All posts filed under: Debate

Debate

Genetic Engineering to Clash With Evolution

Genetic Engineering to Clash With Evolution

In a crowded auditorium at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in August, Philipp Messer, a population geneticist at Cornell University, took the stage to discuss a powerful and controversial new application for genetic engineering: gene drives. Gene drives can force a trait through a population, defying the usual rules of inheritance. A specific trait ordinarily has a 50-50 chance of being passed along to the next generation. A gene drive could push that rate to nearly 100 percent. The genetic dominance would then continue in all future generations. You want all the fruit flies in your lab to have light eyes? Engineer a drive for eye color, and soon enough, the fruit flies’ offspring will have light eyes, as will their offspring, and so on for all future generations. Gene drives may work in any species that reproduces sexually, and they have the potential to revolutionize disease control, agriculture, conservation and more. Scientists might be able to stop mosquitoes from spreading malaria, for example, or eradicate an invasive species. The technology represents the first …

Peru ends conversation of ‘roadless wilderness’ in its Amazon rainforests

Biodiversity reaches its zenith in south-east Peru. This vast wilderness of 2m square km of rainforests and savannahs is formed of the headwaters of three major river basins, the Juruá, Purús, and Madeira. Nowhere on Earth can you find more species of animals and plants than in this corner of the Amazon that rubs up against the feet of the towering Andean mountains. These forests are also home to a culturally diverse human population, many of whom still live in voluntary isolation from the rest of humanity. In 2012 I spent a hectic few days in the exhausting Madre de Dios region, literally Spanish for “Mother of God”. I was there at the invitation of the Peruvian tourist board, which wanted to raise awareness of the region’s potential. In the lush lowland rainforests our team of ornithologists recorded more than 240 bird species in a few hours. These included the Rufous-fronted Antthrush, a near-mythical sighting among birders and one of a number of vertebrate species discovered by scientists there in the second half of the …

Social media can be used used as an evidence against you

Social media can be used used as an evidence against you

As we increasingly use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp to communicate with each other, many of us are unaware of the ways in which our posts might later resurface – and get us into trouble with the law. There are numerous examples of social media being used as evidence in the criminal justice system, leading to convictions and sometimes prison sentences. Peter Nunn from Bristol, England, was imprisoned in 2014 after MP Stella Creasy and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez were subjected to a string of abuse on Twitter. And after the London riots of 2011, two men were imprisoned for incitement after posting messages on Facebook inviting those who read them to meet the next day and wreak havoc in their local town. Police were able to trace the messages back to the defendants, leading to successful prosecutions. Messages and media on WhatsApp, Snapchat and the like, have been used in evidence to show that defendants have committed offences, such as selling drugs, possession of firearms(as in the case of R v Noble and Johnson, where WhatsApp messages …

Alzheimer’s,-insulin-is-a-new-suspect-1200x800

Alzheimer’s, insulin is a new suspect

Johnson and Johnson recently announced that it was halting a clinical trial for a new Alzheimer’s drug after safety issues emerged. This latest failure adds to the dozens of large, costly clinical trials that have shown no effect in treating this devastating disease. The growing list of failures should give us pause for thought – have we got the causes of Alzheimer’s all wrong? In the first analysis of the disease, the German physician, Alois Alzheimer, noted odd changes in the brain of a patient who died of the condition. Alzheimer identified two kinds of protein aggregates that are not found in younger brains: plaques that are found between brain cells and tangles that are found inside brain cells. Later research identified the proteins that made up the plaques as amyloid and those that form the tangles as tau. What these structures actually do is still under debate. Unheeded warning Alzheimer advised scientists not to jump to the conclusion that these proteins caused the disease. Unfortunately, his caution was ignored, and over the years it has become gospel …

Down side of daydreaming

Daydreaming is one of life’s great joys. You can indulge in it when you’re stuck in a boring meeting or a long queue. This seemingly innocuous pastime, however, is a double-edged sword. Some research has found that it boosts creativity, but other studies suggest that it is bad for your mental health and could lower your intelligence. Before we look at the downside to daydreaming, let’s first look at the positive side. In a studyconducted by psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, undergraduate students were asked to come up with as many uses for everyday objects – such as toothpicks, clothes hangers and bricks – as they could in two minutes, take a 12-minute break, and then repeat the exercise. The students were able to generate more creative uses for the objects the second time around if their break involved completing an undemanding task, which is known to promote more daydreaming, compared with a break filled with a more attention-demanding task, known to reduce daydreaming. Daydreaming has also been linked with feeling socially …

