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Interesting Excerpts
The following excerpts are from articles or books that I have recently read. They caught my interest and I hope that you will find them worth reading. If one does spark an action on your part and you want to learn more or you choose to cite it, I urge you to actually read the article or source so that you better understand the perspective of the author(s).
How an Ancient Microbial Arms Race Remodeled Human Cells

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 31 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      …humans suffer from a long list of deadly diseases—including typhoid fever, cholera, mumps, whooping cough, and gonorrhea—that don’t afflict apes and most other mammals. All of those pathogens follow the same well trodden pathway to break into our cells: They manipulate sugar molecules called sialic acids. Hundreds of millions of these sugars stud the outer surface of every cell in the human body—and the sialic acids in humans are different from those in apes.

      …By analyzing modern human genomes and ancient DNA from our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals and Denisovans, the researchers detected a burst of evolution in our immune cells that occurred in an ancestor of all three types of human by at least 600,000 years ago.

      …these genetic changes may have sharpened the body's defenses against the pathogens that evolved to exploit sialic acids—but created new vulnerabilities. In an added irony, they note, humans’ distinctive sialic acids were themselves once a defense against disease. The evolutionary saga is a vivid illustration of the competition between humans and microbes….

      The arena for this evolutionary arms race is the glycocalyx, a sugar coating that protects the outer membrane of all cells. It consists of a forest of molecules that sprout from the cell membrane. The sialic acids are at the tip of the tallest branches, sugar chains called glycans, which are rooted to fats and proteins deeper in the membrane.

      Given their prominence and sheer number, sialic acids are usually the fist molecules that invading pathogens encounter. Human cells are coated with one type of sialic acid, N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac). But apes and most other mammals also carry a different one, N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc).

      More than 2 million years ago, according to multiple molecular clock methods that estimate when mutations arose, a mutation in a gene on chromosome six made it impossible for human ancestors to make Neu5Gc anymore; instead, they made more of another sialic acid, Neu5Ac….Birds, some bats, ferrets, and New World monkeys all separately Made the same evolutionary change.

      The change likely evolved as a defense against malaria….Malarial parasites that infect chimpanzees were no longer able to bind with the altered sialic acids on our red blood cells….

      But in the next million years or so, that mutation became a liability, as Neu5Ac became a portal for a flurry of other pathogens….multiple diseases evolved to use Neu5Ac to enter cells or to evade immune cells.

      Coronaviruses appear to be no exception….Two preprints suggest the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, also docks with sialic acids before binding with the ACE2 receptor to pierce human cells.

      …If a woman with only Neu5Ac sialic acids mated with a man who still expressed Neu5Gc, her immune system may have rejected that man’s sperm or the fetus that developed from it. This fertility barrier might have helped divide Homo populations into different species more than 2 million years ago, the researchers speculated.

      But the sialic acid change also sparked a new arms race between pathogens and our ancestors. In the new study, the researchers scanned DNA for immune genes in six Neanderthals, two Denisovans, and 1000 humans, and looked at dozens of chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans as well. They found evolutionary changes that “markedly altered” one class of proteins—sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-type lectins, or Siglecs—that usually sit on the surface of human immune cells and recognize sialic acids.

      Siglecs are molecular sentries: They probe sialic acids to see whether they are familiar parts of our own bodies or foreign invaders. If Siglecs spot sialic acids that are damaged or missing, they signal immune cells to activate, rousing an inflammatory army to attack potential invaders or clean up damaged cells. If sialic acids instead appear to be normal parts of our own cells, other, inhibitory Siglecs throttle back immune defenges so as not to attack our own tissues….

      The researchers identified functional changes in the DNA of eight out of 13 Siglees encoded by genes on chromosome 19 in humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. This hot spot of evolution appears only in Siglec gene variants, not in nearby genes on the chromosome, suggesting natural selection favored these changes, presumably because they helped fight pathogens that target Neu5Ac.

      …Given the mutations’ presence in archaic hominins, this burst of evolution must have happened before our lineages diverged 600,000 years ago, but after the mutation in that altered sialic acid arose more than 2 million years ago, perhaps in Homo erectus, thought to be an ancestor of modern humans Land Neanderthals….

Cautious Optimism

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 31 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      The first half of 2020 has seen extraordinary accomplishments in science….So why doesn’t this progress feel like the triumph that it is?

      Public health guidance is ignored, reopening businesses happens too fast, people fight over wearing masks, and the forces that undermine confidence in vaccines proceed unimpeded. Scientists who burn the midnight oil in academia, government, and industry to decipher COVID-19 are confronted with political leaders who downplay and criticize their tireless efforts. Many are immigrants who hear that they aren’t welcome in the United States. President Trump and his allies are sticking their fingers in the eyes of the very people who can lead the world out of this calamity.

      There are many reasons to be optimistic about getting a vaccine against the COVID-19 pathogen, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in record time. Monkey studies of candidate vaccines have shown immune responses that appear linked to protection, and 26 of these have entered human clinical trials. And the U.S. federal government has gambled approximately $6 billion on pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines in large quantities in the hope that they will perform well in large clinical trials and merit approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

      Science also offers reasons to be cautious. We can’t know for sure that a vaccine is safe over the long term until we have had more time to observe volunteers in clinical trials. Monkeys don’t develop severe disease from SARS-CoV-2, limiting the model's predictive powers. Two doses of the vaccine may be required, which creates a logistical challenge. We won’t know whether billions of doses of the vaccine can be produced and distributed until we actually attempt to do so.

      But the political and social impediments create even more reason for caution. Despite his recent, hollow backtracking, President Donald Trump has mostly embraced the dogma of the antivaccine movement and cheered on the antimask crowd. Part of the administration's strategy is to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, the foremost authority on infectious disease in the United States, which might lead to vulnerable people refusing to get the vaccine that their health and lives may depend on. Even folks who are not against vaccines will have questions about the safety of a vaccine to SARS-CoV-2 given how muddled the messaging has been. It doesn’t help that the White House calls the vaccine effort “Operation Warp Speed,” which hardly reflects the great care that is being taken to produce a safe and effective vaccine.

      The logistical impediments seem most daunting of all….

      Having botched the distribution of diagnostic tests to get ahead of the pandemic, disemboweled the CDC, trampled on its own experts, stoked conspiracy theories about wearing masks and the origins of the virus, pushed an unproven treatment that proved worthless, stepped on the independence of the NIH, and audaciously attacked Fauci, the Trump administration does not inspire confidence in its ability to make sound public health decisions. With no strategy, a vaccine is the government's best way out of the pandemic crisis.

      It's not too late to get it right. We need clear decision-making by experts, articulated crisply and without interference. This is not a time for leading with the gut, building up false hope, or making speculative bets. It’s time to let the data do the talking.

      Science is doing its part. Over to you, Mr. President.

Systemic Racism Persists in the Sciences

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Adia Harvey Wingfield in the 24 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      It’s tempting to think of medicine and health care as objective and neutral, driven solely by scientific principles and free inquiry. Indeed, scientists go through extensive measures to make their research bias-free. However, recent developments show that despite the best efforts, racial disparities persist in the health care system even when they are unintentional.

      The disproportionate impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Black and Latinx communities in the United States has demonstrated that although illnesses may not discriminate, varying access to treatment, preventive measures, and other resources can still lead to imbalances in health care. Racial differences persist in. scientific research as well: Algorithms designed to make decisions about health care incorporate biases that limit care for Black patients. Another recent study showed that Black applicants to granting programs at the U.S. National Institutes of Health got less money than their White colleagues. This was not a result of intentional discrimination, but because Black researchers worked in areas (fertility, health disparities, and adolescent health) that tend to be underfunded.

      …Systemic racism refers to the well documented fact that most of our institutions—in polities, law, education, and health care, to name a few—are fundamentally organized according to assumptions and policies that work to the disadvantage of communities of color, and Blacks in particular.

      In health care, for instance, this can mean pay policies that discourage practitioners from treating patients who are affected by poverty, discrimination, and other factors that can impair health—factors that disproportionately affect Black patients and the Black practitioners who are more likely to treat them. In technology, this means facial recognition systems that frequently misidentify Black people. And in the legal system, these structural barriers are present in the oft-cited racial disparities in mandatory minimum sentencing rules for drug use, and in targeting predominantly Black, low-income communities for nonviolent drug crimes whose punishment can escalate into a loss of voting rights and other freedoms.

      None of these policies is necessarily a result of individual intent, overt bias, or malice. But ultimately, individuals are the ones who create social institutions. When most of these people are White, it is all too likely that they will fail to recognize the particular realities of life for Black citizens.

      The first step toward addressing these issues is to recognize that despite the pride scientists take in being analytical thinkers, these problems persist Most people don’t set out to maintain racial disparities, but do so inadvertently, and the scientific community is not exempt….

      What is badly needed is a wider range of perspectives. This suggestion may not sit well with scientists who are committed to the belief that theirs is a completely meritocratic field. But bringing together a broader variety of voices to the scientific community will help all scientists as they continue to make discoveries that advance society. The crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to Black and Latinx communities adds to the urgency.

Avoiding another Hiroshima

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Madeleine K. Albright in the 24 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      The nuclear age dawned on 16 July 1945—75 years ago this month—when the U.S. military detonated an atomic weapon deep in the New Mexican desert. In his diary 1 week later, President Harry Truman wrote: “We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.” The world would soon witness, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the unprecedented devastation these new instruments of war could cause. Almost immediately, a global effort began to keep them under control. This effort was, until recently, led by the United States. Now that early progress is in jeopardy, and the world risks heading down a dark and dangerous path toward what experts bloodlessly call a “nuclear exchange.”

      President Truman issued the first international nonproliferation proposal on 15 November 1945, when he joined with the leaders of the United Kingdom and Canada in calling for the elimination of atomic weapons and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Eight years later, President Dwight Eisenhower echoed this call in his “Atoms for Peace” speech. President John F. Kennedy stressed similar themes in his push to ban atmospheric nuclear tests.

      Foremost among preventive measures, however, was the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, negotiated by President Lyndon Johnson, ratified by President Richard Nixon, and eventually signed by every country except Israel, India, and Pakistan. This agreement was based on a grand bargain: that the nuclear haves (United States, USSR, United Kingdom, France, and China) would eliminate these weapons over time, while everyone else pledged not to build or acquire them. For more than a quarter century, the pact held. Dozens of countries that could have developed nuclear arms refrained from doing so.

      But with memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fading, countries—including the United States—have begun to reconsider the logic of nonproliferation. When I was Secretary of State in the late 1990s, India and Pakistan crashed into the nuclear club. In the years that followed, North Korea forged ahead with its own program despite international disapproval. Iran agreed in 2015 to strict limits in exchange for sanctions relief, only to see the United States withdraw from the deal in 2018. Tehran has since resumed uranium enrichment.

      A breakdown in efforts by the United States and Russia has further set back the cause. The U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 began a trend away from negotiated arms reduction and toward unilateral moves. With the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year, only one agreement remains in place limiting the size of American and Russian nuclear forces—and that treaty, known as New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), is set to expire next year.

      Against that backdrop, both the United States and Russia are placing a renewed emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons in their military strategies, with the United States deploying new types of bombs following a wholesale modernization effort by the Russian military. Some officials are even embracing the folly that a nuclear war can be won.

      …The United States does not need every weapon in its nuclear arsenal. Nor does it have the money to pay for them without detracting from more urgent priorities. The estimated cost of modernizing the nuclear enterprise—about $50 billion per year—is almost five times the budget of the US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

      A new U.S. administration can reduce such spendhig, supporting instead the goal of nuclear disarmament. U.S. leaders may not know how to arrive at this final destination, but there are obvious first few steps—extending current treaties, pursuing follow-on agreements, and using the full range of diplomatic tools to avoid conflict and escalation. Seventy-five years into the nuclear age, the United States must get off its current path and once again lead toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Color Vision

[These excerpts are from a book report by Michael Rossi in the 17 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      …A Natural History of Color is a companion piece to The Nature of Color, an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City….As of this writing, the museum is still closed. Nevertheless, the book stands on its own.

      As the authors acknowledge, understanding color tout court is a vast, multidisciplinary project, involving physics, physiology; psychology, anthropology, and philosophy, among many other disciplines. Tb make sense of this potential chaos, the book takes evolution as its guiding principle, looking first at the evolution of light-sensitive molecules and their integration into, and usefulness to, living things; next, at the evolution of particular color schemes that can serve to attract, repel, mimic, and confuse other organisms that possess particular arrangements of light-sensitive molecules; and finally, at the evolution of distinct symbolic responses to color in human beings….

      Perhaps to leaven their dips into the minutiae of physics, genetics, statistics, and molecular biology, the authors frequently reach for pop-culture references to illustrate (or augment) their points. A truncated list would include the movies Predator and Animal House; the TV shows Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Pee-wee’s Playhouse; and the rock groups Violent Femmes and the Police, as well as repeat appearances by Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoons.…

      This gap notwithstanding, the book does provide, unequivocally and generously, a long look not just at the evolutionary background of color perception but also at the ways in which science itself both draws from and contributes to an understanding of color. The writers are not simply practicing scientists and museum curators, they are enthusiasts eager to share their knowledge with their audience. One comes away from this book with a sense that both the scientific description of color and the science that is used to arrive at that description are mutually reinforcing: a feedback loop wherein a particular understanding of perception shapes a particular understanding of the world, which, in turn, shapes a particular understanding of perception, and so forth. In this way, the book is something of a meta-exercise in the history of perception—a way of viewing one's own perceptions in a historical mirror. If one approaches the book with this precept in mind, the experience will be rewarding.

Science Has Always Been Political

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 17 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      This month marks the 75th anniversary of Vannevar Bush’s paper, “Science—The Endless Frontier.” The report set out the rationale and structure of a system to fund science in the United States; it is the Magna Carta of American science….

      Bush’s report and advocacy seized on the historical moment. He was a driving force behind the Manhattan Project, and the scientists who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos were viewed as American heroes who won World War II with their minds (we now correctly regret the carnage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and have more sophisticated views about the danger of nuclear weapons). Bush shrewdly recognized that it was a high-water mark for American trust in science. He used this political capital to create the federally funded scientific establishment in the United States.

      Bush’s document is widely celebrated by U.S. scientists, because it sets out many of the nation’s most cherished principles. It is fundame-tally based on the idea that professors should conduct basic research with federal dollars because universities offer a home for free inquiry and students can be trained in this environment of knowledge creation. It is one of the earliest and most persuasive cases for professors as teacher-scholars. He was passionate that university researchers should be free from government influence, and later tangled in the implementation of his vision with Senator Harley Kilgore, who felt that the government should force more applied research with more federal entitlements.

      There is a disconnect, however, in how we remember this. Although Bush is often held up as a model for keeping politics out of science, his writing and efforts were unmistakably political. “Science—The Endless Frontier” is first and foremost a masterwork of political persuasion. Yes, it eventually ends up with professors carrying out curiosity-driven research without government intervention, but the exposition that leads to this conclusion is nothing short of a jeremiad—a prophecy of American deterioration without immediate investment in science. Perhaps deep in his psyche, basic research was important to Bush for its beauty and transcendent qualities, but in reading his three arguments for federal science, he believed it was crucial for American survival.

      Bush begins with an argument that is still the most politically useful in American science—"For the War Against Disease.” As science has gone in and out of favor in Washington, DC, medical research has almost always had bipartisan support, and Bush’s brilliant framing ensured that fundamental understanding of biology always had support. The second argument—"For Our National Security”—leverages the support that Bush and his colleagues obtained in building the atomic bomb as well as the fear that Americans had of adversaries that could gain an advantage in military technology. “And for the Public Welfare” posits that scientific capability and a trained scientific workforce are necessary for a flourishing economy in the United States.

      These arguments still work today. It would be hard to find Congressional testimony from scientific advocates over the intervening 75 years that didn’t echo some of these themes….

Polynesians, Native Americans Met and Mingled Long Ago

[These excerpts are from an article by Lizzie Wade in the 10 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      By about 1200 C.E., Polynesians were masters of oceanic exploration, roaming 7000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean in outrigger canoes. Guided by subtle changes of wind and waves, the paths of migrating birds, bursts of light from bioluminescent plankton, and the position of the stars, they reached and settled islands from New Zealand to Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, the closest Polynesian island to South America.

      So it’s natural to wonder: Did these world-class explorers make it the last 3800 kilometers to South America? A genomic study of more than 800 modem Polynesians and Native Americans suggests they did.

      The work strengthens earlier evidence that somewhere—perhaps on the northern coast of South America—the two groups met and mixed well before the era of European colonialism. And it shakes up the most popular model of where Native American genes first took root in Polynesia, shifting the focus from Rapa Nui to islands farther west….

      Earlier hints of contact between the two regions included the sweet potato, which was domesticated in the Andes but grown and eaten all over Polynesia. for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived. And a 2014 study of 27 modern people from Rapa Nui found they had Native American ancestry dating back to between 1300 C.E. and 1500 C.E.—at least 200 years before the first Europeans landed there in 1722 C.E. But a 2017 ancient DNA study, led by Fehren-Schmitz, found no sign of Native Amerircan ancestry in five people who lived on Rapa Nui before and after European contact.

      …found that people on many islands had both Polynesian and European ancestry, reflecting their colonial histories. But they were also able to detect a small amount of Native American ancestry in people from the eastern Polynesian islands of Palliser, the Marquesas, Mangareva, and Rapa Nui. The Native American sequences were short and nearly identical— seemingly a legacy of one long-ago meeting with a Native American group, rather than sustained contact over generations….

      Analyses of the length of the Native American sequences show this ancestry appeared first on Fatu Hiva in the South Marquesas roughly 28 generations ago, which would date it to about 1150 C.E. That’s about when the island was settled by Polynesians, raising the possibility the contact happened even earlier. The genetic legacy of that mixing was then carried by Polynesian voyagers as they settled other islands, including Rapa Nui….

Monumental Patience

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 10 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      Next week marks the 60th anniversary of Jane Goodall’s arrival in what is now Tanzania’s Gombe National Park to study wild chimpanzees. Although her story is a familiar one to many scientists, it has taken on a new importance in this era when climate change, racism, and a rapidly spreading coronavirus ravage the globe. It is a story of genuine scientific curiosity, determination, and respect for nature and humanity—all the things we desperately need now….

      Leakey famously said that Goodall was a person of monumental patience. “There’s defi-nitely still lots of opportunity for the old way of watching and recording and being patient,” she said. Goodall still insists that some observational work be done with handwritten note taking, but she also embraces the use of technology….The important thing to Goodall was to get close and study the personalities and interactions among chimpanzee family members. She has been doing it for 60 years, saying “it yielded so much richness.”

      The science that started in Gombe back then has evolved, changing and developing as it grows….

      Another program she devotes most of her time to now, Roots & Shoots, reflects her faith in young people and the future. She still has many concerns, about the world. “How do we move into a new green economy?” she wonders. “How do we alleviate poverty so people can make the right choices and stop destroying the environment? How do we realize that putting the short-term economic gain over and above protection of nature is going to be the end of our species as well as the end of most life as we know it?”

      In an effort to answer these questions, she uses her platform, and her story, to inspire the younger generation, just as she has also inspired the established scientists of today….

Immigrants Help Make America Great

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Sudip Parikh in the 10 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      I am a scientist. I am an American. And I am the product of special expert visas and chain migration—among the many types of legal immigration into the United States. On 22 June, President Trump issued a proclamation that temporarily restricts many types of legal immigration into the country, including that of scientists and students. This will make America neither greater nor safer—rather, it could make America less so.

      The administration claims that these restrictions are necessitated bythe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak to prevent threats to American workers. This reasoning is flawed for science and engineering, where immigrants are critical to achieving advances and harnessing the resulting economic opportunity for all Americans.

      For decades, the United States has inspired both immigrants and nonimmigrants to make substantial contributions to science and technology that benefit everyone. Preventing highly skilled scientists and postdocs from entering the United States directly threatens this enterprise.

      …As President Reagan said, the United States is the one place in the world where “anybody from any corner of the world can live and become an American.” Naturalized citizens love the United States deeply because they chose to be American. They and other immigrants make huge contributions to science and engineering.

      According to the National Science Foundation, more than 50% of postdocs and 28% of science and engineering faculty in the United States are immigrants. Of the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine, and physics awarded to Americans since 2000, 38% were awarded to immigrants to the United States….

      Suspending legal immigration is self-defeating and breaks a model that is so successful that other nations are copying it….

      To develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, cure cancers, go to Mars, understand the fundamental laws of the universe and human behavior, develop artificial intelligence, and build a better future, we need the brain power of the descendants of Native Americans, Pilgrims, Founding Mothers and Fathers, Enslaved People, Ellis Island arrivals, and immigrants from everywhere. The United States has thrived as a crossroads where people are joined together by ideas and contribute by choice to the freedom and opportunity provided by this wonderful, inspiring, and flawed country that is always striving to live up to its aspirations.

      Scientists, look around your labs and offices. Think about your collaborations and friendships. We must ensure that this “temporary” restriction on legal imrnigra-tion does not become permanent. Now is the time to speak up for your immigrant colleagues and for Ametica.

      [Note: In the following week, the Trump administration agreed to drop this controversial proposal.]

A Child of the Slums

[These excerpts are from an article by Shalini Arya in the 3 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      …My father—a laborer—didn’t let me attend school initially. I was always jealous of my younger brother when he set off to school each day. So, one day, when I was 5 years old, I followed him and hid under the teacher’s desk. She noticed me and sent me home. But the next day, she called my father and told him that he should put me in school. Much to my delight, my father said yes.

      I had a passion for learning, and—despite the hunger pangs I went to school with most days—I quickly shot to the top of my class. When I was 10 years old, my father sent me to a better school outside our neighborhood, one that was mostly attended by students from wealthier families. I was at the top of the class there, too. But I was treated poorly by classmates who saw me as a child of the slums. I also suffered from embarrassment during biology labs because I was very short—due to malnutrition, I suspect—and I had to stand on a chair to see into the microscope.

      When I graduated from high school, I wanted to become an engineer. My father was eager for me to attend university; but he told me I couldn’t study engineering because it was for boys; he said I should study food science instead. My initial reaction was that food science was the last thing I wanted to study. After a childhood preparing meals for my family, there was nothing I hated more than cooking.

      I enrolled in a food science program anyway, and I quickly discovered that food science wasn’t so bad after all. It was a real science—something akin to chemistry—that involved hypothesis testing and experimentation. Soon enough, I was hooked….

      In the years that followed, I received a Ph.D. in food engineering and was appointed to a faculty position—milestones that felt far removed from my beginnings in the slums. But shortly thereafter, I began a collaboration that brought me back to my roots. I worked with a company that wanted to tackle malnutrition in India’s slums. When representatives from the company first approached me, they said, “You’d need to go to the slums and talk with people”—thinking that I’d never done that before. “That’s no problem,” I replied. “I grew up in the slums.”

      As part of my work with the company, I modified the ingredients in a traditional Indian flatbread called chapati, which I’d made every day growing up. I realized it was the perfect vehicle to introduce more nutrition into the diet of poor people, because it was a staple eaten at every meal. I experimented with the ingredients and landed on a recipe that replaced wheat flour with cheap, locally grown grains that contain more minerals, protein, and dietary fiber.

      Other researchers laughed at me when I started to work on chapati because they didn’t think there’d be much science, or innovation, associated with it. But I’ve since proved them wrong. My work has won numerous national and international awards, and companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies have all sought my expertise.

      In my life, I’ve faced poverty, hunger, and discrimination. But I didn’t let them hold me back. I pushed through the obstacles and learned lessons from them that helped propel me forward. I hope others can take inspiration from my story and realize that—despite the challenges they may be facing—they, too, can persevere.

Physics Meets America’s Defense Agenda

[These excerpts are from a book review by Melanie Frappier in the 3 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      While historically naïve, Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 treatise The Structure of Scientific Revolutions succeeded in revealing that science is not as rational and objective as many imagined it to be, opening the doors to a new kind of history of science, one that pays attention to the complex interactions between science's conceptual frameworks and its social contexts. Yet, to this day, most history books written for the wider public favor a narrower understanding of science. David Kaiser's work is a wel-comed exception.

      In Quantum Legacies: Dispatches from an Uncertain World, Kaiser, who teaches both particle cosmology and history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gives a witty and insightful overview of the development of modern physics. Through a series of previously published but carefully reedited essays, he explores how America’s defense agenda has shaped physics research and education, from the ever-increasing size of research teams to the way we talk about quantum phenomena.

      Initially, only taciturn physicists such as Paul Dirac preferred to focus on the mathematical formalism of quantum physics rather than engaging in public debates on its philosophical implications as Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrodinger often did. Why then are so many physicists now favoring Dirac’s “shut up and calculate” approach? Kaiser seems unconvinced by the oft-repeated claim that most physicists were satisfied by Niels Bohr's answers to Einstein’s and Schrodinger’s worries and simply turned their attention to more practical problems. The change of focus, he argues, was brought about by the complex ways in which war transformed physics. \

      Historians usually underline the role that new military technology, from computers to atomic bombs, played in the Allies’ victory in World War II. But according to Kaiser, the most important contribution that physics departments made to the war effort was the training of soldiers. As he reminds us, this was a “physicists’ war” first and foremost, because soldiers needed a basic grasp of physics to operate everyday military technology.

      Across the country; classroom discussions of the interpretation of quantum mechanics were replaced by lectures on the fundamentals of radio transmission and artillery. Far from being temporary, these drastic changes became entrenched during the Cold War as Americans feared—albeit incorrectly—that the USSR would match and perhaps surpass their scientific and military outputs. Fear of a nuclear conflict, Kaiser explains, made nuclear physicists key to national security during this period. Generous governmental funding in research and education led to soaring enrollments in physics departments.

      As Kaiser demonstrates through an examination of mid-20th-century textbooks, increasingly large classes encouraged professors to continue their move away from philosophical musings in favor of more practical (and undoubtedly easier-to-grade) calculations. Gone were the days when textbooks discussed the reality of the energy levels of hydrogen atoms; now the aim was to calculate them.

      The Cold War led to a golden age during which physics saw the development of the standard model and the discovery of new particles, from neutrinos to the' Higgs boson. To his credit, Kaiser never suggests that military funding is key to rapid scientific development….

      …The one “legacy” the book fails to address is the flagrant absence of female and minority researchers in particle cosmology….

Officials Grid for a War on Vaccine Misinformation

[These excerpts are from an article by Warren Cornwall in the 3 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      Within days of the first confirmed novel coronavirus case in the United States on 20 January, antivaccine activists were already hinting on Twitter that the virus was a scam—part of a plot to profit from an eventual vaccine.

      Nearly half a year later, scientists around the world are rushing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. An approved product is still months, if not years, away and public health agencies have not yet mounted campaigns to promote it. But health communication experts say they need to start to lay the groundwork for acceptance now, because the flood of misinformation from antivaccine activists has surged.

      …in recent months, 10% of the Facebook pages run by people asking questions about vaccines have already switched to antivaccine views.

      Recent polls have found as few as 50% of people in the United States are committed to receiving a vaccine, with another quarter wavering. Some of the communities most at risk from the virus are also the most leery: Among Black people, who account for nearly one-quarter of U.S. COVID-19 deaths, 40% said they wouldn’t get a vaccine in a mid-May poll….In France, 26% said they wouldn't get a coronavirus vaccine.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now working on a plan to boost “vaccine confidence” as part of the federal effort to develop a vaccine….

      Even before the pandemic, public health agencies around the world were struggling to counter increasingly sophisticated efforts to turn people against vaccines. With vaccination rates against measles and other infectious diseases falling in some locations, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 listed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of 10 major global health threats.

      Any coronavirus vaccine will face additional hurdles, especially the lack of a long-term safety record….Even advocates have worried that the rush for a vaccine raises the risk it could be ineffective or have harmful side effects….

      Del Bigtree, a U.S.-based vaccine critic, claims scientists are pursuing one of “the most dangerous vaccines ever attempted,” for a virus that poses little risk to most peopie. He says he spreads his message through an online talk show, Twitter, and presentations, and that “we have seen incredible growth” since the pandemic started.

      …Other outlandish claims include that vitamin C can cure COVID-19 and that the disease is a conspiracy involving philanthropist Bill Gates….

      Accuracy and authority are at a disadvantage in a media environment that favors speed, emotion, and memorable stories….Antivaccine activists have used those factors to attract followers….

      Vaccine promoters say they need to start now to counter all this, because epidemiologists estimate that to break the pandemic, 70% of the population may need to develop immunity, either by getting a vaccine or becoming infected…..

      Traditional messages promoting vaccination—authoritative and fact-filled—just don’t cut it with people worried about vaccine safety….

      Some current initiatives have pioneered a more story-based approach….”We need to carry positive stories and also negative stories about the harms of not vaccinating.” The downsides of refusing a coronavirus vaccine might include not visiting grandparents and continuing to traverse the produce aisle as if it were a minefield….

      But the most effective tools may lie outside the digital realm. Real-world nudges and infrastructure, such as phone call reminders to come in for a shot, may be more powerful than any social media campaign….

      Public health agencies should consider taking vaccinations out of medical settings and into places where people work or shop….That also means talking to leaders in various communities to understand their views…..

Surviving the Trauma of COVID-19

[This excerpt is from an editorial by Roxanne Cohen Silver in the 3 July 2020 issue of Science.]

      …The threat of terrorism was never eliminated, but industries and urban centers continued to thrive. Decades later, the United States and world face another threat, equally amorphous and extremely deadly. In months, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has infected over 10 million people, killed over 125,000 Americans, and led to more than 500,000 deaths worldwide. A vaccine for COVID-19 is perhaps a year away. What does psychological science tell us about how individuals are responding—and will respond—as the pandemic waxes and wanes? What will the postpandemic “normal” look like? Will our society prove to be resilient?

      COVID-19 is a physical illness that scientists are trying to understand from many angles. But the pandemic and its associated stressors also are likely to have serious mental health consequences. It is quite normal to experience distress as a result of chronic stress of this magnitude. Losses that are real (of loved ones, without the opportunity for a ritual funeral) or symbolic (graduation celebrations) abound. There may be grief for many, and unresolved grief for some. Isolation may lead to depression for many and suicidal ideation for some. But there will be no “one size fits all” response to this crisis.

      Decades of psychological science on collective traumas indicate that individuals’ responses are likely to be based on several factors. These include their prepandemic circumstances and resources—prior exposures to adversity, physical and mental health vulnerabilities, and economic and social supports. One must also consider exposures encountered during the pandemic: Did a family member get sick or worse? Did the person lose a job or health insurance? Was the individual an essential worker whose actions ensured others’ well-being? How much time was spent immersed in traditional or social media, repeatedly being exposed to hours of bad news? One must also consider community-level stressors. Did the individual live in a “hot spot”? Did shops and restaurants close, never to reopen? Was there unambiguous guidance from a governor that was backed by the best science? Emotional and behavioral responses to this ongoing crisis will be multidetermined but not random, and psychological science has isolated risk factors that can guide social service organizations and health care providers to identify the most psychologically vulnerable among us.

