Surprises in Science Never End

first_imgIn a perfect world of scientific knowledge, scientists would understand everything and be able to predict everything according to their best theories.  The number of surprises that continue to turn up, however, show that we remain far from that perfect world. Paleoecology: Chilly dinosaurs:  “It has long been thought that the climate of the Mesozoic, the age of the dinosaurs, was generally warm across the planet,” began an article on PhysOrg.  “However, a recent study challenges this theory.”  An international team measured oxygen isotopes in bones and teeth of fossils from the Jehol biota (02/21/2003) to infer that the animals lived in a temperate climate with harsh winters.Paleoanthropology: Neanderthal firemen:  A complete reversal of thinking about Neanderthals has been going on for some time now (09/22/2010, 05/08/2010, 09/23/2008).  PhysOrg added more fuel to the idea that Neanderthals were not “dimwitted brutes as often portrayed,” but smart, organized and successful, able to control use of fire for 400,000 years in the evolutionary timescale.  That was one surprise in a paper in PNAS mentioned in the article.    That discovery comes at a price, though.  “The second major finding in the PNAS study – perhaps even more surprising than the first – was that Neanderthal predecessors pushed into Europe’s colder northern latitudes more than 800,000 years ago without the habitual control of fire,” the article continued.  “…Archaeologists have long believed the control of fire was necessary for migrating early humans as a way to reduce their energy loss during winters when temperatures plunged below freezing and resources became more scarce.”  In fact, “the oldest traces of human presence in Europe date to more than 1 million years ago,” it said.  That’s 600,000 cold winters without fire.  No one seemed to be questioning the dates (cp. 12/20/2009).  New Scientist suggested a high-protein diet and active lifestyle helped them survive, but would jumping jacks in a blizzard after an uncooked mammoth steak prevent hypothermia?Paleobiology: Surprising lost world:  Crinoids are rare in today’s oceans.  A New Zealand team stumbled upon “over 1000 crinoids belonging to an as yet undescribed species on Admiralty seamount” recently.  “We were surprised to find such extensive populations,” a team member said.  The article compared it to finding Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World of living dinosaurs.    What makes it surprising is that crinoids have largely died out.  In the evolutionary timeline, they were abundant from 250 million to 65 million years ago.  “Today, however, they were only thought to exist in small numbers in the deep sea, possibly because of pressure from recently evolved predators.”  The article said this population “may have been thriving for around 25,000 years,” leaving unresolved the question of what happened in the intervening 64,975,000 years.Geology: Fast volcanoes:  National Geographic News accompanied a dramatic picture of a Montserrat volcano with the headline, “‘Sleeping’ Volcanoes Can Wake Up Faster than Thought.”  For a sleeping volcano to come to life, the soft magma down deep needs to mix with sticky magma in the chamber.  “According to current theory, it would take several hundred or perhaps a thousand years for the heat to distribute through the chamber and make the magma fluid enough to erupt.”    That sounds like simple physics that should have been understood long ago.  Something must be wrong; “But a new model based on fluid dynamics shows that hot, deep magma can mix with the older, sticky stuff much easier than believed, scientists say.”  The new idea is that mixing in the throat of the volcano is “much more efficient than we previously had understood,” a geologist at the University of Washington remark, casting doubt on what was understood previously.Evolution: Tree of Fly:  The latest celebration from ATOL (Assembling the Tree of Life) is a tree of life of Diptera, flies.  Science Daily reported on how the work “Adds Big Branch of Evolutionary Knowledge,” but did include some surprises: “The study showed that the nearest relatives of Drosophila, the fruit fly that many key scientific discoveries have been based on, are two unusual parasites: bee lice, wingless flies that live on honey bees; and Cryptochetidae, flies used as biological controls of crop pests.”    Not mentioned as surprising, but arguably so, is the fact that “members of the oldest, still-living fly families are rare, anatomically strange flies with long legs and long wings that grow up in fast-flowing mountain waters.”  Any insect with long wings seems pretty advanced.  Another candidate surprise is that flies underwent “bursts of diversification” separated by 40 million and 115 million years.  That should surprise believers in Darwinian gradualism.  The article did not mention any flightless ancestors.  “Flies’ origins and evolutionary history began in wet environments,” an expert said, begging the question of how winged flight originated.The number of surprises that continue to turn up also raises questions about how much more remains to be discovered.  What is the ratio of known to unknown?The naïve reads these stories and assumes that science is converging on the truth, correcting errors as we go, marching triumphantly onward.  The informed realizes that a surprise is an admission of prior ignorance or error.    There is hardly a scientific truth left intact from a century ago, and recognizes that much of what we think we know today is vulnerable to tomorrow’s findings.  How much of what we think we know today will survive another century?  Surprise is a function of human fallibility; our science is not omni-science.    When stories about unobserved prehistories and ancestries are thrown in, the potential for misunderstanding is multiplied.  How many of you really believe that anatomically similar human ancestors went through 600,000 freezing winters without fire?  How many believe that crinoids sat on the ocean floor for 600 million years without evolving, to show up now on the Admiralty seamount?  If it weren’t for a pre-commitment to billions of years of evolution (07/15/2010), such notions would be laughed out of court.  It takes a long time of indoctrination to learn how to believe impossible things.Assignment: Explain to Science Daily how “evolutionary knowledge” is an oxymoron.(Visited 16 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Major HIV prevention breakthrough

