Tag: science (page 1 of 2)

Fractional dosing of COVID vaccines may help more people get immunity faster

The advice to date has, quite rightly, to get any COVID vaccine that’s available to you. For me, that’s meant a double dose of AstraZeneca, and I’m happy about that.

But as the pandemic progresses, we need to be aware that some vaccines are more effective than others. This working paper, building on one published in Nature earlier this year, looks at how ‘fractional dosing’ of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines could reach more people more quickly.

Needless to say, we shouldn’t be in the position where people in less developed countries are getting access to vaccines much more slowly than the rest of the world. But, pragmatically speaking, this may help.

We supplement the key figure from Khoury et al.’s paper to show that fractional doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have neutralizing antibody levels (as measured in the early phase I and phase II trials) that look to be on par with those of many approved vaccines. Indeed, a one-half or one-quarter dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is predicted to be more effective than the standard dose of some of the other vaccines like the AstraZeneca, J&J or Sinopharm vaccines, assuming the same relationship as in Khoury et al. holds. The point is not that these other vaccines aren’t good–they are great! The point is that by using fractional dosing we could rapidly and safely expand the number of effective doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

[…]

One more point worth mentioning. Dose stretching policies everywhere are especially beneficial for less-developed countries, many of which are at the back of the vaccine queue. If dose-stretching cuts the time to be vaccinated in half, for example, then that may mean cutting the time to be vaccinated from two months to one month in a developed country but cutting it from two years to one year in a country that is currently at the back of the queue.

Source: A Half Dose of Moderna is More Effective Than a Full Dose of AstraZeneca | Marginal REVOLUTION

Information cannot be transmitted faster than the [vacuum] speed of light

It’s been a while since I studied Physics, so I confess to not exactly understanding what’s going on here. However, if it speeds up my internet connection at some point in the future, it’s all good.

“Our experiment shows that the generally held misconception that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, is wrong. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity still stands, however, because it is still correct to say that information cannot be transmitted faster than the vacuum speed of light,” said Dr. Lijun Wang. “We will continue to study the nature of light and hopefully it will provide us with a better insight about the natural world and further stimulate new thinking towards peaceful applications that will benefit all humanity.”

Source: Laser pulse travels 300 times faster than light

Peer review sucks

I don’t have much experience of peer review (I’ve only ever submitted one article and peer reviewed two) but it felt a bit archaic at the time. From what I hear from others, they feel the same.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that the whole edifice of the university system is slowly crumbling. Academics know that the system is ridiculous.

This then is why I was so bothered about how Covid-19 research is reported: peer review is no guard, is no gold standard, has little role beyond gate-keeping. It is noisy, biased, fickle. So pointing out that some piece of research has not been peer reviewed is meaningless: peer review has played no role in deciding what research was meaningful in the deep history of science; and played little role in deciding what research was meaningful in the ongoing story of Covid-19. The mere fact that news stories were written about the research decided it was meaningful: because it needed to be done. Viral genomes needed sequencing; vaccines needed developing; epidemiological models needed simulating. The reporting of Covid-19 research has shown us just how badly peer review needs peer reviewing. But, hey, you’ll have to take my word for it because, sorry, this essay is (not yet peer reviewed).

Source: The Absurdity of Peer Review | Elemental

Male bias in scientific trials

Wow, this excerpt from Pain & Prejudice is pretty hard-hitting, especially around the paternalistic tendency treating women as ‘walking wombs’.

In the early 20th century, the endocrine system, which produces hormones, was discovered. To medical minds, this represented another difference between men and women, overtaking the uterus as the primary perpetrator of all women’s ills. Still, medicine persisted with the belief that all other organs and functions would operate the same in men and women, so there was no need to study women. Conversely, researchers said that the menstrual cycle, and varied release of hormones throughout the cycle in rodents, introduced too many variables into a study, therefore females could not be studied.

Source: The female problem: how male bias in medical trials ruined women’s health | Women | The Guardian

Degrees of Uncertainty

I rarely watch 24-minute online videos all the way through, but this is excellent and well worth everyone’s time. No matter what your preconceptions are about climate change, or your political persuasion.

A data-driven documentary about Neil Halloran.

Source: Degrees of Uncertainty – A documentary about climate change and public trust in science by Neil Halloran

7 climate tipping points that could change the world forever

I usually share climate-related stuff over at extinction.fyi but this is too good (and scary) an article not to cross-post.