      As the death toll due to COVID-19 crossed 125,000 in the United States, behavioral restrictions have been relaxed nationwide. Current public health guidance recommends self-protective behaviors, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, and wearing face coverings. Yet media reports show people congregating with no physical distancing at parties, beaches, and street protests. Research suggests that exposure to conflicting information from government authorities, media sources, and social networks plays a role in understanding whether or not individuals follow science-based recommendations to minimize risk and maximize public health. When Ebola virus cases appeared in the United States in 2014, the public proved to understand risk information that is clearly and directly communicated by trusted authorities. Moreover, this trust must be maintained by honesty and competence. And just as the public returned to airplanes and high rises after 9/11, and just as people now go through x-ray machines -without protest before they board a plane, most people will follow the rules.

      Successfully managing COVID-19 and its aftermath will require that behavioral scientists provide a roadmap for public officials to ensure the public's cooperation, trust in, and implementation of what is learned from biomedical science. Responsible health-protective behaviors must be encouraged with messaging that conveys clearly and consistently the costs and benefits of actions that can ensure the physical and mental health of oneself and one’s community. Although the timing of containment of COVD3-19 remains unknown, most people will get to the other side of the pandemic recognizing strengths and coping skills that they did not realize they had.

Confronting Bias

[These excerpts are from a book review by Calvin K. Lai in the 26 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      On an idyllic summer day in 2009, Pragya Agarwal and her 9-year-old daughter went shopping for a new school uniform. As they were walking back to their car, an armed police officer stopped them.'The officer told them that a customer had reported them as people who “looked like shoplifters” and were “suspicious.” Agarwal and her daughter were eventually allowed to leave, but the consequences of that incident were enduring….

      …In everyday life, we often have either too little. or too much information to make optimal decisions. Our biases serve as mental shortcuts that help us make “good enough” decisions in a complex world. From an evolutionary perspective, this ability to quickly separate good from bad and friend from foe was essential for survival.

      These biases, however, are prone to systematic errors that can have grave consequences in modern society. Take our preference for similarity: We seek out information that confirms views we already hold, prefer to live with people who are like us, and discriminate against those who do not share our views. We also prefer the status quo, meaning that we are biased toward current conditions, even when they reinforce the oppression of a minority group.

      Agarwal documents biases across many social distinctions. She notes the double standards to which women in leadership are held, health care workers’ beliefs that Black individuals experience less severe pain than non-Black individuals, and the insidious stereotype of Asian people as “model minorities.” She describes. how anti-fat stigma is internalized, how elderly people are perceived as burdens, and how accents can confer a host of hidden stereotypes. Although her approach is exhaustive, it falters in its synthesis.

      Research tells us that prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are pervasive. Less attention is paid to how to connect these findings together….

      She assumes that many social disparities are necessarily caused by unconscious biases. However, many of the disparities she describes are better explained by structural causes or conscious prejudices. She writes, for example, that “implicit aversive attitudes” are an explanation for racial housing segregation. Racial housing segregation can often be more parsimoniously explained by institutional forces, such as a history of redlining, exclusionary zoning regulations, and economic inequalities. When psychological biases are considered, there is clearer evidence of real estate agents consciously steering homebuyers to certain neighborhoods on the basis of the homebuyers’ race rather than as a result of unconscious bias.

      Another form of concept creep is in the use of the term “unconscious” to encompass biases that are subtle but conscious. Some may just be hidden (for example, an avowed racist who lies about the reasons for treating a racial minority poorly), or they may be fast to arise (for example, a visceral reaction to a person who speaks with a foreign accent).

      In the book’s final chapter, Agarwal describes approaches for debiasing, including raising awareness of bias, confronting others tactfully, removing biasing information from job 'applications, perspective-taking, and role models. Many of these approaches have firm scientific backing and a track record of success in reducing prejudice and discrimination. But most of what she offers is psychologically and individually oriented. If the disparities Agarwal discusses have structural causes, then these individualistic approaches may fall short.

      Promoting equality takes time, effort, and systemic change. The enduring influence of structural factors, such as unequal education and wealth, creates social environments that cannot be escaped. At the same time, structural inequalities depend on the countless individual choices that people make for others in everyday life. An integrated perspective that deeply considers the relationship between individuals and society would have helped illustrate a key lesson of research on inequality: Bias is deeply personal, but it is also universal.

Persuasive Words Are Not Enough

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 26 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      Communicating the findings of science plays a vital role in shaping our lives and the planet….

      It’s baffling that as the world struggles to tame coranavirus disease 2019 (COV1D-19), a large portion of the population ignores the fact that wearing masks and practicing social distancing dampen the spread of the pandemic. Even when a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, the benefits of achieving herd immunity will be endangered if growing antivaccine sentiment leads some folks to refine to get vaccinated. American science denialism, in particular, persists, even at the highest level of leadership, with a president who denies climate change and a vice president—a devout creationist—who believes that Earth is only 6000 years old….

      The scientific community is up against a sophisticated, data-driven machine that is devoted to mating sure that science doesn’t fully succeed, and the history of this is quite clear. A recent Science editorial pointed out that U.S. Republican politicians embraced Earth Day when it started 50 years ago. But in the 1980s, digital analysis of political polling data based on location fostered the formation of the anti-science movement in the United States—politicians and their supporters who did not like the results criticized the findings and the process. It became fashionable and politically expedient to run against science. Any carve-outs for the environment in the conservative government went away in favor of the dismantling of regulations grounded in evidence. Over time, digital technologies have become more sophisticated, and now there is a. massive, churning, finely tuned digital misinformation machine that has seized social media to ensure that a portion of the population doesn’t accept science. And this battle between science fact and fiction isn’t just being waged in the United States—the United Kingdom, Russia, India, and Brazil all face a similar predicament.

      The current implications of this battle in the United States are everywhere. The administration has promulgated the idea that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19) was engineered in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, in part based on a non-peer-reviewed preprint that was later retracted. The misinformation about masks and social distancing is spurring dangerous bar gatherings and choir practices. Unsubstantiated claims in a “plandemic” video are convincing citizens that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime leader of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is hiding a secret business deal from which he stands to profit from COVID-19. The anti-science movement started with the environment, which could hurt our long-term survival, but in the era of COVID-19, it threatens our immediate survival.

      The scientific community is losing the battle against this digital leviathan of misinformation. A well-reasoned and highly placed op-ed on this topic is not going to move the needle, no matter how well it is crafted to adhere to the best practices in science communication. Neither is a perfect trade book, television appearance, or speaking tour by a scientific leader. The only way to win this fight is to harness the same sophisticated tools in the name of science that are being used to tear science down. With social media companies afraid to challenge the misinformation machine, even when their own platforms are being misused, the task is daunting. But we can at least move on from the idea that if we could just find those perfect, persuasive words, everyone would suddenly realize that facts are facts with no alternatives.

Your Hyperbolic Mind

[These excerpts are from an article by Stephen Ornes in the July/August 2020 issue of Discover.]

      The human brain is both a marvel and a mystery of evolution: Packed into a volume about one-quarter that of an inflated soccer ball, somewhere around 86 billion neurons form networks that enable us to do everything from mindlessly scrolling through Instagram to safely sending people into space. But a deeper understanding of the structure of those networks is still an open question.

      Perception remains particularly vexing: How does the human brain turn the deluge of incoming signals — photons, odor molecules, sound waves, sensations on our skin — into an accurate mental simulation? What neural network could represent, say, the smell of chocolate?

      Recent studies suggest that math may help us sort out these questions. To better approximate the complicated networks involved in perception and other cognitive tasks, some researchers turn to hyperbolic geometry. Like other geometries, it's a set of rules about space, distance and connections. But unlike Euclidean geometry, which is what most people learn (or loathe) in high school, hyperbolic geometry describes the way space fits together — if space curved away from itself, everywhere.

      …to understand the mind, we have to prepare to embrace hyperbolic geometry’s tenets — which, when theyfirst appeared, bordered on heresy for the math world…..

      We usually regard the world as following the rules put together more than 2,000 years ago by the “Father of Geometry,” Greek mathematician Euclid, in his treatise, Elements. Those rules approximate the flat, practical, physical world, and are useful on the scale of daily life. Euclidean geometry has enabled us to cross seas, build skyscrapers, race Ferraris.

      But a problem arises with Euclid’s Fifth Postulate. In its original form, it says that if a straight line crosses two other straight lines, and those intersections form interior angles on the same side that add up to less than 180 degrees, then at some point those two other straight lines have to meet somewhere. (Most of us know the Fifth by simpler words: “Parallel lines never meet.”) It’s because of the Fifth Postulate that we get the Pythagorean Theorem and proof that a triangle’s angles sum to 180 degrees.

      A postulate is supposed to be self-evident, but this business about parallel lines struck a nerve with mathematicians. It didn’t seem as intuitively convincing — Euclid didn't even invoke the Fifth for most of the propositions in Elements. These troubled scholars spent millennia wrestling with it, and finally, in the early 19th century, they began to ask: What if the Fifth doesn’t have to hold?

      That question changed everything. Violating Euclid’s Fifth wasn’t just an irritation, they reaized. It was a gateway to exotic new geometries that were still self-consistent.

      The idea of breaking Euclid’s Fifth attracted big thinkers of the time, including Carl Friedrich Gauss and Nikolai Lobachevsky. One of the most remark-able figures was Janos Bolyai, a young, aspiring mathematician from Hungary who was one of the first to forge the rules of this new geometry. In 1820, he undertook a radical plan to thwart Euclid. Janos realized that relaxing Euclid’s Fifth Postulate opened new windows to stranger, non-Euclidean geometries.

      …In Euclidean geometry, the angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees and parallel lines never meet. Not so in non-Euclidean geometries. Spherical geometry offers one example — if you draw a triangle on a sphere (like, say, connecting the North Pole to Honolulu to Miami), the angles sum to a number larger than 180.

      Hyperbolic geometry is another well-known kind of non-Euclidean geometry. A hyperbolic plane floating in three dimensions doesn’t look flat; it looks more like a Pringles chip or a saddle. It’s curved everywhere. If you’re standing on a hyperbolic plane and take a step in one direction, you’ll rise; if you turn 90 degrees and take a step, you’ll go down. In hyperbolic space, the angles of a triangle add up to less than 180 degrees.

      …In the 1940s, work by German-born mathematician Rudolf Luneburg…helped explain why parallel lines differ in perception and reality. He recognized that through binocular vision, we perceive a three-dimensional map of our surroundings that includes both the shapes and locations of the things around us. He set out to derive a metric, a way to translate between physical reality and what we see.

      Luneburg and his collaborators concluded that the rules of perception are not only non-Euclidean, but also are better represented by hyperbolic geometry. Decades later, in 1983, philosopher of science Patrick Heelan similarly argued for the existence of hyperbolic visual space; Heelan also pointed out painters like Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and Joseph Mallard William Turner depicted hyperbolic structures in their work.

      …In a 2018 study, researchers reported that people rank images created using non-Euclidean geometries as being more realistic than those using the kind of Euclidean perspective we faithfully analyze in high school….

      Her findings suggest that the human brain groups odors according to how often they occur together, rather than according to their molecular makeup. When she created a map of these odor clusters, Sharpee found that the distance between similarly structured molecules was best represented using ideas of distance from hyperbolic geometry, rather than Euclidean. Her work indicates that We might learn more about how the brain organizes perception information if we approach its organizational structure as a kind of curved space.

      …neurons don’t necessarily communicate with the neurons closest to them in space — which you might expect if you were looking for Euclid — but instead form relay networks that follow the rules of a different, more exotic geometry. Hyperbolic space “provides almost perfectly navigable maps” of the web of connections in brains in a variety of species, they reported. Hyperbolic geometry, they say, suggests “a new cartography of the brain.” Similarly, some computer scientists note that hyperbolic geometry offers an appealing way to organize the big datasets needed for machine learning….

Fire in the Belly

[These excerpts are from an article by Anna Funk in the July/August 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …Your digestive system achieves no small feat each and every day, as it turns things you eat into usable energy and nutrients for the rest of your body. It’s an incredibly complex system, which also means there’s incredible complexity in the ways things can get out of whack.

      But while gut issues are on the rise, so is our understanding of them. Researchers have made huge strides toward figuring out the causes of — and solutions for — some of the most common culprits behind your stomachache. And most of this progress is thanks to new mechanistic understandings of how the bacteria in your gut really operate….

      It seems like the cutting edge of nearly every corner of the health field — from eczema to Parkinson’s disease — is finding new links to the gut microbiome. This community of around 38 trillion bacteria that live mostly in your colon helps digest your food and protects your body from intruders hitchhiking on your last snack. And it turns out that these processes in your gut can affect the whole body, thanks to the downstream effects of inflammation, nutrient absorption and the compounds that bacteria produce.

      The gut microbiome is quite diverse: No two people have exactly the same bacteria species in exactly the same quantities, and the bacteria themselves can have huge diversity in their genes. This variation adds an extra challenge to research, since lessons learned from one person’s gut might not apply to someone else’s.

      Nevertheless, researchers have already found links between the gut microbiome and some of the most common diseases of the digestive system….

      …Inflammation may be a dirty word these days, but its actually a normal, adaptive part of your immune system. It’s what makes the skin around a papercut turn a little pink, and what makes a sprained ankle warm to the touch. The damaged cells spit out chemicals that increase blood flow to the area and call white blood cells in to attack intruders to help with healing.

      But when bodies aren’t functioning properly, unnecessary inflammation can become a burden. Some people’s immune systems might think something is an invader that isn’t….And with true food allergies, like some people have to peanuts or shellfish, the immune response can be so strong that it triggers anaphylaxis, a bodywide shock that can be life threatening.

      Other causes of chronic inflammation are even less straightforward. Sometimes a combination of illness, stress or poor diet can lead to an increase in the permeability of a person’s intestines, a condition colloquially referred to as leaky gut. In healthy intestines, a layer of protective mucus keeps food, bacteria and whatever else might be passing through your gut firmly inside the tube and away from your internal organs. But if this barrier weakens or is damaged, the contents of the gut, including bacteria, begin to escape, which triggers a substantial immune response. If this happens repeatedly, you can end up with chronic inflammation that can lead to downstream effects, from neurodegenerative diseases to cancers….

Oceans Beneath the Oceans

[These excerpts are from an article by Steve Nadis in the July/August 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …The more he and other researchers look, the more water they find all throughout Earth's interior — even though it may not resemble the liquid were familiar with. Under the extreme temperatures and pressures existing far underground, water breaks down into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen, which are chemicallybound to the rock’s crystal structure. But to geophysicists, it’s still water, regardless of the form it takes.

      This begs the question: How much of this water is buried beneath the surface? The answer could help explain our planet’s suitability for life and tell us how all this water got here in the first place.

      …Wadsleyite and its relative, ringwoodite, are the two main components of the transition zone between Earth’s upper and lower mantle – about 250 to 410 miles below the surface….Jacobsen wanted to know: How much water might actually be stored in these abundant minerals?

      Because wadsleyite and ringwoodite do not ordinarily exist on the surface, Jacobsen spent almost 15 years synthesizing them in his laboratory, simulating the high-temperature and high-pressure conditions found hundreds of miles below. He studied these lab-grown minerals to determine how fast seismic waves could pass through samples containing different amounts of water — information he’d later use to assess the water content of underground rock.

      He confirmed that the minerals could indeed contain appreciable amounts of water elements, incorporated within the rocks’ structure “like water or milk that’s baked into a cake.” But because his estimates were so much higher than most experts considered plausible, he was hesitant to publish his results until he had more confidence in them.

      Everything changed in 2014 when Graham Pearson of the University of Alberta reported on his investigation of a tiny diamond recovered from Brazil. Formed in the transition zone, the diamond had an even tinier bit of ringwoodite trapped inside. And in that ringwoodite? About 1 percent water by weight.

      That may not sound like much, but given the mineral’s ubiquity in the transition zone, Jacobsen knew: It could add up to a lot of H2O.

      Meanwhile, Jacobsen’s experiments revealed that the presence of water in ringwoodite would lower the melting point of rock at the base of the transition zone. That means the water-bearing rock there is more likely to contain liquid patches — not because it’s wet, but because parts of it are molten….

      Pooling their data, the researchers identified extensive stretches of molten material within the transition zone and just below it — findings that were published three months after Pearson's diamond discovery. By then it was becoming increasingly clear, Jacobsen concluded, that “the transition zone is full of water”

      How much water? If the ringwoodite sample is representative, it would mean there's about twice as much water as in all Earth’s surface oceans, he says. Just one of these “ocean masses” equates to about 1.5 billion billion tons (or over 350 billion billion gallons).

      And the case is far from being closed: Signs of additional water have since been found both above and below the transition zone….

      All that water below Earth’s surface isn’t just sitting still: It’s cycling, pulled along as tectonic plates move….

      …the quantity of water deposited 60 to 100 miles below the seafloor was more than four times above earlier estimates. Extending their results to all the world’s subduction zones suggests that seawater inputs to the mantle are something like one ocean mass of water….

      …Plate tectonics, in turn, is a key part of what makes this planet habitable; it’s like a giant conveyor belt that promotes the steady cycling of heat, water and chemicals. What’s more, Panero says, “it’s largely responsible for keeping Earth’s climate stable over million-year timescales.”

      Earlier in his career, Jacobsen didn’t concern himself with where Earth’s water came from….But as estimates of subterranean water grew; he started looking more closely at the rates at which water can be carried to great depths via plate tectonics and subduction. His calculations show that it could take billions of years, roughly the age of our planet, to move water from the oceans to the mantle.

      For that reason, Jacobsen questions the conclusion many astronomers have embraced: namely, that most of Earth’s water was delivered to the surface by asteroids and comets. Instead, he believes that substantial quantities must have been here since the planet’s formation and that much of the water in our current oceans was “squeezed out” from rocks below….

Denial du Jour

[These excerpts are from an article by Steve Mirsky in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The great man shared his lifetime with many people whose understanding, if you can call it that, of the laws of nature was strongly influenced by antiquity’s often wrong writers. (You also share your stay on Earth with such individuals.) One such contemporary was a Jesuit priest and scientist named Orazio Grassi, who was known to mix it up in print with Galileo on numerous occasions.

      Galileo really didn’t like this guy….

      Current investigators don’t typically have to face the possibility of torture, as Galileo did from the Catholic Church for being “vehemently suspect of heresy.” But modern climate researchers, evolutionary biologists and educators are threatened via e-mail and pilloried in social media, sometimes by elected officials.

      In 2012 two conservative outlets charged usually respected Penn State climatologist Michael E. Mann with disseminating fraudulent data (and compared him to a pedophile). Mann sued for defamation, and the case is still unresolved. Worse than the personal attacks, of course, is that policy is being made based on nonsense and magical thinking. (I'm writing this in early May. Has the coronavirus just, pool, gone away yet?)

      It’s an almost comical irony that today’s deniers try to assume the mantle of Galileo: people who disagree with the scientific consensus on things such as climate sometimes cite Galileo as a rebel (you know, like themselves) who is now seen as a hero….

      By this point Livio was laughing: “It’s not the case now every time that one speaks against the mainstream, he or she is right. Most of the time those people are wrong. In some rare cases, they are right. So to bring that as an argument is just ridiculous.” Sadly, two arguments of very different weights can still convince a lot of people at the same rate.

Are Tech Firms Antiscience?

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …In the past decade Google has contributed to more than a dozen groups that have worked to prevent action on climate change by promoting half-truths, misrepresentations and, sometimes, outright lies about climate research and scientists. These include the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Cato Institute, all of which have a long paper trail of skepticism, if not outright hostility, toward climate science. CEI has been directly involved in personal attacks on scientists.

      So why do large companies fund organizations that attack science? Nearly all leading corporations are part of trade groups that lobby for “pro-business” positions, such as lower taxes, and they typically turn ablind eye to these groups’ other activities. Microsoft, for example, participated for years in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which describes itself as dedicated to “limited government, free markets and federalism.” In 2011 it was revealed that ALEC had lobbied not only for pro-business initiatives but also for antidemocratic ones, such as restrictive voter ID requirements. Over the next few years a bevy of Fortune 500 companies, Microsoft included, began to withdraw support.

      Since the New Deal, trade groups have tried to defend the prerogatives of the private sector by claiming that the federal government is a threat to freedom. In the 1980s and 1990s this trans-mogrified into an attack on science….

      We saw this on full display in recent months as many American conservatives refused to accept a significant role for government in containing the coronavirus pandemic. An extreme case is the governor of South Dakota. Even as COVID-19 reached her state and hundreds of workers became ill at a meat-packing plant, she refused to implement any form of state control. To be sure, stay-at-home orders do decrease personal freedom and hurt the economy. But governments that took early steps to contain the threat have done far better in protecting both personal liberty and their economies. In any case, “freedom” is an empty concept to the dead.

      …Why shouldn’t employees and customers expect corporate leaders in all sectors to disassociate themselves from organizations whose rigid ideologies and pursuit of self-interest have led us into an antiscientific dead end? COVID-19 has proved that denying science protects neither individuals nor the economy. It’s time for corporate leaders to step up to the plate and reject the rejection of science.

The Racial Roots of Fighting Obesity

[These excerpts are from an article by Sabrina Strings and Lindo Bacon in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Black people, and black women, in particular, face considerable health challenges. Compared with their rates in other racial groups, chronic cardiovascular, inflammatory and metabolic risk factors have been found to be elevated in black women, even after controlling for behaviors such as smoking, physical exercise or dietary variables.

      Black women have also been identified as the subgroup with the highest body mass index (BMI) in the U.S., with four out of five classified as either “overweight” or “obese.” Many doctors have claimed that black women’s “excess” weight is the main cause of their poor health outcomes, often without fully testing or diagnosing them. While there has been a massive public health campaign urging fat people to eat right, eat less and lose weight, black women have been specifically targeted.

      This heightened concern about their weight is not new; it reflects the racist stigmatization of black women’s bodies. Nearly three centuries ago scientists studying race argued that African women were especially likely to reach dimensions that the typical European might scorn. The men of Africa were said to like their women robust, and the European press featured tales of cultural events loosely described as festivals intended to fatten African women to the desired “unwieldy” size.

      In the eyes of many medical practitioners in the late 19th century, black women were destined to die off along with the men of their race because of their presumed inability to control their “animal appetites”—eating, drinking and fornicating. These presumptions were not backed by scientific data but instead embodied the prevailing racial scientific logic at the time. Later, some doctors wanted to push black men to reform their aesthetic preferences. Valorizing voluptuousness in black women, these physicians claimed, validated their unhealthy diets, behaviors and figures.

      Today the idea that weight is the main problem dogging black women builds on these historically racist ideas and ignores how interrelated social factors impact black women’s health. It also perpetuates a misinformed and damaging message about weight and health. Indeed, social determinants have been shown to be more consequential to health than BMI or health behaviors.

      Doctors often tell fat people that dietary control leading to weight loss is the solution to their health problems. But many studies show that the stigma associated with body weight, rather than the body weight itself, is responsible for some adverse health consequences blamed on obesity, including increased mortality risk. Regardless of income, black women consistently experience weightism in addition to sexism and racism. From workplace discrimination and poor service at restaurants to rude or objectifying commentary online, the stress of these life experiences contributes to higher rates of chronic mental and physical illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety….

      Additionally, living in racially segregated, high-poverty areas contributes to disease risk for black women. Low-income black neighborhoods are often disproportionately impacted by a lack of potable water and higher levels of environmental toxins and air pollution. These factors add to the risk for respiratory illnesses such as asthma and lung disease. They also increase the chance of serious complications from the novel coronavirus.

      Further, these neighborhoods typically have a surfeit of fast-food chains and a dearth of grocery stores offering more nutritious food choices. Food insecurity, which is defined as the lack of access to safe, affordable and nutritious foods, has a strong association with chronic illness independent of BMI.

      …This weight-focused paradigm fails to produce thinner or healthier bodies but succeeds in fostering weight stigma.

      Chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart conditions are mislabeled “lifestyle” diseases, when behaviors are not the central problem. Difficult life circumstances cause disease. In other words, the predominant reason black women get sick is not because they eat the wrong things but because their lives are often stressful and their neighborhoods are often polluted.

      The most effective and ethical approaches for improving health should aim to change the conditions of black women’s lives: tackling racism, sexism and weightism and providing opportunity for individuals to thrive.

How to Boost Your Immunity

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Fear and fraud often travel together. As coronavirus anxiety began to spread across the land, so did bogus nostrums promising protection from this modern-day plague. As early as March 6, U.S. regulators began to issue warnings to companies promoting false claims, such as this one touting the benefits of drinking a daily dose of silver particles….

      For people who hope to build up their resistance to coronavirus and infections of all kinds, there are no magic formulas—but there are some science-based steps one can take to maintain a healthy immune system. For starters, don’t smoke. Cigarette smokers are much more vulnerable to respiratory infections. Second, make sure you are covering all your nutritional bases with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and other elements of a healthy diet….Third, practice good sleep hygiene so you can raise your chances of adequate nightly rest. And fourth, get regular exercise, which will also help you sleep.

      On the dietary front, several nutrients have been tied to improved resistance to viruses. Taking zinc supplements, for example, has been linked to a reduced rate of respiratory infections and shorter duration of related symptoms. Deficiency in zinc, a mineral found in meat, shellfish, nuts and whole grains, is more prevalent in less developed countries….

      Vitamins C and D have also been shown to improve resistance to respiratory infections. Perhaps relevant to COVID-19, vitamin C plays a role in reducing tissue damage from our own immune responses. Oral doses of the vitamin have also been shown to shorten the amount of time in an ICU and on a ventilator for heart surgery patients, according to a 2019 meta-analysis….

      As for vitamin D, a 2017 meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials found that vitamin D supplements cut the risk of acute respiratory infection—especially for people with low levels of the vitamin, which is about 40 percent of Americans. The percentage is far higher in African-Americans and Hispanics….

      As for sleep, scientists have long known that it plays an essential role in bolstering our defenses. Studies show that if you deprive people of sleep after administering a vaccine, they will produce a weaker antibody response than folks who slept. Research suggests that sleep enhances the migration of T cells to the lymph nodes, where they are presented with foreign molecules that trigger antibody production….

      Committing to a regular bedtime and nightly routine that helps you sleep, along with a healthy diet—and perhaps a multivitamin—will not necessarily keep the coronavirus at bay. But these steps have a true silver lining of helping you endure whatever health threats blow your way.

Death Metal

[These excerpts are from an article by Sophie Bushwick in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Copper surfaces kill microbes that come into contact with them in a matter of hours. A new technique makes the familiar metal even deadlier—by zapping it with lasers.

      Bacteria “are becoming more aggressive and resistant to therapeutics; it’s the same thing for viruses….There is a lot of interest in how to create surfaces that actually, on contact with the bacterium or the virus, immediately kill the pathogen” because this “eliminates the spread of that pathogen into the environment.” (The new research focused particularly on bacteria.)

      Copper is a good candidate for such more strongly to water—and thus to any surfaces: humans have been taking advantage of its bacteria-slaying properties for at least 8,000 years. People in some Bronze Age civilizations let their drinking water rest in copper vessels to avoid disease….When a microbe touches a metal surface, the substance carries electrons away from the microbe’s cellular membrane. This reaction sets off a chemical process that ultimately forces open the organism’s pores and destroys it.

      To enhance the process, Rahimi’s team hit a copper sample with laser light for a few milliseconds, thereby creating nanoscale pores in the flat metal and increasing bumpy surface area….the bumpy surface also made the copper cling more strongly to water—and thus to any bacteria within it.

      The researchers tested this newly rugged terrain by placing several bacterial strains, including Escherichia coli and a drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strain, on both flat and laser-treated pieces of copper. As soon as the cells hit the textured metal, their membranes began to suffer damage; that surface completely eradicated the bacteria, in some cases much more quickly than the untreated one. The surface killed some microbes immediately on contact and took from 40 minutes to two hours to wipe out a full colony, depending on the species and concentration.

      The laser treatment could also work with other metals, including titanium, which is often used for surgical implants, Rahimi says. He points out that all types of metals display some antimicrobial properties, although titanium, which has little conductivity, kills germs much more slowly than highly conductive ones such as copper….

How to Stop Science Theft

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Mary Sue Coleman in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …U.S. universities and institutions are taking steps to ensure that we protect the intellectual capital generated through taxpayer-supported federal research….

      Universities are strengthening and enforcing conflict-of-interest policies. For example, institutions once used forms that were not always clear for faculty to disclose funding sources. Now universities are adding more targeted questions and providing faculty with case examples, scenarios and FAQs on what should be included. Some are also requiring much more detail about time that faculty spend consulting with outside organizations, companies and universities to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

      Leaders at these universities are also using new Web sites and direct communications to alert all their researchers about possible security threats and to clarify security protocols. And research administrators are directly engaging faculty who have significant levels of foreign research engagement to ensure that they fully understand their responsibilities to disclose such funding and to comply properly with all relevant federal laws, regulations and university policies. Universities are developing newtraining programs for both faculty and students to educate them about security risks and to make them aware of ethical research practices that must be followed (including what kinds of information can and cannot be taken or shared outside the laboratory). And some institutions are now offering for-credit courses for graduate students on complex ethical decision making and responsible conduct of research.

      Crucially, universities are establishing stronger relations with their local FBI offices and other federal law-enforcement agencies; at the same time, the FBI is working to establish clear campus liaisons in their regional and local offices. New processes are now commonplace for monitoring data systems and networks for cyberintrusions, reporting suspected breaches and improving data security….

      Universities have put in place additional protections for research involving classified or otherwise sensitive or controlled information. For example, universities have established strenuous technology-control plans and cybersecurity safeguards to appropriately restrict access to such research. Research universities now employ specific staff to secure and manage such data None of these actions prohibits the exchange of knowIedge among legitimate scientific collaborations, which are key to scientific progress.

      …We in the scientific community owe it to ourselves to be proactive in pursuing constructive vigilance.

Justice for Rape Victims

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Across the country a crucial trove of crime-solving data is sitting unused in the form of untested rape kits. These cardboard boxes contain envelopes filled with hairs, skin cells, semen, clothing and other forensic evidence collected from survivors after they report a sexual assault. If the DNA on these items matches DNA in a criminal database, it can lead to an arrest. It is practically criminal, then, to put women through the emotionally and physically difficult, hours-long collection process and then never analyze the kits. Yet more than 100,000 rape kits in the U.S. are collecting dust on shelves in laboratories, hospitals and police stations because states lack the money—or the will—to process them.

