OpEd: Abortion Rights Are Good Health and Good Science
The U.S. Supreme Court is about to make a huge mistake.
If the leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a true indication of the Court’s will, federal abortion rights in this country are about to be struck down. In doing so the Court will not only side against popular opinion on a crucial issue of bodily autonomy, but also signal that politics and religion play a more important role in health care than do science and evidence.
For almost 50 years people in the U.S. who have needed to end a pregnancy have had a legal right to do so. Accessibility and affordability have always been barriers, and anti-abortion lawmakers have chipped away at this right, set forth in Roe v. Wade, but the ability to get a safe and legal abortion before fetal viability was settled law.
Amid war, Ukrainians are tracking Russia’s crimes against the environment
[…] According to the Geneva Convention, “it is prohibited to use methods or means of warfare that are intended to cause or are expected to cause widespread, long-term, and serious damage to the environment.”
Yet, the environmental impacts of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to date are severe, far-reaching, and likely to affect generations of Ukrainians to come, according to Olena Maslyukivska, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Maslyukivska, who is a refugee herself, says environmental activists have had to record these damages in secret, and that the ongoing war has presented hurdles in collecting and analyzing this data.
Brazil’s Amazon deforestation hits record for month of April
Deforestation detected in the Brazilian Amazon broke all records for the month of April, and that followed similar new records set in January and February, reflecting a worrisome uptick in destruction in a state deep within the rainforest.
Satellite alerts of deforestation for April corresponded to more than 1,000 square kilometers (nearly 400 square miles), the highest figure for that month in seven years of record-keeping and 74% more than the same month in 2021, which was the prior record.
It marked the first time that deforestation alerts have surpassed 1,000 square kilometers during a month in the rainy season, which runs from December to April.
Huge volume of water detected under Antarctic ice
Vast quantities of water have been detected in sediments that underlie a part of the West Antarctic ice sheet.
The volume is equivalent to a reservoir that is several hundred metres deep. The water was detected below the Whillans Ice Stream, but its presence is likely replicated elsewhere across the White Continent.
That being the case, it could be an important influence on how Antarctica reacts to a warmer world, researchers tell the journal Science this week. Water at the base of glaciers and ice streams generally works to lubricate their movement.
A common sunscreen ingredient turns toxic in the sea — anemones suggest why
A common but controversial sunscreen ingredient that is thought to harm corals might do so because of a chemical reaction that causes it to damage cells in the presence of ultraviolet light.
Researchers have discovered that sea anemones, which are similar to corals, make the molecule oxybenzone water-soluble by tacking a sugar onto it. This inadvertently turns oxybenzone into a molecule that — instead of blocking UV light — is activated by sunlight to produce free radicals that can bleach and kill corals. “This metabolic pathway that is meant to detoxify is actually making a toxin,” says Djordje Vuckovic, an environmental engineer at Stanford University in California, who was part of the research team. The animals “convert a sunscreen into something that’s essentially the opposite of a sunscreen”.
Oxybenzone is the sun-blocking agent in many suncreams. Its chemical structure causes it to absorb UV rays, preventing damage to skin cells. But it has attracted controversy in recent years after studies reported that it can damage coral DNA, interfere with their endocrine systems and cause deformities in their larvae.
‘It’s just gorgeous’: rare deep-sea dragonfish spotted off California coast
A rare deep-sea fish has been spotted off the coast of northern California, prompting excitement among marine biologists who have attempted to track down the elusive creature for decades.
The Bathophilus flemingi, also known as the highfin dragonfish, was captured on video by a team of researchers in Monterey Bay, California. Named after the mythical creature, the torpedo-shaped fish is a predator that roams the depths of the ocean.
The fish can grow up to 16.5cm in length and has long thin rays for fins. Scientists think the wing-like filaments can detect vibrations and can alert the fish of oncoming predators and prey.
Worried that quantum computers will supercharge hacking, White House calls for encryption shift
Quantum computers—exotic machines that can solve practical problems that would stymie any conventional supercomputer—remain years or decades away. However, yesterday President Joe Biden’s administration took a step to anticipate the eventual deployment of such machines. In a new national security memorandum, the White House instructs federal agencies to prepare to shift from the encryption algorithms used today to secure communications on the internet and other networks to new algorithms resistant to attack by a quantum computer.
