Scientists are being attacked by more than the common but deadly anti-vax quacks. The Trump Administration ushered in a new level of science denial and dismissal, often abusively so, that undermined science, bullied scientists, with real world repercussions. The Union of Concerned Scientists published Attacks on Science in 2017 (updated 03/23) with examples taken from their study. They just published the full study earlier this year, documenting 206 government attacks on science from January 2017 to November 2022: An equity and environmental justice assessment of anti-science actions during the Trump administration. The study noted that Trump’s attack on the EPA, in particular, “led to a culture of fear and censorship among thousands of EPA scientists.”
Of course, the assault isn’t solely from the government. The media trained up howling mobs of ideological anti-science bullies.
The covid pandemic was like Miracle-Gro for home-grown anti-science cranks as the roused rabble added covid to their agenda. Now, noted scientist Peter Hotez (dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and chair of Tropical Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital) has written a book about this war of ignorance and the harm to society and scientists in The Deadly Rise of Anti-Science: A Scientist’s Warning.
It is beyond Twitter memes and your drunk uncle’s dinner table rants, Hotez claims “it is an organized, well-financed, politically motivated campaign that’s meant to tear down the fabric of science. And we have to frame it in that way.”
With the rise of new diseases and the rapid spread of existing disease to new areas and other concomitant effects of climate change chaos, we are more reliant than ever on science and the people who devote their lives to asking questions and finding answers.
You prefer to say ‘anti-science aggression’ rather than ‘misinformation’. Why?
Misinformation makes it sound like it’s random junk that appears out of nowhere on the Internet. It’s not: it’s an organized, well-financed, politically motivated campaign that’s meant to tear down the fabric of science. And we have to frame it in that way.
The physician-researcher who spoke out against misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic says attacks against science are formidable — and getting worse.
For his work developing low-cost COVID-19 vaccines, Peter Hotez was nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. But for speaking out against anti-vaccine misinformation, he has become a prominent target of harassment, receiving death threats and having stalkers appear at his home on Father’s Day…
...I’ve been leading this dual life, having to combat aggression against science and scientists. It’s hit me hard because now I’m a major target of far-right extremists. It’s odd to have [former White House strategist] Steve Bannon call you a criminal on social media. Those [statements] act as dog whistles, and then it’s followed by a wave of threats online and by e-mail, and even physical stalking.
Right now, you’re seeing individual scientists getting picked off by anti-science bullies on the Internet, or getting subpoenaed to testify at show-trial-like hearings. It’s terrible to watch my virology colleagues get paraded on [television network] CSpan as though they’ve done something wrong, when all they did was what I do — science for humanitarian purposes.
What’s your advice for dealing with online trolls?
In general, I agree not to feed the trolls. The vast majority I simply block. Sometimes I’ll try to use this to help people understand the nature of anti-science aggression. I’m not doing it for the original commenter, but for the benefit of the scientific community, so they understand the nature of the threats.
Gerald Kutney is the author of Climate Denial in American Politics, “a detailed examination of the rise within American politics of climate denialism, the counter movement which challenges the accepted science of climate change.”
The human body is made up of a complex community of trillions of cells of diverse shapes and sizes, all working together to keep you alive. The smallest of these cells, like platelets and red blood cells, are dwarfed by massive muscle cells. When it comes to size, it’s like comparing a shrew to a blue whale.
Now, after collecting data on all of the major types of cells in the body, researchers have revealed a familiar mathematical pattern in these cells’ relationship. There is an inverse relationship between cell size and number, meaning smaller cells are more numerous than larger cells. What’s more, cells of different size classes all have a similar total mass, such that small, numerous cells such as red blood cells contribute the same amount to the body’s total mass as the largest cells, the researchers report September 18 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We see this pattern all over the place,” across disparate fields, says Ian Hatton, an ecologist at McGill University in Montreal.
A tiny jellyfish has, for the first time, demonstrated a mighty cognitive capacity — the ability to learn by association. Although it has no central brain, the finger-tip-sized Caribbean box jellyfish (Tripedalia cystophora) can be trained to associate the sensation of bumping into something with a visual cue, and to use the information to avoid future collisions.
The experiment shows a type of learning called associative learning — made famous by neurologist Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with dogs in the late-nineteenth century — in which an animal learns to associate one stimulus with another through training. “Associative learning is now considered solid evidence of cognitive capacity,” says Ken Cheng, an animal behaviour researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Many other animals — from humans to birds, octopuses and even insects — have the ability to learn by association.