      We now know that if the kits are analyzed, more criminals are caught and more victims get justice. The Manhattan District Attorney in New York City banded out grants for rape kit tes-ing to 20 states between 2015 and 2018, for example, and 186 arrests were made and 64 convictions won—many of them against serial rapists whose DNA showed up in multiple kits. An ongoing effort to test an archive of old kits in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has led to more than 400 convictions, mostly in cold cases….

      More jurisdictions must join these efforts. It’s not just money that's needed to fix the problem. Many states act as if the kits are unimportant and have no system to track and process them—they don't even have exact counts of how many are sitting unused.

      Along with Washington, D.C., 32 states have now passed bills requiring newly collected kits to be tested, and 25 states require some kind of tracking. Yet the laws are a patchwork—they don’t cover all that needs to be done, and they leave many states without legislation addressing the backlog. On the federal level, in December 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Debbie Smith Act, reauthorizing a 2004 bill to make $151 million a year available to test criminal forensic evidence. But the money is for all kinds of DNA evidence, not just rape kits, and its grants help only with untested kits that have already been sent to labs—not with the larger backlog of kits still at police or hospital warehouses.

      Because these are only partial solutions, the overall situation is getting worse. A 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office found that between 2011 and 2017 the number of backlogged requests for DNA analysis of crime scenes—mostly made up of rape kits—grew by 85 percent….Police are using kits more often, in part because there is an increased awareness of how useful forensic evidence is in securing convictions, even as 6,i-states are still trying to process old kits….

      …We must believe what survivors tell us and treat the crime of rape seriously. We need to honor their courage in reporting crimes and giving evidence by actually using that evidence to catch rapists.

What 11 Billion People Mean for Disease Outbreaks

[These excerpts are from an article by Bahar Gholipour in the June 2020 issue of Population Connection and was originally published by LiveScience on 25 November 2013.]

      …The virus was a new strain of H1N1, the influenza virus involved in the devastating 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed between 30 million and 50 million people worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than died during World War I. The emergence of the new H1N1 in 2009 was a reminder that despite the unprecedented progress in treating infectious disease in the past decades, the looming shadow of a deadly pandemic still persists.

      In fact, with every mysterious virus that surfaces, be it the 2009 swine flu, the 2002 SARS coronavirus, or most recently, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a viral respiratory illness that has emerged around the Arabian Peninsula and killed half of the people who have had it), the same questions come to the minds of researchers and health authorities: Is this the virus that’s going to cause the next pandemic? And will humanity be able to stop it?

      And now, new challenges are being added to existing ones: The latest population projections from the United Nations, announced in a new report last summer, estimate that the world's population will reach 9.6 billion people by mid-century, and 11 billion by 2100.

      The sheer number of people, their interactions with animals and ecosystems, and the increase in international trade and travel are all factors that will likely change the way humanity deals with preventing and treating epidemics, experts say. In fact, the unprecedented growth of the human population in the second half of the last century—growing from 2.5 billion to 6 billion—may have already started changing how infectious diseases emerge….

      …More than 300 new infectious diseases emerged between 1940 and 2004, the study found.

      Some of these diseases were caused by pathogens that have hopped across species and finally into humans—for example, the West Nile virus, the SARS coronavirus, and HIV. Others were caused by a new variant of a pathogen that evolved to thwart available drugs, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria.

      Certain pathogens, such as the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, are not new to humans, but their incidence increased dramatically, perhaps due to changes that newly arrived humans made to the environment inhabited by animals carrying these pathogens.

      In light of the continuous population growth, health authorities are calling for strengthening public health organizations, and giving more resources to systems that would protect people….

      “You can predict very confidently as each year moves forward, we're going to see more and more diseases emerge…."

      About two-thirds of new diseases were transmitted to humans from animals, the researchers found. More than 70 percent of these diseases, known as zoonotic diseases, were caused by pathogens originating in wildlife….

      As humans do not often come into contact with wildlife, such pathogens should theoretically not pose much danger to people. But the pathogens can make the leap to humans by first infecting other animals that humans do come into contact with, such as domestic pigs. The animals serving as the middle link of this disease chain, however, have to be in places in some overlapping territory; which occurs when burgeoning populations push people into wild areas where humans once rarely, if ever, ventured….

      Human contact with wildlife species that facilitate the transmission of novel viruses may increase in the future, as the population grows and humans searching for places to live and farm fan out to areas inhabited by or closer to wildlife….

      Scientists have found that new viruses are more likely to surface in some parts of the world than others. Tropical Africa, Latin America, and Asia are the disease emergence hotspots, and their high biodiversity and increasing human interaction with the environment may be helping viruses to make the leap into humans. And from there, they can go anywhere on the globe….

      Today, travelers are just a few hours’ flight away from places that would have taken months to travel to by ground or sea in the past. This is a boon not just to humans, but to the microbes they carry. Sick travelers can introduce pathogens to new people as they travel, and at their destination, before they even realize they are sick. With future population growth, simple math suggests that there’s going to be more travelers, potentially helping epidemics grow by quickly spreading the contagion….

      The movement of the world’s population from sparsely populated rural areas to dense cities may also impact the spread of pathogens. By the year 2050, 85 percent of people in the developed world and 54 percent of those in the developing world are expected to have left rural areas for cities, according to United Nations estimates.

      From a global disease-fighting perspective, urbanization can have some positive effects. Better communication systems can help spread early warnings and other critical information at times of outbreaks. Moreover, better disease surveillance systems can be set up in urban settings compared with remote rural areas.

      However, concentrated populations in cities may need a stronger public health sector to protect them. People in crowded cities are often more vulnerable to infectious disease, especially in the face of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, which have particular public health problems associated with them….

Think Exotic Animals are to Blame for the Coronavirus? Think Again.

[These excerpts are from an article by Sonia Shah in the June 2020 issue of Population Connection and was originally published by The Nation on 16 February 2020.]

      …The problem is the way that cutting down forests and expanding towns, cities, and industrial activities creates pathways for animal microbes to adapt to the human body.

      Habitat destruction threatens vast numbers of wild species with extinction, including the medicinal plants and animals we’ve historically depended upon for our pharmacopeia. It also forces those wild species that hang on to cram into smaller fragments of remaining habitat, increasing the likelihood that they’ll come into repeated, intimate contact with the human settlements expanding into their newly fragmented habitats. It’s this kind of repeated, intimate contact that allows the microbes that live in their bodies to cross over into ours, transforming benign animal microbes into deadly human pathogens….

      Mosquito-borne disease outbreaks have been similarly linked to the felling of forests, although less because of the loss of habitat than to its transformation. As trees’ leaf litter and roots disappear, water and sediment flow more readily along the shorn forest floor, newly open to shafts of sunlight. Malaria--carrying mosquitoes breed in the sunlit puddles. A study in 12 countries found that mosquito species that carry human pathogens are twice as common in deforested areas compared to intact forests.

      Habitat destruction also scrambles the population sizes of different species in ways that can increase the likelihood that a pathogen will spread. West Nile virus, a virus of migratory birds, is one example. Squeezed by habitat loss as well as other affronts, bird populations in North America have declined by more than 25 percent over the past 50 years. But species don’t decline at a uniform rate. Specialist bird species, like woodpeckers and rails, have been hit harder than generalists like robins and crows.That increases the abundance ofWest Nile virus in our domestic bird flocks because, while woodpeckers and rails are poor carriers of the virus, robins and crows excel at it.The likelihood that a local mosquito will bite a West Nile virus–infected bird and then a human grows.

      Similarly, the expansion of suburbs into the Northeastern forest increases the risk of tick-borne disease by driving out creatures like opossums, which help control tick populations, while improving conditions for species like white-footed mice and deer, which don’t. Tick-borne Lyme disease first emerged in the United States in 1975; in the past 20 years, seven new tick-borne pathogens have followed.

      It’s not only the fact of habitat destruction that ratchets up the risk of disease emergence, It’s also what we’re replacing wild habitat with. To sate our species’ carnivorous appetites, we've razed an area around the size of the continent raise animals for slaughter. Some of these animals are then delivered through the illicit wildlife trade or sold in so-called “wet markets.” There, wild species that would rarely if ever encounter each other in nature are caged next to one another, allowing microbes to jump from one species to the next, a process that begot the coronavirus that caused the 2002-03 SARS epidemic and possibly the novel coronavirus stalking us today.

      But many more are reared in factory farms, where hundreds of thousands of individuals await slaughter, packed closely together, providing microbes lush opportunities to turn into deadly pathogens. Avian influenza viruses, for example, which originate in the bodies of wild waterfowl, rampage in factory farms packed with captive chickens, mutating and becoming more virulent, a process so reliable it can be replicated in the laboratory….

      The avalanche of excreta produced by our livestock introduces yet more opportunities for animal microbes to spill over into human populations. Because animal waste is far more voluminous than croplands can possibly absorb as fertilizer, it is collected in many places in unlined cesspools called manure lagoons. Shiga. toxin-producing Escherichia coli, which lives harmlessly inside the guts of over half of all cattle on American feedlots, lurks in that waste. In humans, it causes bloody diarrhea and fever and can lead to acute kidney failure. Because cattle waste so frequently sloshes into our food and water, 90,000 Americans are infected every year.

      This process of transforming animal microbes into human pathogens is accelerated today, but it is not new It began with the Neolithic revolution, when we first cleared wildlife habitat to make way for crops and yoked wild animals into servitude….

      Today, the shadow of the next pandemic looms. But that’s not just because of the novel coronavirus. The Trump administration’s liberation of extractive industries and industrial development from environmental and other regulatory constraints can be expected to accelerate the habitat destruction that brings animal, microbes into human bodies. At the same time, the administration is reducing our ability to pinpoint the next spillover microbe and to contain it when it starts to spread….

Destruction of Habitat + Loss of Biodiversity are Creatibg the Perfect Conditions for Diseases like COVID-19 to Emerge Back to Antiquity

[These excerpts are from an article by John Vidal in the June 2020 issue of Population Connection and was originally published by Ensia on 17 March 2020.]

      …Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV, and dengue.

      But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise—with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things, and entire ecosystems….

      Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird fiu, and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are now able to spread quickly to new places. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals….

      Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanization, and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they 'may never have been near before….

      Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems….

      Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here animals are slaughtered, cut up, and sold on the spot.

      The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current COV1D-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets, and turtles. Equally, urban markets in West and Central Africa see monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of species of birds, mammals, insects, and rodents slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage. …

      Getting the the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders, and consumers is key….

Most Americans Want Abortions to Remain Legal

[This brief article by Stacie Murphy in the June 2020 issue of Population Connection.]

      According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll of 1,215 people in the U.S., 59 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and nearly 7 out of 10 support Roe v. Wade.

      However, the researchers found what they called a significant “knowledge gap” when it comes to abortion facts. Nearly 7 in 10 respondents believe that most abortions take place at 8 or more weeks into pregnancy (in fact, nearly two-thirds of abortions take place at less than 8 weeks). Thirty-one percent of those polled believed that between 20 and 49 percent of abortions take place more than 20 weeks into pregnancy (the actual number is 1.2 percent). Nearly 8 in 10 had never heard of mifepristone, a pill that can be taken to end a pregnancy in its early stages.

      The poll also revealed that many people support restrictions on access, including waiting periods and the requirement that providers have hospital admitting privileges—measures that have no impact on wome’'s health and safety. Support for these restrictions appears soft, however. After hearing counterarguments, many respondents who had supported the measures stated that they had changed their minds.

Viruses Can Be Saviors, Too

[These excerpts are from an article by Claudia Wallis in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      This year the world awakened to the fact that the most powerful and sophisticated species on earth is tragically vulnerable to the tiniest and most basic of creatures. Infectious disease specialists have been warning about this for decades. And the threat comes not only from novel viruses, such as the one causing COVID-19, that jump from animals to humans but also from microbial monsters that we have helped to create through our cavalier use of antibiotics: treatment-resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, sometimes dubbed “Iraqibacter” because so many soldiers returning from Iraq were infected with it. The World Health Organization has predicted that deaths from resistant “superbugs” will rise from roughly 700,000 a year today to nearly 10 million by 2050.

      But in a splendid irony, it may turn out that viruses, so often seen as nemeses, could be our saviors in fighting a host of killer infections. As the threat from drug-resistant bacteria has grown and the development of new antibiotics has stalled, researchers have turned their attention to bacteriophages—literally, bacteria eaters. Viruses in this class are believed to be the oldest and most numerous organisms on earth. And like guided missiles, each type has evolved to seek and destroy a specific type of bacteria. Phage therapy has long been used in eastern Europe to battle infections, but after modern antibiotics arrived in the 1940s, it was largely ignored….

      For now phage therapy remains experimental. In most cases, it involves making custom cocktails of several phages shown to be active in vitro against an individual patient’s bug….

      The effort that is furthest along, however, relies on a phage enzyme called a lysin rather than on whole phages. After multiplying inside a bacterium, phages use lysins to break through the cell wall of their host, instantly killing it….

      Lysins work synergistically with standard antibiotics…; they can pierce the walls of superbugs, enabling the drugs to do their job. Lysins also clear up biofilms—slimy layers of bacteria, carbohydrates and gunk—that cause lasting infections not readily cured by antibiotics. Another advantage is specificity: lysins kill their target without collateral damage to the microbiome.

      Phage and lysin therapies still have a ways to go, but at a time when much of the world is besieged by a virus, its good to know that these tiny invaders may someday save us.

All in One

[These excerpts are from an article by Viviane Caller in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Malaria struck an estimated 228 million people worldwide in 2018. Yet questions remain about how the mosquito-borne malaria parasite, Plasmodium, infects humans—and how antimalarial-drug-resistance genes spread. Different strains of the parasite can exchange genes with one another when they reproduce sexually inside an individual mosquito, and the resulting mixed strains infect humans through the mosquito's bite. A new study paints a detailed picture of how Plasmodium trades genes, and it finds that all the genetic diversity within an actively infected human host—up to 17 parasite strains—can come from just one bite….

      Plasmodium spends part of its life cycle in humans and part in mosquitoes. In the mosquito, it reproduces, mixing and matching genes. Until now, the most efficient way to study Plasmodium’s genetic diversity was to grind up whole mosquitoes and sequence the mix. The new technique lets scientists determine whether a patient’s particular parasites were the product of reproduction within a single mosquito or were introduced separately by different ones.

      The researchers collected blood from patients at a hospital serving different vil-lages in Malawi, then sequenced genomes of the parasites found in infected blood cells. Based on the parasites’ intermingled genomes, the researchers found that nearly all the infections studied likely came from an individual bite.

      …When eradication efforts reduce malaria cases in a given area, analyzing blood cells from those who still get sick can reveal if the infected mosquitoes came from afar or if local elirrination was incomplete….The method could also help researchers track the proliferation of drug-resistance mutations. Finding these mutations—and containing their spread—is a critical public health strategy for preserving drugs’ effectiveness.

Water Wand

[These excerpts are from an article by Ben Santer in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Municipal water can be contaminated by electronic waste and other sources of heavy metals—but collecting, chemically preserving and transporting samples to laboratories for testing is challenging for remote communities.

      To streamline the process, Emily Hanhauser, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her colleagues created a low-tech sample-collection device that costs less than two dollars to make. It consists of a plastic handle tipped by propellerlike attachments made from polymer mesh, which contain small packets of absorbent resin beads that attract heavy metal ions. Users stir the device in water and then blot or air-dry it. Dunking the attachments in an acid solution releases the absorbed ions, which can then be measured.

      Unlike possibly contaminated water samples, which are considered hazardous, the device can be safely mailed to testing facilities. It can also yield results after two years of storage, its creators say. In experiments, the tool accurately reflected the amounts of copper, nickel, lead and cadmium added to a variety of water samples….

      A detailed analysis of water quality ideally would be performed near the source, eliminating the need for sample shipping entirely, Hanhauser notes. But existing tools designed for that purpose cannot measure small enough amounts of contaminants, and they often have too much variation in measurement to be useful, she says. Her group's device might be able to provide remote communities and well owners—who in the U.S. are responsible for their own water-quality monitoring—with a feasible alternative to transporting high-volume liquid samples over long distances. A more advanced version of the device could potentially measure large clumps of contaminating metals as well….

Failure to Lead

[These excerpts are from an article by Ben Santer in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …The novel coronavirus is a major shock to complex human systems of governance. Here are a few personal thoughts on lessons learned from the current situation.

      LESSON 1: Scientific ignorance can be fatal—particularly if it starts with the U.S. president and trickles down from there. It was scientifically incorrect for Donald Trump to dismiss the coronavirus as no worse than the seasonal flu, as he did on February 26. It was incorrect to advise U.S. citizens to engage in business as usual, which he did as late as March 10. Itwas incorrect to imply, as he did in a press briefing on March19, that the malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are promising remedies for COVID-19— some thing that has not been verified. Dissemination of such inaccurate information helped to spread the novel coronavirus in America faster by delaying the adoption of social distancing. Ignorance served as a potent disease vector.

      LESSON 2: A leader tells hard truths in times of crisis, not falsehoods such as “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” as Trump said on March 6 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A leader does not assume the mantle of expertise in areas where he or she has none. A leader accepts responsibility for personal and organizational failures. A leader cares more about saving lives than about winning reelection.

      LESSON 3: “America first” is a singularly poor survival strategy in the middle of a global pandemic. No nation is safe from a microscopic agent that can hitch a ride on any airplane, ship, train or car. Building effective international organizations and alliances is a far better way of surviving a global health crisis than going it alone.

      …an abundance of caution should have been exercised at the beginning of the pandemic….

      They were not ready. The capability to test tens of thousands of citizens a day and to give hospital staffers basic safety gear should have been in place. It was not. Members of the Tramp administration should have corrected the president’s misstatements on the seriousness of the coronavirus. Instead they largely remained silent. After years of belittling and neglecting science—most notably the science of climate change—Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative for human survival and perhaps even for his own political survival. Through science, a vaccine will be developed for the novel coronavirus. If this country invests in science now—and if we invest in the maintenance of strong global health systems we will be better prepared for the next novel virus waiting out there.

To Stop Pandemics, Stop Deforestation

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the June 2020 issue of Sciientific American.]

      SARS, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2: all three of these highly infectious viruses have caused global panic since 2002—and all three of them jumped to humans from wild animals that live in dense tropical forests.

      Three quarters of the emerging pathogens that infect humans leaped from animals, many of them creatures in the forest habitats that we are slashing and burning to create land for crops, including biofuel plants, and for mining and housing. The more we clear, the more we come into contact with wildlife that carries microbes well suited to kill us—and the more we concentrate those animals in smaller areas where they can swap infectious microbes, raising the chances of novel strains. Clearing land also reduces biodiversity, and the species that survive are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. All these factors will lead to more spillover of animal pathogens into people.

      Stopping deforestation will not only reduce our exposure to new disasters but also tamp down the spread of a long list of other vicious diseases that have come from rain forest habitats—Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera and HIV among them….An average of 28 million hectares of forest have been cut down annually since 2016, and there is no sign of a slowdown.

      Societies can take numerous steps to prevent the destruction. Eating less meat, which physicians say will improve our health anyway, will lessen demand for crops and pastures. Eating fewer processed foods will reduce the demand for palm oil—also a major feedstock for biofuels—much of which is grown on land clear-cut from tropical rain forests. The need for land also will ease if nations slow population growth—something that can happen in developing nations only if women are given better education, equal social status with men and easy access to affordable contraceptives. Producing more food per hectare can boost supply without the need to clear more land.

      …Reducing food waste could also vastly lessen the pressure to grow more….In September 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it would end funding for PREDICT, a 10-year effort to hunt for threatening microbes that found more than 1,100 unique viruses. USAID says it will launch a new surveillance program; we urge it to supply enough mon-ey this time to cast a wider and stronger net….

      Ending deforestation and thwarting pandemics would address six of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals: the guarantee of healthy lives, zero hunger, gender equality, responsible consumption and production, sustainably managed land, and climate action (intact tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide, whereas burning them sends more CO2 into the atmosphere).

      The COVID-19 pandemic is a catastrophe, but it can rivet our attention on the enormous payoffs that humanity can achieve by not overexploiting the natural world. Pandemic solutions are ustainability solutions.

Brilliant Defense

[These excerpts are from an article Spring 2020 issue of Rotunda from the American Museum of Natural History.]

      When a new species of “dragon millipede” was discovered in 2007, the researchers who described it took the unusual step of insisting that its scientific name didn’t do this striking arthropod justice. “We think that such an unusually colored, conspicuous millipede deserves more than a Latin name,” the team wrote. They proposed “shocking pink dragon millipede”–and the name stuck.

      The spectacularly colored species was discovered in Thailand, in a limestone cavern called Hup Pa Turd. Here, these millipedes were observed on the ground and on palm leaves during the daytime, in plain view of would-be predators–and, seemingly, unprotected.

      Or are they? Scientists think that this species may wear its loud hue as a sort of dazzling armor. In nature, bright coloration often serves as a warning signal, flashing “danger” to anyone looking for a meal. In some cases, called Batesian mimicry, organisms take on a poisonous counterpart’s distinctive colors to fake out predators. In other examples, classified as Miillerian mimicry, several toxic species resemble one another in what seems to function like a group insurance policy: if a predator knows to avoid one, it's more likely to skip the look-alikes….

      In the case of the shocking pink dragon millipede, its remarkable color is truth in advertising: this millipede packs a toxic punch. Like some other millipedes, D. purpurosea has defensive glands that produce cyanide in amounts that can be lethal to birds and reptiles. And, like its brightly colored cousin–the vividly red and likely toxic D. deifae millipede, which has also been observed out on foliage in the daytime as though unconcerned about predation–the shocking pink dragon millipede appears secure in its protective colors.

Paleozoic Roly Poly

[These excerpts are from an article Spring 2020 issue of Rotunda from the American Museum of Natural History.]

      To survive for hundreds of millions of years, trilobites—a vast group of extinct arthropods that populated the world's oceans until about 250 million years ago—had to develop a variety of defenses against the hazards in their environment.

      Of the more than 20,000 described species of trilobites, some deployed a mechanism that today is associated with roly polys, armadillos, and hedgehogs: they enrolled, or curled up into a tight ball, shielding their underside with a protective exterior from potential predators….

      Some species were able to curl up completely, tucking in their entire bodies. Late Ordovician species like Flavicalymene retrorsa, which lived around 488-445 million years ago, and Middle Devonian species like Eldredgeops rana and Greenops boothi, which lived 393 million years ago, are among trilobites that resembled a ribbed ball in their enrolled state. Some…were even preserved as enrolled fossils, likely while facing down a fatal threat.

      The first known example of enrollment among trilobites, dates back even farther, to about 510 million years ago, to a species called Mummaspis muralensis. Researchers first speculated that this early trilobite had spiny points protruding from its head. But a closer look revealed that the animal had actually tucked its head under its spiky tail in its last moments.

      By the Ordovician period, the proportion of trilobite species with this defensive talent increased significantly. Some even developed a structure, called a vincula furrow, which allowed their heads and tails to seal together by way of small Linterlocking notches—perhaps becoming watertight for additional protection….

Creating a Culture of Change

[These excerpts are from an article by Donna Riley in the 19 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling, Picture a Scientist tells the stories of three female scholars, revealing the systemic and structural nature of gender discrimination and harassment in academic science. The film shows how intersections of sexism and racism shape experiences differently for white women and for women of color and how implicit bias both generates inequity and prevents us from noticing it. it reveals injustices ranging from subtle slights and salary gaps to bullying and physical assault. And it reminds us of the power of women’s collective action; the value of social science research in analyzing and responding to inequality; and the importance of allies and advocates, especially in university leadership.

      Biologist Nancy Hopkins shows what convivial conspiracies can hatch over lunch with a colleague, when one dares to act. In the early 1990s, convinced that male colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were afforded more lab space than their female counterparts, she took a tape measure to her own lab and to the lab spaces of male colleagues in the dead of night, care-fully documenting the disparity With this data-driven approach, Hopkins gained the support of her female colleagues and upper-level administrators and went on to lead a more comprehensive study investigating salary gaps, access to day care, and other inequities in need of redress….

      But the sexism Hopkins experienced during her career was not always subtle. In the film, she recounts a shocking groping incident that occurred when she was an undergraduate presenting her work to a visiting colleague. Stunned by the encounter and certain that no one would believe her over her perpetrator, she resolved to act as though nothing unusual had occurred, answering the Nobelist's questions without mention of the offense.

      Sexual harassment is more often a “put-down” than a “come-on,” explains anthropologist Kate Clancy in the -film's narration, as geoscientist Jane Willenbring reveals how she was bullied, humiliated, and assaulted while conducting fieldwork in Antarctica as a graduate student in 1999. After nearly two decades of silence, she felt compelled to speak out against the perpetrator when her young daughter began expressing scientific. aspirations of her own. Willenbring’s Title IX complaint resulted in her perpetrator’s dismissal, due in part to the supporting testimony of a bystander, graduate student Adam Lewis. One wonders why Lewis did not intervene at the time, but as he shares his epiphanies and takes gentle correction from his colleague, we see how true allies are formed.

      What a ponderous thing it is to hold an esteemed scientist accountable for unprofessional behavior; so much has to align to achieve any semblance of justice. For every story, there are thousands left untold; academia is haunted by those who cannot come forward, those who are not believed, and those who are dismissed as ill-suited for the discipline.

      In chemist Raychelle Burks’s story, we encounter the toll of day-to-day slights, underestimations, and the simultaneous invisibility and hypervisibility that women of color experience in the academy. As Burks recounts how a colleague challenged her right to park in the faculty lot, we see how such experiences can accrue over one's career, taking time and energy away from science….

      …This film could be the vehicle that moves us, as Clancy advocates, “away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.”

The Origins of Flowering Plants and Pollinators

[These excerpts are from an article by Casper J. van der Kool and Jeff Ollerton in the 19 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      For more than a century there has been a fascination with the surprisingly rapid rise and early diversity of flowering plants (angiosperms). Darwin described the seemingly explosive diversification of angiosperms as an “abominable mystery,” and debates continue about the origin and processes driving angiosperm speciation. Dating the origin of angiosperms was traditionally the prerogatibe of paleobotanists who read the fossil record of plants, but with DNA sequencing becoming increasingly sophisticated, molecular dating methods have come to the table. Many angiosperm fossils can be dated to the Early Cretaceous (~135 million years ago), which has led paleobotanists to reason that they originated during that era. It is now increasingly recognized that angiosperms are probably older than the oldest fossils, but how much older remains controversial. When angiosperms originated is key to understanding the origin and evolution of pollinators, particularly insects such as bees, butterflies, moths, and flies.

      Recent reports highlight the disparity of molecular and paleontological time scales and draw conflicting conclusions about the timing of angiosperm diversification….one study…dated the origin of angiosperms to the Late Triassic, >200 million years ago. This is ~70 million years (roughly the equivalent of the Jurassic) before the earliest accepted angiosperm fossils. This study further suggests that major radiations (species diversifica-tion) occurred in the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, -165 to 100 million years ago….

      Both paleontological records and molecular analyses have their strengths and weaknesses. The strength of fossils is that they can provide information on past form, function, and Glade richness, and indirectly provide information on- speciation and extinction. Fossils are particularly useful when they harbor intermediate structures or combinations of characters that no longer exist, which can provide insightful examples that help to reconstruct the course of evolutionary events. However, the interpretation of fossils can be subjective and controversial, because important features of these plants may not be preserved and often must be inferred from two-dimensional compressed remains.

      The absence of evidence is no evidence of absence, and it is known that the fossil record can be incomplete or biased because some taxa may be less likely to fossilize. For example, specific ecologies or habitats will influence the likelihood of whole-plant fossilization, although pollen is a useful exception because it can generally survive more extreme conditions. Furthermore, anchoring a fossil to a specific time period relies on accurately dating the stratum in which it was found, which can also be problematic, although the error margin caused by this factor is usually small. It is important to keep in mind that there can be a considerable lag between time of origin and the earliest recognizable fossil, because fossils generally appear when a taxon has existed for some time and in relatively high frequencies….

      Molecular analyses are built on hard-to-estimate variables, such as the distribution of mutation rates across taxa and time. Variation in divergence times—which inevitably occurs in datasets with many species—frequently leads to overestimation of age….Indeed, molecular analyses often push origin dates back in time, including the older lineages, but whether this is a methodological error remains unclear.

      One of the hallmarks of angiosperms is their relationship with animal pollinators, especially insects. As with plants, the diversification of insects is a field with many Luncertainties….

      Notwithstanding that the timing of the origin of angiosperms remains debated, if angiosperms arose before the Jurassic, this has profound implications for understanding how insect pollination evolved. There is little doubt that insect pollination accelerated the angiosperm radiation; however, which factor triggered what evolutionary event becomes more complex given the latest findings. It was long considered that wind pollination in early-diverging nonflowering seed plants (gymnosperms) was replaced by animal pollination in angiosperms, and that this switch to animal pollination led to angiosperm diversification, but this seems an oversimplification….

      Future paleontological discoveries will undoubtedly reveal additional fossils, and the use of complementary sequencing approaches and more sophisticated evolutionary models will help to mitigate the limitations imposed by the rampant polyploidy in plants that frequently hinders analysis of nuclear genes. Whether Darwin’s question about the timing of flowering-plant evolution and radiation will ever be answered remains a mystery, but clearly this question and its ecological implications for understanding insect pollination are complicated.

Responding to COVID-19: Short- and Long-Term Challenges

[This excerpt is from an article by Joshua P. Starr in the May 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …And the COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing any of us have encountered in many decades. Unlike school shootings, tornadoes, and floods, this catastrophe is neither localized nor a single, onetime event. The situation evolves by the hour, and the endgame is unknown, which means that even as school system leaders scramble to meet the immediate needs of students, families, teachers, and staff, they must also plan for what may stretch into weeks or even months of school closures.

      Even in the early days of the pandemic, it's clear that different parts of the country are being affected in very different ways and no two school systems are dealing with precisely the same set of problems, so it doesn’t make sense to recommend a one-size-fits-all approach to handling this crisis….

      Already, many public school systems and their community partners have created effective processes and systems to feed children and families, both those who previously relied on school meal programs and those who suddenly find themselves in need of this vital support. Some districts are providing grab-and-go meals in central locations, and some have even arranged for deliveries to students’ homes. This is essential work, and it has been encouraging to see so many educators rise to the challenge.

      …Further, while the schools 1rare shut, many children must take care of their younger siblings. Increasingly, too, parents are losing their jobs, and families can’t afford basic necessities, much less school supplies, books, and computers.

      …How are administrators supposed to identify which students need which kinds of services? Which staff are available to help? Given the closure of not just schools but also libraries, community centers, religious institutions, and other facilities, where can services be provided? And given the imperative to limit face-to-face interactions, how can school districts provide services that normally require people to be in the same room, such as psychological counseling or physical and speech therapy?

      As a start, superintendents can look to their data systems to help them identify those students and families most likely to need social services to make it through this phase and beyond….