first_imgProfessor Salim Abdool Karim, director of Caprisa, at work in one of the centre’s laboratories. (Image: Caprisa) MEDIA CONTACTS • Salim Abdool Karim Director: Caprisa +27 31 260 4548 karims1@ukzn.ac.za • Quarraisha Abdool Karim Associate Scientific Director: Caprisa +27 31 260 4208 abdoolq2@ukzn.ac.za RELATED ARTICLES • HIV vaccine hope for Africans • SA first with HIV kidney transplant • Major HIV-testing drive for SA • Global grannies unite against Aids • SA makes strides in medical researchThe HIV/Aids prevention community is abuzz with excitement with the news that South African research has developed a vaginal gel – known as a microbicide – that can reduce sexually transmitted HIV infection by as much as 54%.A two-and-a-half-year study of 889 women by the Durban-based Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) found that a vaginal gel containing the antiretroviral drug tenofovir was 39% effective in reducing a woman’s HIV risk when used for about three-quarters of sex acts. It was 54% effective when used more consistently, and also halved the incidence of genital herpes infections.Download the press release (PDF, 263 KB)“Tenofovir gel could fill an important HIV prevention gap by empowering women who are unable to successfully negotiate mutual faithfulness or condom use with their male partners,” said Quarraisha Abdool Karim, one of the lead investigators of the study and associate director of Caprisa.“This new technology has the potential to alter the course of the HIV epidemic, especially in Southern Africa where young women bear the brunt of this devastating disease.”More than half of new HIV infections in Africa occur in women and girls. The Caprisa study findings are likely to revive flagging morale among researchers disappointed by two decades of failed efforts to develop a female-controlled method of HIV prevention.“We are giving hope to women,” Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAids, said in a statement. “For the first time we have seen results for a woman-initiated and controlled HIV prevention option.“If confirmed, a microbicide will be a powerful option for the prevention revolution and help us break the trajectory of the Aids epidemic.”Funded by the South African and US governments, the Caprisa trial involved 889 HIV-negative, sexually active South African women who were considered to be at high risk of HIV infection. Half of the women were given vaginal applicators containing a 1% concentration of tenofovir gel, while the other half were given a placebo gel. The women were asked to insert a dose of the gel 12 hours before sexual intercourse and a second dose within 12 hours after intercourse.Over the course of the year-long study, 98 women became HIV positive – 38 in the tenofovir gel group compared to 60 in the placebo gel group. On average, adherence to the gel was over 70%, but among women who used the tenofovir gel for more than 80% of sex acts the gel provided greater protection from HIV.“We believe that the most responsible plan of action now is to quickly and efficiently articulate the sequence of steps necessary for confirmation and follow-up of these results, while also aggressively planning for potential roll-out of a licensable product,” Mitchell Warren, executive director of the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, said in a statement.“As exciting as this result is – and as important as it is to follow it up without delay – the reality is that this product will not be available for widespread introduction tomorrow,” Mitchell said. “It is critical to manage expectations while maintaining urgency.”The research results were published online by Science magazine on Monday.Download the article (PDF, 1.6 MB)Source: Irin PlusNews and MediaClubSouthAfrica.com reporterlast_img read more

