Archive for July, 2006

…New Bird Flu Vaccine More Effective

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Contrast this with an earlier article that said it would be years before we had a vaccine.


A new vaccine against bird flu developed by GlaxoSmithKline is more effective than any previous version and works at a far smaller dose, the company reported yesterday on its Web site.

The ability to immunize people with small doses greatly increases the possibility of making enough vaccine to protect much of the population in the event of a pandemic.

Until now, high dosage requirements have been a major obstacle to making a vaccine for avian flu. An earlier vaccine, made a year ago by Sanofi Pasteur and stockpiled by the government, required such large doses that it would be difficult or impossible to keep up with a pandemic.


Forums – are caput

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

I’ve been encourging some friends to carry our personal E-mail conversations into the forum format for wider dispersal but alas it is not to be, I suspect. I tried to upgrade the site’s forum software and the result is we have no forums until I can untangle the mess.

Ah well.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear ‘Global Warming’ Case

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

By Lora A. Lucero, AICP

On June 26, 2006, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear next term the “global warming” case brought by the state of Massachusetts and others against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Without a doubt, all eyes should be focused on this case, certainly the bellwether for how the Justices will respond to environmental challenges for many years to come. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have both joined the Court this term, creating a new team with a very scant track record from which to make predictions.

The American Planning Association decided to join the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and the City of Seattle to urge the Court to accept this case for review. Why? As local officials and planners, we will be the first responders for the variety of disasters that climate change may create, such as the deadly heat waves that strike with special force in urban areas and the storm surges that threaten heavily populated coastal municipalities. Local governments have a special responsibility to protect, rescue, and rebuild after natural cataclysms of the kind that are likely to increase as the earth warms. They also must grapple with the daily effects of climate change: unreliable municipal water supplies caused by droughts or flash floods and heat-induced air pollution that violates federal standards. Click here to read our amicus brief, prepared by Tim Dowling of the Community Rights Counsel.

What’s at stake in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? The Clean Air Act requires the EPA administrator to set standards for emissions of any air pollutant from motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines “which in his judgment causes or contributes to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” [§202(A)1) of the Clean Air Act, 42 USC §7521(A)(1)]

Nearly 50,000 citizens submitted comments to EPA regarding the 1999 petition to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In response, EPA declined to reveal its view as to whether greenhouse gases are reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health or welfare. Instead, it articulated a reading of the Clean Air Act that contravenes the exceedingly broad definition of “air pollutant.” When the EPA administrator decided not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, some 30 parties — including 12 states with a combined total population exceeding 100 million people — appealed to the D.C. Circuit for review. That court issued a badly fractured ruling, with one judge affirming the EPA’s decision on standing grounds, another affirming on policy grounds nowhere mentioned in the Clean Air Act, and a third authoring a lengthy and blistering dissent. The dissenting judge wrote: “Indeed, if global warming is not a matter of exceptional importance, then those words have no meaning.”


Research credit to: Kate G.

…a Code Beyond Genetics in DNA

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Ever since the Enlightenment, the true forms of existence have been slowing coming out of the fog of unknowing and from behind the previous explanations born of active imaginations and little else. And, at any moment as science unfolds the picture for us, we are seduced into thinking that we have it all or that we almost have it all. But, just wait ten or fifeteen years and look again. This story’s a great example. When I was in college in the 70’s studying Microbiology, the DNA world was our gospel and RNA was just a left over artifact. Then a few years ago, an entire system based on RNA became visible beside and beneath the previously known DNA world. And now, here, we have yet another form emerging from the fog. I do not agree in the least with the Intelligent Design folks but I do think that the complexity that four billion years of trial and error can yeild is wonderous.

By Nicholas Wade – NY Times

Researchers believe they have found a second code in DNA in addition to the genetic code.

The genetic code specifies all the proteins that a cell makes. The second code, superimposed on the first, sets the placement of the nucleosomes, miniature protein spools around which the DNA is looped. The spools both protect and control access to the DNA itself.

The discovery, if confirmed, could open new insights into the higher order control of the genes, like the critical but still mysterious process by which each type of human cell is allowed to activate the genes it needs but cannot access the genes used by other types of cell.


Faith, Reason, God and Other Imponderables

Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

As someone who sits astride the fence between science and religion, I found this article particularly interesting.   For me, I think that the physically manifest world is simply embedded within a larger spiritual existence and I have little trouble with the relationship between the two domains.  I find it fascinating to see how other people square their spiritual feelings with their lives in science.