      Like all assessment data, though, this information won’t be useful unless somebody acts on it — which raises the question of school system capacity: Who has the time to follow up on an initial list of students who may need targeted support? No doubt, the answer will vary from district to district….

      Even while superintendents are racing to ensure students’ health and safety, they cannot afford to ignore the longer-term challenges that their districts will face, given not just the need to move instruction online but also given that COVID-19 is all but guaranteed to do serious damage to state and local economies. Right now, state legislatures and governors are supposed to be determining what to allocate toward education in fiscal year 2021. Local jurisdictions make those decisions based on tax revenue raised in the previous year, which means school system budgets should be safe for now But that revenue will derline significantly over the coming months, as a result of the current economic shutdown, which means that the FY 2022 and perhaps the FY 2023 budgets will be pared way back. And since wide swaths of the public have taken, and will continue to take, a financial hit, I can’t imagine we’ll see much appetite for local tax increases, even for a goal as worthy as maintain-ing healthy school budgets.

      Thus, superintendents should probably use some of the time they have available in the short term…to plan for the likely fiscal scenarios. Since at least 80% of any school system’s budget is personnel, it will be nearly impossible to plan for possible reductions without considering layoffs. Attrition always plays a role here, as faculty and staff can be reduced simply by not hiring new employees. And COV1D-19 is forcing school systems to learn how to deliver instruction online, which may provide cost-saving opportunities in the future. The process by which superintendents begin considering options, preparing their communities and employees, and communicating the reality will be their real test. Given the myriad of unknowns, simply having frank conversations about the various possibilities will help stake-holders accept the ultimate decision when it has to be made.

      The ills of society are foisted upon public schools. When local, state, and federal governments fail to support students and families, schools pick up the slack. There's a reason Americans trust teachers and school leaders. We know that educators will do whatever it takes to support our children, no matter what. During this time, that mission has become all the more important even as our ability to act has become compromised and will likely be diminished in the future. But, with intentional data analysis and some forward thinking, superintendents can and will continue to do what they do best.

Reach for the Sky

[This excerpt is from an article by Jonathon Keats in the June 2020 issue of Discover.]

      When the Empire State Building was completed in 1931, the 102-story skyscraper ranked as the tallest in the world, a beacon of American progress as well as a lightning rod for Midtown Manhattan. And the material that made it possible was steel — or so people believed until 2015, when Canadian architect Michael Green showed that an identical structure could be fabricated out of timber.

      Green was not proposing replacing the 20th-century icon. His plans are far more radical. Green wants the global construction industry to replace steel and concrete with high-tech plywood.

      …Plus, the construction of buildings is responsible for around 10 percent of all global climate emissions….To show the high-reaching potential of wood in the real world, in 2016 he erected a seven-story high-rise in Minneapolis, the tallest wooden building in the U.S. at the time.

      He used a plywood popularized in the 1990s. Losing market share to concrete, the lumber industry had sought to produce a material that would be both sturdy and cheap. By gluing stacks of wood panels together into massive blocks they called “mass timber,” the engineers effectively replicated traditional masonry. And they added several features that neither stone nor concrete could claim: The new material could be cut with high precision, making it suitable for affordable, high-efficiency prefabrication. Plus, it was relativelylight, making it practical to transport from a factory to the construction site. But what most impressed Green was the strength: When the wood panels are cross-laminated, or glued with their grains running in alternating directions, the material is, pound for pound, stronger than steel.

      …lignin, a structural compound that makes plants woody, could be refined to make adhesives or bioplastics that nanocellulose fibers could strengthen like the fibers in fiberglass.

      But for the moment, Berglund is doing windows. By chemically removing the lignin from wood veneers and injecting the panels with acrylics, he’s making semitransparent sheets that don't shatter, and even contribute structural support to buildings — a key advantage over conventional glass panes. In the future, as Berglund gains greater command over the material properties of wood, the acrylics could be replaced with lignin bioplastics, making the windows entirely arboreal….

COVID-19 and Flu, a Perfect Storm

[This excerpt is from an editoria by Richard A. Belongia and Michael T. Osterholm in the 12 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      The world is in uncharted waters for the 2020 respiratory virus season. For the first time in modern history, the Northern Hemisphere faces the prospect of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and a simultaneous epidemic of seasonal influenza. Each causes life-threatening illness and death, especially in older adults, people with chronic diseases, and other vulnerable populations. How can we prepare for this convergence?

      The timing and severity of a COVED-19 wave in the fall and winter are uncertain, but past experiences with the 1918 and 1957 influenza pandemics point to the possibility of a resurgence. Almost nothing is known about the interaction of influenza virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19) within individuals. Does coinfection increase the risk of severe illness or amplify virus shedding? Few coinfections have been reported from China during the early phase of the pandemic. The Southern Hemisphere influenza season is just beginning, and it may provide some clues as to what can be expected in the Northern Hemisphere later this year.

      Much of the population remains susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, and the stress on hospitals will be greatest if the COVID-19 and influenza epidemics overlap and peak around the same time. It is possible that the number of individuals infected with each virus will peak at different times, reducing the peak demand for hospital beds. If a surge in COVID-19 cases occurs this fall, tightening mitigation strategies will be necessary. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are socially and economically disruptive, but can reduce demand on hospitals and protect vulnerable populations. They will also reduce transmission of other respiratory viruses, including influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. Supplies of personal protective equipment must sufficiently meet the projected demand of a severe influenza season along with COVID-19.

      There are important differences in the epidemiology of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza, but symptoms overlap. Molecular diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2 is critical for all patients with acute respiratory illness, especially during periods of co-circulation. Rapid-turn-around testing is necessary to distinguish between influenza and COVID-19, guide patient care, and support a comprehensive COVID-19 control program (including isolation of cases and rapid identification and quarantine of contacts). Every effort should be made to ensure that resources will be available for combined testing for COVID-19 and influenza. These tests should be without charge to patients because they serve a dual purpose for public health and patient care.

      We do not yet have a COVID-19 vaccine, but safe and moderately effective influenza vaccines are available. Their widespread use is more important now than ever, and we encourage health care providers, employers, and community leaders to promote vaccination. Vaccine effectiveness varies by season and subtype, but vaccination offers similar protection against laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalization and outpatient illness. Widespread misinformation on social media includes the false claim that influenza vaccination increases the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Scientists, health care providers, and public health leaders must counter these claims with clear, evidence-based information on the importance of influenza vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

      The prospect of a second COVID-19 wave requires planning to ensure optimal delivery of influenza vaccines starting in the early fall. Community vaccination sites are often set up for maximum volume and efficiency, and alternative approaches will be needed to maintain physical distancing and minimize the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, particularly because many influenza vaccine recipients are at high risk for both influenza and COVID-19 complications. Randomized trials have shown that some enhanced influenza vaccines (e.g., high-dose inactivated vaccine and recombinant vaccines) generate greater protection in older adults compared to standard-dose inactivated vaccine. The optimal timing of influenza vaccination in patients with confirmed COVID-19 is uncertain. There are no clinical studies on the effects of influenza vaccination in patients with COVID-19, but it may be prudent to delay vaccine administration until after the acute illness has resolved.

      Over 400,000 COVID-19 deaths were reported worldwide by 6 June, including over 109,000 in the United States. The actual death count is almost certainly higher, and we are still in the early phase of the pandemic….

Discounting Lives

[These excerpts are from an article by Audra J. Wolfe in the 12 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      In late March of this year, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick suggested in an interview that many people over 70—himself included—would be willing to risk contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) so as not to, in his words, “sacrifice the country.” At the time, his comments were widely reviled. Just over 2 months later, the public appears to have accepted the calculus that lives will in fact have to be sacrificed in the name of the economy.

      Emerging reports make clear that the burden of this “sacrifice” is not being borne equally. As of mid-April, in Richmond, Virginia, a city that is 48% Black, every single person who had died from the disease was Black….Similarly, the population of Chicago is ~30% Black, but, as of 28 April, Black people made up 54% of the city’s COVID-19 deaths….The New York Times roster of COVID-19 “cluster” sites nearly exclusively lists prisons, jails, meat processing plants, and nursing homes….

      In the United States, the lives of people of color and those of the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the incarcerated are heavily discounted in the economic sense, a phenomenon documented in Howard Steven Friedman’s Ultimate Price. Written for a lay audience, Friedman's book explains how the U.S. government and corporations assign dollar values to human lives. Chapters survey the techniques decision-makers use in leveling penalties for wrongful death, evaluating potential regulations, assessing corporate liability, setting life insurance premiums, providing health care, and choosing to have a child or go to war.

      “Price tags” for human beings, Friedman repeatedly shows, reflect existing inequalities in U.S. society. The formula that the government used to compensate the families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, for example, factored in the deceased's annual salary, which meant that the lives of bond traders were valued many times higher than those of restaurant staff.

      Early and often, Friedman argues that we must devise more equitable ways to assign value to human life….

      …Murphy, like Friedman, is intensely interested in how experts have assigned value to human populations. But where Friedman treats economics as a solid basis for rational decision-making, if done right, Murphy explores how the concepts of “economy” and “population” gained their appeal.

      Through a series of chapters that explore the history of ideas about population control in the United States and Bangladesh in the mid-to-late 20th century, Murphy persuasively argues that life has come to be valued primarily in terms of its ability to contribute to the macroeconomy of nation-states. This has not come to pass through the action of free markets but rather through social scientific practices, including indexing, surveying, and other forms of counting, that re-create racial hierarchies even while rejecting the language of race.

      In this moment when we are being-asked to weigh the risks of (some people’s) deaths against the economic costs of stay-at-home orders, Murphy’s notion of the economy as a “phantasmagram” is compelling. She uses the term to capture the emotion and aspiration associated with the disembodied metrics we use to measure and track the economy. As phantasmagrams, Murphy writes, quantitative measures such as gross domestic product “have supernatural effeets in surplus of their rational precepts.” They “conjure ineffable realms that can take shape as a collective phantasy in excess of the representational and logical limits of quantification practices themselves.”

      On Fridays, the U.S. government releases data on new unemployment insurance claims. Just as Murphy suggests, the weekly release of these numbers stimulates anxiety and prognostication mostly disconnected from the (noneconomic) value of an individual life. The shock value of these numbers pushes the other shocking number, the cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States 108,194 as of 5 June 2020 (3)—to the side.

Time to Look in the Mirror

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 12 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      This is a grave time in American history. Both the public health and economic problems of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) were foreseeable. But even more predictable is the racial tension gripping the United States in the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd. It is easy to think that the problem is isolated to individual racists in the community and in the government, and that the scientific enterpriseis immune to racism. Scientific inquiry produces knowledge, and that ultimately leads to justice, right?

      Not so fast. The U.S. scientific enterprise is predominantly white, as are the U.S. institutions that Science’s authors are affiliated with. The evidence of systemic racism in science permeates this nation. Why are so few Science authors from historically black colleges and universities? Why are the scientific areas studied more frequently by people of color continuously underfunded by the government? Why do students who are people of color have to remind society that they are almost never taught by someone who looks like them? Why has the United States failed to update its ways of teaching science when data show that people of color learn better with more inclusive methods? If there had been more diversity in science, would we have the painful legacy of the Tuskegee syphilis study and the shameful nonrecogni-tion of Henrietta Lacks’s contribution to science?

      …Not surprisingly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described this problem in 1963 in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

      “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Manner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’"

      The reckoning Dr. King calls for has not happened in the intervening 57 years. The failure of the white moderates to heed the call of the Birmingham Jail is just as integral to today’s systemic racism as the racist actions of some law enforcement. It's not just abusive police that need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

      It is time for the scientific establishment to confront this reality and to admit its role in perpetuating it. The first step is for science and scientists to say out loud that they have benefited from, and failed to acknowledge, white supremacy. And then science and scientists finally need to listen to, and make space for, people of color to lead laboratories that publish great science and produce influential scientists, run institutions and their scientific units, and propel Science and other journals to promote structurally underfunded scientists and areas of science….

      As in the past, the scientific community is expressing anguish, outrage, and renewed commitment to promote equity and inclusion. But when the protests wind down and disappear from the headlines, science will be at a familiar fork in the road. Let’s have the courage to take the right path this time.

Colonialism and Its Consequences

[These excerpts are from an article by Mary Ellen Hannibal in the 5 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      The area known as Beringia sits atop the world, straddling Asia and North America. A mere 50 miles of water separate the Chukchi Peninsula in Russia and the Seward Peninsula in the United States. Terrestrial plant life is relatively impoverished here, but the Bering Strait compensates for the land’s parsimony and more.

      In Floating Coast, Bathsheba Demuth tells the story of this singular place beginning in the mid -1800s. Empire-making was under way then, both by the United States and by Russia, and the lifeways of native Inupiat, Yupik, and Chuckchi peoples were about to be severely curtailed. So too were the natural histories of the species that contributed to making the region.

      America was earnestly building its sovereign might, and thus its economy, during this period. Having exhausted species off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, whalers looking for new quarry came to Beringia to hunt bowheads. Whales were integral to just about every machine and product made at the time. Whale blubber was used for lubricating sewing machines and cotton gins. Whalebone (baleen) lent structure to umbrellas, fishing rods, and mattresses. Whale tallow was refined into soap and became a base for perfume. Most of all, whale oil was used to fuel indoor lighting.

      The ever-ratcheting appetite for whales drove them to near extinction in a few short decades. The indigenous peoples whose lives depended on whales lost both their source of sustenance and the culture around which their identities had been constructed for millennia.

      With whale populations depleted, industrial appetites turned to walruses, although it took 250 of the blubbery beasts to measure up to a single bowhead….Wholesale depletion of walruses continued well into the early 1900s, as their blubber was transformed into nitroglycerin in service of World War I.

      While Americans denuded Arctic waters, Russians bristled at what they considered theft of their natural resources. The denizens of the waters between the two sovereign nations did not adhere to any putative human boundary.

      …The United States bemoaned profits that were being spent on guns and alcohol, contributing not to lawfulness but its opposite. The Russians saw those profits as going to the wrong people (Americans). The solution that was negotiated was to establish boundaries, to “enclose” the cyclical peregrinations of whales, and subsequently those of walruses, reindeer, and fox, in an attempt to systematize harvests and make their yields more reliable. Bringing little ecological knowledge to bear on this effort led to both market and population crashes….

      As the Russian Revolution transformed into bolshevism, and from thence to communism, the question of how exactly to govern territory according to a Marxist ideal brought new pressures to Beringian land, sea, and native peoples. The cycles of nature notwithstanding, Stalinism in particular sought to mechanize production according to its own time frame, not only at the expense of the animals involved but by way of cruelty to the Russian people it employed.

      Once nonliving resources in the form of gold and eventually tin and oil became the focus of colonial harvest, the question of how to enclose Beringia became expressly about sovereignty….

      …Global warming, the result of quickly burning organic material that took eons to accumulate, is the apotheosis of colonial strategy. Floating Coast is eloquent testimony to how this strategy is not working.

Shuttered Natural History Museums Fight for Survival

[This article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 5 June 2020 issue of Science.]

      …In March, the coronavirus pandemic forced the museum to close its doors. No more school groups thronging the interactive exhibits, no more corporate dinners or lines of international tourists waiting to pay $23 a head to marvel at fossils. The museum’s income plummeted 60%.

      Leaders first asked for early retirements. By early May, they had sliced the staff of 1100 by 20% and furloughed an additional 250 staff members. Many full-time employees now work 3 days a week, mostly from home….

      Around the world, natural history museums are shuttered and reeling. Last week, the California Academy of Sciences announced it was furloughing or laying off 40% of its staff….

      Museums’ reliance on revenue from ticket sales and events makes them among the first scientific institutions to feel the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic….

      But the crisis is also spurring museums to adopt or expand practices that, though they may not restore lost revenue, are keeping the public engaged and research ticking along: an online biodiversity contest, public discussions on Zoom, a webcam streaming captive corals. Curators are also expanding and refining digital collections that are accessible to both the public and homebound researchers….

      Some museums, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., have dodged financial cliffs thanks to government support. The Natural History Museum, London, stayed afloat with emergency support from the U.K. government, but furloughed half its staff until the end of June. Similarly, the Field Museum has thus far avoided layoffs thanks to a cash reserve and the federal paycheck protection program…

      Some university museums managed to avoid layoffs now but may pay a price later if university budgets shrink. Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology will likely not reopen as quickly as stand-alone museums….

      As they worry about the future, researchers are also distraught because they can’t pursue their current research. Travel restrictions have brought fieldwork to a screeching halt—and with it, the addition of more specimens to collections. The American Museum of Natural History alone has canceled 100 expeditions. And researchers can’t get into buildings to analyze existing collections….

      One trend accelerated by the crisis could help: efforts to digitize natural history collections. At Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, staff working from home have been busy enhancing the millions of records in the museumwide database, for example adding latitude and longitude coordinates to specimens thus far identified only by location names….

Sea Change: Maine’s Lobstermen Cultivate Kelp

[These excerpts are from an article by Rod Griffin in the Spring 2020 issue of the Environmental Defense Fund newsletter Solutions.]

      …Baines’ four-acre “farm” starts seven feet underwater and descends almost to the ocean floor. His crop: brownish sugar kelp, dangling from ropes, undulating in the current.

      The kelp, which can grow six inches a week, is an edible variety of seaweed. If all goes well, in May, Baines will cultivate as much as 65,000 pounds of kelp, to be sold at Whole Foods, Legal Sea Foods and Sweetgreen, a popular salad chain.

      Baines is one of an expanding group of Maine lobstermen looking for ways to weather climate change and diversify their operations. The Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Nova Scotia to Cape Cod, has warmed faster than 99% of global oceans, according to a recent study in Science….

      Lobster still makes up three quarters of Maine’s fishing revenue, but aquaculture can help fishing communities continue to thrive….

      For Maine lobstermen, kelp farming is a ninifal fit. Farming takes place in the winter and spring, lobster fishing in the summer. They already have all the necessary gear, and they understand the currents and tides….

      Ocean scientists call kelp farming a zero-input food source because it doesn’t need soil, fertilizers or pesticides to flourish. It also reduces ocean acidification, improves water quality and creates habitat for other marine life.

      Maine is a small piece of the $11 billion global seaweed market, but the U.S. market for this high-nutrient superfood is poised to take off. According to a recent study, seaweed aquaculture is one of the fastest growing maritime industries in New England….Over 98% of the edible seaweed on the U.S. market is grown in Asia, with little or no environmental oversight. Maine kelp could be a fresh alternative….

A Tale of Toxic Chemicals

[These excerpts are from an article by Charles Miller in the Spring 2020 issue of the Environmental Defense Fund newsletter Solutions.]

      From day one, President Trump and his polluter-friendly political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been undermining the nation’s recently enacted chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act. Reformed in 2016 thanks to a strong bipartisan coalition led by EDF, the law was designed to protect Americans from hazardous chemicals. Instead, the administration is letting hundreds of risky or untested chemicals stay on the market, or enter it for the first time. EDF is demanding that the administra-tion fully implement the law, and we're backing these demands with legal action….

      Trump’s EPA has sidelined a key scientific assessment of formaldehyde that demonstrates a link between it and several cancers. Formaldehyde is found in carpets, glues, insulation and paints. First the EPA’s political leadership blocked the release of the nearly completed safety assessment for almost two years. Then it put any future assessment under the control of political appointees instead of EPA scientists. EDF is helping the House Science Committee hold the agency accountable….

      Nevertheless, the chemical is approved for use in plastic food packaging and food processing equipment. From there, perchlorate migrates into food. A 2016 study from the Food and Drug Administration found that virtually all types of food contain perchlorate. For years, EDF has worked to get the Food and Drug Administration to ban perchlorate from our food. The agency rejected this request in 2017 and again in 2019.

      EDF and others are suing….

Mission: Methane

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Spring 2020 issue of the Environmental Defense Fund newsletter Solutions.]

      From 1,000 feet in the air above southeastern New Mexico, the single-engine prop plane banks hard left, descending over a cluster of oil and gas well pads. As the plane spirals down to 200 feet and back up again, flight scientist Mackenzie Smith watches data pour in from the Picarro laser spectrometer at the back of the cabin, indicating elevated levels of methane downwind. Near ground level, she pulls out an infrared video camera that reveals a plume of methane streaming from what looks like a malfunctioning flare, designed to burn excess gas. Smith’s analysis shows it’s emitting more than a ton of methane per hour. Left unchecked for a year, this single leak would have the same 20-year climate impact as a year's pollution from 150,000 cars.

      Colorless, odorless methane, the primary component of natural gas, is responsible for at least one-quarter of today’s global warming. It often leaks undetected, along with other harmful air pollutants such as cancer-causing benzene and smog-forming chemicals, from oil and gas sites. While fixing most leaks is relatively simple, finding them is not. Tens of thousands of potentially leaky flares, valves and other bits of oil and gas machinery dot the Permian Basin — a region half the size of California — yet most leak detection is left to just a handful of state inspectors and company employees who can’t possibly cover such a vast area.

      As the administration weakens limits on oil and gas industry pollution, EDF is pulling back the curtain on the industry’s methane problem. Our ambitious new campaign to measure methane and other air pollution in the Permian Basin is driving action that will hold companies accountable and protect communities in oil and gas country.

      …Oil production in the Permian, which extends hundreds of miles from southeast New Mexico through west Texas, grew about 250% from 2012 to 2019. More than half of all drilling rigs in the U.S. are located here….

      The recent discovery of vast, new oil and gas reserves in the Permian has radically changed the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico, until recently best known for Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Signs of the boom are everywhere. The highway leading into town is lined with new motels and intersections are clogged by tanker trucks and 18-wheelers. Outside town, the Big Dipper is barely visible on a cloudless night, dimmed by glaring lights on drilling rigs and the orange glow from 20-foot-tall flares that bum excess gas. On some days, a brownish haze lingers over the horizon.

      …EDF research has revealed how little is understood about oil and gas wastewater. Of the chemicals that have been identified thus far, fewer than half have been studied for safety or toxicity.

      …She traveled to Dallas last year to testify at the EPA’s only public hearing on a proposal that would eliminate oil and gas methane safeguards and weaken protections against smog-form-ing air pollutants….

      By exposing the extent of the industry’s methane problem and pinpointing the parties responsible, EDF is driving state and industry action to cut pollution.

      New Mexico is already taking steps to rein in methane and other oil and gas pollution. Under new Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham last year, the legislature restored authority to state oil and gas regulators to impose fines for spills and other violations. Previously, thousands of violations resulted in zero fines. The state is also creating its first rules to reduce oil and gas methane pollution as it works to cut climate pollution statewide at least 45% by 2030….

      While New Mexico seeks to craft its own protections, Texas, under its current political leadership, is certainly not. That’s why federal standards are critical. Yet the EPA proposed rollbacks that would allow an extra 5 million metric tons of methane, 1.2 million metric tons of smog-forming chemicals and over 43,000 metric tons of ha 72rdous air pollutants every year

      EDF is pushing for strong state and federal methane rules and helping change the oil and gas industry. More than a dozen companies have pledged to reduce methane pollution to near zero by 2025. Last year BP started using drone-mounted sensors to check for methane leaks in U.S. operations, including the Permian, and announced it will use continuous methane monitoring technologies in new operations worldwide. One intriguing development: Soon after EDF's Permian research began, the industry announced plans to test the first collective methane monitoring system across the basin….

Rescuing a Landmark Environmental Law

[These excerpts are from an article by Rod Griffin in the Spring 2020 issue of the Environmental Defense Fund newsletter Solutions.]

      …the National Environmental Policy Act, often called the Magna Carta of environmental law. Fifty years ago, both the House and Senate passed NEPA by huge bipartisan majorities. The act, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, requires that nearly every highway, bridge, pipeline and other major federal project undergo environmental review.

      The law ensures that communities have a voice in planning and can protect themselves from dangerous or poorly designed federal projects by mandating environmental impact statements and allowing for public comment.

      NEPA is now under serious threat. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees implementation of the law across 80 government agen-cies, has proposed regulatory changes that would weaken NEPA in a number of ways, including by narrowing the range of projects that require review and by imposing strict new deadlines on completing studies.

      The CEQ’s revisions would eliminate the need for agencies to consider the cumulative impacts of projects. That means, for example, agencies would not have to examine whether a pipeline, mine or other fossil fuel project would worsen climate change….

      To make the changes, the CEQ is required under law to hold public hearings, but slots for testimony were filled within minutes, limiting public input. EDF joined with 323 other environmental and health groups calling for greater transparency….

      NEPA critics often cite environmental review as the reason for stalled projects, but a 2016 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury analyzed 40 major transportation and infrastructure projects whose completion had been delayed and found that a “lack of public funding [was] by far the most common factor hindering [their] completion.”

      Every state can claim a NEPA success story, and often projects are improved after review When seismic testing was proposed for oil and gas leases in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, for example, citizens groups were able to use NEPA to work with the Bureau of Land Management and the leaseholders to steer clear of significant cultural features and fragile habitats.

      In recent years, courts have halted or delayed numerous federal actions under NEPA for failing to take into account climate impacts. Examples include the Keystone XL pipeline and plans to expand coal mining and oil and gas drilling in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. EDF is currently in court using NEPA to challenge the repeal of the Waste Prevention Rule….

The Will to Act when the Data Are Dire

[These excerpts are from an article by Erika Lorraine Milam in the 29 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      In the face of a dire planetary prognosis, American politicians in the 1980s faced a simple question: Act now, or wait and see? These are the same options available to anyone presented with an uncertain future, whether rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a cyst that might turn cancerous, or scattered cases of an infectious disease that could explode into a pandemic….

      In 1951, environmentalist Rachel Carson had noted that the growing season in the subarctic regions was longer, growth rings on trees were fatter, and cod were migrating farther north….

      In 1975, anthropologist Margaret Mead convened a symposium calling attention to the endangered atmosphere. Arguing that the issue would need to be addressed on a planetary scale, she called for more research, especially scientific models of the likely future that could guide action in the present.

      …by 1979, scientists had assembled the essential pieces of the climate warming puzzle. By the end of the next decade, evidence regarding the future of the planet was incontrovertible: Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were causing the planet to warm. Models warned of a litany of dangers: rising sea levels, the abandonment of coastal cities, widespread droughts, and shifting agricultural belts. These issues…were understood to be environmental in nature and political in impact.

      The book’s two main characters—Rafe Pomerance and James Hansen—move through its pages like characters from a Frederick Forsyth novel: cool, competent, unfussy, and at odds with a world that underappreciates their hard-won expertise. Pomerance was “not a scientist” but a stooping six-foot-four environmental policy analyst with horn-rimmed glasses and a mustache. Hansen had majored in math and physics but dreamed of baseball. He helped create computer models of carbon circulation on a planetary scale and worked with Jule Charney to produce a report that predicted that the planet would warm by 3°C in the next century….Pomerance scrutinized the evidence, read between the lines, and started calling politicians.

      They might have succeeded in convincing those in power of the need to curb the world’s fossil fuel dependency were it not for President Ronald Reagan’s investment in fossil fuels and unrelenting war on environmentalism throughout the 1980s, followed by President George H. W. Bush’s 1989 appointment of John Sununu as White House Chief of staff. If Pomerance and Hansen are the book’s heroes, Sununu is the archvillaih.

      Ever since Mead’s 1975 conference, Rich posits, Sununu had interpreted claims of global warming as an excuse to bridle economic progress and enact authoritarian global solutions to a problem whose existence he doubted. Pomerance and Hansen could not convince Sununu otherwise, and when given the opportunity to steer the country's policy away from reckoning with climate change, Sununu took it. (He remains skeptical of global warming to this day.)

      Rich’s tight focus on the lives of a handful of men allows him to frame science and politics as mirror worlds—Hansen and Pomerance never quite grokking the power dynamics of politics and Sununu handily rejecting the logic of science. More broadly, Rich suggests that many Americans found it difficult to appreciate the connection between actions in the present and long-term effects, the lag between cause and effect exacerbated by our species's tolerance for self-delusion.

      …It was not until the epilogue that Rich turned his attention to the powerful dynamics of funding in science, attempts of the fossil fuel industry to manipulate the optics of knowledge for a broader public, and the disproportionate effects of climate change according to demographics and geography.

UV Radiation Blamed in Ancient Mass Extinction

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 29 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      The end of the Devonian period, 359 million years ago, was an eventful time: Fish were inching out of the ocean, and fernlike forests were advancing on land. The world was recovering from a mass extinction 12 million years earlier, but the climate was still chaotic, swinging between hothouse conditions and freezes so deep that glaciers formed in the tropics. And then, just as the planet was warming from one of these ice ages, another extinction struck, seemingly without reason. Now, spores from fernlike plants, preserved in ancient lake sediments from eastern Greenland, suggest a culprit: The planet’s protective ozone layer was suddenly stripped away, exposing surface life to a blast of mutation-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

      Just as the extinction set in, the spores became misshapen and dark, indicating DNA. Damage….

      Scientists have long believed—at least before humanity became a force for extinction—that there were just two ways to wipe out life on Earth: an asteroid strike or massive volcanic eruptions. But 2 years ago, researchers found evidence that in Earth’s worst extinction—the end-Permian, 252 million years ago—volcanoes lofted Siberian salt deposits into the stratosphere, where they might have fed chemical reactions that obliterated the ozone layer and sterilized whole forests. Now, spores from the end-Devonian make a compelling case that, even without eruptions, a warming climate can deplete the ozone layer….

      The end-Devonian die-off has long sat in the shadow of the Late Devonian extinction 12 million years earlier, one of the planet’s largest. Likely driven by volcanoes that emitted gases that drastically cooled and warmed the planet, it killed most corals and many shelled sea creatures. But 10 years ago, work by Sallan and others revealed the end-Devonian was mighty in its own right, wiping out many plants and vertebrates, including most tetrapods, the four-limbed fish that had begun to evolve fingers and toes. Only the five-toed tetrapods survived….

      What the end-Devonian lacked was a cause. There was no evidence for volcanism or a giant impact, but one alluring clue was seen in the rapid formation and disappearance of rock deposits associated with glaciers….

      Marshall argues that the warming climate drove more powerful summer thunderstorms, which could have injected an ozone-depleting mix of water and salts into the stratosphere. As UV rays killed off forests, nutrient runoff into the sea could have caused blooms of plankton and algae, which would have produced more ozone-destroying salts in a runaway feedback….

      Marshall’s scenario could explain not just the extinction, but also the many natural gas deposits dating from the period….They formed from decaying organic matter, but no one has explained the needed surge in plankton growth. Nutrient runoff from dead forests could have fertilized the marine life.

      It’s also a portent of what could happen in today's warming world, where more powerful thunderstorms sometimes “overshoot” the troposphere and inject moisture into the dry, cold stratosphere. When combined with aerosol particles and chlorine molecules, the moisture may eat away ozone….