PM Holness at G20 Leaders’ Summit

first_imgThe Most Hon. Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of JamaicaG20 Leaders’ Summit, Buenos Aires, Argentina30th November – 1st December 2018__________________________________________________________________Session II: Climate Change ResilienceMr. President,The small island states of the Caribbean whose case I plead at this summit do not have the luxury of engaging in a philosophical debate on Climate Change. We are on the front lines. Every year without fail one or more of our our islands will be hit by weather events of greater frequency and intensity which can wipe out entire economies several times over in a few hours, as was the case last year.Small Island developing states must support the strengthening of a global system that secures a commitment to the 1.5 degree target, and the commitment to finance its achievement.I recently accepted the UN Secretary General’s invitation to Co-Chair the initiative on climate financing, jointly with my French colleague President Macron. I very much hope that we can count on all Leaders around this table to demonstrate their will to meet the longstanding commitment to mobilize the AGREED US$100 billion per annum by 2020 -while we seek as well to harness private sector investments towards the goal of building resilient infrastructure.While the international community works towards a consensus on the approach to the existential global threat of Climate Change, vulnerable states must act in their own behalf to adapt and build their own resilience. We have a duty to be fiscally responsible, energy smart, and embracive of technology and innovation in this regard. Jamaica holds it self out as a small island state that has embraced fiscal responsibility and energy diversity. With the help of our development partners from the IMF, IDB, and the world bank we have reduced our national debt from 147% of GDP in 2013, to be just under 100% now. With the support of the US We have diversified our energy sector away from heavy fuel oils. However, despite our efforts and ownership of the problem, these gains could be easily reversed with the direct hit of a single hurricane.It is for that reason that Jamaica has a simple, principle-oriented proposition: Countries that demonstrate fiscal credibility, and develop a track record of fiscal responsibility, but yet remain vulnerable to the fiscal impact of natural disasters, should be eligible for international cooperation and assistance in the acquisition of ex ante financial insulation for the cost of emergency response to natural disaster. Furthermore, GDP should not remain the sole determinant of graduation, where vulnerability so clearly impacts on small islands’ economic resilience. This aligns our commitment to promoting fiscal responsibility, Debt sustainability and climate resilience.We must move from Climate Talk, to Climate Action.last_img read more

Ohio State womens hockey names Nadine Muzerall head coach

Within 20 days of the its first game, the Ohio State women’s hockey team has hired former Minnesota Golden Gophers assistant coach Nadine Muzerall as its head coach, announced in the second quarter of the Ohio State football game on Saturday.Muzerall fills a hole left by former coach Jenny Potter who left the program on Aug. 18, just five weeks before the first game and five days before classes began. OSU was 10-25-1 under Potter in 2015-16.“We’ve all heard such good things (about Muzerall),” junior defenseman Dani Sadek said. “She has a winning mindset and I think that’s what this program needs.”The first thing to know about the new Buckeye coach is her connection to the Golden Gophers’ women’s hockey program.Muzerall was on the bench of last year’s Minnesota squad that won the national championship over Boston College. She spent the past five seasons at Minnesota coaching in five national championship games and claiming four championship rings.As a player at Minnesota from 1997-2001, she began her extensive trophy case by collecting two All-American honors in 1998 and 2000. Muzerall was also on the Gophers team that won an AWCHA national championship — women’s hockey was not an NCAA-sanctioned sport until 2000-2001 season — and a 2001 Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference championship.Muzerall still holds the all-time goals record for Minnesota women’s hockey with 139 career goals. She also leads the all-time goals per game mark with 1.08. She ranks third all-time in career points with 235.The Ontario, Canada, native was the first women’s hockey player inducted into the hall of fame at the university. She is still the youngest athlete to be inducted into Minnesota’s hall of fame.Muzerall is OSU’s third coach in as many years following Porter’s departure and the resignation of former coach Nate Handrahan amidst sexual harassment allegations.OSU opens the season on Friday, Sept. 30, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. read more