How to help Vaccine Doubters

We are in the golden age for vaccines. We have dozens of highly effective vaccines licensed for infectious disease, promising new technologies contributing to massive advancement of vaccine development, and several promising vaccines on the horizon. Unfortunately, vaccines have been a victim of their own success. With the drastic reduction of once-devastating diseases like whooping cough and measles, it seems like some parents think that the vaccines themselves are the new danger. But the threat isn’t gone; it’s been kept at bay by vaccinations. With clusters of vaccine-hesitant individuals especially worrisome, we need to find effective ways to convince people that the true danger is still disease. Concerns about the chemical components of vaccines, government mandates of vaccinations for school entry, and “Big Pharma” pushing vaccination seem unchanged when facts countering these claims are presented. Most of the existing research focuses on providing education or addressing parental vaccine attitudes, but rarely addresses the values people hold. We know that a host of factors influence how people retain and use facts in their decision-making, and most …

Facts on Diet and Inflammation

In health, as with so many things, our greatest strength can be our greatest weakness. Take our astonishingly sophisticated response to injury and infection. Our bodies unleash armies of cellular troops to slaughter invaders and clear out traitors. Their movements are marshaled by signaling chemicals, such as the interleukins, which tell cells where and when to fight and when to stand down. We experience this as the swelling, redness and soreness of inflammation—an essential part of healing. But when the wars fail to wind down, when inflammation becomes chronic or systemic, there’s hell to pay. I’m looking at you, arthritis, colitis and bursitis, and at you, diabetes, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer, and we’ve known for 20 years that inflammation (along with too much cholesterol) ignites the buildup of plaque in our arteries. Still, no one knew if runaway inflammation could actually pull the trigger on heart attacks and strokes—until this summer. Results from a large, well-designed trial showed that certain high-risk patients suffered fewer of these …

How Constitutions Reveal about How Societies Evolve

Timing can be everything when it comes to successfully expanding constitutional rights. Now, a study looking at how constitutions around the world have evolved has revealed patterns that could help people predict the best moment to introduce such changes. Amendments are generally introduced into a country’s constitution in a certain sequence, the authors report in a paper on the preprint server arXiv, and now under review at a journal. In addition, their computer analyses corroborate previously proposed ideas that the addition of some provisions is heavily influenced by the zeitgeist—the dominant social mores of the time—whereas the adoption of others reflects a country’s colonial history. The study validates computational techniques that could be applied to pressing questions about how constitutions reflect and affect societies, says Mila Versteeg, a legal scholar at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “These methods might be able to move the ball if applied to the right questions,” she says. Organizations and advocates could use the results to push for policies in a more strategic way, say the paper’s authors. “This can …

Should the results of Nazi experiments ever be taken up and used?

During World War II, Nazi doctors had unfettered access to human beings they could use in medical experiments in any way they chose. In one way, these experiments were just another form of mass torture and murder so our moral judgement of them is clear. But they also pose an uncomfortable moral challenge: what if some of the medical experiments yielded scientifically sound data that could be put to good use? Would it be justifiable to use that knowledge? Using data It’s tempting to deflect the question by saying the data are useless – that the bad behaviour must have produced bad science, so we don’t even have to think about it. But there is no inevitable link between the two because science is not a moral endeavour. If scientific data is too poor to use, it’s because of poor study design and analysis, not because of the bad moral character of the scientist. And in fact, some of the data from Nazi experiments is scientifically sound enough to be useful. The hypothermia experiments in …

Whats wrong with Global Capitalism?

Global capitalism, the current epoch in the centuries-long history of the capitalist economy, is heralded by many as a free and open economic system that brings people from around the world together to foster innovations in production, for facilitating exchange of culture and knowledge, for bringing jobs to struggling economies worldwide, and for providing consumers with an ample supply of affordable goods. But while many may enjoy benefits of global capitalism, others around the world — in fact, most — do not. The research and theories of sociologists and intellectuals who focus on globalization, including William I. Robinson, Saskia Sassen, Mike Davis, and Vandana Shiva shed light on the ways this system harms many. GLOBAL CAPITALISM IS ANTI-DEMOCRATIC Global capitalism is, to quote Robinson, “profoundly anti-democratic.” A tiny group of global elite decide the rules of the game and control the vast majority of the world’s resources. In 2011, Swiss researchers found that just 147 of the world’s corporations and investment groups controlled 40 percent of corporate wealth, and just over 700 control nearly all of …