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Monday, April 30, 2018

Annoyed at Headlines - Star Trek Wasn't Prophetic on Brain Death

Starfleet LogoI know that science reporting ain't what it used to be. And even in the 'old days', when newspapers had decent sized science departments, headlines could be misleading. Still, the reporting on a recent study has irked me enough to become a cranky old man and call it out here on my blog.

Here are a few examples of the coverage. Pay attention to what those headlines are implying.

Here's how Vice summarized the findings of the study.

[Jans] Dreier works at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, one of Germany's leading university hospitals. In February, the 52-year-old and his colleague, Jed Hartings, published a study that details what happens to our brain at the point of death. It describes how the brain's neurons transmit electrical signals with full force one last time before they completely die off. Though this phenomenon, popularly known in the medical community as a "brain tsunami," had previously only been seen in animals, Dreier and Hartings were able to show it in humans as they died. Their work goes on to suggest that in certain circumstances, the process could be stopped entirely, theorizing that it could be done if enough oxygen is supplied to the brain before the cells are destroyed.

About 2/3 of the way through that Vice article, you find the following interview question and answer with the study author.

So how did you find out that an episode of Star Trek had predicted your findings 30 years ago?

My colleague, Jed Hartings, brought it to my attention after watching the scene and noticing how similar it is to our work. My best guess is that the creators of Star Trek must have found research at the time that detailed a similar process in animals. The first person to research these sort of brain waves was a Brazilian neurophysiologist who conducted studies on rabbits in the 1940s. All we've done is show it in humans, which has taken this long because medical research in general is an incredibly slow process.

So in reality, this is a process first studied in the 1940s. The big innovation in this study is that it was done on human subjects, rather that non-human animals, but it shouldn't be a shock at all that human brains function the same as other mammal brains. So, Star Trek's writers back in the '80s were just using an already known phenomenon in their script. You could praise the writers for getting the science right (because they didn't always), but it's not like they made some profound prediction that science is only now catching up with.

All this isn't to say that the new study isn't fascinating. Of course it's interesting to do this study on actual people instead of other animals. But it doesn't sound like it found anything that wasn't already expected.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 27, 2018

Friday Trump & Politics Roundup - 22

Donald TrumpThis is my semi-regular feature to post links to articles about Donald Trump along with excerpts from those articles. Trump has the potential to cause so much damage to our country and the world that it's every citizen's responsibility to keep pressure on him and our other elected officials to try to minimize the damage. To read previous entries in this series and other Trump related posts, check out my Trump archives.

Like I wrote the last time I did one of these updates a few months ago, I haven't been posting in this series super regularly, because of just how depressing it is. I see all the damage Trump's doing to the country, but that his approval rating remains at 40%. I shouldn't be surprised. I predicted as much back at the end of 2016. I just wish I'd been wrong, and that there were more real patriots who gave a damn about what this country was supposed to stand for, and didn't support such a dangerous president who stands against practically every noble America ideal. It may not have been Sinclair Lewis who said so, but it certainly seems that "when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross".

Anyway, on to the links. I'm only going to do my normal excerpts for a few newer links. After that, I've got a long list of articles I'd been saving up but never got around to posting until now.

Time - The Impact of President Trump's 'Global Gag Rule' on Women's Health is Becoming Clear

In just one year, health care workers say the policy has had disastrous effect; as expected, clinics are shutting down, unsafe abortions are predicted to rise sharply and families are losing critical services across the globe.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation, which operates in more than 150 countries, faces setbacks not only in family planning but also in HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis services for both men and women. IPPF says that for $100 million in lost funding, the organization could have prevented 20,000 maternal deaths in 29 countries affected by the ban. Marie Stopes International, a London-based abortion and contraception provider that operates in 37 countries, estimates that more than 2 million women it serves will lose their access to contraception. This could lead to a further 6,900 maternal deaths. Just those two organizations' loss in funding could lead to a combined total of about 7.5 million unwanted pregnancies and 2.5 million unsafe abortions. [emphasis mine - Trump is directly responsible for all of those preventable deaths]

Scientific American Blogs - The Health and Safety of America's Workers Is at Risk: We've made great progress, but the Trump administration is intent on rolling back protections and favoring industry interests over the public interest

There are numerous indications that this progress will be slowed or even reversed by a Trump administration intent on rolling back public protections and prioritizing industry interests over the public interest.
The Trump administration makes no bones about its (de)regulatory agenda. The president boasts about cutting public safeguards and protections, and his agency heads are falling right in line. Our working men and women are the economic backbone of our nation. They produce the goods and services we all enjoy, depend on and often take for granted. They are our loved ones, our friends, and our colleagues. They deserve to come home from work safe and healthy.

