On BioScience and Life and Such

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Plastic Fantastic

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2019 at 1:44 pm

In my social media feeds, this picture has been appearing a lot lately:

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Image credit, instagram: @guarl351

Because I read “plastic trash” where it says “trash”, my mind entered the following train of thoughts.

First, please do not behave like animals. Animals may not leave plastic trash, but they are extremely unhygienic, and they behave violent towards each other. Why would disease and violence on the beaches be better than (plastic) trash ? For some reason the first solution often launched towards any man-made problem is to return to the natural state of things. But, “natural states of things” involve: Disease, Violence and early Death. Why is that so hard to remember ?

So in moving away from this natural state of things humans invented plastics. Which became so popular we created a pollution problem. This particular problem makes for very descriptive emotion evoking pictures of animals stuck in plastic products like Seals in fish nets and turtles in six-pack holders. Which is bad, and should be dealt with in terms of reducing our consumption of single use plastic products.

But for some reason plastic pollution is bundled together with environmental problems. Over-consumption is a problem where plastic products play a large part, yes. But, consumption is a general environmental problem because the energy spent making new products exhausts our resources and increases the CO2-levels in the air. Plastics as a specific product, is not in itself an environmental problem. It’s a pollution problem. There’s a difference.

Most plastic products break down very slowly. For all practical purposes it’s almost inert. It’s ugly yes, but except for the poor turtle in the six-pack ring, not very harmful.

As a result of its inertness, the carbon (that came from oil and gas originally) in plastics is not released into the air as CO2 unless we actively break it down. Which means that plastic products often are more environmentally friendly than alternative materials like paper. Especially if you reuse it a couple of times and don’t burn it afterwards.

So I’ll end my train of thought by quoting Susan Ruffo who points out another one of the pitfalls we humans constantly happily jump into.

“You know,” she says, “we have a history as a species of solving one problem with great intensity, only to figure out that we’ve created another one.”

And, conclude by appealing to everyone to be human, not succumb to animal behavior like over-consumption, and to keep using the (plastic) solutions that so effectively removes us from the natural state.

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Scapegoating

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2019 at 1:41 pm

My father wrote a book. It is about how a bureaucrat in the department for industry in my country was singled out and blamed for a mining-accident in the autumn of 1962. In this particular accident 21 people were killed. The book is in Norwegian, so unless you for some strange reason, are familiar with the language, you just need to go with the brief summary provided in this text.

Due to poor working conditions and I guess, a general lack of focus on safety, there were plenty of other accidents in the 50s and 60s in both the mining industry and other industries.  In my fathers book, which is one of many on the subject, the theory is that a combination of massive attention from the press, the current political climate and economical mining-interests, prompted the need for someone to take the fall for this particular accident. A strategic game was therefore set in motion where the bureaucrat in question was used to shift the blame away from those who were really responsible for the lack of safety: those with potential for political or financial gain.

I had discussed the book with my father many times before he finally sat down and finished it (he had begun working on it many, many years ago). It was a recurring theme in our conversations because it is not only an interesting case, it is a beautiful example of how using a scapegoat can be scaringly efficient. And because scapegoats are everywhere, – it seems we all need someone to blame for any/everything.

A scapegoat (like “the immigrants”, “the jews”, the term “INCEL” or any other cultural/ethnic/religious group/person/expression) is central to so many horrible events in our present and past. The abundance of the phenomenon suggests some kind of a societal/cultural/biological human reflex-response as noticed by thinkers much more schooled in philosophy than me (one of many many refs here). It has its own verb: “Scapegoating“, which can be explained as a societal/psychological responsive act efficiently giving someone else the blame that should have been yours.

Much more more important and scary though: Scapegoating works excellent if you want to avoid fixing the problem at hand with actual solutions. The true beauty/evil of scapegoating is that we fool ourselves into believing that the problem goes away with the elimination of the goat.

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Scapegoating is in its essence, very efficient denial. We all need to fight our cultural/biological urge to accept blatant blaming (ha ! alliteration) and look hard at what, actually, in real life, caused the problem.