Football Talent remains with Ohio State defensive ends despite depth departure

Ohio State freshman defensive end Chase Young (2) sacks Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe and forces a fumble during the Ohio State-Maryland game on Oct. 7. Ohio State won 62-14. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThere was a case to be made that Ohio State’s defensive end depth in 2017 was as strong as any in college football. It could even have been the best of the past several seasons.It not only had the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in Tyquan Lewis, but also the 2017 winner in Nick Bosa, as well as future NFL draft selections Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard. Waiting behind the four starters were a pair of former top defensive end prospects in five-star freshman Chase Young and four-star redshirt freshman Jonathon Cooper, both of whom spelled the starters when needed.That depth was envious in 2017. It will not be there in 2018.Ohio State lost Hubbard to the draft while Holmes and Lewis both graduated, leaving Bosa, Young and Cooper as the only returning players at defensive end.“We’ll find some guys to play with them,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said after the Cotton Bowl. “We’ll make some changes. We’ll make sure those guys have a chance to be fresh. We’re a long ways away from that, but I think we’ll be OK.”The concern with Ohio State’s defensive end group will not come from the talent present. Bosa and Young could be a dynamic pairing at the top, potentially the most explosive duo in college football, if the talent they have shown in the past continues in 2018. Cooper will present the Buckeyes with a strong third option in the rotation.And even though Young and Cooper have only part of one season full of garbage time minutes under their belts, they both feel ready to step into larger roles in the 2018 season.“I think we were prepared right now,” Young said after the Cotton Bowl. “But even this spring and this winter and the summer, it’s going to get us, and after all three of those [seasons], man, I think we going to be there. Just watch out.”The depth from there takes a bit of a hit and will remain questionable heading into the season.Since the bowl game in December, Ohio State has a clearer vision of who will be able to provide backup to next year’s starters. The Buckeyes brought in defensive end recruits four-star Tyreke Smith, four-star Tyler Friday and three-star Alex Williams. However, Friday will be making the change from defensive tackle to end while Williams might get a shot at playing tight end in college.Even with the recruits coming in, it seems unlikely any of them will have extended roles. None are as highly regarded as Young coming out of high school. Young appeared in 10 games and had 3.5 sacks while Cooper played in nine games.Still, that playing time proved valuable for the pair. It was given chances to play against collegiate competition — though almost always toward the end of blowouts. Bosa remembers that even when the game was not on the line, the playing time was important for his own development.“My freshman year, I was able to play a decent amount,” Bosa said. “Just get that big game experience. Just get used to the speed of the game. It’s a lot different than high school and you just learn a lot when you actually get in there, you can’t really replicate it in practice.”The recruits could be thrust into playing time due to the lack of depth, but none are expected to have Young’s impact. He demonstrated speed and elusiveness during his freshman season that has convinced the Buckeyes he will be a force when he steps into a starting role for Ohio State.Cooper’s name often gets lost in the shuffle — overlooked in favor of Bosa and Young — when looking ahead to 2018. Cooper did not have as much impactful playing time as Young in 2017 and had just two sacks. But the players all believe he has the chance to be another top option for the Buckeyes when they need relief.“If you name me and Nick, you’ve got to name Coop too,” Young said after the Cotton Bowl. “Coop, his motor is unreal and I don’t think guys have seen a lot of him this year, but like I said with [defensive tackle] Davon Hamilton, you going to see a lot of him next year, you going to see what he brings to the table.”Ohio State is going to have to deal with a lack of depth, but there is still plenty of talent at defensive end. With Young, Bosa and Cooper, the Buckeyes have a formidable trio that should present challenges to opposing offensive lines, just like they did in 2017.“I think it could be the best pass-rushing unit ever,” Bosa said on Jan. 19. “I think it could be a step up from last year just because they’ve really set the bar for us and we’re going to enhance it and just so much talent on this D-line right now, even though we’re young. Some of the best talent that I’ve ever seen, so it’s going to be really good once we get all the chemistry together.” read more