The particular danger, according to the Nature paper’s authors, is that even though change in a tipping element may happen slowly on a human timescale, once a certain threshold in the system is crossed, it can become unstoppable. This means that even if the planet’s temperature is stabilized, the transition of certain Earth systems from one state to another could pick up speed, like a rollercoaster car that’s already gone over the apex of a track.

Source: The 7 climate tipping points that could change the world forever | Grist

One should always be a little improbable

Object hitting and bending a wall

🍲 Introducing ‘Food Grammar,’ the Unspoken Rules of Every Cuisine — “Grammars can even impose what is considered a food and what isn’t: Horse and rabbit are food for the French but not for the English; insects are food in Mexico but not in Spain. Moreover, just as “Hey, man!” is a friendly greeting for a buddy but maybe not for your boss, foods may not be suitable in all grammatical contexts. “A Frenchman would think it odd to drink white coffee with dinner and an Italian probably would resent being served spaghetti for breakfast,” writes Claude Fischler in “Food, Self and Identity.” By the same token, rice is appropriate for breakfast in Korea but not in Ireland.”

The essence of this article is that food is a reflection of culture, and our views of other cultures can become ossified. A good read.


🌍 Scientists begin building highly accurate digital twin of our planet — “The digital twin of the Earth is intended to be an information system that develops and tests scenarios that show more sustainable development and thus better inform policies. “If you are planning a two-​metre high dike in The Netherlands, for example, I can run through the data in my digital twin and check whether the dike will in all likelihood still protect against expected extreme events in 2050,” says Peter Bauer, deputy director for Research at the European Centre for Medium-​Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and co-​initiator of Destination Earth. The digital twin will also be used for strategic planning of fresh water and food supplies or wind farms and solar plants.”

This is the kind of thing that simultaneously fills me with hope and fear. On the one hand, such a great idea; on the other, if we get the model wrong, it could make things worse…


🤑 Why an Animated Flying Cat With a Pop-Tart Body Sold for Almost $600,000 — “The sale was a new high point in a fast-growing market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media called NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens.” The buyers are usually not acquiring copyrights, trademarks or even the sole ownership of whatever it is they purchase. They’re buying bragging rights and the knowledge that their copy is the “authentic” one.”

I’ve got a blog post percolating in my mind at the moment about digital reserve currencies, NFTs and deepfakes. There’s something here about an emerging hyper-capitalist dystopia, for sure.


Quotation-as-title by Oscar Wilde. Image by Tu Tram Pham.

Saturday scrubbings

This week on Thought Shrapnel I’ve been focused on messing about with using OBS to create videos. So much, in fact, that this weekend I’m building a new PC to improve the experience.

Sometimes in these link roundups I try and group similar kinds of things together. But this week, much as I did last week, I’ve just thrown them all in a pot like Gumbo.

Tell me which links you find interesting, either in the comments, or on Twitter or the Fediverse (feel free to use the hashtag #thoughtshrapnel)


Melting Ice Reveals a “Lost” Viking-Era Pass in Norway’s Mountains

About 60 artifacts have been radiocarbon dated, showing the Lendbreen pass was widely used from at least A.D. 300. “It probably served as both an artery for long-distance travel and for local travel between permanent farms in the valleys to summer farms higher in the mountains, where livestock grazed for part of the year,” says University of Cambridge archaeologist James Barrett, a co-author of the research.

Tom Metcalfe (Scientific American)

I love it when the scientific and history communities come together to find out new things about our past. Especially about the Vikings, who were straight-up amazing.


University proposes online-only degrees as part of radical restructuring

Confidential documents seen by Palatinate show that the University is planning “a radical restructure” of the Durham curriculum in order to permanently put online resources at the core of its educational offer, in response to the Covid-19 crisis and other ongoing changes in both national and international Higher Education.

The proposals seek to “invert Durham’s traditional educational model”, which revolves around residential study, replacing it with one that puts “online resources at the core enabling us to provide education at a distance.” 

Jack Taylor & Tom Mitchell (Palatinate)

I’m paying attention to this as Durham University is one of my alma maters* but I think this is going to be a common story across a lot of UK institutions. They’ve relied for too long on the inflated fees brought in by overseas students and now, in the wake of the pandemic, need to rapidly find a different approach.