The memo envisions the shift beginning in 2024, when the first standard for such “post-quantum cryptography” should emerge, and being complete before 2035. Fortunately for internet companies, such postquantum cryptography will involve changes mostly in software. “You don’t need a quantum computer to implement these postquantum solutions,” says Dustin Moody, a mathematician with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Still, he says, “The transition should be quite challenging, as with any crypto transition that we’ve done.”
Interior seeks to bolster Lake Powell to preserve hydropower
In its bid to prevent a hydropower shutdown at the Glen Canyon Dam during persistent drought, the Interior Department will hold back nearly 480,000 acre-feet of water from being released, agency leaders announced today.
The Bureau of Reclamation will also seek to bolster historically low levels in Lake Powell by releasing 500,000 acre-feet of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming.
“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River Basin, but the conditions we see today and the risks we see on the horizon demand that we take prompt action,” said Tanya Trujillo, Interior’s assistant secretary for water and science.
A Reclamation database shows the reservoir at just under 3,523 feet as of yesterday, less than 35 feet above the lowest level at which the dam can still generate hydropower.
The American West is primed for a summer of fire
More than 1.2 million acres of the US have burned from wildfires so far this year. That’s roughly 500,000 acres more than the 10-year average—and across much of the West, peak fire conditions haven’t even set in yet. Currently, 11 large fires are burning uncontained in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico. And with much of the country in a deep drought, the rest of the spring and early summer are likely to look just as fiery, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest.
This year reflects a broader transition in fire behavior across the US, as hotter days and more variable rainfall have let a relatively concentrated “fire season” in the West turn into year-round disasters and risk. But the months of June, July, and August are still particularly fire-prone. On May 1, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) released its predictions of fire weather through August.
A Pig Virus May Have Killed First Recipient of Transplanted Pig Heart
Evidence of a virus that infects pigs was found in the body of David Bennet Sr., the recipient of a genetically modified pig heart in an experimental transplant surgery. Bennet died in March at 57 years old, two months after undergoing the last-resort operation, which was the first of its kind ever performed.
Now, his surgeon and others think that porcine cytomegalovirus likely played a role, according to reporting originally from MIT Technology Review. It’s a mixed finding with implications for the future of cross-species transplants, called xenotransplantation. On one hand, transplanting an infected organ should’ve been easily avoided and prompts further ethical concerns about an already fraught procedure. But it’s also possible that, without the virus present, Bennet could’ve survived even longer with his new heart.
The awake ape: Why people sleep less than their primate relatives
On dry nights, the San hunter-gatherers of Namibia often sleep under the stars. They have no electric lights or new Netflix releases keeping them awake. Yet when they rise in the morning, they haven’t gotten any more hours of sleep than a typical Western city dweller who stayed up doomscrolling on their smartphone.
Research has shown that people in nonindustrial societies—the closest thing to the kind of setting our species evolved in—average less than seven hours a night, says David Samson, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. That’s a surprising number when you consider our closest animal relatives. Humans sleep less than any ape, monkey, or lemur that scientists have studied. Chimps sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24. Cotton-top tamarins sleep about 13. Three-striped night monkeys are technically nocturnal, though, really, they’re hardly ever awake—they sleep for 17 hours a day.
Samson calls this discrepancy the human sleep paradox. “How is this possible, that we’re sleeping the least out of any primate?” he says. Sleep is known to be important for our memory, immune function, and other aspects of health. A predictive model of primate sleep based on factors such as body mass, brain size, and diet concluded that humans ought to sleep about nine and a half hours out of every 24, not seven. “Something weird is going on,” Samson says.
‘Better Than Omicron’ Is Still Pretty Bad
On the topographical map of the coronavirus pandemic, it would not be unfair to call America’s recent winter wave an Everest among a series of rolling bunny slopes. At the zenith of the peak, the nation was clocking, scientists estimate, multiple millions of new infections each day; the portion of Americans ever infected by the virus may have doubled in the span of just a few weeks. It was the spike that sent every COVID graph’s y-axis a-reelin’, the trend that rejiggered the nation’s conception of steep.
Now that infection rates are trending up again from their early-spring low, it’s hard to put them in perspective. Sure, we’ve once again blown past the mark of 60,000 new documented cases a day (and that’s just the ones we know about), but that’s less than 10 percent of what the CDC was recording in mid-January, when the original version of Omicron, now called BA.1, was at the top of its game. Sure, hospitalizations are headed in the wrong direction, but deaths, so far, are still going down. If BA.1’s horrific blitzkrieg was a wave, what do we call this? A wavelet? A swell? A bump, a ripple, a Hobbit-size hillock? Euphemisms for the recent rise—sharp, but not the sharpest—have been trickling in for weeks. But maybe it’s time to just call a surge a surge.