“The box jellyfish finding is very important because it shows that a centralized nervous system, or brain, is not necessary for associative learning,” says Pamela Lyon, a cognitive biologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia.
Jellyfish are more advanced than once thought. A new study from the University of Copenhagen has demonstrated that Caribbean box jellyfish can learn at a much more complex level than ever imagined—despite only having one thousand nerve cells and no centralized brain. The finding changes our fundamental understanding of the brain and could enlighten us about our own mysterious brains. [...]
"It was once presumed that jellyfish can only manage the simplest forms of learning, including habituation—i.e., the ability to get used to a certain stimulation, such as a constant sound or constant touch. Now, we see that jellyfish have a much more refined ability to learn, and that they can actually learn from their mistakes. And in doing so, modify their behavior," says Anders Garm, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Biology.
The dreaded rat lungworm—a parasite with a penchant for rats and slugs that occasionally finds itself rambling and writhing in human brains—has firmly established itself in the Southeast US and will likely continue its rapid invasion, a study published this week suggests. [...]
Humans become accidental hosts in various ways. They may eat undercooked snails or inadvertently eat an infected slug or snail hiding in their unwashed salad. Infected snails and slugs can also be eaten by other animals first, like frogs, prawns, shrimp, or freshwater crabs. If humans then eat those animals before fully cooking them, they can become infected.
When a rat lungworm finds itself in a human, it does what it usually does in rats—it heads to the central nervous system and brain. Sometimes the migration of the worms to the central nervous system is asymptomatic or only causes mild transient symptoms. But, sometimes, they cause severe neurological dysfunction. This can start with nonspecific symptoms like headache, light sensitivity, and insomnia and develop into neck stiffness and pain, tingling or burning of the skin, double vision, bowel or bladder difficulties, and seizures. In severe cases, it can cause nerve damage, paralysis, coma, and even death.
Maintaining a water level between 20 and 30 centimeters below the local water table will boost southern peatlands’ carbon storage and reduce the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane they release back into the atmosphere during dry periods by up to 90%, a new Duke University study finds.
“We could immediately reduce U.S. carbon losses by 2% to 3% of our total national goal by applying this guideline on about 100,000 acres of restored or partially restored peatlands currently found across coastal regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia...Greater reductions would be possible as more former peatlands are rewetted and restored using the new guideline….”
Bird Buddy, the AI-powered startup known for its smart bird feeders, is expanding its offerings with a new digital product called Bird Buddy Explore. This new feature allows users to browse feeds from Bird Buddy cameras all over the world, providing an opportunity to birdwatch in locations beyond their own backyards. With the inclusion of educational information about each bird species encountered, Bird Buddy is taking the birdwatching experience to another level. [...]
With Bird Buddy’s new Explore feature, bird enthusiasts can now enjoy birdwatching in various locations, including Hawaii, Kenya, Chile, and Bhutan … Bird Buddy has an abundance of content to curate for its Explore feature, as its smart bird feeders record over 1 million bird detections globally every day. Users can access the feature through the Bird Buddy app for iOS or Android, where they will find a dedicated Explore section denoted by a “globe” icon. By swiping through remote bird feeders worldwide, users can select the feeder they wish to watch and enjoy snapshots and videos of the birds that visit.
A new book advances the idea that protecting old-growth forests is better for the climate than planting new trees.
When most people think of rainforests, they conjure up images of the Amazon, the Congo, and Southeast Asia — vast verdant expanses of densely packed forests, dripping with moisture and rich with tropical life. But in fact, there’s a huge rainforest in North America, unheralded and underappreciated: the sprawling forested region that stretches some 2,500 miles along the Pacific Coast, from just north of San Francisco to Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Part of the problem, according to Oregon journalists Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate, is that the area has no popular name. As a result, we’re missing the forest for the trees, and U.S. and Canadian policymakers and scientists are neglecting a valuable opportunity to marshal resources in their backyard to hit wider climate change targets and improve conservation.
Giving the Pacific rainforest “an inspiring name could significantly elevate its profile, a necessary first step toward granting it the international recognition it deserves as one of the world’s most vital carbon sinks, alongside the Amazon,” the authors argue in “Canopy of Titans: The Life and Times of the Great North American Temperate Rainforest.”
These next two tweets span the entire period of homo sapiens existence and maybe more