      But atmospheric scientists can barely agree on whether these ozone depletions are happening now, let alone hundreds of millions ofyears ago. More overshoots occur now than expected, but whether they are spurring damaging reactions is not yet clear….

Scientists Put Survivors’ Blood Plasma to the Test

[These excerpts are from an article by Kal Kupferschmidt in the 29 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      …the blood plasma of people who have recovered from the disease, rich in antibodies against the virus. The strategy seems to have worked in other infections…and the infrastructure for collecting and administering plasma exists. The risks are known and comparatively low….

      Blood or plasma from recovered patients has been tried as a therapy since at least the Spanish flu of 1918; reports from that pandemic suggest it helped. It has also been used to fight measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and lesser known diseases such as Argentine hemorrhagic fever. In a 1970s study of 188 patients with that disease, only 1% of plasma recipients died, versus 16.5% in a control group….

      …And the treatment carries risks: Transfusions can transmit blood-borne pathogens, and in rare cases lead to conditions such as transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI), in which transferred antibodies damage pulmonary blood vessels, or transfusion-associated circulatory overload (TACO), when the patient’s body doesn't adapt to the added blood volume, which can be up to half a liter. Both can lead to difficulty breathing and death….

      Researchers have already collected more data on complications, and they seem to be rare. A U.S. paper looking only at the therapy’s safety in the first 5000 patients found 36 severe adverse events, including TRALI and TACO cases, but some may have been the result of COVID-19 itself. Only two events were “definitely related” to the transfusion, according to the treating physician; 23 others were deemed “possibly” or “probably” related….

      Convalescent serum could also help prevent infection in those at high risk. In a trial coordinated by Johns Hopldns, 150 health care workers exposed to COVID-19 while not wearing proper protection will receive either convalescent serum or serum collected last year. Researchers will compare how many people in each group develop disease.

      If convalescent plasma is shown to work, much more of it may be needed, and sup-a ply could become a challenge….One plasma donation—the volume depends on the donor’s weight but it’s usually between 690 and 880 milliliters in the United States—is enough for just one or two patients, and the donor’s blood type needs to match the recipient’s. But recovered patients might be able to donate plasma multiple times. In New York City; there is now-more than enough to go around, in part because thousands of members of the hard-hit Orthodox Jewish community have donated.

      Consistency is also an issue. The mix and concentration of antibodies differs from one donor to the next….

COVID-19 Research in Africa

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Linda-Gail Bekker and Valerie Mizrahi in the 29 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      When two French doctors recently discussed the ease of conducting clinical research on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in African nations, with an insinuation that ethical and safety standards for testing vaccines and treatments in these nations are lower than in other countries, and-African research sentiments flared on social media and in news reports. Suggesting that clinical trial conduct is at a lower standard in Africa is unacceptable. Africa has innovated and implemented health solutions with high ethical regard for its people….

      So far, COVID-19, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome-corona-virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has infected -5 million people worldwide and caused -328,000 deaths. Africa now has over 95,000 cases of infection across the continent and more than 3000 deaths, with Egypt (14,000) just behind South Africa (18,000) in reported infections. But Africa has long grappled with the morbidity and mortality of communicable diseases including endemic tuberculosis (TB), Ebola virus disease, and malaria. Sub-Saharan Africa has borne the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with half of the annual global infections. Once again, Africa confronts a new pandemic and must help find solutions, both for the continent and for the global community.

      Africa, a consumer of health products, has played a key role in developing new medical products….The extensive involvement of African women in clinical HIV/AIDS research underpinned the establishment of new preventive tools.

      …Vaccines for malaria and Ebola virus 1 disease were also tested across Africa. Recently, vaccine candidates for TB prevention were tested in East, West, Central, and Southern Africa, a necessary prerequisite before deployment across the continent.

      The key components to Africa's contributions in these endeavors have included robust community engagement with clinical research, the ethical conduct of this research, and ensuring that the research is regulated, monitored, and analyzed within Africa. These principles must also guide the partnerships needed to address COVID-19 effectively….All research should have ethical and regulatory approval in-country. And the highest international and national standards of treatment and prevention for COVID-19 should be maintained.

      Several countries in Africa are now preparing for clinical trials of COVID-19 therapies and vaccines with multiple international partners….

      As with so many other diseases, COVID-19 trials will be carried out in Africa, under the highest ethical and safety standards. To exclude Africa would be a life-threatening mistake.

Planting Patriotism

[These excerpts are from an article by David A. Taylor in the May 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …Valuable natural resources like oil or iron often get government support, but during World War II, trees also fit the bill — specifically, cork oak trees.

      Cork had enjoyed commercial value for centuries, of course, in wine bottles and fishing equipment, among other uses. But during the first half of the 20th century, the spongy material from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber) gained much wider use as an industrial sealant and insulator. Ground up and pressed into molds, from which thin sheets could be cut, this “composition cork” took full advantage of cork’s pliability.

      When companies around the world realized they could press composition cork into gaskets and other fluid-tight seals, the material’s prospects soared….By 1940, American industries imported around half of the world's cork, mostly from forests in Europe and North Africa (mainly Portugal, Algeria and Spain)….

      The Nazi blockade of the Atlantic Ocean began in late 1939, and increasingly affected imports for the U.S. in the early ‘40s. America would be able to get by on its existing stores of cork for a while, but not forever. Just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, a government report titled “Cork Goes to War” provided a sobering realization of the problem….

      U.S. officials declared cork a “critical” material – a resource less difficult to procure than the “strategic” materials that were essential for defense, like copper and carbon steel, but nonetheless crucial for the nation….By 1941, the government had ordered companies to reserve their cork inventories for defense needs.. An Associated Press story printed in The New York Times on July 7, 1941, reported that the Commerce Department suggested rationing cork, as “no suitable substitute ... is at present in production.”

      This was largely thanks to the material’s unusual physical properties….No other natural substance came close. Even today, the PortugueSe Cork Association points out its unique squishiness among unprocessed solids: Pressing on one side does not cause another to expand. Cork’s flexible cell stricture also allows it to hold up to changing pressure and temperatures.

      That one-of-a-kind versatility was bad news for companies like Crown Cork & Seal, a Baltimore-based bottle cap and packaging company — and one of the biggest American importers of cork. On one side, their incoming supply was being threatened by the Nazi blockade; on the other, Uncle Sam was saying the existing cork stock must be held for government use only. So Crown Cork President Charles McManus assigned his staff chemist, Giles Cooke, to find a solution. Cooke eventually realized the only fix was the simplest one: For America’s supply of cork to be assured, the country would need to grow its own trees.

      Cooke consulted with arborists to chart the climate zones across the U.S. where cork oak could grow and thrive. As it turned out, American industry was in luck: The growing zone stretched across the South and up both the East and West Coasts.

      Next, Cooke talked with and wrote to politicians and state governments, suggesting Crown Cork could provide the seeds if the states rallied the muscle.

      The result was a successful nationwide tree-planting campaign to grow cork oaks. Kids could mail off a request and receive a package of acorns and instructions for planting. Throughout World War II, young 4-H and garden club members joined in tree-planting efforts, eager to do their part for the war effort. Their work was recognized and promoted by governors at Arbor Day celebrations and other festivities. All told, young people planted millions of acorns, resulting in thousands of viable trees that would produce cork for harvest after about 20 years of growing. Some are still alive today.

      But Cooke knew we would need trees sooner than in 20 years, so he pushed for a second effort, involving the cork oaks already growing in the U.S. Leading the hunt for the trees was Woodbridge “Woody” Metcalf…who scoured existing forests for the cork oaks. His team found thousands across California, most planted in the late 1800s. Arizona and a few other Southern states contained the trees in much smaller quantities, but there was enough to one day ensure a long-term domestic cork supply — especially since, after testing, scientists deemed this domestic cork just as good as European cork.

      Cooke and Metcalf’s two-pronged approach promised a steady supply of the critical material….

      After the war, international commerce resumed, and Portugal and Spain once again supplied America with cheap cork. Our country’s trees now simply grow free cork, and few people around them, recognize the bounty. They remain a legacy of how the right circumstances can motivate viable tree-planting campaigns in this country.

      Today, climate change may pose similar circumstances. Scientists and others have suggested that addressing climate change will require a World War II-like mobilization. And while the U.S. is the second-highest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions, the whole world will share in the consequences….

      Yet there is still reason to hope. Young people could again commit to battling a larger foe and recognizing trees' role in storing greenhouse gases: According to a 2019 study in Science, restoring forests — though logistically tricky — could cut atmospheric carbon levels by up to 25 percent. Could saving the environment be the basis for another federally backed nationwide horticultural operation?...

Growing Up Wired

[These excerpts are from an article by Alex Orlando in the May 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …The average child younger than 2 spends around 40 minutes a day looking at screens — and that daily dose only increases as the years go by. One survey estimates that almost half of all American teenagers say they’re online nearly constantly.

      The proliferation of screens — and their poten-tial impact — has sparked concerns. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that kids under 18 months avoid screens altogether, apart from the occasional video chat. The group’s 2016 report on media use for children cites risks ranging from poor sleep to stunted language skills….

      …some recent research suggests that the little ones might not be taking away much information from those experiences.

      The bulk of research shows that, unlike older children, infants and toddlers are less likely to learn from a screen than from a dynamic, face-to-face interaction — a phenomenon known as “video deficit” As early as the 1980s, researchers discovered that children learn language skills better from show’s such as Sesame Street if an adult is watching with them and reinforcing the material. A 2007 study, published in Media Psychology, found that tod-dlers struggled to learn new words simply by watching television.

      Some studies have suggested, though, that video chat — in which parents interact with their child in real time — is different….

      In short, for many tykes still learning about the world, what is shown on a screen is not reality – and thus can’t convey substantive information about that reality….

      By the time kids hit their teens, most have become veterans of the social media Wild West, flitting between apps like Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok. And increasingly, even they seem aware that they’re probably checking their smartphones a little too much.

      According to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. teens between 13 and 17 worry they spend too much time on their phones. And when they don’t have a smartphone in their pocket, nearly 60 percent of teens reported feeling either anxious, lonely or upset. Tech companies have responded to the mounting unease, with Facebook, Google and Apple releasing new tools to help users cut down on screen time….

      During adolescence, the brain is developing neural pathways that underlie impulse control, attention, planning and other higher-level functions. Leventhal suggests that exposure to smartphones, where our impulses are immediately rewarded with likes and comments, could interfere with teens’ ability to delay gratification — which is often associated with ADHD….

It's Not That Easy Being Green

[These excerpts are from an article by Anna Funk in the May 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …Sadly, “aspirational recycling” is not helpful at all. Although recycling centers do have ways of sorting recyclables from non-recyclables – called residuals – you’re just making more work for them. According to the National Waste & Recycling Association, contamination rates are around 25 percent. And then recycling centers still have to deal with your trash.

      Since China announced it would no longer accept imports of plastic waste, recycling programs are even more strapped than usual, forcing some cities to implement plan B. Local and national news outlets reported in 2019 that Philadelphia had begun sending recyclables that were regularly contaminated straight to an incinerator, albeit onethat generates electricity.

      What’s recyclable also varies from place to Place, so be sure you know what your town actually accepts. Not everything with a recycling symbotmay be recyclable in your area.

      Of course, there are things that are almost never recyclable that tend to make their way into bins, too. Common culprits are disposable paper cups, like the ones you might get to go from a coffee shop. The plastic-based lining that makes them liquid-proof is too hard to separate from the paper.

      Other offenders are paper towels, Styrofoam, glass from things like windows or mirrors, plastic bags…, greasy pizza boxes and, really, anything that’s covered in food.

      When in doubt, check out your city’s website….

      …Putting plastic bags in any single-stream recycling bin. This one deserves its own number, because its still such a common practice. Cut it out! Don’t. Put. Plastic. Bags. In. The. Recycling. Bin.

      If you put all your recyclables in a big plastic trash bag and put it in the bin — guess what — that could mean the whole thing is going to the landfill. If you must collect recyclables in a plastic bag, dump them out loose into the bin when you take them to the curb, and then toss the plastic bag in the trash where it belongs. (Or, you know, reuse it.)

      Plastic bags like you get atthe grocery store or big box store are recyclable, but you have to bring them back to a designated plastic-bags-only receptade. There’s often one right inside the door at grocery stores or places like Walmart. A few other bags can get recycled here, too, like bread bags.

      But other soft filmy plastics, like your candy wrappers, the film you peeled off your lunch meat container or the cellophane that held your muffin from the coffee shop — sorry to say, these are trash.

      Why does this matter? Besides making workfor recycling, centers…, the, soft plastics clog up the machinery….

      City dwellers are increasingly forgoing car ownership. Making the switch to walking, biking and taking public transit is cheaper and more sustainable, and can mean you don't have to sit in rush-hour traffic or circle for parking spots ever again.

      But as ride-shares like Uber and Lyft have gained popularity, more attention is being given to the environmental blight that is cars that never stop driving.

      People tend to think of ride-shires as almost on par with public transit. But they’re not. They’re worse than taking a personal vehicle because they roam around between fares. This means the total number of miles your trip takes is more than just the distance you travel. A study published in 2018 in Transportation found that, in Denver, using ride-shares increased the average miles driven by 84 percent for each trip….

      With an upsurge of restaurants making the switch to compostable, biodegradable bowls, cups and servingware, one might assume that these are successfully reducing waste.

      But, sadly, most landfills are set up so that even biodegradable stuff doesn’t biodegrade on any reasonable tirnescale. That’s because most decomposition comes from bacteria and fungi that require oxygen to do their thing. Landfills are tightly packed, and once “full,” they’re often sealed off with layers of clay and plastic to prevent liquids from seeping in or out. In anaerobic places like these, what little decomposition occurs is carried out by different organisms that create methane as a byproduct — if decomposition happens at all.

      That’s why composting food waste is so important. The EPA estimates that most composting households send 28 percent less trash to the curb than their noncomposting peers.

This Is Your Brain on Tech

[These excerpts are from an article by Kenneth Miller in the May 2020 issue of Discover.]

      According to a recent survey by the Nielsen market-research group, the average American spends nearly four hours a day on computers and mobile devices and nearly a quarter of that time on social media. While the upsides of all this pixel-gazing are plentiful, the downsides can be scary. In the public arena, online filters generate bubbiewt reinforce our preconceptions and amplify our anger. Brandishing tweets like pitchforks, we're swept into virtual mobs; some of us move on to violence IFIL. Our digitally enhanced tribalism upends political norms and sways elections.

      On the homefront, the sound of thumbs tapping screens has replaced dinnertime conversation. Professors face classrooms full of Snapchatting zombies. A 2017 study found that on-the-job smartphone time cost companies $15 billion a week in lost productivity: Texting while driving causes more than 300,000 crashes each year. Hundreds of us are hospitalized annually for walking into things while texting. As our devices grow smarter, more efficient and more connected, they often appear to be making us dumber, more distracted and more divided.

      A growing body of research suggests that this conundrum arises from a feature etched into our DNA: our unparalleled hunger to know stuff….

      Our current predicament…involves the gap between our vast appetite for information and our limited capacity for attention. To grasp how we wound up here — and, perhaps, to find a way out — it’s crucial to understand how we got our brains.

      …The computer in our heads contains some 86 billion processing units, known as neurons, woven into a distributed network with hundreds of trillions of connections, or synapses. Over a lifetime, it can store about a billion bits of data: 50,000 times the information in the Library of Congress. It can compose novels and symphonies, figure out how to send spacecraft beyond the solar system, and invent electronic brains whose powers, in some ways, exceed its own.

      Yet this wonder’s origins were strikingly humble. About 7 million years ago, hominins — our branch of the primate family tree — began the long transition to walking upright. Bipedalism, or walking on two legs, freed our hands for making and manipulating tools. It also allowed us to walk longer distances, key to our spread beyond Africa’s forests and savannas….

      Not that the effects were immediate. More than 3 million years ago, the braincase of Australopithecus afarensis, likely the first fully bipedal hominin, was only slightly larger than a chimpanzee’s. But by the time Homo sapiens emerged at least 300,000 years ago, brain volume had tripled. Our brain-to-body ratio is six times that of other mammals, and the neurons in our cerebral cortex (the brain’s outer layer, responsible for cognition) are more densely packed than those of any other creature on Earth….

      Our brains were also shaped by external forces, which increased the odds of smarter hominins passing on their genes. Experts debate which factors mattered most. Falk, for one, hypothesizes that the loss of grasping feet was crucial: When infants could no longer cling to their mothers, as nonhuman primates do, the need to soothe them from a distance led to the development of language, which revolutionized our neural organization. Other researchers believe that dietary shifts, such as eating meat or cooking food in general, enabled us to get by with a shorter digestive tract, which freed up more energy for a calorie-hogging brain. Still others credit our cerebral evolution to growing social complexity or intensifying environmental challenges.

      What’s clear is that our neural hardware took shape under conditions radically different from those it must contend with today. For millennia, we had to be on the alert for dangerous predators, hostile clans, potential sources of food and shelter — and that was about it…."Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time.”

      Our digital devices, by design, make that almost impossible….

      The part of the brain that enables us to make elaborate plans and carry them through — the part, arguably, that makes us most human — is the prefrontal cortex. This region is only slightly larger in H. sapiens than in chimps or gorillas, but its connections with other brain regions are more extensive and intricate. Despite this advanced network, our planning ability is far stronger than our ability to remain focused on a given task.

      One reason is that, like all animals, we evolved to switch attention instantly when we sense danger: the snapping twig that might signal an approaching predator, the shadow that could indicate an enemy behind a tree. Our goal-directed, or top-down, mental activities stand little chance against these bottom-up forces of novelty and saliency — stimuli that are unexpected, sudden or dramatic, or that evoke memories of important experiences.

      …Even macaque monkeys respond to new information as they do to primitive rewards like fruit or water. When the animal finds a ripe mango in the jungle — or solves a problem in the lab — brain cells in what’s called the dopaminergic system light up, creating a sensation of pleasure. These cells also build durable connections with the brain circuits that helped earn the reward. By triggering positive feelings whenever these circuits are activated, the system promotes learning.

      Humans, of course, forage for data more voraciously than any other animal. And, like most foragers, We follow instinctive strategies for optimizing our search….

      The call of the next data patch may keep us hopping from Facebook to Twitter to Google to YouTube; it can also interfere with the fulfillment of goals — meeting a work deadline, paying attention in class, connecting face-to-face with a loved one. It does this…in two basic ways. One is distraction….We try to ignore our phone’s pings and buzzes (or our fear of missing out on the data they signify), only to find our focus undermined by the effort.

      The other goal-killer is interruption: We take a break from top-down activity to feed our information munchies. The common term for this is multitasking, which sounds as if we’re accomplishing several things at once — working on the quarterly report, answering client emails, staying on top of the politician’s gaffe count, taking a peek at that aardvark. In truth, it means were doing nothing well.

      …Besides putting a major crimp in efficiency, such juggling can lead to high levels of stress, frustration and fatigue.

      It also wreaks havoc on working memory, the function that allows us to hold a few key bits of data in our heads just long enough to apply them to a task. Multiple studies have shown that “media multitasking” (the scientific term for toggling between digital data sources) overloads this mental compartment, making us less focused and more prone to mistakes. In 2012, for instance, Canadian researchers found that multitasking on a laptop hindered classroom learning not only for the user but for students sitting nearby. Heavy media multitasking has been associated with diminished cognitive control, higher levels of impulsivity and reduced volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region linked with error detection and emotional regulation….

      Emotional regulation is central to another of tech's disruptive effects on our ancient brains: exacerbation of tribal tendencies. Our distant ancestors lived in small nomadic bands, the basic social unit for most of human history….

      These days, many analysts see tribalism asserting itself in the resurgence of nationalist movements worldwide and the sharp rise in political polarization in the U.S., with both trends playing out prominently online. A study published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 found that party affiliation had become a basic component of identity for Republicans and Democrats. Social media, which spurs us to publicly declare our passions and convictions, helps fuel what the authors call “the gradual encroachment of party preference into nonpolitical and hitherto personal domains.”

      And we’re hardwired to excel at telling “us” from “them.” When we interact with in-group members, a release of dopamine gives us a rush of pleasure, while out-group members may trigger a negative response. Getting online “likes” only intensifies the experience.

      Our retreat into tribal mode may also be a reaction to the data explosion that the web has ignited….

      It’s surely no coincidence that during the 2016 presidential election, Russian hackers focused largely on convincing various groups of Americans that another group was out to get them. But foreign agents are hardly the top promoters of tribalism online. As anyone who’s spent time on social media knows, there’s plenty of homegrown schadenfreude on the web….

      Don’t expect Silicon Valley honchos to redesign their profitable products to be less exploitative of our old-school neural wiring….

      We can, however, evolve. The surest way to combat digital tribalism…is to be wary of bias, embrace critical thinking and encourage others to do the same….

This Is What It Will Take to Get Us Back Outside

[These excerpts are from an article by Gideon Lichfield in the May/June 2020 issue of Technology Review.]

      At some point covid-19 will be vanquished. By early April some 50 potential vaccines and nearly 100 potential treatment drugs were in development, according to the Milken Institute, and hundreds of clinical trials were already registered with the World Health Organization.

      Even with all these efforts, a vaccine is expected to take at least 12 to 18 months to bring to market. A treatment may arrive sooner—one company, Regeneron, says it hopes to have an antibody drug in production by August—but making enough of it to help millions of people could take months more.

      It could all be over more quickly if certain existing drugs, already known to be safe for other uses, prove effective in treating COVID-19. Trials are now under way; we should know by the summer. On the flip side, it may be that only a vaccine delivers the knockout blow, and even then, we still don’t know how long one will stay effective as the virus mutates.

      This is why everything feels unmoored and why everybody is stressed: because we can no longer predict what will be allowed and what will not a week, a month, or 12 months hence.

      That means we have to prepare for a world in which there is no cure and no vaccine for a long time. There is a way to live in this world without staying permanently shut indoors. But it won’t be a return to normal; this will be, for Westerners at any rate, a new normal, with new rules of behavior and social organization, some of which will probably persist long after the crisis has ended.

      In recent weeks a consensus has started to build among various groups of experts on what this new normal might look like. Some parts of the strategy will reflect the practices of contact tracing and disease monitoring adopted in the countries that have dealt best with the virus so far, such as South Korea and Singapore. Other parts are starting to emerge, such as regularly testing massive numbers of people and relaxing movement restrictions only on those who have recently tested negative or have already recovered from the virus— if indeed those people are immune, which is assumed but still not certain.

      This will entail a considerable degree of surveillance and social control, though there are ways to make it less intrusive than it has been in some countries. It will also create or exacerbate divisions between haves and have-nots: those who have work that can be done from home and those who don’t; those who are allowed to move about freely and those who aren’t; and, especially in the US and other countries without universal health coverage, those who have medical care and those who lack it. (Though Americans can now get coronavirus tests for free by law, they may still wind up with hefty bills for related tests and treatment.)

      This new social order will seem unthinkable to most people in so-called free countries. But any change can quickly become normal if people accept it. The real abnormality is how uncertain things are. The pandemic has undercut the predictability of normal life, the sheer number of things we always assume we will still be able to do tomorrow. That is why everything feels unmoored, why the economy is collapsing, why everybody is stressed: because we can no longer predict what will be allowed and what will not a week, a month, or three or six or 12 months hence.

      Getting to normal, therefore, is not so much about getting back the old normality as it is about getting back the ability to know what is going to happen tomorrow. And it’s becoming increasingly clear what’s needed to achieve that kind of predictability. What we can’t predict, yet, is how long it will take political leaders to do what it takes to get there.

      …One feature of the COVID-19 pandemic is the speed with which the unthinkable has become the obvious. In mid-March, the British government was still advocating for letting most people go about more or less their normal daily business, while only the sick and the especially vulnerable isolated themselves. It changed tack rapidly after researchers at Imperial College London published a study showing the policy would lead to as many as 250,000 deaths in the UK.

      That study made the case for what almost everyone now agrees is essential: imposing social distancing on as much of the population as possible. This is the only way to “flatten the curve,” or slow the spread of the virus enough to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, as they have been in Italy, Spain, and New York City. The goal is to keep the pandemic ticking along at a manageable level until either enough people have had COVID-19 to create “herd immunity”—the point at which the virus is starting to run out of new people to infect—or there’s a vaccine or cure.

      Waiting for herd immunity is not an idea most experts take seriously. But no matter what the final outcome, some degree of social distancing has to remain in place until we get there. A strict lockdown can slow new infections to a trickle, as it did in China’s Hubei province, but as soon as measures are relaxed, the infection rate starts to rise again.

      In their report on March 16, the researchers at Imperial College proposed a way of alternating between stricter and looser regimes: impose widespread social distancing measures every time admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) start to spike, and relax them each time admissions fall….

      What counts as “social distancing”? The researchers define it as “All households reduce contact outside household, school, or workplace by 75%.” That doesn’t mean you should feel free to go out with your friends once a week instead of four times. It means if everyone does everything they can to minimize social contact, then on average, the number of contacts is expected to fall by 75%.

      Under this model, the researchers concluded, both social distancing and school closures need to be in force some two-thirds of the time— roughly two months on and one month off—until a vaccine or cure is available….

      The researchers also modeled various less stringent policies, but all of them came up short. What if you only isolate the sick and the elderly, and let other people move around freely? You’d still get a surge of critically ill people at least eight times bigger than the US or UK healthcare system can handle. What if you lock everybody down for just one extended period of five months or so? No good—as long as a single person is infected, the pandemic will ultimately break out all over again….That means the economic paralysis lasts until there’s a vaccine or cure.

      …The key to getting to normal will be to establish systems for discriminating—legally and fairly—between those who can be allowed to move around freely and those who must stay at home…

      First, keep as many people as possible at home until the rate of infections is well under control. Meanwhile, massively ramp up testing capacity, so that once the country is ready to relax social distancing rules, anybody who asks for a test—and some who don’t—can take one and get the result within hours or, ideally, minutes. This has to include testing both for the virus, in order to detect people who are currently sick even if they don’t have symptoms, and for antibodies, in order to find people who have had the disease and are now immune.

      People who test positive for antibodies might be granted “immunity passports,” or certificates to let them move freely; Germany and the UK have already said they plan to issue such documents. People who test negative for the virus would be allowed to move around too, but they would have to get retested regularly and agree to have their cell phone’s location tracked. This way they could be alerted if they come into contact with anyone who has been infected.

      …This sounds Big Brotherish, and it can be: in Israel, such automated monitoring and contact tracing is being done by the domestic intelligence agency, using surveillance tools created for tracking terrorists. But there are less intrusive ways of doing it.

      The Safra Center, for example, outlines various schemes for “peer-to-peer tracking,” in which an app on your phone swaps encrypted tokens via Bluetooth with any other phones that spend some minimum period of time nearby. If you test positive for the virus, you put that information into the app. Using the tokens your phone has collected in the past few days, it sends alerts to those people to self-isolate or go get tested. Your actual location doesn’t have to be tracked, only the anonymized identities of the people you’ve been near….in principle at least— such a system can be set up with no centralized record-keeping at all.

      There also needs to be nationwide data-gathering and analysis to better understand how the virus is spreading and spot high-risk areas that might need more testing or medical resources, or another quarantine….

      It’s also important to make sure people who have tested positive or been exposed are staying in quarantine. This, however, seems hard to do without more direct surveillance….Without it, we have to rely on people to be responsible citizens and self-isolate when necessary….

      Regardless of the methods chosen, the goal is the same: after a couple of months of shutdown, to begin selectively easing restrictions on movement for people who can show they’re not a disease risk. With good enough testing capacity, data collection, contact tracing, enforcement of or adherence to quarantines, and coordination between the federal, state, and local governments, local outbreaks might be contained before they spread and force another national shutdown.

      Gradually, more and more people would be able to return to some semblance of normality. It would still be a far cry from the packed bars and sports arenas of the past, but it would be a less unbearable way to wait for the discovery of a vaccine or cure. More important, the economy could start ticking back to life.

      This depends on a lot of things going right, though. First, the initial shutdown probably needs to be harsher than it currently is in the US. At the time of writing some US states still had no stay-at-home orders, few cities were enforcing those orders, and there were no restrictions on travel between cities or states….

      Second, by some estimates, millions of virus tests a day, promptly performed, may be required to properly keep tabs on the pandemic in the US. By April 8 the country was testing around 150,000 people a day, and many results were taking more than a week to come back….

      Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.

      Third, testing for antibodies is still in its infancy, and most of the tests currently in development still return fairly high rates of both false positives and false negatives….

      Fourth, the US in particular has precious little coordinated national strategy. The chaotic management of the crisis by the Trump administration, the separation of powers between the federal government and the states, and the fragmented nature of privatized health care make it unclear how systems for automated contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, or immune certification will emerge.

      That means a reopening of the US in June is optimistic, to say the least, and a reopening by April 30, as President Donald Trump was still hoping for in early April, is a fantasy. But Trump, along with his alter ego, Fox News, has gradually and reluctantly been moving toward a more realistic stance about the pandemic. By the end of March the White House had adopted projections of the death toll in line with those of many experts, even if those projections still assumed stricter social distancing measures than the federal government is currently calling for. As the pandemic spreads further into the country and starts to pummel the more Republican-leaning states, the president’s interests may start to align more closely with those of the country as a whole.

      …This, then, is what passes for optimism in these grim times: the hope that while the days are still warm, and after tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost that could have been saved with quicker action, some of us will be able to start crawling out into the sunlight. We’ll emerge into a world in which people give each other wide berths and suspicious looks, where those public venues still in business allow only the thinnest crowds to congregate, and where a system of legal segregation determines who can enter them. Millions will still be out of work and struggling to get by, and people will watch nervously for signs of a new flare-up near them.

      But as you contemplate that future, spare a thought for the billions of people in the world for whom even social distancing and basic hygiene are unaffordable luxuries, let alone testing, treatment, and technologically advanced governments. The pandemic will roar through the slums of the world’s poorest countries like fire through sawdust. In their considerably younger populations, it will probably be less deadly than in the rich world. But an unchecked pandemic there may also oblige other countries to keep their borders closed for longer to protect their own populations.

      A miracle may still happen. Perhaps a readily available drug will work. Perhaps testing will show that the virus is far more widespread and less deadly than we thought. It’s worth hoping for these things, but we can’t bank on them. What we can expect is to have an increasingly clear picture, as the days go by, of how this will play out if we take the right steps.

      That’s as normal as things are going to get for a while.

Get Out of Our Faces

[These excerpts are from an article by the editors in the May 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      State and local authorities from New Hampshire to San Francisco have begun banning the use of facial-recognition technology. Their suspicion is well founded: these algorithms make lots of mistakes, particularly when it comes to identifying women and people of color. Even if the tech gets more accurate, facial recognition will unleash an invasion of privacy that could make anonymity impossible. Unfortunately, bans on its use by local governments have done little to curb adoption by businesses from start-ups to large corporations. That expanding reach is why this technology requires federal regulations—and it needs them now.