Worker Memorial Day is a time to pause and remember workers who have given and lost so much in the course of doing their jobs. It is also a time to renew our vigilance and be ready to use our voices, votes and collective power to demand and defend rules, standards, policies and science-based safeguards that protect our loved ones at work. Let's hold our elected leaders and their appointees accountable for the actions they take--or don't take--to protect this most precious national resource.

Scientific American Blogs - Speaking Science to Power: A statement released by 317 National Academy of Sciences members challenges the widespread dismissal of science and scientific understanding by the Trump administration

In the aftermath of the last U.S. presidential election, many of the negative consequences mentioned in the September 2016 open letter are now unfolding. The Trump administration has initiated the process of U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and continues to cast doubt on the reality and seriousness of human-caused climate change. Negative consequences are now affecting many areas of science--not just climate science. The administration has shown a systematic disregard for using sound scientific information in public policymaking. Science inconsistent with the administration's ideological goals is ignored, suppressed, portrayed as too uncertain, and dismissed as politically and financially motivated.

Scientific American Blogs - Scott Pruitt Will Restrict the EPA's Use of Legitimate Science: The administrator's "transparency" proposal is a fundamentally flawed Trojan horse

The EPA is reportedly on the verge of restricting the science that EPA can use in decisionmaking and I'm livid. This is a move that serves no purpose other than to prevent the EPA from carrying out its mission of protecting public health and the environment. If Pruitt's proposal looks anything like House Science Committee Chairman's HONEST Act or its predecessor the Secret Science Act, we know it will be nonsensical and dangerous for our nation's ability to use science to protect people.

The Nation - Under Trump, ICE Has Become a Vast, Cruel Bureaucracy: Children seeking asylum are being separated from their parents for no good reason.

Over the past few years, the enforcement of immigration policy in this country has slowly shifted from the corrective to the punitive, and now to the abusive. We see this with the construction of walls around border cities, which has resulted in a shift of migratory trails to deserts and mountains and a rise in migrant deaths. We see this in the raids and arrests that ICE has conducted outside schools, places of worship, and soccer fields. We see this in the effort by Attorney General Jeff Sessions--previously a staunch advocate of states' rights--to stop places like California from declaring themselves sanctuary states. And we are now seeing this in the practice of breaking up asylum-seeking families. None of it has worked. But it has created a vast, cruel bureaucracy that has, step by step, diminished our collective humanity.

MySanAntonio.com - ICE, Trump and the bitter fruit of dehumanization

ICE's 40 percent increase in arrests within the country after Trump took office is now closely associated with the president's political priorities. His sweeping executive orders on immigration broadened the focus of enforcement beyond serious threats to public order. Arrests of immigrants without criminal convictions have spiked dramatically. Routine "check-ins" with ICE officials can end with handcuffs and deportation. "Sanctuary cities" -- a recurring presidential political obsession -- are being targeted with additional personnel. Hundreds of children have been removed from parents seeking asylum and detained separately -- compounding their terrible ordeal of persecution and flight. ICE recently announced a new policy that makes it easier to detain pregnant women. Asylum seekers have often been denied "humanitarian parole" while their cases are decided, effectively jailing them without due process.
ICE is not currently an agency famous for its care and discernment. In releasing an immigration activist detained by ICE early this year, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest said, "It ought not to be -- and it has never before been -- that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust. ... We are not that country."

Vox - Never-Trump Republicans face an obvious choice. They're not going to like it.: If they believe Donald Trump is a threat to America, they should vote Democrat.

The first thing to understand is that lots of popular conceptions of Trump -- that he's an anomaly, an aberration, an outsider who's hijacked and split the party -- are just wrong. Taylor cites this recent paper from political scientist Larry Bartels, which shows in great detail that, for all intents and purposes, there is no anti-Trump faction of the GOP. The party is united behind Trump, which is why Congress has provided no meaningful check on his power or corruption.
Here's Taylor:
Let's remember what's at stake. The Republican Party is slowly becoming comfortable with the authoritarian, blood and soil politics of Marine Le Pen's National Front. A competitive, proto-fascist party (let's not mince words) in a two-party system would be an existential threat to American democracy.

There you have it: an existential threat. A party that is not meaningfully restrained by shared norms of conduct cannot long be legally or democratically restrained either. And the GOP has grown more lawless with each passing administration.

It may sound faintly absurd to think that the US could see widespread political violence or openly rigged elections, but lots of things that are currently happening sound faintly absurd too. Norms and expectations that were once considered sacrosanct have dissolved like tissue paper, one after the other. Who's to say where it could lead?

Which is to say, an existential threat is a serious thing.

And here are the links from my backlog. And even this is just a small sample of what I read practically every time I read the news. Man, times are depressing. Trump and Republicans are doing so much damage to the country and the rest of the world.

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