Science

Highly likely, yes,

A network of Twitter accounts linked to China has claimed that Covid-19 was imported to the Wuhan seafood market via a shipment of Maine lobsters from the US, a disinformation researcher has discovered.

The theory is the latest to emerge from Beijing in an effort to deflect and obfuscate any investigation into the virus’s true origin.

A bat virus which appears – appears – engineered to infect humans turns up in lobsters. Yeah, right.

In which we tell some people to fuck off

So, the Maori arrived and set fire to New Zealand. Well, OK. They also, at the same time, ate most of the megafauna. Well, that’s just what humans do:

The team published the article in Nature, one of the world’s most prominent scientific journals. But the reception in New Zealand was mixed, with several Māori academics raising concerns that it did not have Māori members of its research team.

Dr Priscilla Wehi, director of Te Pūnaha Matatini research centre, said via Science Media Centre the finding was “scientifically spectacular” but raised concerns about “helicopter science, where research is led and conducted by those who live and work far from the subject of their work”.

“How much better could this have been, were it more inclusive in its approach?” she asked.

Associate prof Sandy Morrison of the University of Waikato called the paper “devoid of context, devoid of cultural understandings”. “It reeks of scientific arrogance with its implicit assumption that somehow Māori have a lot to account for in terms of contributing to carbon emissions.”

Morrison told the Guardian she had been shocked by the paper, which did not collaborate with Māori researchers. “Surely you want to check and just examine the context before you go writing around people,” she said.

“You come so far in terms of working alongside scientists in New Zealand and then you get [this] from the international ones.”

Fuck off, Honey.

More recently, changes were proposed to New Zealand’s curriculum to give parity to mātauranga Māori with other bodies of knowledge.

“For a long time Māori had been talking about [the fact] that we will do our own research – and at minimum, that a relationship with us … should be cultivated way before anybody wants to write about us,” Morrison said. “That seems to have caught on in the New Zealand research scene, but not so much internationally.”

No, really, fuck off.

Amazingly, they intend to make peer review worse

No, really:

But academics have privately expressed alarm at the potential for slipping standards, where journals value citation diversity quotas above the quality of ideas.

Meanwhile, guidelines for the 45-year-old Review of International Studies, published by Cambridge University Press, urge “paying particular attention to the representativeness of citational practices manifested in all article submissions”.

“Recent studies have highlighted the possible under-representation of female and minority scholars in article citations,” authors are advised.

“Review of International Studies is committed to ensuring that scholars receive appropriate intellectual acknowledgement through citations, regardless of race, gender, class, professional standing, or other categorical attributes.”

This is rather a long way from the intended purpose, which is to check that “Hmm, interesting idea, can;t see anything wrong with it”.

Wonder if a paper on Goodhart’s Law – once something has become a target it’s no good as a measure any more – would get into print?

Unconvinced

If I thought it would work I’d buy one like a shot:

The dilemma of the dancing grannies has prompted some to seek out tech solutions. One went viral online this week: a remote stun gun-style device that claims to be able to disable a speaker from 50 metres away.

Reviews of the item were positive. “Downstairs is finally quiet. For two days the grannies thought their speaker is not working!”, said one on Taobao, China’s version of eBay.

“Great invention, with this tool I will be the boss in the neighbourhood now,” said another. “This is not just a regular product, it is social justice!”

Can’t see how it could work. As in that old sci fi story (where the batteries explode) the energy requirement for cancelling noise over a wide area is pretty big.

Try some science, folks

Just no:

Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts on Spain’s Canary Islands
An earthquake swarm under La Cumbre Vieja began a week ago and thousands of tremors have followed, likely causing the eruption

The earthquake swarm doesn’t cause the eruption. Nor do the tremors. They’re both symptoms of the same thing, the magma chamber filling up/moving/getting ready to blow. Maybe. You can have the swarm without the eruption, can -= rarely – have the eruption without the swarm. But they’re both caused by the same thing, one does not cause the other.

The Hunger Winter

I’ve never really understood this:

The Dutch, long renowned for being the tallest people in the world, are shrinking, according to research published on Friday.

The diminution of the famously giant populace is partly explained by the immigration of smaller people from other countries and their children being born in the Netherlands, according to the study by Statistic Netherlands.

But it is less clear why people with exclusively Dutch roots, which is defined as all parents and grandparents having been born in the country, are also not as tall as they used to be, although a worse diet could be a factor.

That the Dutch are tall I can observe just by looking out the window at the folks visiting the bars. That immigration will change the genetic part of height reached seems obvious.

The bit I never have understood is the reason oft given for why the Dutch are tall, that Hunger Winter of 1944/5. That there was considerable malnourishment is true. That this is claimed to be – part maybe – of the trigger for the height I’ve seen claimed. But I’ve never really understood the argument as to why in-utero malnourishment should lead to greater height.