      Automated face-recognition programs do have advantages, such as their ability to turn a person’s unique appearance into a biometric ID that can let phone users unlock their devices with a glance and allow airport security to quickly confirm travelers’ identities. To train such systems, researchers feed a variety of photographs to a machine-learning algorithm, which learns the features that are most salient to matching an image with an identity. The more data they amass, the more reliable these progrnrns become.

      Too often, though, the algorithms are deployed prematurely. In London, for example, police have begun using artificial-intelligence systems to scan surveillance footage in an attempt to pick out wanted criminals as they walk by—despite an independent review that found this system labeled suspects accurately only 19 percent of the time. An inaccurate system could falsely accuse innocent citizens of being miscreants, earmarking law-abiding people for tracking, harassment or arrest. This becomes a civil-rights issue because the algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color. When the National Institute of Standards and Technology reviewed nearly 200 facial-recognition systems, it found that most of them misidentified images of black and East Asian people 10 to 100 times more often than they did those of white people. When the programs searched for a specific face among multiple photographs, they were much more likely to pick incorrect images when the person being tracked was a black woman….

      Even if someone releases improved facial-recognition software capable of high accuracy across every demographic, this technology will still be a threat. Because algorithms can scan video footage much more quickly than humans can, facial recognition allows for constant surveillance of a population. This is already happening in China, where the authoritarian government is using the tech to suppress its Uighur ethnic minority and zero in on individuals' movements. These systems can easily be used to treat every citizen like a criminal, which destroys individual privacy, limits free expression and causes psychological damage.

      In a democratic country such as the U.S., the government needs to protect all its citizens against these kinds of measures. But existing bans on the technology create an inconsistent patchwork of regulations: some regions have no restrictions on facial recognition, others ban police from applying it, and still others prevent any government agencies or employees from using it.

      Federal regulations are clearly needed. They should require the hundreds of existing facial-recognition programs, many created by private companies, to undergo independent review by a government task force. The tech must meet a high standard of accuracy and demonstrate fairness across all demographic groups, and even if it meets those criteria, humans, not algorithms, should check a program's output before taking action on its recommendations. Facial recognition must also be included in broader privacy regulations that limit surveillance of the general population--because other identification tools that flag people based on their gait or even their heartbeat pattern are already in development.

      Americans have always been fiercely protective of the right to privacy. Technologies that threaten that must be. controlled.

Why Fight Poverty? Nobelists Explain

[These excerpts are from an article by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Benerjee in the Spring 2020 issue of MIT’s Spectrum.]

      …One big advantage of focusing on clearly defined interventions is that these policies have measurable objectives and therefore can be directly evaluated. We can experiment with them, abandon the ones that do not work, and improve the ones with potential.

      The recent history of malaria is a good example. Malaria is one of the biggest killers of small children and a disease preventable byavoiding mosquito bites. Since the 19805, the number of malaria deaths had been rising every year. At the peak in 2004 there were 1.8 million deaths from malaria. Then in zoos there was a dramatic turning point. Between zoos and 2016, the number of deaths from malaria declined by 75 percent. Many factors probably contributed to the decrease in the number of malaria deaths, but the widespread distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets almost surely played a key role. Overall, the benefits of nets are well established. In 2004, a review of the evidence from 22 carefully done randomized controlled trials [RCTs] found that, on average, 1,000 more nets distributed contributed to a reduction of 5.5 deaths per year….But an RCT by Pascaline Dupas and Jessica Cohen, replicated since then by several other studies, established that free nets are in fact used just as much as nets that are paid for, and free distribution achieves a much higher effective coverage than cost sharing.

      …Between 2014 and zoi6, a total of 582 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets were delivered globally. Of these, sos million were delivered in sub-Saharan Africa, and 75 percent were distributed through mass distribution campaigns of free bed nets. The magazine Nature concluded that insecticide-treated net distributions averted 450 million malaria cases between 2000 and 2015.

      The accumulation of evidence took some time, but it worked. Even the skeptics were convinced….

      The bottom line is that despite the best efforts of generations of economists, the deep mechanisms of persistent economic growth remain elusive. No one knows if growth will pick up again in rich countries, or what to do to make it more likely. The good news is that we do have things to do in the meantime; there is a lot that both poor and rich countries could do to get rid of the most egregious sources of waste in their economies. While these things may not propel countries to permanently faster growth, they could dramatically improve the welfare of their citizens.

      Moreover, while we do not know when the growth locomotive will start, if and when it does, the poor will be more likely to hop onto that train if they are in decent health, can read and write, and can think beyond their immediate circumstances. It may not be an accident that many of the winners of globalization were ex-communist countries that had invested heavily in the human capital of their populations in the communist years (China, Vietnam) or countries threatened with communism that had pursued similar policies for that reason (Taiwan, South Korea). The best bet, therefore, for a country like India is to attempt to do things that can make the quality of life better for its citizens with the resources it already has: improving education, health, and the functioning of the courts and the banks, and building better infrastructure (better roads and more livable cities, for example).

      For the world of policy makers, this perspective suggests that a clear focus on the well-being of the poorest offers the possibility of transforming millions of lives much more profoundly than we could by finding the recipe to increase growth from 2. percent to 2.3 percent in the rich countries....It may even be better for the world if we did not find that recipe.

Computational Tools for Better Chemistry

[These excerpts are from an article by Catherine Caruso in the Spring 2020 issue of MIT’s Spectrum.]

      Chemistry and computer science may not seem like the most obvious pairing: one conjures the image of a lab-coated and begoggled scientist titrating agents in test tubes and beakers, while the other brings to mind a scientist hunched over a computer, typing code and analyzing vast data sets. And yet, Connor Coley SM ‘16, PhD ‘19 is building his career at the interface of these fields, developing algorithms and machine-learning systems to streamline the work chemical engineers do in the lab—tools he hopes can accelerate the process of discovering and synthesizing useful molecules….

      While Coley has always enjoyed coding and programming, he considers these interests secondary to his passion for chemical engineering—his undergraduate major and the focus of his master’s degree….

      Coley was in the lab, building automated reaction platforms that use algorithms to optimize conditions for existing chemical reactions, when he realized that another part of the process could be made more efficient: designing the reactions themselves.

      “Once you’ve figured out what molecular structure you want to make, you still need to come up with a recipe—all the ingredients, all the instructions, all the steps that it will actually take to physically make it,” Coley explains. This process requires chemical engineers to draw on published papers, previous experiments, and general chemistry knowledge. “My interest was trying to use that background information in a more principled way.”

      Working with group members, Coley has built an algorithm-based, machine-learning system, trained on millions of previously published reactions, that analyzes this background information and offers chemists options and suggestions for making molecules. “It’s a way to supplement, not replace, the more traditional approaches,” Coley says….

      Now a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Coley has temporarily shifted his focus to molecule discovery using a technology called DNA-encoded libraries. In this approach, Coley explains, chemists put millions of DNA-tagged compounds in a tube and simultaneously screen those compounds to see which ones have the greatest affinity for a target—for example, a protein linked to a disease. A selection process then identifies the molecules most inclined to “stick” to the target, measured through DNA amplification and sequencing. Chemists typically look only at measurements related to those top molecules, ignroring the rest.

      Coley wants to improve this process by developing computational tools that can sift through the entire collection of measurements and pull out anything that may improve the design of molecules selected for development….

      Ultimately, Coley hopes his work will improve the research process for thousands of scientists—making all of their discoveries and advancements a little bit faster. “that can have a pretty sizeable impact.”

Tropical Forests Store Carbon Despite Warming

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 22 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Tropical forests have been one of Earth's best defenses against rising carbon dioxide levels. The trees suck carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, and researchers estimate that, despite ongoing deforestation, tropical forests hold more carbon than humanity has emitted over the past 30 years by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. But scientists have worried that the ability of tropical forests to act as carbon sinks will diminish and ultimately reverse with continued global warming, as trees stressed by heat and drought die and release their carbon….

      Trees, with their long lives and massive woody trunks, are particularly good at storing carbon. But just how much carbon tropical forests can capture as the planet warms depends on the balance between tree growth spurred by higher atmospheric carbon levels and tree stress and death caused by rising temperatures and increasing drought….

      To forecast how carbon accumulation might change in the future, the researchers assumed that the hottest forests, which are mostly in South America, are bellwethers of the future. By comparing carbon storage in forests across the range of climates, they could use space as a proxy for time. They analyzed how changes in temperature and precipitation might affect carbon storage, looking for those changes that best explained what they observed in the forests. (The analysis takes into account differences in the forests’ mix of tree species.)

      Previous studies had suggested the lowest temperature a forest experiences at night has the biggest impact on its long-term carbon storage capacity, perhaps because warm nights cause trees to boost respiration and release more carbon. But this study found that the maximum daytime temperature is most important, perhaps because on hot days trees slow. their carbon dioxide intake to reduce water loss through pores in their leaves.

      The study showed that, overall, the forests now take up more carbon than they lose. But it found that at a tipping point—when the average daily maximum temperature during the warmest month of the year rises to 32.2°C—long term carbon storage capacity declines steeply and carbon loss increases. The decline is even greater in drier forests….

      The team calculated that,, worldwide, each 1°C increase in maximum temperature reduces carbon storage in tropical forests by 7 billion tons (roughly equivalent to total U.S. carbon emissions over 5 years), although much of that loss is currently offset by increased growth. If global temperatures rise 2°C above preindustrial levels, however, 71% of tropical forests will be pushed past the thermal tipping point, the researchers found….

      Other researchers see the findings as a wake-up call for action, noting the world has already warmed about 1°C above preindustrial levels….

Case Clostering Emerges as Key Pandemic Puzzle

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt in the 22 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      When 61 people met for a choir practice in a church in Mount Vernon, Washington, on 10 March, everything seemed normal. For 2.5 hours the chorists sang, snacked on cookies and oranges, and sang some more. But one of them had been suffering for 3 days from what felt like a cold—and turned out to be coin:D-19. In the following weeks, 53 choir members got sick, three were hospitalized, and two died, according to a 12 May report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that meticulously reconstructed the tragedy.

      Many similar “superspreading events” have occurred in the COVID-19 pandemic….

      Other infectious diseases also spread in clusters. But COVID-19, like two of its cousins, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), seems especially prone to attacking groups of tightly connected people while sparing others. It’s an encouraging finding, scientists say, because it suggests that restricting gatherings where superspreading is likely to occur will have a major impact on transmission and that other restrictions—on outdoor activity; for example—might be eased….

      Most of the discussion around the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has concentrated on the average number of new infections caused by each patient. Without social distancing, this reproduction number (R) is about three. But in real life, some people infect many others and Others don’t spread the disease at all….

      …SARS-CoV-2 appears to transmit mostly through droplets, but it does occasionally spread through finer aerosols that can stay suspended in the air, enabling one person to infect many….

      Individual patients’ characteristics play a role as well. Some people shed far more virus, and for a longer period of time, than others, perhaps because of differences in their immune system or the distribution of virus receptors in their body. A 2019 study of healthy people showed some breathe out many more particles than others when they talk. (The volume at which they spoke explained some of the variation) Singing may release more virus than speaking, which could help explain the choir outbreaks. People’s behavior also plays a role. Having many social contacts or not washing your hands makes you more likely to pass on the virus….

      Countries that have beaten back the virus to low levels need to be especially vigilant for superspreading events, because they can easily undo hard-won gains. After South Korea relaxed social distancing rules in early May, a man who later tested positive for COVID-19 visited several clubs in Seoul; public health officials scrambled to identify thousands of potential contacts and have already found 170 new cases.

      If public health workers knew where clusters are likely to happen, they could try to prevent them and avoid shutting down broad swaths of society….

      But studying large COVID-19 clusters is harder than it seems. Many countries have not collected the kind of detailed contact tracing data needed. And the shutdowns have been so effective that they also robbed researchers of a chance to study superspreading events….

Suspend Tests and Rankings

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 22 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      The notion that U.S. colleges and universities will open this fall in “normal” mode should not be in any forecast. As Dr. Anthony Fauci (of the White House’s coronavirus task force) testified last week before the Senate, it’s unlikely that a vaccine or treatments for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) will be available by the time students return to campus. I sympathize with the predicament of college and university administrators who need to reopen in ways that are safe and supportive for all their students while also planning for the possibility that they won’t be able to reopen in-person classes. To help them grapple with this, let's suspend two things, at least temporarily—test scores and rankings.

      Although universities that support research, graduate, and postgraduate training have struggled during the pandemic with the shuttering of labs, clinics, and academic programs, these functions seem to be on their way back and probably can restart safely. I worry less about the recovery of this sector of higher education than I do about undergraduate students, of which there are an estimated 20 million in the United States. We know that their success, on multiple fronts, is enhanced by completing college.

      Recent statements by a few U.S. college and university presidents about the coming fall semester range from the bullish announcement that Purdue University will open with in-person classes to the cautious decision that the California State University system will be all-virtual. My guess is that there will be a messy, hybrid solution involving mainly virtual instruction, for most institutions. In-person classes will require new configurations for housing and dining, smaller lectures, and more instructors. Student health centers need to prepare for testing, isolation, and mental health support. And those are just the most obvious needs to be addressed, quickly. The chaotic move to virtual classes this spring demonstrated that this approach needs to be executed much more deliberately in the fall, which will require resources to help faculty prepare fora new mode of teaching.

      My biggest worry is that certain students may get lost in the planning debates and that COVID-19 health and economic impacts may further exacerbate inequities in higher education. The spring semester showed us that students had to make quick arrangements to continue their education online—a path that was easier for some than others. And the large number of students who already lived off campus—particularly those enrolled in community colleges and big urban public universities—were in the same situation as they were in the prepandemic era, but without adequate recognition. Shutting down in-person classes and campuses all together compounded student insecurities—from food, shelter, and medical to financial and technological. A major concern is whether these students will be able to continue (or even begin) their higher education in the fall….

      …High scores in admissions tests and high ability to pay tuition are already given too much weight by American academic institutions when it comes to undergraduate admissions. This inequitable behavior is further reinforced by the yearly rankings assigned to colleges and universities….

      A truly transformative move in this moment of crisis would be to suspend testing requirements and college rankings. This is not a time for undergraduate institutions to be using precious resources to chase these numbers. Rather, they need to support struggling students and other members of the academic community so that education can resume this fall in a manner that is fair to all. Some schools are already making test scores optional for the time being, and hopefully that requirement will never return. Ranking colleges and universities changed higher education, mostly for the worse. Now is the time for institutions to suspend those rankings and, when the crisis is over, bring them back in a more progressive form.

An Unequal Blow

[These excerpts are from an article by Lizzie Wade in the 15 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      When the Black Death arrived in London by January 1349, the city had been waiting with dread for months. Londoners had heard reports of devastation from cities such as Florence, where 60% of people had died of plague the year before. In the summer of 1348, the disease had reached English ports from continental Europe and begun to ravage its way toward the capital. The plague caused painful and frightening symptoms, including fever, vomiting, coughing up blood, black pustules on the skin, and swollen lymph nodes. Death usually came within 3 days.

      The city prepared the best way it knew how: Officials built a massive cemetery, called East Smithfield, to bury as many victims as possible in consecrated ground, which the faithful believed would allow God to identify the dead as Christians on Judgment Day. Unable to save lives, the city tried to save souls.

      The impact was as dreadful as feared: In 1349, the Black Death killed about half of all Londoners; from 1347 to 1361, it killed between 30% and 60% of all Europeans. For those who lived through that awful time, it seemed no one was safe. In France, which also lost about half its population, chronicler Gilles Li Muisis wrote, “neither the rich, the middling sort, nor the pauper was secure; each had to await God’s will.”

      But careful archaeological and historical work at East Smithfield and elsewhere has revealed that intersecting social and economic inequalities shaped the course of the Black Death and other epidemics….The people at greatest risk were often those already marginalized—the poor and minorities who faced discrimination in ways that damaged their health or limited their access to medical care even in prepandemic times. In turn, the pandemics themselves affected societal inequality, by either undermining or reinforcing existing power structures.

      That reality is on stark display during the COVID-19 pandemic….In hard-hit New York City, Latino and black people have been twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people. Cases there have been concentrated in poorer ZIP codes, where people live in crowded apartments and can’t work from home or flee to vacation homes….

      When the Black Plague struck, many places in Europe were already beleaguered. The late 13th and 14th centuries were a time of climatic cooling and erratic weather. Harvests had failed and famines had struck in the century or so before the pandemic emerged. In the Great Famine of 1315-17, up to 15% of the population of England and Wales died, according to historical records. As wages fell and grain prices soared, more people were driven into poverty. Household account books and records of payments to workers on English manors show that by 1290, 70% of English families were living at or below the poverty line, defined as being able to buy enough food and goods to not go hungry or be cold. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 3% of households received 15% of the national income….

      Four hundred years later andhalf aworld away, smallpox struck Cherokee communities in what would become the southeastern United States. Elsewhere in the world, the disease—with its fever and eruption of pustules—killed about 30% of people infected. But among the Cherokee, the feared pathogen had help, and likely became even more devastating….

      Although a lack of acquired immunity often gets all the blame for Native Americans’ high mortality from disease during the colonial period, social conditions amplified the impacts of biological factors. The mid 18th century smallpox epidemic in the Southeast, for example, coincided with escalated British attacks on Cherokee communities in what’s called the Anglo-Cherokee War. The British used a scorched-earth strategy, burning Cherokee farms and forcing residents to flee their homes, causing famine and spreading smallpox to more Cherokee communities. Historians think by the end of the epidemic and the war, the Cherokee population had fallen to its smallest recorded size, before or since….

      The 1918 pandemic struck in a spring and an autumn wave, and black people were more likely than white people to get sick in the first wave….Then, in the deadlier autumn wave, black people were infected at lower rates, presumably because many had already acquired immunity. But when black people did get sick in the fall of 1918, they were more likely to develop pneumonia and other complications, and more likely to die, than white people. That may be because black people had higher rates of pre-existing conditions such as tuberculosis….

      Today in Washington, D.C., 45% of COVID-19 cases but 79% of deaths are of black people. As of late April, black people it made up more than 80% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Georgia, and almost all COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis. Similar trends have been seen for black and South Asian patients in the United Kingdom. And in Iowa, Latinos comprise more than 20% of patients, despite being only 6% of the population.

      In 1350, burials stopped in East Smithfield cemetery. But the Black Death's impact lingered, thanks to its extraordinary ecoomic consequences….

U.S. ‘Warp Speed’ Vaccine Effort Comes out of the Shadows

[These excerpts are from an article by Jon Cohen in the 15 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Conventional wisdom is that a vaccine for COVID-19 is at least 1 year away, but the organizers of a U.S. government push called Operation Warp Speed have little use for conventional wisdom. The project, vaguely described to date but likely to be formally announced by the White House in the coming days, will pick a diverse set of vaccine candidates and pour essentially limitless resources into unprecedented comparative studies in animals, fast-tracked human trials, and manufacturing. Eschewing international cooperation—and any vaccine candidates from China—it hopes to have 300 million doses by January 2021 of a proven product, reserved for Americans.

      Those and other details…have unsettled some vaccine scientists and public health experts. They’re skeptical about the timeline and hope Warp Speed will complement, rather than compete with, ongoing COVID-19 vaccine efforts, including one announced last month by the National Institutes of Health….

      Warp Speed, first revealed by Bloomberg News on 29 April, has so far only been outlined. President Donald Trump briefly discussed the initiative the next day, saying, “We’re going to fast track it like you’ve never seen before.” According to a CNN report…Warp Speed intends to deliver the first 100 million doses of a vaccine in November and another 200 million over the following 2 months.

      More than 100 COVID-19 vaccines are in development, and eight candidates—four from Chinese companies—have entered small trials in people, according to an 11 May update from the World Health Organization (WHO). But there’s less than meets the eye in many of the efforts….

      Warp Speed has already narrowed its list of vaccine candidates to 14 and plans to push ahead with eight….

      …By July, Warp Speed hopes to have its eight lead candidates in human trials. At the same time, itwill fund a large-scale comparison of their safety and efficacy in hamsters and monkeys to help winnow down that group. “If something’s really bad, we’ll get rid of it,” he says.

      In parallel with the trials, the project will lay the groundwork for “heavy duty manufacturing” of as many as four different vaccines. More than one may prove worthy, and multiple options guard against contamination incidents and other supply concerns.

      Although Warp Speed has not ruled out any type of vaccine, it will not consider ones made in China, such as the inactivated virus vaccine recently shown to protect monkeys from the coronavirus, a first….

      Warp Speed’s main goal is to protect the United States….

      Many scientists and organizations have argued, however, that any proven COVID-19 vaccines should be accessible and affordable to everyone in the world at the same time….

Lessons from the Crucible of Crisis

[These excerpts are from an editorial by the editors in the December 2019 issue of Science.]

      As coronavirus disease 2019 (COV1D-L9) continues to claim lives around the planet, the United States observes the bitter anniversaries of tiTo tragedies: its most damaging volcanic eruption and its largest marine oil spill. Forty years ago, on 18 May 1980, Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in Washington state, claiming 57 lives and triggering an enduring legacy of downstream sediment and hydrogeologic disruptions….Just 10 years ago, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill began on 20 April 2010 and continued to release oil for 87 days into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged deep-sea well before it was finally capped. Eleven rig workers died in the explosion. As we all continue to struggle with the current pandemic crisis, it is an opportune time to ask what lessons in the response to previous catastrophes should not be forgotten.

      The first lesson is that the battle is usually won or lost in the myriad actions that are taken in the days, weeks, and years before it has even begun….

      As a corollary to the first lesson, in preparing for the next emergency, expect the unexpected. Emergency managers, policy-makers, regulators, and even scientists too often assume that the next crisis will be “just like the last one.” Not even scientists predicted the magnitude of the eruption at Mount St. Helens, which released more energy than Hurricane Katrina (2005) and produced the largest landslide ever recorded in human history….

      Scenario planning can be effective both for determining which prior actions will build resilience and lessen the impacts of disasters and for preparing for the unexpected. This approach was used effectively during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for considering a range of scenarios for what might happen next, to prevent a legacy of problems that cascade from the environment to people and the economy….

      Both of these lessons apply to the current pandemic. Its death toll in any region is varying with the prior health status of the population, the quality of the health care system, and the early precautions taken in the months and weeks after the first report of the disease to mitigate its spread. Any longer-term actions to curb obesity; reduce the incidence of diabetes, and eliminate respiratory afflictions caused by polluted air, smoking, and other factors are beneficial to public health even without a major pandemic. Undertaking scenario planning now can prevent unfortunate surprises as nations work to reopen their economies, reestablish travel and tourism, cope with the staggering levels of unemployment, and adjust to new norms in personal and professional lives engendered by the pandemic….

Both/and Problem in an Either/or World

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 15 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, nuance and candor from governments were in short supply. Now they are almost nonexistent. Protecting the world from severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can’t happen without international scientific collaboration. Progress on vaccines in China and the United States should make us optimistic that science will solve this problem, but the actions of the governments involved are not equally inspiring.

      The saber rattling by China and the United States is unnecessary, as the broad impacts of the pandemic in both countries are shared. Isn’t that worth curbing nationalistic tendencies? Apparently not to China, which has rebuffed efforts to understand the origin of SARS-CoV-2. And not to the Trump administration either, which can’t grasp that it's possible to question the actions of the Chinese government about the early days of the pandemic while embracing collaboration with Chinese science. In a worldwide pandemic, isn’t it best for everyone to cooperate and try to save all of humanity together?

      We need a both/and approach, but we are living in an either/or world.

      …We are asked to believe that the highly ranked project was killed because even though it sought to prevent the next bat-originating human pandemic, it did not “align” with the NIH’s goals and priorities. This comes while the administration is propping up and circulating the unproven theory that the virus escaped from the Shi lab at the WIV, when the science is clearly in favor of zoonotic transfer in nature.

      The genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 rules out a lab-engineered virus. And although escape from a lab of a naturally occurring virus that was isolated from bat specimens collected by scientists cannot be completely eliminated as the origin, the closest laboratory version of the virus…is separated from SARS-CoV-2 by at least 20 years of evolutionary time. SARS-CoV-2 would have had to have escaped from the lab decades ago—or, another virus that was brought into the lab and not documented somehow escaped. Either way, only a chain of unlikely events could explain laboratory involvement.

      The U.S. administration instructed its intelligence community to investigate this matter. Last week, these intelligence agencies ruled out that the virus was lab-engineered. They have not reached any conclusions about whether a virus might have escaped from the lab. But in the absence of evidence, the administration will likely turn uncertainty into “truth”—a lab escape—that serves its narrative.

      Even in the face of the intelligence report to the contrary, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo initially said that “the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made.” Apparently, the best experts are neither scientists nor intelligence experts. Pompeo claims to have additional evidence that we are unlikely to see, if it even exists….

      I feel for, and admire, our scientific colleagues in the U.S. federal government. They are giving all they’ve got to protect the American public and others under impossible circumstances. Before the pandemic, the NIH went overboard to deal with foreign influence in U.S. research because of the nationalistic pressure it was under. Now, the agency is trying to dodge political lunges from an administration that puts political success above human life.

      The tyranny of either/or is that we only survive on our own. The promise of both/and is that the world is imperfect but we're all in this together.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

[These excerpts are from an article by Shirley M. Malcom in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Katherine Johnson, a mathematician for NASA and its predecessor agency, passed away on 24 February at age 101. She and women like her worked unseen for decades to ensure America’s success in the space race. The 2016 movie Hidden Figures finally brought her story to light. The recognition of Katherine’s contributions to aeronautics and to America’s ventures into space is well deserved, as she and her African American colleagues did vital work while facing Jim Crow barriers in nearly every aspect of their lives.

      Katherine, the youngest child of Joshua and Joylette Coleman, was born on 26 August 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The state had been part of the Union during the Civil War, but in every way that mattered it was part of the segregated South. Where the Colemans lived, education for Black children only extended through grade school, so Joshua rented a house more than 100 miles away to give his children the opportunity to attend the laboratory school at West Virginia Collegiate Institute (later West Virginia State College), a historically Black public land-grant institution established by the second Morrill Act. In 1933, at the age of 15, Katherine enrolled as a college freshman. She graduated summa cum laude in 1937 with a double major in mathematics and French.

      Following the path often taken by Black, college-educated women of her generation, Katherine became a teacher. The possibility of using her education in mathematics in any other career was unimaginable, although her professor did encourage and prepare her to pursue graduate study. An opportunity for graduate work came along when she was among those selected to integrate all-White West Virginia University after a Supreme Court decision mandated equal access to graduate educational opportunities. However, after one summer at the university in 1940, Katherine chose not to continue. Recently married, she stepped away to assume the role of wife and mother.

      In 1952, through family, Katherine learned of and seized an opportunity to apply her mathematical skills at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, a research center of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, NASA’s predecessor). During World War II and the ensuing Cold Wax, NACA needed the skills of female mathematicians (“human computers”) to support the work of their engineers….

      At that time, women in government experienced economic inequality—in title, salary, and limited opportunities for promotion. Meanwhile, Black Americans in the segregated South faced educational, social, and economic inequities. And yet, on the strength of her mathematical abilities, Katherine was considered an equal within the community of engineers and scientists with whom she worked….

      The Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a blistering pace of work for the engineers, scientists, and mathematicians charged with bolstering American pride in space. Long hours and the agency's demand for results were layered atop increasing family responsibili-ties. Katherine’s husband, James Goble, had died in 1956, leaving her carrying the added weight of single parenting.

      In 1959, she married Jim Johnson and published her first research report under the name Katherine G. Johnson. That report and her subsequent work developing precise trajectory calculations for NASA’s early human spaceflights were essential to establishing the United States as the leading spacefaring nation. Electronic computers were just being introduced into the space program, and their results were not always reliable. The human computers were there to backstop the machines. In the early 1960s, she worked on lunar orbits. Her contribution was crucial in helping to realize President Kennedy’s goal of banding a man on the Moon….

      The girl who loved to count became the woman whose aptitude and passion for mathematics helped propel the space ambitions of the United States. Katherine's story and those of other hidden figures have been embraced in popular culture and by those of us working to diversify science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But there are other lessons to be learned: Her story demonstrates why we must work to provide excellent education and opportunities for all It also elucidates the importance of policy interventions and laws in sustaining those opportunities. Katherine Johnson earned her place in the pantheon of America’s space heroes; she and the other women who contributed to the country’s path to the heavens are hidden no more.

Without Fossil Fuels, Reactors Churn Out Chemicals

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert F. Service in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      As windmills and solar panels multiply, the supply of renewable electricity sometimes exceeds demand. Chemists would like to put the excess to work making commodity chemicals, such as the raw materials for fertilizer and plastics, which are now produced with heat, pressure, and copious fossil fuels. The electrochemical cells that can harness renewable electricity to make these compounds have been too slow to be practical. Now, two groups report redesigning the cells to achieve a dramatic speedup—perhaps enough to put green industrial chemistry within reach….

      One research group uses carbon dioxide (CO2) as its starting material to make ethanol, a fuel, and ethylene, a starting point for plastics; the other turns nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3), a key component in fertilizer. Both owe their progress to advances in the catalyst-coated electrodes that drive chemical reactions between gases and liquids.

      In theory, turning CO2 into hydrocarbons such as ethanol and ethylene is simple: Just add energy to the CO2 so it can steal hydrogen atoms from water. But the reactions are tricky. They take place in electrolyzers, which consist of two electrodes separated by a liquid electrolyte. At one electrode, the anode, water splits into oxygen, electrons, and hydrogen ions, or protons. The protons then migrate through the electrolyte to the cathode, where they react with CO2, which is fed in separately, to make the hydrocarbons.

      In current electrolyzers, the cathode typically consists of a 3D carbon mesh dotted with tiny copper catalyst particles. Their “gas diffusion” design allows CO2 gas that infiltrates the mesh to interact with all the catalyst particles simultaneously. One side of the mesh is also in contact with the liquid electrolyte, which helps ferry protons over from the anode. But water in the electrolyte can also infiltrate the pores, blocking CO2 gas from reaching the catalyst particles.

      Coating the electrode with a water-repellent, fluorine-rich polymer can help. That and other improvements have resulted in electrolyzers that efficiently convert a modest input of electricity into hydrocarbons. But only about 40% of the product compounds have two carbon atoms, as ethylene and ethanol do. Much of the rest is methane, which has one carbon and is less valuable.

      …adding fluorine to the standard copper catalyst on their gas diffusion electrode changes the pathway of the reactions, so that up to 85% of the resulting products are valuable two-carbon compounds….

      With oil prices crashing because of price wars and the coronavirus pandemic, companies will likely continue to rely on fossil fuels to produce ammonia, ethanol, and other commodity chemicals in the near future. But as researchers continue to improve electricity-based production methods, even cheap fossil fuels may ultimately prove no match for surplus green energy.