If I ever write a book, it will be as a sequel to my fathers book. It will explain how we fall victim to scapegoating over and over again. As a society and as individuals. It will include relevant terrifying historical examples of errors to stop us from repeating them. I want it to tell the story of the hero who has understood how he subconsciously feels the need to always blame someone, even when all it achieves, is to serve a bad purpose. It tells the story of how he has found a way to successfully suppress that urge in himself. The book shall inspire us all to follow his example.

I’ll never be talented enough to do that though, so if anyone out there are up to the task: go ahead – you’ll make the world a better place.

And please hurry, we need it soon.

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Memorial at Kings Bay. Photocredit: By Superchilum – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22725527

Miss one lose double

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2018 at 12:21 pm

There are 5 unlabeled glasses of wine from 5 different wineries in front of you. Your research-task is to do a blind tasting and assign each glass to the correct winery.

You guess wrong on one of the glasses.

If the rules are that all of the glasses must have a winery assigned, the consequence is that you are forced to answer the wrong winery for two of the glasses.

There are three ways you can report this result:

1. 3/5 correct

2. Missed two glasses

3. Missed one glass

Which illustrates how you can choose to publicly report research results depending on the reader response you want to evoke. Headlines you can choose range from “Most people guess right when wine tasting” to “People cannot reliably taste the difference between wineries”.

So most science news headlines are inaccurate one way or the other.

If you gather data from a study-group, you risk reporting headlines like “4/5 wines identified correctly in wine-tasting test”, which is an impossible result given your study set-up (only 5/5, 3/5 and 1/5 are possible outcomes).

So some science news headlines are wrong.

If you in your effort to fix these problems in your study, open up for the possibility that your research participants can report their “lived experience” from the wine tasting, you risk ending up with headlines like “A wine for any occasion – how differences in wine tasting experiences are dependent on gender and social status”. Which is probably stretching how much you can generalize from your data, but nevertheless probably correct given how you decided to do your data-analysis.

So some science headlines are confusing and possibly misleading.

Fact remains though: You guessed wrong on one of the glasses

So, my plea. Be a rational and skeptical reader. Please don’t forget the underlying facts and please ensure open access to the data so that anyone and everybody, can scrutinize if they wish.

I am writing this to eliminate disease

In Uncategorized on October 27, 2017 at 10:25 am

I am running this marathon to aid victims of disaster.

I am walking across this continent to correct unjustice.

I am climbing this mountain to support cancer research.

No !

Best case: You have this unreasonable personal thing you want to do and you need an excuse.

Worse case: You are exploiting whatever issue at hand to get funding.

 

Bilderesultat for everest cancer

Quote of the Month – Climate change vs. Genetically Modified Crops

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2017 at 8:20 am

This months quote is provided by Cornell Prof. Sarah Davidson Evanega, a mother of three children, an environmentalist and a plant scientist:

“You cannot at the same time uphold the scientific consensus around climate change and deny the scientific consensus around the safety of GM crops.”

You can of course argue that this is not entirely true since politics to fight climate change and politics to stop GM-agriculture are both driven by fear over worst case scenarios.

She nevertheless, has a really good point. The quote perfectly exemplifies how we choose our scientific facts to suit whatever political means we want to support.

A christmas revelation

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

Well, two revelations actually.

Yesterday I set out to watch Westworld.

HBO, for some reason, sort the episodes from bottom to top. Me, not always the master of clever, thought through decisions, pressed the top episode.

As I was watching the season finale, thinking it was the first episode, I thought to myself “Wow, this was an intricate and elaborate way of starting out, I hope at some point they explain the plot a bit more”. They didn’t. So I watched the whole season finale, and then I stopped watching Westworld.

From this I got two revelations:

  1. There’s a lot of time to be saved watching just the last episode.
  2. In the Michelangelo picture “The creation of Adam“, God sits within a human brain. We create God in our brains, not the other way around – this should be obvious to everyone and not really the revelation in itself. The revelation, rather, is that Michelangelo managed to communicate this right under the noses of the Christian authorities, in the centre of their power houses,  – and managed to get paid for it. What a great man Michelangelo was.

