Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (May 26th, 2018)

  1. Teicholz argues that Nutrition Science is Not Up to the Task:

Despite methodological advances, nutritional epidemiology remains fundamentally limited by its observational nature. Guidelines relying on this circumstantial evidence can be little more than educated guesses. Enacting prevention guidelines based on lesser evidence risks repeating what might be a tragic history of doing more harm than good.

  1. Contrary to earlier research, a new article finds that teaching kids to delay gratification is likely a waste of time. The whole concept of “emotional intelligence” is probably much less solid than was believed.
  2. As more Chinese have left farms in the countryside to work in factory cities, the suicide rate has plummeted.
  3. Excess of inflammation is the key ingredient in many nasty diseases. A recent paper suggests that eating baking soda could anti-inflammatory. Drinking water filled with baking soda is not pleasant.1. Many people take statins, a wide family of drugs that are supposed to reduce your risk of having a cardiovascular incident. It seems that part of their beneficial effect could be that they neutralize your stem cells… which helps reduce the production of undesirable cells, but also leads to what can be described as accelerated aging…

statins impaired the osteogenic and chondrogenic differentiation potential of stem cells and increased cell senescence and apoptosis (…) Statins also impaired the expression of DNA repair genes

  1. We still don’t know how life arose on Earth. Steele et al. argue that life come from space

Even if we concede that the dominant neo-Darwinian paradigm of natural selection can explain aspects of the evolutionary history of life once life gets started, independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support and is moreover unnecessary and redundant. With astronomical data now pointing to the existence of hundreds of billions of habitable planets in our galaxy alone, such a hypothesis seeking an independent origin of life on any single planet seems to be no longer hardly necessary.

Their theory is that Earth is bombarded by genetic material, viruses and bacteria… from space. They appear to have interesting evidence:

Grebennikova et al (2018) have now confirmed the discovery of several microbial species associated with cosmic dust on the exterior windows of the International Space Station (ISS), and contamination at source and in the laboratory has been ruled out. The results of PCR amplification followed by DNA sequencing and phylogenetic analysis have established the presence of bacteria of the genus Mycobacteria and the extremophile genus Delftia, amongst others, associated with deposits of cosmic dust, which are now from a height of some 400km above the Earth’s surface. A terrestrial origin seems most unlikely. Studies by Wickramasinghe and Rycroft (2018) have shown that all possible mechanisms for lofting these organisms against gravity to heights of 400km in the ionosphere fall short by many orders of magnitude.

  1. When part of your brain dies, it is believed that it does not get repaired. Instead, your brain adapts to the loss. Researchers have found some evidence that the brain could be tricked into repairing itself. They have injected a degradable gel that provides support for cells to come and grow. In mice, this lead to what seems to be brain repair.
  2. Contrary to expectations high blood sugar appears to be more of a concern for athletes then low blood sugar even in those with the highest energy expenditure and consuming below the recommended carbohydrate intake.
  3. Males were more likely to take shortcuts and reached their goal location faster than females, while females were more likely to follow learned routes and wander. (…) This research indicates that the sex difference in navigation efficiency is large.
  4. Richard Cocks on research:

It is the very nature of research that it is not possible to list Goals and Objectives in advance. Or rather, one might have Goals and Objectives but they must be provisional and change as research progresses. If the outcome of research were known in advance no research would be necessary. By definition, what one will discover is a mystery. (…) Since temporary enthusiasms are not predictable or possible to artificially generate, nor to know in advance what one will find, it is not possible to know what direction research will go in. There is simply no point in forcing someone to think about a problem that he has no interest in; not if the goal is to be creative.

(Found via John D Cook.)

  1. Sarah Constantin writes on cancer research:

The whole cycle, from no chemotherapies at all to development, trial, and FDA approval for multiple chemotherapy drugs, took just six years. Modern developments, by contrast, can take decades to get to market. The type of research that gave us chemotherapy could never receive funding—and would likely get its practitioners thrown in jail—if it were attempted today. The problem is clear: Despite tens of billions of dollars every year spent on research, progress in combating cancer has slowed to a snail’s pace. So how can we start to reverse this frustrating trend? We know from history that cancer research doesn’t need to cost billions to be effective. Instead of open-ended grants, donors could pay for results via contracts or prizes.

We used to think cancer was conquerable. Today, that idea is often laughed off as utopian. But there are countless reasons to believe that progress has slowed because of organizational and governmental problems, not because the disease is inherently incurable.

  1. CO2 makes plants grow faster and larger, but it does not necessarily make them better for human consumption.
  2. Google worked with LG to develop a display panel providing an astonishing 18.1 megapixels of detail per eye in a virtual-reality headset. That’s an insane number of pixels, and we do not have a headset able to make use of these displays. I suppose that the idea is to add eye tracking so that we can offer high-resolution details where the user is looking. My current take on virtual reality is that we are not primarily limited by the quality of the hardware, but rather by the lack of great software. Still, it is nice to know that better hardware is on the horizon.