*I have a teaching qualification and two postgraduate degrees from Durham, despite a snooty professor telling me when I was 17 years old that I’d never get in to the institution 😅


Abolish Silicon Valley: memoir of a driven startup founder who became an anti-capitalist activist

Liu grew up a true believer in “meritocracy” and its corollaries: that success implies worth, and thus failure is a moral judgment about the intellect, commitment and value of the failed.

Her tale — starting in her girlhood bedroom and stretching all the way to protests outside of tech giants in San Francisco — traces a journey of maturity and discovery, as Liu confronts the mounting evidence that her life’s philosophy is little more than the self-serving rhetoric of rich people defending their privilege, the chasm between her lived experience and her guiding philosophy widens until she can no longer straddle it.

Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing)

This book is next on my non-fiction reading list. If your library is closed and doesn’t have an online service, try this.


Cup, er, drying itself...

7 things ease the switch to remote-only workplaces

You want workers to post work as it’s underway—even when it’s rough, incomplete, imperfect. That requires a different mindset, though one that’s increasingly common in asynchronous companies. In traditional companies, people often hesitate to circulate projects or proposals that aren’t polished, pretty, and bullet-proofed. It’s a natural reflex, especially when people are disconnected from each other and don’t communicate casually. But it can lead to long delays, especially on projects in which each participant’s progress depends on the progress and feedback of others. Location-independent companies need a culture in which people recognize that a work-in-progress is likely to have gaps and flaws and don’t criticize each other for them. This is an issue of norms, not tools.

Edmund L. Andrews-Stanford (Futurity)

I discovered this via Stephen Downes, who highlights the fifth point in this article (‘single source of truth’). I’ve actually highlighted the sixth one (‘breaking down the barriers to sharing work’) as I’ve also seen that as an important thing to check for when hiring.


How the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theory tore through the internet

The level of interest in the coronavirus pandemic – and the fear and uncertainty that comes with it – has caused tired, fringe conspiracy theories to be pulled into the mainstream. From obscure YouTube channels and Facebook pages, to national news headlines, baseless claims that 5G causes or exacerbates coronavirus are now having real-world consequences. People are burning down 5G masts in protest. Government ministers and public health experts are now being forced to confront this dangerous balderdash head-on, giving further oxygen and airtime to views that, were it not for the major technology platforms, would remain on the fringe of the fringe. “Like anti-vax content, this messaging is spreading via platforms which have been designed explicitly to help propagate the content which people find most compelling; most irresistible to click on,” says Smith from Demos.

James temperton (wired)

The disinformation and plain bonkers-ness around this ‘theory’ of linking 5G and the coronavirus is a particularly difficult thing to deal with. I’ve avoided talking about it on social media as well as here on Thought Shrapnel, but I’m sharing this as it’s a great overview of how these things spread — and who’s fanning the flames.


A Manifesto Against EdTech© During an Emergency Online Pivot

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented moment in the history of social structures such as education. After all of the time spent creating emergency plans and three- or five-year road maps that include fail safe options, we find ourselves in the actual emergency. Yet not even a month into global orders of shelter in place, there are many education narratives attempting to frame the pandemic as an opportunity. Extreme situations can certainly create space for extraordinary opportunities, but that viewpoint is severely limited considering this moment in time. Perhaps if the move to distance/online/remote education had happened in a vacuum that did not involve a global pandemic, millions sick, tens of thousands dead, tens of millions unemployed, hundreds of millions hungry, billions anxious and uncertain of society’s next step…perhaps then this would be that opportunity moment. Instead, we have a global emergency where the stress is felt everywhere but it certainly is not evenly distributed, so learning/aligning/deploying/assessing new technology for the classroom is not universally feasible. You can’t teach someone to swim while they’re drowning.

Rolin Moe

Rolin Moe is a thoughtful commentator on educational technology. This post was obviously written quickly (note the typo in the URL when you click through, as well as some slightly awkward language) and I’m not a fan of the title Moe has settled on. That being said, the point about this not being an ‘opportunity’ for edtech is a good one.


Dishes washing themselves

NHS coronavirus app: memo discussed giving ministers power to ‘de-anonymise’ users

Produced in March, the memo explained how an NHS app could work, using Bluetooth LE, a standard feature that runs constantly and automatically on all mobile devices, to take “soundings” from other nearby phones through the day. People who have been in sustained proximity with someone who may have Covid-19 could then be warned and advised to self–isolate, without revealing the identity of the infected individual.