Is the idea that the required greater efficiency of calorie usage to even get born carries on through life?

Historical recapitulation

Not that it repeats:

A SpaceX rocket ship blasted off from Florida on Thursday morning carrying a billionaire e-commerce executive and three less-wealthy private citizens he chose to join him in the first all-civilian crew ever launched into Earth orbit.

But the rhyme gets faster, dunnit?

Without looking it up the gap between the Gemini (??) hops and into actual orbit was rather larger, wasn’t it?

Sorta hits that blank slate shit

Genetic and environmental sources of variance in IQ were estimated from 486 adoptive and biological families

Families include 419 mothers, 201 fathers, 415 adopted and 347 biological fully-adult offspring (M age = 31.8 years; SD = 2.7)

Proportion of variance in IQ attributable to environmentally mediated effects of parental IQs was estimated at .01 [95% CI 0.00, 0.02]

Heritability was estimated to be 0.42 [95% CI 0.21, 0.64]

Of course, we should all immediately grasp this. If genes don’t matter then how in buggery does speciation occur?

Don’t think this is quite how it works

As the European Space Agency explains, modelling is used to pick the point at which a craft will hit the upper atmosphere, and doing that at a calculated and steep angle ensures debris will fall within a certain zone.

In 2001, the Russian space station Mir reached the end of its useful life. A cargo ship docked to the craft fired its engines to take Mir out of orbit and back to Earth. Parts burned up on re-entry, while up to 25 tonnes survived, and plummeted to its watery grave at Point Nemo.

Since then, Mir has been joined by defunct satellites, rocket parts and even an automated transfer vehicle that delivered cargo to the International Space Station – an ATV called the Jules Verne.

The spacecraft that have survived space, and the fiery descent into Earth’s atmosphere, are hardy enough to resist the crushing pressure 4km (one league) down.

After re-entry there will be the occasional hole in the hull of a satellite or space station. Meaning that the pressure will quickly equalise and therefore not actually be pressure. If this didn’t happen then they’d likely bob around, wouldn’t they, rather than sinking to 4 km down?

There’s a nasty and a fair description of this

Facebook on Friday said it disabled its topic recommendation feature after it mistook black men for “primates” in video at the social network.

A Facebook spokesperson called it a “clearly unacceptable error” and said the recommendation software involved was taken offline.

“We apologise to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations,” Facebook said.

“We disabled the entire topic recommendation feature as soon as we realised this was happening so we could investigate the cause and prevent this from happening again.”

Facial recognition software has been criticised by civil rights advocates who point out problems with accuracy, particularly when it comes to people who are not white.

The nasty description is that AI will incorporate all of the flaws and faults of the wider society around it. Because that’s what it does. It looks for patterns. But what is defined as a pattern is what humans see as a pattern. So, if folks find it difficult to distinguish individuals of other races then so will AI. A corollary of this is that if – say – society generally offers black folks lower credit ratings for economic reasons then so will AI.

Lots of people don’t like this.

The fair description is that image recognition isn’t very good yet. Which isn’t really all that much of a surprise. That pattern recognition is one of the things that we humans, as a species, are exceedingly good at. Eagles have more acute eyesight, dogs are able to smell better etc, etc. But among the senses for humans it’s pattern recognition that’s the top trump. That it turns out to be difficult to train a machine to do it ain’t all that much of a surprise.

Why is this a new finding?

Mountains play a bigger role in evolution and creating new species than climate change, a study from the University of Cambridge has found.

Scientists pooled three million years of data looking at the rise and fall of Earth’s mountains and found that as the surface rises, the rate of speciation increases.

They discovered that the fluctuating landscape was responsible for the creation of more new species of birds and mammals than historical climate change, recent elevation changes and soaring temperatures in the modern world.

Thought that was the generally accepted view? Or has it changed again?

A most unscientific explanation being that you need to have geographic separation of a population for speciation to occur? That is, if they all carry on shagging each other then it doesn’t, but when they shag in separate groups over time it does?

Big mountains doing that separation…..

You’re right, Chelsea Clinton is an idiot

Achal Prabhala is the coordinator of the AccessIBSA project, which campaigns for access to medicines in India, Brazil and South Africa. Chelsea Clinton is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation in New York City.

They say:

As the trade representative for his country, Nkomo and his boss – the head of the mission, Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter – were pushing the WTO to endorse a global waiver of pharmaceutical monopolies so that poor countries around the world could produce the vaccines they need. (Less than 3% of the African continent has been vaccinated to date, because rich countries have bought up and hoarded nearly the entire global supply).

Twats.

Anyone who has the ability to make vaccines can get permission to make vaccines right now. The shortage is not of permissions to be able to make vaccines, it is of the ability – and equipment, staff, bioreactors and all that – to be able to make vaccines. Patent waivers would add nothing to the global capacity to make vaccines.

