightpollution #climatechange #astronomy #hydroxychloroquine #donaldjtrump #sars-cov-2 coronavirus #covid-19

Friday Cocktails-The Witch’s Heart

This week’s cocktail is adapted from one given to us by the well known bon viveur, raconteur and all round English Gent Mr Stephen Smith of Berkshire. For legal reasons, we have adapted it slightly.

The Witch’s Heart (adapted)

A subtle, sophisticated blend, designed to create a genuinely spooky atmosphere for things like Halloween parties, fancy dress or a big night in watching old Hammer movies on the last surviving VHS in Southern England. So, lockdown permitting, fly your broomstick down to Waitrose and purchase the following for your potion:

apple brandy or apple vodka; grenadine; shimmery blackberry liqueur; Martini glass

Get some  ice and powder it.

The spell:Put 1 measure of apple brandy and 1 measure of blackberry liqueur in a shaker. Add 1 ice cube and shake for a few seconds to chill. Now work quickly, as follows:

Add 1 tsp of powdered ice to the martini glass. Pour contents of shaker into glass, top up with more blackberry liqueur. Now add one teaspoon of grenadine, which should sink through the mix adding a “bleeding” effect for all you horror fans. Finally sprinkle a little more powdered ice on top and serve.

Recommended music : Witchcraft as sung by Frank Sinatra

Smiffy, as we used to call him, was one of the best mentors whom we have ever worked for. His own recipe is a lot more exciting than this, but we have to a be a bit cautious on a public blog, and we know he and you will understand.

#cocktails #applebrandy #franksinatra #witchcraft