LSS is read in many countries. So today we are truly proud to have out first international contribution. It’s from our old friend and colleague Marce Lee Gorman, a Forensic Scientist who is now based in Dublin. Clearly Marce thinks that if ever this wretched lockdown lifts, and you’re breezing through downtown Manhattan, then you should try a Pink Lady at Rosie O’Gradys. We link them below.*
What’s in it?
Gin, Grenadine, Egg white
Where did you drink it?
Rosie O’Gradys Irish Bar, Manhattan
Who were you with
A work colleague
Why was cocktail good
Just fab: great colour in a martini glass
What was going on around you
Who else likes/liked this one?
I don’t know. It’s unique to me
Personal note: Marce didn’t specify any music, so we’re going to take a chance and make a recommendation of our own: Rosalie by Thin Lizzy. In our humble Anglo-Saxon view they were the greatest Irish band ever. Move over U2 and the Pogues, and learn from the masters. Sláinte.
We at LSS always had short time for devotees of aliens, UFOs, Ancient Astronauts and Little Green Men. In youth, one avoided them at parties, as any further communication from them tended to arrive in green ink. So, with the broadmindedness that comes with extreme age we say hats off to Avi Loeb of Harvard University in his lonely battle to convince us that Oumuamua more commonly known as Il/2017/U1, which flew through the solar system a few years ago is in fact an alien spacecraft. We link the Mail‘s coverage below.
Good news, we say-because it may be just the medicine to solve the terrible divisions which wrack the world. Superpower rivalry, ethnic tensions, conspiracy theories-never have we been so divided against ourselves. But there is a way out.
No education in politics, psychology or philosophy is complete until one has read of the life and times of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster’s valet in the works of PG Wodehouse. Astute readers will recall how Jeeves uncanny knowledge of psychology saved many a tricky situation from cataclysmic disaster. For us, the classic exemplar was Right-Ho Jeeves. Bertie’s meddling had left a near terminal meltdown at previously tranquil Brinkley Court. The marriage of his Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom was on the point of collapse. Tuppy Glossop and Cousin Angela were no longer talking. The chances of any marriage between Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeleine Basset were null and void. Brinkley Court was riven by the hatreds of warring factions. Then Anatole the Chef handed in his notice.
Into the situation stepped Jeeves. He knew that ultimately there is only one way to bring people together. Give them a common enemy. He provided one, in the shape of his employer, Bertram Wooster. In a short while he had contrived to turn Wooster into an object of common hatred, derision and scorn. The warring factions united. The marriage was saved. New engagements pledged. The cook resumed his duties. All was right with the world.
And so we believe that nothing would unite us all better than the arrival of hostile alien forces, either real or imagined. Our personal experience of aliens is rather limited. But it may be useful in general to think of them as the Clingon types from Star Trek One-malevolent baddies with nasty eyebrows and apres-ski outfits ever ready to do us down. So that we may at last unite the warring tribesmen of the ignorant and move forward to better things.
“When the facts change, I change my mind.” said JM Keynes, arguably one of the most intelligent people of the twentieth century. We think that this is the mindset that defines LSS readers. Today we offer a short piece about a man called Bernard de Haas and his colleagues in one corner of the research community, which does them all immense credit.
Bernard had published a paper on using brain scans to measure changes in behaviour. It was all routine stuff; they did the work, checked out the statistics and published. A few years later anther researcher called Susanne Stroll contacted Bernard to discuss some problems growing out of his work. She didn’t do it a nasty vindictive way. Both teams joined in a collaborative approach to tease out the truth-and eventually Bernard felt he had to withdraw his findings. Nature explains below what happened.*
Not all scientists are like this, gentle reader: we have known several who delighted in discovering errors in the work of colleagues, and gleefully broadcasting them. While attempts to discuss their own shortcomings were met with sullen hostility and angry shouting. A bit like five year olds in fact.
The central problem for us all is: why are there so few Bernards and Susannes? Why are so many in the arrested development stage of a five year old? Who get hold of one tiny idea and twist every incoming fact so that it fits with their perception. Who can think of no better way to counter their opponents than to scream abuse? Who deny all facts and have no idea of shading or context? The problem is now acute. The internet is like a polluted stream: to drink from now is to endanger one’s health. Bernard’s article points out the psychological roots of intelligence. And the emotional roots of its opposite.
We have so many friends to thank this morning for sending us links to a breaking story. Oxford University has received a £100 million grant from Ineos to start serious research projects into antibiotic resistance and new antibiotics. Regular readers will be fed up with us banging on about this; but we say: at last! It’s well covered this morning, so we’ve done a couple of links to stories at the BBC and Mail.
