Quite fascinating

Almost 10 years ago to the month, I was a newly qualified junior doctor, working in Oxford’s major teaching hospital, the John Radcliffe. On one of my first on-call shifts, a characteristically busy Saturday evening, I was summoned to the ward by a kindly Filipino nurse. She was distressed about a patient, an elderly man delirious with infection, who was shouting racial slurs at the nursing staff.

“How are you feeling today, sir?” I asked with a cheerful, if insincere, lilt.

“I’m not arrogant, I’m English, which is more than I can say for you, you black bastard!” he replied with equal buoyancy.

I considered a cheeky retort but opted instead for a wry smile and a gentle dose of lorazepam to settle the matter quickly. I scurried away, more patients to see and blood tests to review before handover to the night team.

That’s interesting:

Lorazepam, sold under the brand name Ativan among others, is a benzodiazepine medication. It is used to treat anxiety disorders, trouble sleeping, active seizures including status epilepticus, alcohol withdrawal, and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

A cheerful shout of you black bastard gets you drugged into submission?

Or, to put a better face on the action, a shout of you black bastard is evidence of being so unaware of yourself and surroundings through illness that treatment is required?

So the French have idiots too then

French mayors have called for a halt to the construction of 5G mobile masts until health risks can be assessed.

The Green mayors of Bordeaux, Nantes, Grenoble and other big cities have joined a revolt against the technology amid fears of dangerous radio waves and damage to the environment.

Groups acting for “electro-sensitive” sufferers claim that the tranmissions damage health. “We know these waves have an impact on our brains and that people are showing electro-sensitive symptoms, with ever greater suspicions that they cause cancer,” said Sophie Pelletier, head of Priartem-Electro-sensibles de France association.

Reminds of the high voltage power lines and leukaemia thing. The specifics change but not the underlying whinge – this modernity, not to be had.

This is glorious, wondrous, not something to fear

Almost a quarter of people in the Indian capital of Delhi have been infected with the coronavirus, according to scientists, raising fears there could be many more cases in the country of 1.3 billion people.

Random testing of more than 20,000 people in Delhi by India’s national disease control centre found that 23.48% had antibodies to the virus. Adjusting for false positives and negatives, it was estimated that 22.86% of the population had been infected, Sujeet Kumar Singh, who heads the institute, said on Tuesday.

Delhi, which has a population of 29 million, has officially reported 123,747 cases and 3,663 deaths, AP reported. The study, however, indicates more than 6.6 million likely cases, with most not identified or tested.

If a quarter of 29 million people have had it – say, that 6.6 million – and there have only been 3,700 deaths then that’s a fatality rate of 0.06%. Which is glorious news. Bit of a bummer for the 3,700 and their families of course but even so.

We’re down around the danger level of garbanzo beans or summat. We can open up and carry on that is. Because the coronavirus is now shown to be some trivial addition to the general risks of getting up in the morning.

Or, more accurately, the comment here should be that whoever is writing this story misses the basic point. The more people who have had it without the death numbers rising the better. That is, this is good news, not something to fear.

Isn’t this fun

Positive stereotypes are still racist, a tribunal has ruled, after a university lecturer was fired for saying “Jewish people are the cleverest in the world”….

If negative stereotypes are racist, and positive ones are, then all stereotypes are racist. Which is a bit of a pity as the one great finding of the social sciences is that there’s something in stereotypes…..

Genetics, eh?

Born into a footballing family in Ashington, Northumberland, on 8 May 1935,[5] Charlton was initially overshadowed by his younger brother Bobby, who was taken on by Manchester United while Jack was doing his national service with the Household Cavalry.[6] His uncles were Jack Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford City), George Milburn (Leeds United and Chesterfield), Jim Milburn (Leeds United and Bradford Park Avenue) and Stan Milburn (Chesterfield, Leicester City and Rochdale), and legendary Newcastle United and England footballer Jackie Milburn was his mother’s cousin.


Topping the company’s targets is sickle cell disease—a point mutation that predominantly affects Black people and has been neglected through more than a century of racist attitudes.

When the staff at Forbes start writing like this…..