 

P.S

The shape around God, the angels and saints, may also be interpreted as a uterus. In this interpretation the green vail symbolizes an umbilical cord. Combining the two interpretations leads to the conclusion that not only is God a figment of our imagination, but the offspring we produce are god-like. Michelangelo comes full circle: We are the gods of our minds.

Merry christmas

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg

Quote of the month April 2016

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2016 at 11:17 am

From fightaging.org. You can replace the text in [brackets] to make the quote about any scientific field.

I’ll note that the publicity department that formed up this release should be ashamed of themselves for the title, which is a enormous exaggeration. It is bad enough that the popular press consistently misstates the results of research into [aging], when so much of that research produces only small effects, without the allegedly more responsible parties also doing so. Not all [longevity] science is equal, but when everyone claims to have stopped aspects of [aging] – when no such thing actually happened – it becomes that much harder for laypeople to gain an appreciation for what is more or less useful in the field.

Well said. This cannot be repeated enough times. Hyping of scientific research results achieves the exact opposite of what it was meant to do – it feeds anti-scientific and irrational thinking. If you want anti-vaxxers, climate-change deniers and conspiracy theory nitwits to rule the world – then keep doing this, if not, then please stop.

So what happens when the sorting sets in

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Looking into the crystal bowl

2020- : Pre-implantation testing has become the norm. The sorting society is a reality

 

Our subject

2025:  The “perfect” embryo (our subject) is chosen based on predictions from genetic testing.

2026: Subject is born. Tests-results: “Everything as expected, all is well”.

2026-2036: Social interactions deviates from the planned course. Subject not as outgoing and happy as predicted. Social “incidents” and “minor traumas” may have impacted on behaviour.

2034-2046: Athletic abilities fall short of target. Ruptured tendon. Subject is putting on more weight than expected.

2044-2047: Academic results declining. Depression despite lack of predisposition ?

2047-2057: Professional career fails to reach target.

2058-2060: Social decline, lack of permanent adress. Subject in psychiatric care.

2060 – : Subject’s condition improved. Dismissed from further care. Genetic determinism abandonded as any form of guiding principle for future plans.

 

More from the crystal bowl

2030- :Pre-implantation genetic testing for personality traits and physical ability becomes out of fashion. “Natural” child birth increases in popularity.

 

Turns out we couldn’t eliminate unpredictability. Come to think of it, that wasn’t to hard to predict.

 

 

Correct me if I am wrong

In Uncategorized on March 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Background: The Hyperion Cantos book 1 and 2  and The New York Times on mitochondrial manipulation (see further description on bottom of page).

It is my impression that theres an underlying, and absolute, assumption that genetic engineering will lead to less diversity.

But,

If given a choice of a range of possible engineered enhancements, would all societies, ethnicities and subgroups have the same preferences ?

I think not.

Then it follows that future genetic engineering will lead to greater diversity. Strange and unpredictable diversity.

The difference would be that it is now humankind deciding which different variants that are brought to life, not “nature”.

We would still need to accept and accomodate the “different” individuals in our society, probably even to a greater extent.

Would that not be a good thing ?

If you keeep putting up hurdles to stop implementation of advances in genetic engineering, are you not halting the development of a “natural” way to save humankind in the future ?

Genetic engineering is by this reasoning, the natural way forward.

It should be cool an unpredictable, just like nature is today.

The Hyperion Cantos book 1 and 2 describes a struggle between three parties: 1) artificial intelligence (AI), 2) a probable extension of our present tech-savvy society dependent on AI and 3) an AI-independent “natural” biologically diverse society (based on genetic engineering !?). Spoiler: The “natural” biological society wins.

Quote from NYT-article: “Some told the officials that the technique could introduce new genetic mutations into the human gene pool. Others warned that it could be used later for something ethically murkier — perhaps, said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, “to engineer children with specific character traits.””

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Too much time on the train

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2014 at 8:33 am

You can recognize a good tale/story when you pause from it to continue your life, and realize that your life is dull and insignificant in comparison.

An excellent story is the same, but now your second thought when you pause is that everything you do in your dull an insignificant life leads up to that great story.

A truly brilliant story makes you realize that you are living it yourself, or could be if you didn’t focus on someone elses story.