We’d like to make a couple of observations here. As some of you have pointed out, one of the most important ways in which we have squandered the opportunity antibiotics gave us was their uncontrolled and massive use in animal farming. The thoughtless desire to measure success by how cheaply you get goods to the point of sale, and no other has done immense damage to public health in so many areas. Let’s hope the new rango of antibiotics doesn’t go the same way.
Secondly to thank the work of Professor Colin Garner. He it was who first identified this problem back in 2014, since when he has campaigned tirelessly. Building a whole new charity, recruiting big hitters like Dame Sally Davies, lobbying and organising…..we would all be in a much worse place without him. If you want to learn more about his work, please visit the website of antibiotics research UK Antibiotic Research UK | Fighting Antibiotic Resistance
We at LSS are always honoured to have readers in the United States of America. For those who have never visited, it is a large country which is, on average, south of Canada and north of Mexico. It is famous for beautiful scenery and delicious foods. And for a deep, seemingly unbridgeable racial divide which is now close to tearing it down altogether.
The origins of the divide have perplexed historians and social scientists for centuries. It may well be that the instinct to form tribes and hate all who are different is a primary human drive. We certainly respect the learning of authors such as Amy Chua whose Political Tribes we link below.*
Could the United States have ever taken a different turn? Below we offer two studies of two experiments which both grew out of the Civil War. (1861-1865)
The Free State of Jones was a pro-Union rebellion in the deep Confederacy State of Mississippi between 1864 and 1865. Led by a charismatic poor farmer called Newton Knight, a group of white agriculturalists and runaway black slaves staged something that seemed to have been somewhere between a guerrilla insurrection and a full blown revolution. LSS links you to a wonderfully balanced, charmingly written piece in the Smithsonian by Richard Grant. Oddly, Knight survived until 1921 and the branches of his families still live today in various states of disamity
A political attempt to stage a multiracial democracy occurred in Wilmington North Carolina in 1898. It was overthrown when armed white insurrectionists rose up and overthrew the government, following closely contested elections. Their victory was total; segregation and Jim Crow laws were then enacted which were not cleared away until the 1960s. An irony of history was that all this was done in the name of the Democratic Party, then the principal exponents of white supremacy.
The views that genes are destiny and that our instincts are more powerful than our reason have been skated over too long by many doubtless well-meaning people. They remind us of the Victorians and sex: let’s all try very hard to pretend that it doesn’t exist. There is now an overwhelming need to discover how these instincts play out in many places from prisons and aircraft carriers to the halls of governance, and how factors like poverty and inequality may inflame them. Or not. It is the great scientific opportunity of this century. And about time too.
Education for women: British Prime Minister Alexander de Pfeffle “Boris” Johnson calls for more education for women. With a journalist’s eye for a telling phrase, he sees it as the Swiss Army Knife in the fight against poverty. Ahead of his chairmanship of the G7, he has appointed MP Helen Grant as his special envoy. As something that LSS has been advocating since our inception, we think it’s a worthy initiative. And as a man who has risen to the top with the best education that money can buy (Eton, Balliol), he must know the value of it. Here’s the BBC:
Education for Doctors: History shows that nations which are quick on the early uptake of female education soon develop a competitive advantage, as this story from nineteenth-century America shows. Nature: How the Blackwells unleashed the Caged Force of Female Physicians. Feminists of all shades should click on this
Education for our electronic friends: Machines are now becoming so intelligent that we have to educate them, just like with trainee musicians who try too hard. Here’s one with intriguing implications from Nature; Machine learning cleans microscopy images
Algorithms to filter out the noise from micrographs are yielding stunning results. But the magic does have risks: biologists must take care not to lose or muddle valuable signal. The stronger the noise, the more likely it is that the results are ‘hallucinations’ dreamt by the computer. And the algorithm’s reasoning isn’t always transparent. A growing collection of tools allows researchers to find and compare multiple de-noising approaches and to contribute new ones.Nature | 8 min read
“Educate, educate, educate” said former British PM Tony Blair. We recognise it’s not everything. We know people who used their education to go on to make millions. We knew others with two degrees who went on to lead miserable, stunted lives. We know of at least two millionaires who never went near tertiary education, and obviously blossomed. But the point is statistical, not individual. A good education system is like a healthy ecology. It is the substrate in which economic progress thrives. To leave one half of the human race under educated (or with none at all) is a sure way to fall behind. As Johnson knows, no force is more potent against the dark forces of ignorance than female education.
#borisjohnson #educationfor women #elizabethblackwell #feminism #artificialintelligence
March 1982. Even the Falklands (Malvinas) were unheard of, and everything that followed that is but a twinkle in the eye of time. In the cold winter air we braved our way on Friday nights to the Beachcomber Bar in Berkeley Street W1. Here we gathered in happy hours with a crowd of civil servants, scientists, advertisers and IT folk, to while away some time in the company of a supercharged cocktail or two. And what a tropical locale in that icy landscape! Dense vegetation of palms and parrots, with real live caimans floating in pools and tanks. A little more fun than The Gasworks Arms! And to celebrate the tropicality of it all, here’s a scorpion, which had a sting that left you unable to walk. Well, we were young.