Sickle cell isn’t cured as yet for the same reason cystic fibrosis isn’t. We don’t know how to, not because society is racist. BTW, CF disproportionately affects whiter people. Still ain’t cured.

This is fun but

Wild bison are to be reintroduced to Britain after 15,000 years as part of a “groundbreaking” rewilding conservation scheme….

European bison and American buffalo are different species. They also act very differently. The European is rather like the shy retiring cousin that stays in the forest – the forest elephant, not the plains one.

So it’s not quite as magnificent this reintroduction.

To make things really exciting I’m waiting for someone to get to work on the DNA of the aurochs – that would make the woods fun again.


Ecological collapse is within sight – and yet parenting is still viewed as a moral imperative. But countless women like me are building a new normal: a life without children

It’s not a moral imperative – it’s simply the purpose of life. We are DNA’s reproduction system.

Would be interesting if true, eh?

Researchers in Barcelona say they have detected the presence of Covid-19 in a waste water sample collected in the Spanish city in March 2019, nine months before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, was first reported….

Most likely a contaminated sample but if not, well, changes a few things, no?

Capitalism and pharmaceuticals

Back in 1980 the number of viruses – virii – that the human species knew how to treat was around and about zero. We could vaccinate against some and provide bed rest for others but other than that, well, not much treatment around.

Like many people living with HIV today, Thomas takes one pill every day at 6am, which stops the virus from replicating in his body. Modern antiretroviral medication reduces the virus in the bloodstream to such an extent that a person becomes “undetectable” – they are unable to pass on the virus through sex.

That’s a pretty good outcome after only four decades. A rather good advertisement for this private sector actors, pharma companies, patents, capitalism and markets, don’t you think?

Sure there’s philanthropy in there as well, government spending and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But the claim that the current system set up fails us is rather disproved, no?

First (US) recorded cases in 1981, disease identified itself in 1983, Up until what, 1992 or so it was a death sentence, by 1994, perhaps, treatable. That’s actually a pretty damn good record there.

Think on it, if Freddie Mercury had lived another two years – which is generous, perhaps only a year – he’d probably still be with us.

Difficult to think of any system whatever that would have done better than that.

Not quite right

Most scientists believe that genes play a role in how people respond to infections.

All scientists believe that.

Those people who don’t aren’t doing science.

The interesting question is – as so often with human reactions to anything at all – “How Much?”.

So here’s a thought

So, some extinct species. Say, Neandertals. Or mammoths, whatever. We do the Jurassic Park thing, revive them.

So, Matt Ridley, Red Queen stuff.

Don’t they just get wiped out again, near immediately? For the bacteria, virii, bugs and parasites have been evolving these millennia. And the immune systems of those revived have, by definition, not.

Also, time travel won’t work because anyone who travels into the future will drown in their own snot as the then modern cold gets a grip….

That is, our immune systems are the products of a time and place and won’t work well elsewhere or elsewhen.

This is entirely impossible to achieve

A former paratrooper is isolating on a usually uninhabited Shetland island after lockdown measures were introduced when he was on a fundraising challenge to walk the UK coastline.

As we all know, coastlines are infinite in length…..unless you’re going to cheat and ignore a certain level of granularity.

Research is a rocky road

“I have some electronic equipment but really no experience or expertise in building circuits or things,” he told Guardian Australia.

“I had a part that detects magnetic fields. I thought that if I built a circuit that could detect the magnetic field, and we wore magnets on our wrists, then it could set off an alarm if you brought it too close to your face. A bit of boredom in isolation made me think of that.”

However, the academic realised the electronic part he had did the opposite – and would only complete a circuit when there was no magnetic field present.

“I accidentally invented a necklace that buzzes continuously unless you move your hand close to your face,” he said.

Well, trial and error, yo know.

Of course, then he carried on playing with the magnets and got them stuck up his nose.

But I do like inventing the opposite. He is from the counterweight continent after all.

Well, call me Captain Obvious

From humans to black-tailed prairie dogs, female mammals often outlive males – but for birds, the reverse is true.

Now researchers say they have cracked the mystery, revealing that having two copies of the same sex chromosome is associated with having a longer lifespan, suggesting the second copy offers a protective effect.