But, you know, let’s strike at the capitalist pharma industry using an excuse!

Been taking lessons from Dr. Heinz Kiosk

OK, so maybe it came from a lab then, instead of naturally. But still, lessons can be learned:

In fact, since the evidence is by now overwhelmingly that long-term human activity is accelerating the emergence of novel pathogens and increasing the risk of pandemics, the question investigators should really be asking is: did some recent, one-off event such as a lab accident exacerbate the already high and growing risk of spillover of a virus with pandemic potential caused by a decades-long shift towards industrialised farming and the wildlife trade?

Through their reliance on antibiotics, livestock monocultures and crowding, industrial-scale farms are ratcheting up the virulence of animal pathogens that the wildlife trade – and one of its shop windows, wet markets – is bringing into contact with potential host species they wouldn’t otherwise encounter, including us. This is not news.

So, even if it was a lab leak we should still act as if it wasn’t. There, isn’t that a surprise.

Dr. Heinz Kiosk is alive and well.

One particular joy here is the complaint about monocultures. If you’re a true monoculture then you can;t get interspecies creation of diseases, can you?

Causality!

They may zip around looking cute and sociable, but the world of hummingbirds is rife with aggression. Now it looks like some female hummingbirds have evolved to avoid this – by adopting the bright plumage of their male counterparts.

Nope, they’ve not evolved to avoid this. Natural variation has led to some who look like this to be successful in propagation.

Evolution doesn’t do “to” it does “happenstance”.

Winning at life

In that evolutionary sense:

In addition to her surrogacy work, Tyra estimates that she’s donated hundreds of eggs through the years that now sit frozen in little metal canisters in a storage facility. She made $8,000 a cycle and knows of at least 27 children conceived with her eggs. She doesn’t know the fate of all her eggs or the details of all the babies born of them, but she loves that her DNA is part of so many different family trees.

As far as actual nature is concerned the more grandchildren you have the more you’ve won.

Doesn’t really quite work, Elon

The Tesla founder and world’s second-richest person, worth $178bn, said people would easily be able to run away from the robot that would have a top speed of just 5pmh.

While promising the robot will be “friendly”, Mr Musk added: “We’re setting it such that it is at a mechanical level, a physical level, that you can run away from it – and most likely overpower it.

“Hopefully that doesn’t ever happen, but you never know. Five mph – if you can run faster than that you will be fine.”

Yes, yes, I know, it’s a little jokule to get the headlines. Musk knows how to market.

However, it doesn’t really work. As with the golem creatures in Discworld. Or, actually, what some say was the ancient human hunting technique. To walk the prey to death.

Sure, the antelope can spring off at 60 mph – or one species can. But that’s a burst. And when someone can walk, near forever, at 4 and 5 mph then it’ll, eventually, overhaul something that can do 60 in bursts then must rest. Which is, it is said at least, what humans used to do. And is also what the robot could do to us. For we can’t in fact do 5 mph forever, we must rest too. But the robot can do 5 mph forever……

Yes, OK, not forever, recharge and so on. But is the recharge longer or shorter than the necessary sit down and a nap for a human?

An interesting comment about Australia

They are found in warm coastal waters from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and are closely related to venomous terrestrial snakes in Australia.

Clearly, sea snakes are the offspring of Oz snakes that decided to go swimming.

OK.

So Oz has such vicious wildlife that even the venomous snakes decided to flee elsewhere…..

Modern science

Dr Embarek said WHO investigators were forced to conclude that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” in their official report to avoid further arguments with the Chinese.

He said the team had come to an “impasse” with China, which would only allow a lab leak scenario to be included in the report if there were no recommendations to look further.

“My counterpart agreed we could mention (the lab leak scenario) in the report under the condition that we wouldn’t recommend specific studies of that hypothesis. We would just leave it there.”

Asked whether the Chinese would have agreed to the report without the scenario being labelled “extremely unlikely”, Dr Embarek said:

“That would have probably demanded further discussion and arguments for and against I didn’t think it was worth it.”

Science directed by politics is Lysenkoism, not actual science. Aren’t we the lucky ones?

Nonsense

Lack of sleep six months after having a baby can add up to seven years to the biological age of new mothers, a study has found.

Researchers said that when new mothers complain of sleepless nights taking years off their life, they just might be right. The lack of sleep could also leave them more susceptible to cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Spinsters – or, perhaps, non-mothers – do not have lifespans 7 years longer than mothers. Nor do female lifespans decline by 7 years for each child. Mothers of four do not pop their clogs – on average – 28 years before their childless contemporaries.

Not since we sorted the gross risks of childbirth itself they don’t, nor since we worked out puerpural fever.