However, the memo stated that “more controversially” the app could use device IDs, which are unique to all smartphones, “to enable de-anonymisation if ministers judge that to be proportionate at some stage”. It did not say why ministers might want to identify app users, or under what circumstances doing so would be proportionate.

David Pegg & Paul Lewis (The Guardian)

This all really concerns me, as not only is this kind of technology only going be of marginal use in fighting the coronavirus, once this is out of the box, what else is it going to be used for? Also check out Vice’s coverage, including an interview with Edward Snowden, and this discussion at Edgeryders.


Is This the Most Virus-Proof Job in the World?

It’s hard to think of a job title more pandemic-proof than “superstar live streamer.” While the coronavirus has upended the working lives of hundreds of millions of people, Dr. Lupo, as he’s known to acolytes, has a basically unaltered routine. He has the same seven-second commute down a flight of stairs. He sits in the same seat, before the same configuration of lights, cameras and monitors. He keeps the same marathon hours, starting every morning at 8.

Social distancing? He’s been doing that since he went pro, three years ago.

For 11 hours a day, six days a week, he sits alone, hunting and being hunted on games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. With offline spectator sports canceled, he and other well-known gamers currently offer one of the only live contests that meet the standards of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

David Segal (The New York Times)

It’s hard to argue with my son these days when he says he wants to be a ‘pro gamer’.

(a quick tip for those who want to avoid ‘free registration’ and some paywalls — use a service like Pocket to save the article and read it there)


Capitalists or Cronyists?

To be clear, socialism may be a better way to go, as evidenced by the study showing 4 of the 5 happiest nations are socialist democracies. However, unless we’re going to provide universal healthcare and universal pre-K, let’s not embrace The Hunger Games for the working class on the way up, and the Hallmark Channel for the shareholder class on the way down. The current administration, the wealthy, and the media have embraced policies that bless the caching of power and wealth, creating a nation of brittle companies and government agencies.

Scott Galloway

A somewhat rambling post, but which explains the difference between a form of capitalism that (theoretically) allows everyone to flourish, and crony capitalism, which doesn’t.


Header image by Stephen Collins at The Guardian

A reminder of how little we understand the world

“The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.” (William Lawrence Bragg)

Science is usually pointed to as a paradigm of cold, hard reason. But, as anyone who’s ever studied the philosophy of science will attest, scientific theories — just like all human theories — are theory-laden.

This humorous xkcd cartoon is a great reminder of that.

Source: xkcd

Europe is being taken over by crayfish that can clone themselves

I was a teenager when Dolly the sheep was cloned. It made me wonder why evolution seemed to favour species producing offspring from two parents. Why don’t creatures just clone themselves?

Well, it turns out that a new species of crayfish is doing exactly that:

Before about 25 years ago, the species simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the marbled crayfish in an instant.

The mutation made it possible for the creature to clone itself, and now it has spread across much of Europe and gained a toehold on other continents. In Madagascar, where it arrived about 2007, it now numbers in the millions and threatens native crayfish.

It looks like the mutation may have occurred in a German aquarium, and owners just haven’t known what to do with them:

For nearly two decades, marbled crayfish have been multiplying like Tribbles on the legendary “Star Trek” episode. “People would start out with a single animal, and a year later they would have a couple hundred,” said Dr. Lyko.

Many owners apparently drove to nearby lakes and dumped their marmorkrebs. And it turned out that the marbled crayfish didn’t need to be pampered to thrive. Marmorkrebs established growing populations in the wild, sometimes walking hundreds of yards to reach new lakes and streams. Feral populations started turning up in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine in Europe, and later in Japan and Madagascar.

They’re not likely to completely take over the earth, however. Having the same DNA, they have the same susceptibility to disease and changing environmental conditions:

There are a lot of clear advantages to being a clone. Marbled crayfish produce nothing but fertile offspring, allowing their populations to explode. “Asexuality is a fantastic short-term strategy,” said Dr. Tucker.

In the long term, however, there are benefits to sex. Sexually reproducing animals may be better at fighting off diseases, for example.

If a pathogen evolves a way to attack one clone, its strategy will succeed on every clone. Sexually reproducing species mix their genes together into new combinations, increasing their odds of developing a defense.

I’m not eating meat at the moment, but I am eating (shell)fish. So I’m imagining a sustainabile source of tasty, tasty crayfish…

Source: The New York Times