By Cornelia Dean – NY Times

Nowadays, when legislation supporting promising scientific research falls to religious opposition, the forces of creationism press school districts to teach doctrine on a par with evolution and even the Big Bang is denounced as out-of-compliance with Bible-based calculations for the age of the earth, scientists have to be brave to talk about religion.

Not to denounce it, but to embrace it.

That is what Francis S. Collins, Owen Gingerich and Joan Roughgarden have done in new books, taking up one side of the stormy argument over whether faith in God can coexist with faith in the scientific method.


The Implicit Prejudice

Monday, July 24th, 2006

I’ve put this under the Perfect Storm because illusions and errors in human thinking bear very directly on why we’re about to have a Perfect Sotrm of problems. And, I’ve listed it under Science because – it is.

Mahzarin Banaji can show how we connect “good” and “bad” with biased attitudes we hold, even if we say we don’t. Especially when we say we don’t.

Mahzarin Banaji wrestled with a slide projector while senior executives filed grumpily into the screening room at New Line Cinema studios in Los Angeles. They anticipated a pointless November afternoon in which they would be lectured on diversity, including their shortcomings in portraying characters on-screen. “My expectations were of total boredom,” admitted Camela Galano, president of New Line International.

By the break, though, executives for New Line and its fellow Time Warner subsidiary HBO were crowding around Banaji, eager for more. The 50-year-old experimental social psychologist from Harvard University had started with a series of images that showed the tricks our minds play. In one video clip, a team passed around a basketball. Of the 45 executives watching, just one noticed the woman who walked slowly right through the game, carrying an open white umbrella. After a few more examples, Banaji had convinced the audience that these kinds of mistakes in perception, or “mind bugs,” operate all the time, especially in our unconscious responses to other people.


Monday – and it is still HOT

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Sunday was brutal. 95 which is way high for the Pacific Northwest. The only saving grace was that not many customers came to the nursery yesterday. And those that did, we asked what plants and trees they wanted and then marked on a map where they were to be found and sent them out into the heat while we stayed with the fans in the office. Not really good customer service but – at 95 degrees – there are limits to what one will do for money .

Still hot today but if Monday last week was any indication, we won’t have much traffic. Typically, in the summer, business gets slower because people are worried that without the rains we’re blessed with eight to nine months a year, they might have to water. Truth is, they’d have to water stuff anyway for at least the first year when they plant something new so there’s really no way to avoid the summer watering.

I was down at Starbucks again this morning. I’ve gotten to know a good group of people there and most mornings there’s someone interesting to talk with. Sometimes it’s motorcycles, sometimes it’s personal histories and sometimes it’s the environment. I think I’m a natural for the sidewalk cafe lifestyle .

I saw several interesting articles on-line and in a copy of Scientific American (June 2006) that I picked up last night so I’ve been writing up a storm posting and commenting on things.

One theme that I consider an essential part of the Perfect Storm Hypothesis (which is as yet unwritten because it will be a large and integrated bit of writing) has to do with essential causes. As in how does it happen that mankind has gotten the planet into the mess it is in?

Part of my thoughts about the causes relate to a favorite theme of mine, The Biological Imperatives (which I also need to write about so I have a set-piece to refer to when I use the phrase).

Another part has to do with the external and internal illusions which we human suffer from without knowing we have them. This is a facinating area which I’ve seen a lot on, in a piece-meal fashion, but I haven’t seen a lot of connecting of the dots to relate these ideas to mankind’s problems with decision making at global levels.

Related to this interest in illusions, there was an article in the June 2006 Scientific America entitled, The Implicit Prejudice, and it is about hidden biases that most, if not all, of us have. Mahzarin Banaji, a researcher, has been looking into this area since the late 80’s. She calls these illusions or mistakes in perception, “mind bugs”. And the tests that have been devised to reveal them are called Implicit Associate Tests (IAT).

There is a website here where you can go and take some of these tests and what they reveal may make you uncomfortable if you consider yourself a fair and unprejudiced individual.

I’m not going to talk any more about this here because I’m going to write an entry under Science and link to the article in Scientific American in it.

I’ve got so many things to write, I wonder if I’ll ever get half of it written.