Ape Researchers Mobilize to Save Primates from Coronavirus

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      …Human respiratory viruses are already the leading cause of death in chimp communities at Kibale and at Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, where Jane Goodall worked, according to a study led by Goldberg. Now, researchers are gearing up to protect apes as well as local people from COVID-19….

      The ape form of the receptor that the new coronavirus uses to enter cells (the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, receptor) is identical to the human one, so it’s likely apes can be infected….If the virus gets into ape communities, flattening the curve will be all but impossible. “Gorillas can’t social distance,” says primatologist Tara Stoinski at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

      The virus would hit already depleted populations. Among chimps at Tal National Park in aite d’Ivoire, researchers have detected repeated outbreaks of viruses and strep since 1999. Each time a respiratory virus swept through, about one-quarter of the chimps died, says primatologist Roman Wittig of th4 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Those deaths, plus poaching and habitat loss, have shrunk the Tali forest chimp population from 3000 in 1999 to 300-400 today, he says.

      Among mountain gorillas, respiratory viruses cause up to 20% of sudden deaths….Half the world’s 1063 mountain gorillas live at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, where 40,000 tourists visit every year. The February study found that more than 98% of the observed tourist groups got closer to the gorillas than the mandated 7 meters, and that sick tourists tried to hide their illnesses….

      African governments have already stopped all ape-related tourism….

      To keep people out of the forest and reduce hunting, some researchers are offering goats to local people or helping farmers prow cash crops like coffee….

Children’s Role in Pandemic Is Still a Puzzle

[These excerpts are from an article by Grethchen Vogel and Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      For families eager for schools to throw open their doors, the tale of a 9-year-old British boy who caught COVID-19 in the French Alps in January offers a glimmer of hope. The youngster, infected by a family friend, suffered only mild symptoms; he enjoyed ski lessons and attended school before he was diagnosed. Astonishingly, he did not transmit the virus to any of 72 contacts who were tested. His two siblings escaped infection even though other germs spread readily among them: In the weeks that followed, all three had influenza and a common cold virus.

      The story could be a bizarre outlier—or a tantalizing clue. Several studies of COVID-19 hint that children are less likely to catch the novel coronavirus and don’t often transmit it to others. A recent survey of the literature couldn’t find a single example of a child younger than 10 passing the virus on to someone else, for example.

      Relying on those encouraging if scant data—and the reassuring indications that very few children get severely ill from COVID-19—some governments are beginning to reopen schools. Denmark sent children up to age 11 back on 15 April, and Germany welcomed back mostly older children on 29 April. Some Israeli schools reopened on 3 May the Netherlands the Canadian province of Quebec plan to reopen many primary schools on 11 May. Most schools are resuming with reduced class sizes, shortened school days, and extra hand washing.

      Ending school closures has clear benefits for children’s education and mental health—not to mention their parents’ well-being—but scientists disagree about the risks. Some worry that even if children transmit less efficiently than adults, they may make up for it by their far more expansive web of contacts, especially at school….

      As parents and teachers know all too well, children excel at catching and sharing germs, from influenza to common colds, even when they don’t feel very sick themselves….

      Could COVID-19 be different? The evidence so far is mixed. Researchers in Iceland, one of the few countries to conduct mass screening, turned up no infec-ions in 848 children under the age of 10 without significant symptoms, compared with an infection rate of nearly 1% in ages 10 and older. A U.S. analysis of nearly 150,000 infected people found that just 1.7% were younger than 18. But a study of 391 cases and almost 1300 close contacts in Shenzhen, China, reported that children were just as likely to be infected as adults. Eckerle cautions that some of these data come from surveys done after shutdowns were put in place….

      Several studies suggest children who do get sick with COWD-19 are just as infectious as ailing adults. Researchers have detected the same amounts of viral RNA in nose or throat swabs from sick children as in those from older patients. Finding RNA does not always mean a person is infectious; it can also come from noninfectious viral remnants….

      Far less is known about the risk posed by infected children with few or no symptoms. But there’s at least one example of a child who didn’t appear sick and was nevertheless a virus factory: In February, doctors in Singapore described a 6-month-old baby, infected without apparent symptoms, whose coronavirus levels were on par with those of sick adults.

      Real-life studies of how often children transmit COVID-19 are scarce….

      …Although they were only one-third as likely to be infected, keeping hildren at home helped curb China’s outbreaks….

      Even without those efforts, daily case numbers could soon provide a reality check. If children are ample virus spreaders after all, cases could surge in a matter of weeks in the countries reopening their schools. If they aren't, parents and policy-makers will heave a sigh of relief and more countries may follow….

Beat COVID-19 through Innovation

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Pierre Azoulay and Banjamin Jones in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread, public health and economic well-being are increasingly in conflict. Governments are prioritizing public health, but the current solution—social isolation—is costly as commerce remains shut down. Restarting economies could rekindle the pandemic and cause even worse human suffering. Innovation can help societies escape the untenable choice between public and economic health. The world needs effective vaccines, therapies, or other solutions. But how do we achieve these solutions, and aehieve them quickly? Innovation policy can accelerate advances, with high returns. In the United States, COVID-19 has reduced gross domestic product (GDP) by ~30%. What if additional investment in research and development (R&D) could bring forward an effective vaccine by just 1 day? If this investment costs less than the daily loss in GDP ($18 billion in the United States alone), it would pay for itself. Even large incremental funding to support R&D will be miniscule in scale compared to the $2.8 trillion the U.S. government is spending to compensate for the economic shutdown.

      What principles should guide government innovation policy to battle COVID-19? It is critical to support many independent avenues of research. Outcomes from R&D investments are uncertain. Many avenues will be dead ends, so many different paths—each corresponding to an independent effort—should be pursued. Consider funding 10,000 such efforts. Even if each had only a 0.1% chance of producing an advance in prevention, treatment, or infection control, the probability of at least five such advances would be 97%. By contrast, if efforts crowd into only a few prospects, the odds of collective failure can become overwhelming.

      …Moreover, good ideas often come from unexpected corners. Useful solutions may be discovered outside biomedicine, including through engineering disciplines and information technology.

      …The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has taken some first steps with emergency procedures to supplement existing grants, but these efforts need to draw on additional labs and talent, and to accelerate review The marginal investment through the NIH, at $3 billion, appears modest in size, equating to the U.S. GDP loss in just 4 hours. Globally, researchers with relevant expertise are essential workers; they should have access to their labs and additional resources to engage in the COVID-19 battle.

      Government support for private sector R&D should be delivered at great speed.…More support could come through supplementing the R&D tax credit system, which already exists in the United States and other countries.

      In June 1940, the U.S. government created the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), composed of eminent scientists and innovators in the public and private sectors, with the mandate to achieve innovations related to the war effort. This leadership structure drove the rapid development of numerous technologies, including weapons systems but also antimalarial drugs and penicillin manufacturing. A COVID-19 Defense Research Committee could similarly be empowered to coordinate and fund solutions to the pandemic. This group would track R&D efforts, create a public clearinghouse documenting the avenues pursued, fund innovations and the scaling of successful advances, and streamline bureaucracy. The new vaccine effort, Operation Warp Speed, moves in this direction. But we also need efforts beyond vaccines.

      COVID-19 presents the world with a brutal choice between economic and public health. Innovation investments are essential to avoiding that choice—yet tiny in cost compared to current economic losses and other emergency programs. Even the slight acceleration of advances will bring massive benefits.

Combination Prevention for COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Myron S. Cohen and Lawrence Corey in the 8 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has produced the fear and disorder inevitably provoked by emerging pathogens. As such, it should also inspire consideration of our experience with HIV over the past 40 years. As with HIV, the road to reducing infections with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19), and attendant morbidity and mortality, requires medical and nonmedical strategies. The most important lesson learned from tackling HIV is to use a combination of prevention strategies.

      The first step to stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has already been taken—behavioral changes. This reflects a rapid but imperfect understanding of the transmission of this virus. At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, changes in sexual behavior, condom promotion, and government interventions (closing “hotspots” of HIV transmission such as bathhouses) made a difference. For SARS-CoV-2, masks and gloves, hand hygiene, and “shelter in place” mandates have already demonstrated benefits. More efficient behavioral intervention requires better understanding of the rules governing SARS-CoV-2 transmission. What are the risks from exposure to respiratory droplets, airborne virus, and surface contamination? What concentration of SARS-CoV-2 is required for transmission? Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 transmission is greatest very early in infection prior to development of symptoms the same lessons learned from HIV. Given this rule of transmission, biomedical prevention strategies that provide reliable protection become essential. And as has proven true for HIV, directing prevention to people at the highest ri sk for SARS-CoV-2 infection or the worst disease outcomes will be an important consideration.

      Historically, antiviral therapies that reduce the severity of infection have preceded the development of biomedical approaches to prevent onward transmission (although interruption of viral replication also offers a prevention benefit). The first HIV treatment, azidothymidine (AZT), extended life by up to 18 months, providing hope that HIV infection could be transformed from a death sentence to a treatable disease. Reduced risk of mother-to-child transmission by AZT was the first biomedical prevention against HIV transmission. This success was the precursor to “pre-exposure prophylaxis.” AZT also launched research focused on “treatment as prevention” where antiviral agents reduce the HIV viral load to a point where infected people no longer transmit….

      …Preliminary results from a large randomized controlled trial show that the antiviral drug remdesivir substantially reduced the duration of hospitalization for COVID-19. To date, COVID-19 testing results have been used primarily for patient isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine. But effective therapies will lend great urgency for the universal availability of rapid and reliable testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection, so that treatment can be provided when indicated….

      Ultimately, a safe and effective vaccine is crucial for preventing COVID-19. Vaccine efforts started immediately after the discovery of SARS-CoV-2. Numerous vaccine candidates have been identified, and early-phase vaccine studies of several are underway. Proof of vaccine efficacy will require large trials with 6000 to 12,000 participants or more in each study….We cannot predict the time of availability degree of efficacy of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine with precision, but most trials in development are designed to demonstrate 60 or 70% prevention efficacy, not 100% protection.

      HIV has taught us that multiple concomitant prevention strategies are essential. Behavioral changes to reduce SARS-CoV-2 spread must be accepted as the “new normal.” The COVID-19 toolbox must include safe and effective interventions whose values have been proven through robust scientific methods honed over decades. Ongoing research in each prevention domain must be sustained. We simply cannot depend on any single “"magic bullet.”

Carbon Dioxide Increase May Promote ‘Insect Apocalypse’

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Empty calories may be grasshoppers’ downfall. Many insect populations are declining, and a provocative new hypothesis suggests one problem is that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) are making plants less nutritious. That could spell trouble not just for insects, but for plant eaters of all sizes.

      Over the past 5 years, several studies have documented dwindling insect populations, prompting “insect apocalypse” headlines and calls for increased conservation efforts….Not everyone was convinced; insect populations can have booms and busts, and the trends might vary depending on the species. Just last week, for example, a meta-analysis of 166 insect populations found that although terrestrial species are indeed declining overall, aquatic insects seem to be doing fine….

      ….in 2014, plants including wheat, maize, rice, and other major crops grown under expected future CO2 levels accumulate less nitrogen, phosphorous, sodium, zinc, and other nutrients than they do under current CO2 levels. The thinking is that roots cannot keep up with the growth stimulated by the extra carbon and therefore don’t provide adequate supplies of other elements.

      Since then, most of the concern about nutrient dilution has focused on human health. Given the predicted rises in CO2, “diluted” plants could increase the number of people worldwide who are not getting enough nutrients in their diet—already 1 billion or so—by hundreds of millions….

      …The biomass of the grasses doubled over the past 30 years, but the plants’ nitrogen content declined about 42%, phosphorous by 58%, potassium by 54%, and sodium by 90%....

      …hopes to bolster the hypothesis by looking for a decline in nutrients in the grasshoppers’ own tissues. Larger plant eaters, such as elephants, pandas, and elk, may also be at risk….”If nutrient dilution is widespread, this has enormous implications for herbivorous organisms all over.”

Scientists Discover Upsides of Virtual Meetings

[These excerpts are from an article by Michael Price in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      …As the novel coronavirus outbreak shutters businesses and disrupts everyday life for billions around the globe, massive annual conferences and small society meetings alike have moved online. The new format poses numerous technical and organizational challenges, but it also offers opportunities—for reaching wider audiences, reducing the carbon footprint of meeting travel, and improving diversity and equity. For some meetings, the shift may be permanent….

      In many ways, virtual conferences offer a better experience….The original conference…would have drawn a few hundred attendees, but 30,000 people tuned in to the online version.

      …the virtual environment allowed moderators to better control the flow of discussion and questions from the audience….

      During the audience question period, the moderators didn't open up the virtual floor for anyone to speak. Instead, they asked audience members to type their questions, and “a little army of people reading chat windows” prioritized the most insightful inquiries….

      Scientists acknowledge that virtual conferences can’t entirely replicate the conference experience, which normally involves impromptu meetings in hallways and other social get-togethers….So virtual meetings might lose some of their appeal once stay-at-home requirements If loosen….

      For some societies, the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t so much started discussions about virtual conferences as accelerated them….

COVID-19 Shot Protects Monkeys

[These excerpts are from an article by Jon Cohen in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      For the first time, one of the many COVID-19 vaccines in development has protected an animal, rhesus macaques, from the new coronavirus. The vaccine, an old-fashioned formulation consisting of a chemically inactivated version of the virus, produced no obvious side effects in the monkeys; human trials began on 16 April. And encouraging monkey results for other vaccines are close behind.

      Researchers from Sinovac Biotech, a privately held Beijing-based company, gave two different doses of their COVID-19 vaccine to a total of eight rhesus macaques. Three weeks later, the group introduced SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, into the monkeys’ lungs. None developed a full-blown infection, and the monkeys given the highest dose of vaccine had the best response: Seven days after the animals received the virus, researchers could not detect it in their pharynx or lungs. Some of the lower dosed animals had a “viral blip” but also appeared to have controlled the infection, the Sinovac team reports in a paper published on 19 April on the preprint server bioRxiv.

      In contrast, four control animals developed high levels of viral RNA and severe pneumonia. The results “give us a lot of confidence” that the vaccine will work in humans….

      But Douglas Reed of the University of Pittsburgh, who is developing and testing COVID-19 vaccines in monkeys, says the number of animals was too small to yield statistically significant results. In a manuscript in preparation, his team also raises concerns about the way the Sinovac team grew the stock of novel coronavirus used to challenge the animals, which may have evolved differences from the strains that infect humans. What's more, the monkeys are not a perfect model for COVID-19 as they don’t develop some symptoms that kill many humans.

      The study did address worries that partial protection by a vaccine could be dangerous. Earlier animal experiments with vaccines against the related coronaviruses that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome had found that low antibody levels could lead to aberrant immune responses, enhancing the infection and damaging their lungs. But the Sinovac team did not find any evidence of lung damage in vaccinated animals that produced relatively low levels of antibodies, which “lessens the concern about vaccine enhancement,” Reed says. “More work needs to be done, though.”

      To check the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 variants might thwart a vaccine, the Sinovac researchers mixed antibodies taken from monkeys, rats, and mice given their vaccine with strains of the virus isolated from patients in China, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The antibodies potently “neutralized” all the strains, which are “widely scattered on the phylagenic tree,” the researchers noted….

      An experimental vaccine made by the University of Oxford has also shown promise, although the data have not yet been published….”People just have to be patient.”

      Sinovac recently started phase I human trials of its vaccine in Jiangsu province….The company hopes to start phase II studies by mid-May that will assess the same end-points but will enroll more than 1000 people.

      If all goes well, Meng says, Sinovac will launch phase III efficacy trials that compare the vaccine with a placebo in thousands of people. Because of the low level of transmission now occurring in China, the company may run additional trials in harder hit countries….

The Mystery of the Pandemic’s ‘Happy Hypoxia’

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      Among the many surprises of the new coronavirus is one that seems to defy basic biology: infected patients with extraordinarily low blood-oxygen levels, or hypoxia, scrolling on their phones, chatting with doctors, and generally describing themselves as comfortable. Clinicians call them happy hypoxics….

      A normal blood-oxygen saturation is at least 95%. In most lung diseases, such as pneumonia, falling saturations accompany other changes, including stiff or fluid-filled lungs, or rising levels of carbon dioxide because the lungs can’t expel it efficiently. It’s these features that leave us feeling short of breath—not, counterintuitively, low oxygen saturation itself….

      In serious cases of COV1D-19, patients struggle to breathe with damaged lungs, but early in the disease, low saturation isn’t always coupled with obvious respiratory difficulties. Carbon dioxide levels can be normal, and breathing deeply is comfortable….But oxygen saturation, measured by a devite clipped to a finger and in many cases confirmed with blood tests, can be in the 70s, 60s, or 50s. Or even lower. Although mountain climbers can have similar readings, here the slide downward, some doctors believe, is potentially “ominous….”

      Hypotheses about what causes it are emerging. Many doctors now recognize clotting as a major feature of severe COVTD-19….Negri thinks subtle clotting might begin early in the lungs, perhaps thanks to an inflammatory reaction in their fine web of blood vessels, which could set off a cascade of proteins that prompts blood to clot and prevents it from getting properly oxygenated….

      …this hypoxia is likely stressing a body already straining to battle the virus. What to do about it is prompting debate. An emerging view is that doctors should avoid aggressive treatment they’ve been trained to offer in other settings….is wary of what he calls a “Pavlovian response” to COVED-19 hypoxia, in which doctors may swoop in to inflate lungs with ventilators or high-pressure oxygen even when patents seem comfortable….

      No one, however, has studied whether early detection of hypoxia might head off bad outcomes. Some physicians believe pulse oximeters are best used with a doctor’s guidance, perhaps through telemedicine. With many COVID-19 patients frightened to visit a hospital and arriving only when their symptoms have dangerously advanced, doctors also wonder whether home monitoring could hasten treatment—and whether, for some, that could make all the difference.

A COVID-19 Recovery for Climate

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Daniel Rosenbloom and Jochen Markard in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-1.9) pandemic, countries are launching economic recovery programs to mitigate unemployment and stabilize core industries. Although it is understandably difficult to contemplate other hazards in the midst of this outbreak, it is important to remember that we face another major crisis that threatens human prosperity—climate change. Leveraging COVID -19 recovery programs to simultaneously advance the climate agenda presents a strategic opportunity to transition toward a more sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

      The climate and COVID-19 crises are global and unprecedented in their level of disruption, and require coordinated responses by policy-makers, businesses, and broader society. But they are also different. The pandemic directly threatens individuals and health systems, whereas climate change undermines broader natural and human systems. COVID-19 requires responses within days and weeks, whereas reactions to the climate crisis appear less acute. Nevertheless, science suggests that climate impacts will worsen the longer we wait. So, we are faced with overlapping crises that require immediate societal mobilization.

      Yet, as nations marshall massive resources to mitigate the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, they may be missing the chance to address climate change. Indeed, earlier experiences show that policy responses to major calamities, such as the 2008 global financial crisis and the Millennium drought in Australia, tend to focus on stabilizing incumbent industries, technologies, and practices rather than seizing the opportunity for sustainable transformation.

      At this early stage of the pandemic, we are witnessing how worldwide lockdowns have decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because of reduced transportation, electricity generation, and industrial production. This shows how intertwined modern economic life and fossil fuels have become, and suggests consideration of climate implications in economic recovery plans.

      However, there is variation in political responses to COVID-19. The United States has rolled back certain environmental regulations and appears poised to direct stimulus funds toward reinvigorating the fossil fuel industry The German Council of Economic Experts submitted a 110-page report on the coronavirus crisis without mentioning climate change or sustainability. By contrast, 17 European climate and environment ministers called on the European Commission to make the Green Deal central to the recovery following the pandemic.

      Where, then, should we begin to focus in building back jobs and the economy while also transitioning toward a more sustainable future? One strategy would be to use recovery funds to stimulate innovation for the low-carbon energy transition….An example would be supporting the diffusion of electric delivery vehicles, given the rise in e-commerce. But transitioning entire sectors is a long-term endeavor that requires continuous adaptation and attention to context. There may also be opportunities to build on social changes catalyzed by COVID-19 such as remote working, video conferencing, e-commerce, and reduced air travel. Science must explore how such changes can be made durable and contribute to low-carbon pathways.

      A complementary strategy is to harness disruption to accelerate the decline of carbon-intensive industries, technologies, and practices. COVED-19 has temporarily destabilized businesses, economic activity; and consumption. This can be leveraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal-fired power, which is already part of the climate action plans of several countries….Destabilization has also affected the oil and gas industry, with the price of U.S. oil futures turning negative for the first time in history and global demand for oil estimated to reach a 25-year low. These circumstances can be harnessed to transition away from fossil fuels toward clean alternatives. To drive this change, it is important not to bail out fossil fuel companies and industries….

      COVID-19 recovery programs can lay the foundation for a more sustainable and prosperous future. Nations should not squander this opportunity.

COVID-19 Amidst Ebola’s Retreat

[These excerpts are from an editorial by John Ditekemena in the 1 May 2020 issue of Science.]

      In April, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was on the verge of good news—announcing an end to its tenth (and the world’s second largest) Ebola outbreak. Unfortunately, since 10 April, new Ebola cases have been reported in Beni, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Although the DRC has long struggled with political unrest, armed conflict, poverty, and infectious diseases, it must remain committed to ending the Ebola crisis while also applying the lessons learned in tackling this old viral enemy to combat a new one—severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

      Reported cases of COVID-19 in the DRC so far (442 cases, 28 deaths) are probably underestimations given the lack of testing in a country whose weak health system serves 89 million people. The perception of COVID-19’s impact among the DRC Congolese is likely to be dwarfed by their experience with the more lethal Ebola virus (2279 deaths among 3461 infected since August 2018). As less than 5% of the DRC's 59,000-km network of roads are usable, the expansion of COVID-19 to rural provinces may be slow. But once COVID-19 gains a strong foothold in the DRC, its elimination could take much longer.

      A major lesson learned from the DRC’s response to Ebola is that people’s distrust of authorities and outsiders can delay responses to disease. Illegal poaching and lumber trade, mining, and war-related displacement of people to Congo’s rain forests likely damaged the forest in ways that increased contact between people and animal reservoirs of Ebola virus. The Congolese became increasingly wary of authorities and others who were stripping resources and stoking corruption, violence, and poverty. Health workers had to establish local trust through clear communication and transparency about the disease and treatments. Eventually, the Congolese were open to a vaccination campaign and other measures that brought the current outbreak under control.

      But there is an air of optimism in and about the DRC. The near successful campaign against Ebola, the first peaceful democratic transition of power in 2019, economic growth over the past 2 years, and anticorruption reforms aimed at individuals and industrieS have been positive changes for the nation. The new government must launch a strong response to COVID-19 without compromising the last leg of the Ebola response. Indeed, the system developed for managing Ebola is now being absorbed by the COVID-19 task force….

      The DRC government must also address pandemic-induced economic hardships—that is, the loss of daily wages for the 73% of the population who survive on less than $1.90 a day, as businesses, farming, and other livelihoods begin to close. Private sector food banks have emerged, but they should be sustained by government engagement with the private sector and the United Nations World Food Programme….

      Difficult days are ahead for the DRC in its fight against Ebola and COVID-19, in addition to measles, malaria, and cholera. This is a time for national unity and optimism and partnerships with the global community to ensure that disease threats are faced head-on.

Global Environmental Issues and the Circular Bioeconomy

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert Smith and Mark Rudnicki in the April/May 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      Since the first World Environment Day in 1974, society has struggled with increasing the standard of living at the expense of our environment. All civilizations have advanced by capitalizing on their natural resources, either physical or human. In most instances this has been a win/lose scenario, with consumers improving their lifestyles without regard to the cost to Mother Nature.

      In recent years, an alternative economic scenario has risen to the forefront: Societies increase their prosperity while simultaneously reducing their impact on the environment. This new economy is based on the idea of using and reusing natural, renewable materials to meet society's material and energy needs (i.e., clothing, packaging, transportation fuels, energy, and housing). Things we enjoy in a modern society doesn’t always have to be unsustainable or contribute to global warming and/or biodiversity loss.

      This concept goes by a variety of names—bioeconomy, circular economy, renewable economy, green economy, sharing economy—which has complicated its path forward by creating misunderstandings or limited understanding by the consumer. Strictly speaking, each of these terms hold different meanings and represent different perspectives; however, they also have common underpinnings. All the terms offer perspectives on the common idea of how to move away from the current linear, short-term profit focused economy to one that is low carbon, efficient, prosperous and circular. While the definitions of these terms are still evolving, circular bioeconomy may be emerging as the umbrella term encompassing two key sustainability concepts — the shift to renewable resources and keeping all materials and products in use longer.

      With proper planning in the design, manufacture, use, and reuse of products, we can dramatically reduce environmental impact, energy consumption, and demand for raw materials. A principle shared by these terms is that all products have additional “lives” after their initial use. Used material should not be discarded in landfills, but instead developed into new products or used for other purposes; the final option of burning for energy should occur only after all product “lives” have been exhausted. The principle of transitioning away from fossil fuels and other carbon-intensive, nonrenewable resources and toward bio-based alternatives, is imperative for sustainability and applies across all the different emerging sustainable economy concepts….

      Preparing high school students in traditional fields of knowledge with a circular bioeconomy perspective will be a great step forward. However, to address the needs of the circular bioeconomy, multidisciplinary education and research must move forward to raise awareness on how peoples’ decisions impact all aspects of consumption. Part of the impetus to move forward will be supplied by the students' expectations and demands. Students educated in the principles of the circular economy are expected to demand dedicated programs and applications of traditional disciplines to the circular economy.

      Our educational systems (high school and university) must also adopt circular thinking and move away from traditional silo-based training where education is linear. We need to move toward more cross-pollination of classes in which students can see the interrelationships between the basic disciplines of math, chemistry, biology, business, and environmental science. To tackle the issues of tomorrow, we cannot continue to use the methods of the past. Only this multidisciplinary approach to education will prepare students to deal with the challenges of the future and be able to work in the circular bioeconomy.

Are We Recognizing the Sheer Power of Mother Nature?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the April/May 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      COVID-19. Viruses. Pandemic. Mother Nature. As we deal with this horrific pandemic, we must be sure our students understand the power of nature. There is still speculation as to the origin of this virus (as of this printing). Bats have been the most cited organism, with the armadillo-like pangolins as the intermediary host, yet there have been no known bat-human interactions reported. Pangolins are endangered mammals and are supposedly one of the most trafficked animals in the world. Since they are frequently sold in Asian markets, it is thought humans were infected in this manner.

      The second hypothesis is the SARS-CoV2 could have evolved to invade its human host via its eloquent design for cleaving the human cell, thus making it efficient for spreading the disease through human to human contact. At this time, we don’t have enough evidence to know exactly which hypothesis is supported the most by data. Natural selection is currently the best explanation for the structure of the corona virus, which is parr of a family of corona viruses with its protein-spiked backbone. Some of our students have heard the myth behind it being genetically engineered in a lab but due to its structure and genetic genome, there is no evidence this occurred….

      New information is surfacing that suggests man’s interaction with nature in the form of habitat destruction may be releasing previously unknown viruses that were safely tucked away in the confines of their natural environment. Is there a chance that the more habitats we destroy, the more pandemics we will unleash? Is this yet another ramification of climate change?...Has Mother Nature effectively sent us to our rooms for time-out with the outbreak of COVID-19 due to our role with changing landscape of the Earth through logging, destruction of the rainforest, and other major mechanisms of habitat alterations?...

      The power of Mother Nature cannot be overlooked, understated, or ignored. As we know from the film Jurassic Park, nature always finds a way….

      Environmental studies seem to take a backseat in many science classrooms at a time when students must be well-versed in the social issues surrounding nature and the impact of humans on the environment….

      …In a time where this is the most important, all-encompassing issue we, as humans, are facing, our students must be more than well-versed on the issue, the ramifications, and methods for combatting climate change. As it is, teaching climate change is often a “filler” in classes instead of an overarching theme that all biological concepts could surround and connect….

      The advent of this current pandemic has shown the absolute necessity for our students to have the media literacy skills to determine reliable sources, the credentials of authors making claims, and the validity of information they receive. On social media, fake claims run rampant and the general public, including our students, often do not dive deep into stories to determine their credibility.

      Our students must have these skills if they are to take action, much like Greta Thunberg did during her emotional, powerful speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. Are our administrators and school boards afraid of our students becoming activists and taking action in their communities to preserve habitats, to participate in citizen science action projects, and to make other changes whether big or small? If so, it is our role to be transformative science teachers to empower our students to be leaders in their communities. We must be transformative science teachers and push back on the mandated standardized testing that rob us of essential time to enact change in our curricula. It is our time to be activists ourselves when it comes to these issues.

      We must help our students gain the skills to interpret scientific papers, providing them with the foundation to take action….Examining graphs and data charts enables our students to see mathematics in action….

      We, as adults, are responsible for the damage that has been done to Mother Nature. We must educate our youth so they will do a far better job of nurturing the environment around them than we have done.

A Rampage through the Body

[These excerpts are from an article by Meredith Wadman, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, Jocelyn Kaiser and Catherine Matacic in the 24 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      …As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 approaches 2.5 million globally and deaths surpass 165,000, clinicians and pathologists are struggling to understand the damage wrought by the coronavirus as it tears through the body. They are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, the virus’ reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain….

      Understanding the rampage could help doctors on the front lines treat the roughly 5% of infected people who become desperately and sometimes mysteriously ill. Does a dangerous, newly observed tendency to blood clotting transform some mild cases into Iife-threatening emergencies? Is an overzealous immune response behind the worst cases, suggesting treatment with immune-suppressing drugs could help? And what explains the startlingly low blood oxygen that some physicians are reporting in patients who nonetheless are not gasping for breath?...

      …Without larger, controlled studies that are only now being launched, scientists must pull information from small studies and case reports, often published at warp speed and not yet peer reviewed….

      When an infected person expels virus-laden droplets and someone else inhales them, the novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, enters the nose and throat. It finds a welcome home in the lining of the nose…because cells there are rich in a cell-surface receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Throughout the body, the presence of ACE2, which normally helps regulate blood pressure, marks tissues potentially vulnerable to infection, because the virus requires that receptor to enter a cell. Once inside, the virus hijacks the cell’s machinery, making myriad copies of itself and invading new cells.

      As the virus multiplies, an infected person may shed copious amounts of it, especially during the first week or so. Symptoms may be absent at this point. Or the virus’ new victim may develop a fever, dry cough, sore throat, loss of smell and taste, or head and body aches.

      If the immune system doesn’t beat back SARS-CoV-2 during this initial phase, the virus then marches down the windpipe to attack the lungs, where it can turn deadly. The thinner, distant branches of the lung’s respiratory tree end in tiny air sacs called alveoli, each lined by a single layer of cells that are also rich in ACE2 receptors.