Put five cubes of ice in a cocktail shaker. Add one measure of brandy, half a measure of white rum, and half a measure of dark rum and two teaspoons of Amaretto, then two measures of fresh orange juice. Shake, and serve into a chilled glass over the cubes. Decorate with slices of orange and lemon
When you’re in a desperate situation, think laterally. Think differently. Think about something that was there all along, but which you’ve overlooked That’s why we couldn’t resist showcasing two stories from the Daily Mail about new natural solutions to our ecological crisis.
Global Warming Everybody agrees there’s quite a lot of it about. One solution is to grow more trees. Trouble is: they’re slow to grow, and there’s always a danger that one of the President’s mates will be allowed to come along in five years and chop them all down. According to Ian Randall, a better alternative is humble sea kelp. It grows thirty time faster than trees. Its carbon capture properties are prodigious. Kelp forests give a marvellous haven for sea life. And get this- you can harvest it for cattle feed, which in turn cuts down methane emissions from these large beasts. So what’s not to like? Read this story about Carbon Kapture and its kelp farms
Plastics Ever heard of sea grass? Neither had we. But this humble little ocean vegetable may be helping to gather up the 8 million tonnes of plastic which are dumped annually into our oceans. And to deposit them in easier-to-manage clumps called Neptune’s Balls. (Neptune was the Roman god of the sea- we didn’t know he liked dancing). Here Shivali Best tells of studies in Mallorca which are looking at using sea grass to turn the tide on this disgusting act of self harm we’re all doing. Incidentally, what a great place to do scientific research!
No one would ever dare accuse the Kelloggs Corporation of being lefties, pinkoes, liberals or any of the other adjectives in the demonology of the Right. It’s always been a shining example of progressive, enlightened capitalism, supplying the market with clean, benign products. (Declaration of Interest-we love them). That’s why when they come up with a report on child hunger, it needs to be taken very seriously indeed.
UK readers will be aware of the controversy swirling around the footballer Marcus Rashford and his campaigns on child hunger. Readers may take many views on this. Some religious readers may look at it on compassionate grounds. Libertarians and economists of the Chicago persuasion may take the view that any interference in a free market is both inefficient and an intolerable assault on liberty. The aforementioned Lefties and pinkoes may well develop tropes on abstract concepts like social justice and equity, whatever they are.
But what if the real argument is none of those? What happens if you take the patriotic view of long term national efficiency? The Kelloggs reports waxes lyrical indeed on the damage that hunger is doing to teaching, exam passes and assessment. We’ve included a couple of other links which suggest childhood hunger leads to increases in things like violence and physical and mental health problems. We were shocked to discover that the ancient evil of rickets is back on the rise. (Economic History note: a high incidence of rickets in the lower classes is a pretty good sign you have a truly free market economy).
If Britain is now to be a successful, stand-alone nation, it will need the best trained, best-educated workforce it can muster. There is depressing evidence that it is stuck at mid table in the world education leagues, but we promise another blog on that later. The lesson from History is also clear. The malnourished, stunted late Victorian lower classes were not up to their tasks either as workers or defenders of the Empire. (During the Boer War, the Army was forced to reject between 40 and 60% of volunteers on health grounds). There is evidence that the Government is taking Rashford seriously. Good-we can’t afford to make the same mistake twice. There’s no Empire to fall back on, nor anyone else.
We’ve all heard of BioNTech-they were Pfizer’s partner in developing the first of the new generation mRNA vaccines against Covid-19. Remember all the excitement back in November last year? Now it seems that mRNA technology can do a lot, lot more. Like potentially curing the dreadful disease of Multiple Sclerosis. BioNTech scientists Katalin Karikó and Ugur Sahin have released results on studies on mice with a neurodegenerative disease which is similar to MS. The mRNA injections seem not only to slow the progress of the disease, but also to reverse it. It’s early days yet, but the implications are revolutionary.*
So, let’s open out this whole trope of mRNA a little further, courtesy of Nature Briefings*:
Please click on the link below for the piece by Elie Dolgin. It’ll quickly tell you how these things were dreamed up, how they work, and their potential, even against “Holy Grail” illnesses like malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and cystic fibrosis. We think such knowledge should now be part of the mental furniture of every educated person. Just as your grandparents suddenly had to know about things like radar, nuclear reactions and antibiotics back in 1945. Because if even half of this mRNA technology works, it will transform the world more surely than even those advances did.
for the BioNTech story, here’s Nuño Dominguez in El Pais– translators at the ready