The Flipping Point

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Another piece I liked in the June 2006 Scientific American magazine was Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Column. His sub-title, “How the evidence for anthropogenic global warming has converged to cause this environmental skeptic to make a cognitive flip“, tells the story.

He was skeptical regarding Global Warming but the accumulation of evidence finally won him over.

People who are willing to follow the truth where ever it leads – even if it means overturning their previous views – are to be commended. And those who think integrity means erecting ever larger defenses of their positions are, in my opinion, dead-wood on the tree of humanity.

Here’s a quote from Gandhi that I particularly like:

My COMMITMENT is to TRUTH as I see it each day, not to CONSISTENCY.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Here’s the opening of Shermer’s piece and a link to the main body of his article:

In 2001 Cambridge University Press published  Lomborg’s book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, which I thought was a perfect debate topic for the Skeptics Society public lecture series at the California Institute of Technology. The problem was that all the top environmental organizations refused to participate. “There is no debate,” one spokesperson told me. “We don’t want to dignify that book,” another said. One leading environmentalist warned me that my reputation would be irreparably harmed if I went through with it. So of course I did.

My experience is symptomatic of deep problems that have long plagued the environmental movement. Activists who vandalize Hummer dealerships and destroy logging equipment are criminal ecoterrorists. Environmental groups who cry doom and gloom to keep donations flowing only hurt their credibility. As an undergraduate in the 1970s, I learned (and believed) that by the 1990s overpopulation would lead to worldwide starvation and the exhaustion of key minerals, metals and oil, predictions that failed utterly. Politics polluted the science and made me an environmental skeptic.

Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming. My attention was piqued on February 8 when 86 leading evangelical Christians–the last cohort I expected to get on the environmental bandwagon–issued the Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for “national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions” in carbon emissions.

Then I attended the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, Calif., where former vice president Al Gore delivered the single finest summation of the evidence for global warming I have ever heard, based on the recent documentary film about his work in this area, An Inconvenient Truth. The striking before-and-after photographs showing the disappearance of glaciers around the world shocked me out of my doubting stance.


Thx to Kim W. for the Gandhi quote.

Sustainable Developments

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Picked up the June 2006 copy of Scientific American last night and found several pieces that I liked. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and of the U.N. Millennium Project, has begun a new column called Sustainable Developments.

This new monthly column, in Sachs’ words, “will be about the emerging geopolitics of sustainability and the search for genuine solutions. It will show that topics usually treated through a political lens–war, terror, corruption–more and more frequently have an ecological underpinning. Global market forces can be “reengineered” to channel economic activity in a sustainable manner. Better technologies can square the circle of economic growth with sustainability. And perhaps most important, new approaches to global politics and governance itself, based firmly on the budding science of sustainability, can provide a vital bridge to future prosperity and peace.”

I like the general drift of Sachs’ column because he’s taking a systemic approach and looking at all of the factors converging on our future in a unified manner. I.e., he sees and is reporting on the Perfect Storm hypothesis even though he may call it by other names.

Here’s the opening text and a link to the full article:

Each era has its own dominating themes of global politics. The 19th century had the politics of industrialization and empire. The first half of the 20th century bowed to world wars and economic depression. The second half was overshadowed by the cold war. Our era, I believe, will be dominated by the geopolitics of sustainability.

Economic development has become a generalized global phenomenon, except in sub-Saharan Africa and a few other poverty hot spots. Even those impoverished areas will probably achieve economic takeoff with a little international help and the application of “best option” technologies. The world’s total economic throughput every year, adjusted for differences in countries’ purchasing power and measured as the gross world product (GWP), now stands at approximately $60 trillion. Over the past century, the GWP has grown roughly 18-fold in price-adjusted terms.

With that increase in economic output have come some phenomenal benefits, such as rising life expectancy and improved overall public health, and some planet-threatening adverse effects, such as massive tropical deforestation, ocean fisheries depletion, man-made climate change, violent competition over limited hydrocarbon resources, and newly emerging diseases such as SARS and avian flu (H5N1). Until now, the favorable outcomes have outweighed the bad. Yet because many of the environmental consequences are hidden from view and from our national income accounts, we sit atop ticking ecological time bombs.


Blackouts as US temperatures soar

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Hundreds of thousands of people in different parts of the US continue to be affected by power outages as temperatures soar to record highs.In California, where temperatures reached 50C (122F) in places, the heat was blamed for at least four deaths.

The power grid was unable to cope with the increased demand for electricity, leading to widespread cuts.