Dairy products linked to increased risk of cancer
Overall evidence to date on whether eating dairy products affects the risk of cancer has been inconsistent. Studies on Western populations indicate that dairy products may be associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer and a higher risk of prostate cancer, but have found no clear link for breast or other types of cancer. These results, however, may not be the same for non-Western populations, where amounts and types of dairy consumption and ability to metabolize dairy products differ greatly.
For instance, in China there is very little consumption of cheese and butter, and the consumption of milk and yogurt is also far lower than Western populations. In addition, most Chinese adults cannot properly metabolize dairy products due to lack of lactase, a key enzyme for breaking down the milk sugar lactose.
To establish whether dairy products affect the risk of cancer differently in Chinese people, researchers from Oxford Population Health, Peking University, and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, have today published the results of a new large-scale study in BMC Medicine. This collected data from over 510,000 participants in the China Kadoorie Biobank Study.
James Webb Space Telescope begins final check-outs before science observations
NASA's next-generation observatory is entering the last stages of preparation before showing scientists an all-new view of the universe.
Engineers are preparing to make final tweaks to the instruments on board the James Webb Space Telescope as the observatory readies for operations this summer. NASA said the telescope has "calibrations and characterizations of the instruments using a rich variety of astronomical sources" coming up shortly to make sure everything is working before Webb is set loose to examine the early universe.
"We will measure the instruments' throughput — how much of the light that enters the telescope reaches the detectors and is recorded," Scott Friedman, lead commissioning scientist for Webb at Baltimore's Space Science Telescope Institute, said in NASA statement Thursday (May 5).
The New York Times
The Ocean’s Biggest Garbage Pile Is Full of Floating Life
In 2019, the French swimmer Benoit Lecomte swam over 300 nautical miles through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution. […]
Scientists aboard the ship supporting Mr. Lecomte’s swim systematically sampled the patch’s surface waters. The team found that there were much higher concentrations of neuston within the patch than outside it. In some parts of the patch, there were nearly as many neuston as pieces of plastic.
“I had this hypothesis that gyres concentrate life and plastic in similar ways, but it was still really surprising to see just how much we found out there,” said Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study. “The density was really staggering. To see them in that concentration was like, wow.”
Global bird populations steadily decline
Staggering declines in bird populations are taking place around the world, according to a study from scientists at multiple institutions published May 5 in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources.
Loss and degradation of natural habitats and direct overexploitation of many species are cited as the key threats to avian biodiversity. Climate change is identified as an emerging driver of bird population declines in the study, “State of the World’s Birds.”
“We are now witnessing the first signs of a new wave of extinctions of continentally distributed bird species,” said lead author Alexander Lees, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom and also an associate researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Avian diversity peaks globally in the tropics and it is there that we also find the highest number of threatened species.”
Self-propelled, endlessly programmable artificial cilia
For years, scientists have been attempting to engineer tiny, artificial cilia for miniature robotic systems that can perform complex motions, including bending, twisting, and reversing. Building these smaller-than-a-human-hair microstructures typically requires multi-step fabrication processes and varying stimuli to create the complex movements, limiting their wide-scale applications.
Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed a single-material, single-stimuli microstructure that can outmaneuver even living cilia. These programmable, micron-scale structures could be used for a range of applications, including soft robotics, biocompatible medical devices, and even dynamic information encryption.
The research is published in Nature.
An encyclopedia of geology that’s less a reference than a journey
To outsiders, geology can seem as dull as a rock, with a lexicon just as opaque, but to insiders, it is a limitless source of wonder. Various authors have used different tools to crack open geology’s dull exterior to show non-geologists the sparkling wonders within: Robert Hazen used color; Jan Zalasiewicz used a pebble; and Richard Fortey used a railway journey, for example.
Marcia Bjornerud uses words to unlock the mysteries of geology the way a video game might use gems to unlock a new level to explore. Her new book is a buffet of bite-size chapters perfect for dipping in and out of, read in no particular order. Geopedia is structured like an encyclopedia to the extent that its topics are arranged alphabetically, but it’s written for enjoyment rather than as a mere fact-reference.
Bjornerud keeps the reading light even when serving up expanses of time and space, and she follows each geological ‘dish’ with a chaser of pointers to other entries that may be related, if only tangentially. After “Amethyst,” for example, she suggests “Kimberlite,” a diamond ore, and “Pedogenesis,” the process by which soil is made.