Err, yes?

X,X and X,Y are fairly normal among humans. X,X,Y, and X,Y,Y happen and so on. X,O does too – but O,Y never does.

Further, it’s long been assumed – ‘cuz even I’ve read about it – that if there’s some buggery on one X then the other can take over and correct it, something that can’t happen with the Y, for the same reason that O,Y can’t happen. And I’m alo why no one even speculates about the possible existence of Y,Y.

I’ve not the knowledge to evaluate this

Nonsense, like that electricity from raindrops? Or a potentially useful source of power?

Here we show that thin-film devices made from nanometre-scale protein wires harvested from the microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens can generate continuous electric power in the ambient environment. The devices produce a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts across a 7-micrometre-thick film, with a current density of around 17 microamperes per square centimetre. We find the driving force behind this energy generation to be a self-maintained moisture gradient that forms within the film when the film is exposed to the humidity that is naturally present in air. Connecting several devices linearly scales up the voltage and current to power electronics.

What’s 17 microamps at 0.5 volts when it’s at home? 8.5 microwatts is, umm ?? A million cm 2/8.5 to get one watt? 12 sq metres a watt?

I’ve got these numbers wrong, haven’t I?

Ahhh, more on race

The claim that there is a link between race and intelligence is the main tenet of what is known as “race science” or, in many cases, “scientific racism”. Race scientists claim there are evolutionary bases for disparities in social outcomes – such as life expectancy, educational attainment, wealth, and incarceration rates – between racial groups. In particular, many of them argue that black people fare worse than white people because they tend to be less naturally intelligent.

Although race science has been repeatedly debunked by scholarly research, in recent years it has made a comeback. Many of the keenest promoters of race science today are stars of the “alt-right”, who like to use pseudoscience to lend intellectual justification to ethno-nationalist politics. If you believe that poor people are poor because they are inherently less intelligent, then it is easy to leap to the conclusion that liberal remedies, such as affirmative action or foreign aid, are doomed to fail.

That’s a lovely non sequiter, isn’t it?

For it’s entirely possible to believe that poor people are poor because of something about poor people – say, something rather common within economics, that poorer people have shorter time horizons, or perhaps that having a shorter time horizon is likely to make you poorer – without using race to define that. It’s even possible to insist upon a genetic disposition to such differences without using race as the demarcation line.

This though I would agree is comprehensively wrong:

One of the people behind the revival of race science was, not long ago, a mainstream figure. In 2014, Nicholas Wade, a former New York Times science correspondent, wrote what must rank as the most toxic book on race science to appear in the last 20 years. In A Troublesome Inheritance, he repeated three race-science shibboleths: that the notion of “race” corresponds to profound biological differences among groups of humans; that human brains evolved differently from race to race; and that this is supported by different racial averages in IQ scores.

It’s the middle contention that has to be. Whatever we think of “races” today they long post-date the evolution of the human brain.

Here’s my problem with this

Watson apologised for his remarks, but later appeared to reassert them when he told a 2019 PBS documentary that differences in IQ scores between blacks and whites were driven by genetics. When asked to comment on the furore, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the US National Institutes of Health, said he was unaware of any credible research that backed up Watson’s view. He expressed his dismay that a prominent scientist was perpetuating “such scientifically unsupported and hurtful beliefs”.

It’s that use of the word “credible”.

I don’t know what is true either way here. The idea that populations have different average IQs doesn’t worry me, whether true or not. That variation within the population is greater than across them is all we need to know that each individual should be treated as an individual – pretty much the basis of any reasonable form of civil liberty anyway.

I’m also not entirely sure about the value of IQ tests, whether that point that they are culturally specific is true or not. We know that from within economics such things can be true – the results of the ultimatum game vary wildly dependent upon the culture of the players.

So, in terms of nailing down who is right here I’m all at sea and perfectly happy to stay there.

It’s just that use of the word “credible”. It is used, in my experience, to mean “everyone who disagrees is politically unacceptable.” Which isn’t how science works at all. And the thing is, when I see people using it in that meaning – as above – then I simply don’t believe the proposition they are advancing.