      Normally, oxygen crosses the alveoli into the capillaries, tiny blood vessels that lie beside the air sacs; the oxygen is then carried to the rest of the body. But as the immune system wars with the invader, the battle itself disrupts healthy oxygen transfer. Front-line white blood cells release inflammatory molecules called chemokines, which in turn summon more immune cells that target and kill virus-infected cells, leaving a stew of fluid and dead cells—pus—behind….This is the underlying pathology of pneumonia, with its corresponding symptoms: coughing; fever; and rapid, shallow respiration. Some COVID-19 patients recover, sometimes with no more support than oxygen breathed in through nasal prongs.

      But others deteriorate, often suddenly, developing a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome. Oxygen levels in their blood plummet, and they struggle ever harder to breathe. On x-rays and computed tomography scans, their lungs are riddled with white opacities where black space—air--should be. Commonly, these patients end up on ventilators. Many die, and survivors may face long-term complications….Autopsies show their alveoli became stuffed with fluid, white blood cells, mucus, and the detritus of destroyed lung cells.

      Some clinicians suspect the driving force in many gravely ill patients’ downhill trajectories is a disastrous overreaction of the immune system known as a “cytokine storm,” which other viral infections are known to trigger. Cytokines are chemical signaling molecules that guide a healthy immune response; but in a cytoldne storm, levels of certain cytokines soar far beyond what's needed, and immune cells start to attack healthy tissues. Blood vessels leak, blood pressure drops, clots form, and catastrophic organ failure can ensue.

      Some studies have shown elevated levels of these inflammation-inducing cytokines in the blood of hospitalized COVID-19 patients….

      How the virus attacks the heart and blood vessels is a mystery, but dozens of preprints and papers attest that such damage is common….

      The disruption seems to extend to the blood itself….Blood clots can break apart and land in the lungs, blocking vital arteries—a condition known as pulmonary embolism, which has reportedly killed COVID-19 patients. Clots from arteries can also lodge in the brain, causing stroke….

      Infection may also lead to blood vessel constriction. Reports are emerging of ischemia in the fingers and toes—a reduction in blood flow that can lead to swollen, painful digits and tissue death….

      If COVID-19 targets blood vessels, that could also help explain why patients with pre-existing damage to those vessels, for example from diabetes and high blood pressure, face higher risk of serious disease….

      Scientists are struggling to understand exactly what causes the cardiovascular damage. The virus may directly attack the lining of the heart and blood vessels, which, like the nose and alveoli, are rich in ACE2 receptors. By altering the delicate balance of hormones that help regulate blood pressure, the virus might constrict blood vessels going to the lungs. Another possibility is that lack of oxygen, due to the chaos in the lungs, damages blood vessels. Or a cytokine storm could ravage the heart as it does other organs….

      One study identified viral particles in electron micrographs of kidneys from autopsies, suggesting a direct viral attack. But kidney injury may also be collateral damage. Ventilators boost the risk of kidney damage, as do antiviral compounds including remdesivia which is being deployed experimentally in COVID-19 patients. Cytokine storms can also dramatically reduce blood flow to the kidney, causing often-fatal damage. And pre-existing diseases like diabetes can increase the chances of kidney injury….

      …adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting the new coronavirus, like its cousin SARS, can infect the lining of the lower digestive tract, where ACE2 receptors are abundant….

      The presence of virus in the GI tract raises the unsettling possibility that it could be passed on through feces. But it's not yet clear whether stool contains intact, infectious Lvirus, or only RNA and proteins….

      The intestines are not the end of the disease’s march through the body. For example, up to one-third of hospitalized patients develop conjunctivitis—pink, watery eyes—although it's not clear that the virus directly invades the eye.

      Other reports suggest liver damage….They say other events in a failing body, like drugs or an immune system in overdrive, are more likely causes of the liver damage.

      This map of the devastation that COVID-19 can inflict on the body is still just a sketch. It will take years of painstaking research to sharpen the picture of its reach, and the cascade of effects in the body’s complex and interconnected systems that it might set in motion. As science races ahead, from probing tissues under microscopes to testing drugs on patients, the hope is for treatments more wily than the virus that has stopped the world in its tracks.

A History of the Metaphorical Brain

[These excerpts are from a book review by Alex Gomex-Marin in the 24 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      Physidsts, biologists, psychologists, philosophers, mathematicians, and computer scientists work (sometimes together) to unravel the mysteries of how the brain, and by extension the mind, operates. This makes neuroscience a peculiar community—a wild confluence of different approaches, backgrounds, and specific interests. The Idea of the Brain by Matthew Cobb is a history of this struggle. Spanning approximately Eve centuries, the book reveals that there are many ways to think about what brains are, what they do, and their relation to the mind….

      For centuries, in many traditions, the heart was considered the seat of thought and feeling. In the 17th century, things slowly started to change. The French philosopher Rene Descartes suggested that hydraulic automata in the brain could move “animal spirits” through the nerves, producing behavior. The Danish anatomist Nicolaus Steno proposed that the brain is a machine: To figure out how it works, we must take it apart. Gottfried Leibniz, a German polymath, protested. If one could enter the brain as one enters a mill, he argued, there would be only mechanical parts, but one would not be able to observe thoughts.

      The Italian scientists Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta experimented with the role of electricity in animal flesh in the mid 18th century. In the 19th century, the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz coined the term “action potential” to describe the electrical impulse transmitted down the nerves, and the brain analogy was updated: Nerves were now akin to wires, and the nervous system was conceived of as a telegraph. The Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal preferred a natural metaphor: “The cerebral cortex,” he wrote, “is like a garden full of an infinite number of trees.”

      In the 20th century, American researchers Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch proposed the first mathematical model of a neural network. Biology and technology hybridized, and the brain became a computer….

      In the second part of the book, Cobb reveals how much progress (however lacking in major conceptual innovations) we have made in the past 70 years, detailing the elusive quest to find the physical manifestation of memory, the many advances in brain-machine interfaces and neuromodulators, the improvement in mapping neural circuits, the invention of functional magnetic resonance imaging, and the progress made on understanding the neural correlates of consciousness. Despite our endless refinement of tools and our ability to collect massive amounts of data, many fundamental questions remain unanswered….

      The path toward understanding the brain is long, winding, and littered with dead ends. In the words of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, “The solution to the mystery is always inferior to the mystery itself” As The Idea of the Brain demonstrates, the mysteries of the mind may not just be stranger than we suppose; they may be stranger than we can suppose.

First Antibody Surveys Draw Fire for Quality, Bias

[These excerpts are from an article by Gretchen Vogel in the 24 April issue of Science.]

      Surveying large swaths of the public for antibodies to the new coronavirus promises to show how widespread undiagnosed infections are, how deadly the virus really is, and whether enough of the population has become immune for social distancing measures to be eased. But the first batch of results has generated more controversy than clarity.

      The survey results, from Germany, the Netherlands, and several locations in the United States, find that anywhere from 2% to 30% of certain populations have already been infected with the virus. The numbers imply that confirmed COM-19 cases are an even smaller fraction of the true number of people infected than many had estimated and that the vast majority of infections are mild. But many scientists question the accuracy of the antibody tests and complain that several of the research groups announced their findings in the press rather than in preprints or published papers, where their data could be scrutinized. Critics are also wary because some of the researchers are on record advocating for an early end to lockdowns and other control measures, and claim the new prevalence figures support that rail.

      Some observers warn the coronavirus’ march through thi population has only just begun, and that even if the antibody results can be believed, they don’t justify easing controls….

      The many different academic and commercial tests for coronavirus antibodies are still being refined and validated. They can show whether someone’s immune system has encountered the virus. But because no one knows what level of antibodies, if any, confers protection against the new virus, the tests can’t tell whether a person is immune to a future infection. And no one knows how long such immunity might last.

      A German antibody surveywas the first out of the gate several weeks ago. At a press conference on 9 April, -virologist Hendrik Streeck from the University of Bonn announced preliminary results from a town of about 12,500 in Heinsberg, a region in Germany that had been hit hard by COVED -19. He told reporters his team had found. antibodies to the virus in 14% of the 500 people -tested….They recommended that politicians start to lift some of the regions' restrictions.

      Streeck had argued even before the study that the virus is less serious than feared and that the effects of long shutdowns may be just as bad if not worse than the damage the virus could do. However, Christian Drosten, a virologist at Charite University Hospital in Berlin, told reporters later that day that no meaningful conclusions could be drawn from the antibody study based or the limited information Streeck presented Drosten cited uncertainty about what leve of antibodies provides protection and note that the study sampled entire households. That can lead to overestimating infections because people living together often infer each other….

      Even if the antibody surveys show a COVID-19 death rate well below 1%...control measures will be needed for a long time to avoid overwhelmed hospitals….

Heat-protected Plants Offer Cool Surprise—Greater Yields

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 24 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      As plants convert sunlight into sugar, their cells are playing with fire. Photosynthesis generates chemical byproducts that can damage the light-converting machinery itself—and the hotter the weather, the more likely the process is to run amok as some chemical reactions accelerate and others slow. Now, a team of geneticists has engineered plants so they can better repair heat damage, an advance that could help preserve crop yields as global warming makes heat waves more common. And in a surprise, the change made plants more productive at normal temperatures.

      …The genetic modification worked in three kinds of plants, a mustard that is the most common plant model, tobacco, and rice, suggesting any crop plant could be helped….

      When plants are exposed to light, a complex of proteins called photosystem II (PSII) energizes electrons that then help power photosynthesis. But heat or intense light can lead to damage in a key subunit, known as D1, halting PSII’s work until the plant makes and inserts a new one into the complex. Plants that make extra D1 should help speed those repairs. Chloroplasts, the organelles that host photosynthesis, have their own DNA, including a gene for DI, and most biologists assumed the protein had to be made there. But the chloroplast genome is much harder to tweak than genes in a plant cell’s nucleus….

      The shock was what happened at normal temperatures. Engineered plants of all three species had more photosynthesis —tobacco’s rate increased by 48%— and grew more than control plants. In the field, the transgenic rice yielded up to 20% more grain….

Lost in Transition

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Kathleen Newland in the 24 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been the greatest disruption to the movement of people since. World War IL Many who had plans—and permission—to move permanently from one country to another have seen their transition put on hold. Worldwide, the flows of tourists, business and professional travelers, and students are all affected. But those most vulnerable to the virus and virns-related policies are low-paid migrant workers who have lost their jobs, and refugees or displaced people. Their lives were precarious even before the pandemic spread.

      Migrant workers suffer as they struggle to return home with little or no money, often in the face of travel restrictions and suspension of transport links. In India, after Prime Minister Modi imposed a country-wide lockdown on 24 Maxch, hundreds of thousands of internal migrants crowded the roads on foot, creating the very conditions that the lockdown was meant to prevent Many foreigners are being summarily expelled, such as in India and Saudi Arabia. Others are stranded in foreign countries. Losing jobs creates a cascade of other losses for migrant workers—of legal status and access to health care and other public services. Only a few places, including Portugal and New York state, have opened their health care syst -ins to migrants regardless of legal status….These migrants’ families back home will suffer too, from the loss of remittances that fund health care, housing, education, and better nutrition. The departure of temporary migrant workers also creates risks for the native population. Agricultural producers in Europe, for example, are predicting crippling labor shortages this spring and summer.

      Refugee camps are densely packed—the largest one in the world, in the Cox’s Bazar District of Bangladesh, has three times the population density of New York City, without a single high-rise building. Social distancing is impossible in such a setting. Clean water for handwashing is scarce. Medical resources are thin, although humanitarian agencies are ramping up hand-washing stations, protective gear, isolation units, and ambulance services. Conditions in Eiiropean “reception centers” for refugees and asylum seekers, like that near Motia village on the Greek island of Lesvos, are worse than in many refugee camps in poor countries. Moria holds about 22,000 people in a site built for 3000. There are 1300 residents per water tap. So far, the only refugee camps known to have confirmed cases of COVID-1.9 (Ritsona and Malakasa) are in Greece.

      Perhaps the most critical resource is information….In every country, rich or poor, the provision of accurate and timely information is among the most urgent responsibilities of governments.

      Unlike most natural disasters, COVID-19 has so far affected rich and upper-middle-income countries (including China, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, and South Africa) more than poorer ones. But that will quickly change in countries whose health care systems are ill-equipped to cope. Displaced people and poor migrants are often the last in line for health services. The virus cannot be suppressed if vulnerable migrants and refugees are not integrated into COVID-19 responses….

Why WHO?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 24 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      Pandemics are international. A virus doesn’t respect borders between countries—or between states, as we are seeing with severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in the United States. Unfortunately, too many world leaders want to treat the situation as a problem for their nation alone and not the world.

      Science will rise to the challenge of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and is doing so. The structures of the most important SARS-CoV-2 proteins are now known. Although we are still in the early stages of understanding human immunity to the virus, neutralizing antibodies are being identified. Clinical trials have begun on vaccines and drugs. There’s no shortcut, but there’s reason to think we can conquer this if we can get enough time and collaboration. Most world leaders don’t seem focused on giving the scientific and biomedical communities these two things.

      …China’s delays and secrecy cost lives. Sadly, other governments’ delays in action and delivery of misinformation have been costly as well.

      The United States needs to uphold two apparently conflicting ideas: China covered up the initial spread of the virus, and we can't solve this crisis without collaborating with China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has walked a very fine line of trying to manage the pandemic without offending China. Last week’s decision by the United States to suspend support for the WHO is not only dangerous but could delay a resolution to the pandemic. As Science’s news reporter Kai Kupferschmidt tweeted, “This is like suspending firefighters while they are trying to save your house from the flames, pending a review of whether the trucks arrived later than they should.”

      The amount of money at stake in funding the WHO is a tiny fraction of the total of the other costs of the pandemic. The total annual budget of the WHO is less than $2.5 billion, which has been compared to the annual budget of one relatively large academic medical center in a major U.S. city. That’s a small price to help the whole world manage this health crisis.

      Furthermore, the time for assigning blame should be reserved for after—not during—the crisis. Plenty of politicians have had their differences with the WHO and the United Nations over the years. Is now a good time to air all of that? The U.S. administration passed on using the WHO’s viral diagnostic test, but then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bungled their own version, costing Americans at least a month in controlling viral spread. That doesn’t exactly give the administration a strong case for bailing on the WHO.

      …And the United States has been happily selling its debt to China, educating their students, and letting them make most of our stuff for 40 years. If the United States has decided to change these policies, then doing so—and abruptly—would probably be impossible, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

      Nobody wants to continue social distancing forever (or thinks they can). Even the most pessimistic modelers of COVID-19 spread agree that this degree of behavioral change can't be sustained for many months. But the tools needed to get to the next phase in the United States are still not showing up: increased testing, staffing and gear for the hospitals with the greatest needs, and masks for everyone.

      Courageous and confident world leaders believe that nations work best together through international institutions; this process has benefited the world for decades. Weak leaders believe in this but only if it benefits their country alone or even themselves. The WHO is not perfect, but it has helped put out many fires around the world for a long time.

Climate Change: The Thief of Childhood

[These excerpts are from an article by Stuart R. Grauer in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      Scientists predict that by 2050, our oceans will contain roughly the same volume of microplastics as they do animal life.., and it is unclear what impact this will have on marine ecosystems. The prognosis seems bleak for life on land, too. By the end of the century, 50% of the world's species may be extinct….

      We know that today’s young people already face a range of mental health challenges, although it’s not dear to what extent fears of climate change play a part. In a 2018 American Psychological Association (APA) report, nearly half of teenagers surveyed said they were more worried than they were the year before. A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time there, and according to Peter Gray…, young people feel less in control of their lives now than in any other point in recent history.

      But if a climate crisis (or the perception of it) escalates…we can anticipate serious mental health consequences for young people — especially those who experience extreme weather events. These effects include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, general anxiety, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and grief. In addition, the threat of extreme weather, in and of itself, constitutes a stressor. And the mix of natural and human causes of climate change can result in feelings of anxiety; pessimism, helplessness, eroded sense of self and control, stress, distress, sadness, loss, and guilt….

      Maybe, then, we all are the thieves of childhood: Our politicians, our investors, our corporations, our president, all of us who purchase single-use plastics, all thieves of childhood. Anyone who watches from the sidelines, doesn't read the labels, and does not encourage action is a thief of childhood.

      The iron law of climate change is this: The less you did to cause it, the more you feel its effects….Some of that injustice is intergenerational: Those who poured the most carbon into the air may be dead before its effects are fully felt. There's also a socioeconomic element: Hundreds of millions of poor and indigenous people now labor on barren remains of rain forests. Instead of going to school, their children work in factories producing cheap, disposable synthetics that are two steps from the landfill before they even hit the bargain stores; for them, childhood is already a forgotten dream….These twin injustices — intergenerational and socioeconomic — explain why the environmental movement is largely led by indigenous people and the young people who are going on strike or claiming they will never have children….

Exegesis of a ‘Special Kind of Vice’ im America

[These excerpts are from an article by Raymond H. Muessig in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      In Apology, the reconstructed account of his beloved mentor’s trial, Plato has Socrates say that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates identifies himself as “a sort of gadfly” whose job it is to fasten upon others, “arousing and persuading and reproaching” them. While Socrates paid the supreme price for his convictions, he played a dramatic part which has served as a model for thoughtful, sensitive persons from 399 B.C. to the present. Other dedicated, courageous individuals with probing minds have added to the legacy Socrates perpetuated, but even today the role of a critical analyst is rarely a comfortable or popular one….

      Hofstadter rejects the idea that the American public is “simply divided into intellectual and anti-intellectual factions.” He has the impression that the “greater part of the public, and a great part even of the intelligent and alert public, is simply nonintellectual; it is infused with enough ambivalence about intellect and intellectuals to be swayed now this way and now that on current cultural issues.” He holds that twentieth century intellectu-als have been “engaged in incompatible efforts: they have tried to be good and believing citizens of a democratic society and at the same time to resist the vulgarization of culture which that society constantly produces.”

      Anti-intellectualism in American Life is an ambitious undertaking, for it attempts to portray religion, politics, business, and education….

      Hofstadter argues that religion was the “first arena for American intellectual life, and thus the first arena for an anti-intellectual impulse.” The “forces of enthusiasm and revivalism won their most impressive victories” at an early stage in American history, he reports. The Awakening “gave to American anti-intellectualism its first brief moment of militant success,” and later the evolution controversy and the Scopes trial “greatly quickened the pulse of anti-intellectualism.” “For the first time in the twentieth century,” Hofstadter adds, “intellectuals and experts were denounced as enemies by leaders of a large segment of the public.” The idea is developed that “fundamentalism has been a significant component in the extreme right in American politics” since the 1930s and that the cold war and struggle against world communism “have given the fundamentalist mind a new lease on life.”

      …Hofstadter follows the threat of anti-intellectualism in politics, perceiving one of its crescendos with the defeat of Adlai Stevenson. Hofstadter places business “in the vanguard of anti-intellectualism in our culture” because it is the “most powerful and pervasive interest in American life.” The “claims of practicality have been an overwhelming force in American life,” the historian feels….

Anti-intellectualism and Anti-evolutionism: Lessons from Hogstadter

[These excerpts are from an article by Glenn Branch in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …he cites a national survey of teenager opinion in which just over a third of respondents agreed that humanity evolved from “lower forms of animals” (Hofstadter, 1963, p. 130, citing Remmers & Radler, 1957)….In 1963, for instance, Texas demanded that the sentence “To biologists there is no longer any reasonable doubt that evolution occurs” be removed from a textbook submitted for state approval….And a contem-porary survey found that two out of three high school science teachers believed that a teacher could teach biol-ogy effectively without teaching evolution….

      The Scopes-era bans on teaching evolution began to collapse not long after the publication of Anti-intellectualism in American Life. Tennessee repealed the Butler Act in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled a similar statute in Arkansas to be unconstitutional in 1968, and the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the last remaining ban in 1970. Anti-evolutionists promptly regrouped. Instead of calling for bans on the teaching of evolution, they called for the teaching of evolution to be balanced — balanced, that is, with the teaching of creation science, which is in essence a recasting of the creation accounts of Genesis into a supposedly scientific form.

      In the 1970s and early 1980s, bills requiring the teaching of creation science were introduced in the legislatures of dozens of states. In both Arkansas and Louisiana, such legislation was enacted in 1981. — and promptly challenged in the federal courts….Examining the Louisiana statute, which defined creation to evolution as itself science only in the vaguest of terms, the Supreme Court similarly held in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) that the teaching of creation science lacked a clear secular purpose….

      Like creation science, intelligent design maintains a counter-establishment. But unlike creation science, intelligent design is generally careful not to require any particular faith commitment for participation — although it is telling that a network of campus-based intelligent design dubs, now moribund, specifically required aspiring club leaders to be Christians (Brown, 2006). The intelligent design counter-establishment is not as productive, popular, or prosperous as the creation science counter-establishment, largely because creation science is willing to appeal overtly to the religious predilections of its base and intelligent design by and large is not….

      A particularly popular version of the fallback strategy involves academic freedom bills. These bills typically permit teachers to discuss the scientific “strengths and weaknesses” of “controversial” theories mentioned in the state science education standards — and to forbid administrators from exercising any oversight. Which theories are deemed controversial in such legislation? Often evolution is specifically mentioned, either by itself or in the company of the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning, but even when such a bill offers no definition or inventory of controversial theories, it is usually apparent that evolution is the primary target.

      …it is unclear to what extent teachers in these states have taken advantage of the license thus afforded them to miseducate their students about evolution. But 13% of public high school biology teachers nationally present creationism as scientifically credible….

      There is clear evidence of improvement in the public understanding and acceptance of evolution since Hofstadter’s day. In 2005, 66% of teenagers in a national survey regarded evolution at least as possible…; in 2007, 82% of high school biology teachers disagreed with the statement that “It is possible to offer an excellent general biology course for high school students that includes no mention of Darwin or evolutionary theory…”; and today’s high school biology textbooks are forthright about evolution — one of the most popular proclaims, “Evolutionary theory provides the best scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life….”

      So progress is possible. But with only 65% of the American public accepting evolution, as opposed to 99% of American research scientists…,there is clearly a need for further progress….

Testing, Best Practices, and the Teacher Intellect

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert V. Bullough, Jr., in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …historian Richard Hofstadter (1963) concluded that “[a]ll too often ... in the history of the United States, the schoolteacher has been in no position to serve as a model for an introduction to the intellectual life….”

      Yet, Hofstadter argued, such models were sorely needed because most Americans had other things on their minds than the development of the mind, and they still do. But, if Hofstadter is correct that teachers are not modeling an intellectual life, what sort of life do they model? And how might the teaching profession be transformed to promote a more robust view of the life of the mind? Hofstadter gave an answer for his time; we must give one for ours….

      In the spring of 1983, Japanese economic ascendancy had shaken American confidence, and schools and schooling were singled out for blame….

      A Nation at Risk asserted that if the United States was to successfully compete economically with Japan and its workforce, teachers and schools needed to shape up and fast become more academically focused and more demanding.

      …China has replaced Japan as a rival, but schools and teachers are still widely believed to be major sources of the nation's economic and social failings, while also being the fix. It is true that educators can and should be a part of the solution. As John Dewey (1927) wrote, “The man who wears the shoe knows best that it pinches and where it pinches, even if the expert shoemaker is the best judge of how the trouble is to be remedied….” However, many of the recent efforts to improve schools have not brought teachers — schools' expert shoe-makers — into the conversation.

      …In March 1994, for example, President Bill Clinton signed The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which was intended to support local and state reform….

      Later, in 2002, then President George W. Bush signed into law the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)….Shoving educators aside, state legislators scrambled to get into the game — at least rhetorically….

      …every classroom in America was to be taught by a “highly qualified” teacher, a much-desired aspiration. But in a bait-and-switch ploy, Rodney Paige, then secretary of education, defined highly qualified as merely passing some sort of test of academic competence and demonstrated verbal ability….

      …His dilemma was not unusual. Across the nation, one clear result of NCLB was a pruning and narrowing of the curriculum that produced an “apartheid system of schooling,” in which a ruling class received one kind of education and the less privileged received another, with little interaction between the two. School time was often reallocated to intense remediation and test preparation, along with increases in direct instruction for everyone….

      …one result has been the diminishment of teachers as they have less and less control over their work and little say over the aims they serve.

      Harm comes to teachers when test scores are assumed to be the best indicator of educational quality and those teachers who raise test scores are judged to be the best teachers. While widely criticized by teachers as a limited measure of teacher quality and value, the simplicity of tests as proxies for quality often prove compelling to policy makers. However, no teacher claims to have entered teaching to raise test scores. Rather, they teach because they value the work of teaching the young and of witnessing their learning and growth as human beings. These are the aims many teachers have in mind when they answer the call to teach….

      Although teachers today have limited influence over educational aims, determining the means of education (i.e., the how but not the what or why) is still often thought to be the special purview of educators. But the dominance of standardized testing and the related quest for best practices as determined by external researchers raises doubts about this claim. Because fidelity to best practice is taken as an important indicator of teacher quality, it comes to occupy a prominent place in teacher evaluation. Yet fidelity to a practice experts tout as best may lead to a fixation and rigidity that actually undermines learning.

      …Regardless of what some may claim, there are few, if any, best practices in education….There are, however, many and diverse better practices — better for specific children in specific contexts and with specific abilities and limitations. The value of a practice to realize its educational potential wholly depends on the inventive mind of a skilled and knowledgeable teacher, one who knows content and his or her particular students and their families well.

      The net effect of the press for best practice is the reduction of education to training and the teacher to a trainer, certainly not an intellectual….

      Education, a process, is highly sensitive to context and person, indirect, and always messy. Outcomes are unpredictable, standards negotiable, and results often surprising. The responsibilities and the intellectual, ethical, and social demands that come with educating are radically different from those that flow from training. Hence, educators may be trainers, but trainers are not necessarily educators….

      …The common image of the intellectual is that of the bookish loner who feels unappreciated. Given such views, it’s little wonder that the life of an intellectual, even if essential to quality education, is not inspiring to many teachers. Yet, there is no doubt that the preferred patterns of schooling today often prove alienating to teachers, especially those who resist being reduced to trainers or technicians and who resent exclusion from participation in policy making.

      …These intellectual teachers need to be encouraged to continue their work, making schools a place not of training, but of intellectual inquiry, for both students and teachers alike.

Anti-intellectualism and Education Reform

[These excerpts are from an article by Johann N. Neem in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      In his classic Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963), the historian Richard Hofstadter argued that popular suspicions of and hostility toward intellectuals grew out of the laudable egalitarian commitments of Protestantism and the American Revolution. Favoring a religion of the heart and the common sense of the people, Americans tended to distrust what they saw as the inaccessible musings of philosophers and University professors. A pragmatic people, they treated ideas as tools to achieve their goals, not as ends in themselves.

      Further, Hofstadter argued, because intellectuals viewed the exchange of ideas as intrinsically worthwhile, without regard for economic interests, business leaders, too, were often hostile to the life of the mind. To them, knowledge mattered not for its own sake, but for its cash value….

      America’s first public schools were local institutions, often housed in small unpainted buildings, but they provided the foundation on which antebellum school reformers such as Horace Mann, from Massachusetts, sought to build larger school systems….To conservatives, they were guilty of imposing an industrial-bureaucratic system that prized uniformity and expert control. And to critics on the left, they were responsible for the creation of factory-like schools that aimed to transform diverse Americans into obedient, productive workers.

      These criticisms are largely incorrect, though. By and large, the early advocates for public schooling argued that learning the arts and sciences would empower young people by giving them the knowledge and critical-thinking skills necessary for effective citizenship. Moreover, they aspired to create schools that would develop young Americans’ innate capabilities….

      Both citizenship and self-culture depended on a content-rich curriculum in the arts and sciences….Studying science was not for job training, as in our STEM-obsessed era, but for enlightenment….

      Content was not enough, of course. Mann and his generation are rightly remembered for establishing the nation’s first normal schools for preparing teachers. They advocated higher salaries to reflect teachers’ expertise. They sought to improve both the curriculum and how it was delivered….

      …According to the authors of the influential 1918 report Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, public education’s goal was not primarily intellectual….Moreover, they argued, the appropriate credential for teachers and principals was not an academic degree but an education degree; they ought to study pedagogy and administration, not subjects like history and chemistry.

      And for students, they believed, subjects like history and chemistry were valuable only to the extent that they prepared them for work, citizenship, or social adjustment. Beyond those purposes, academic studies were ill-suited and irrelevant for most children, especially those not bound for college. In short, while 19th-century reformers sought to increase access to a liberal arts curriculum, early-20th-century Progressives rebranded that goal as intellectual elitism, fit for a bygone era….

      Of course, anti-intellectualism was not confined to education experts. For example, many Americans resisted the teaching of science in the schools, particularly evolution, ' on the grounds that it would undermine Biblical authority…To Hofstadter, education experts in the first half of the 20th century had simply gone ahead and abandoned intellectual ends for most students, in favor of a focus on “life adjustment.”

      Life adjustment advocates sought to prepare students for their social functions through a more flexible and relevant, and less purely academic, curriculum. Schools introduced subjects such as driver's education, for example, and placed a greater emphasis on social development and peer relations. It was not a rejection of expertise, but a shift in control. Designed by curriculum experts instead of professors in the arts and sciences, life adjustment emerged at a time when American leaders, worried about the spread of totalitarianism, wanted to ensure that Americans would not be ripe for manipulation. Well-adjusted children, it was thought, would be immune….

      …In contrast, many education experts did not appear to believe that most students could — or should seek to — achieve high academic standards. In practice, this meant that affluent students, who were presumably college-bound, would continue to pursue a liberal education, while poorer and min ority students would get less in the way of intellectual content.

      …especially after the Soviets’ successful launch of Sputnik, in 1957, led to widespread concerns about America's international competitiveness. Anxieties were heightened still further following the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, with its famous warning of a “rising tide of mediocrity.” Progressive reforms had hurt American children, skeptics concluded, by replacing demanding subject matter with superficial coursework and by emphasizing skills development over the mastery of literature, math, science, and history.

      Eventually, since the call for a richer and more intellectual curriculum came from both sides of the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats were able to join forces to challenge the Progressive inheritance through the establishment of national subject-area standards….

      …If anything, the Common Core turned out to be permeated with the anti-intellectual logic of skills-based instruction.

      Because academic subject-matter experts were relegated to the sidelines, business-minded reformers had an outsized influence on the character of the of the new standards, and their priority was to emphasize students’ learning of “college and career-ready” skills….

      Ideally, students will develop skills that help them study academic subjects like science and history But under the Common Core, things are reversed: Students are exposed to academic subjects (presented in isolated bits of grade-level content) in order to develop skills. Coleman argued, for example, that the point of assigning documents like the Rem Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was to help students develop a “college-and-career-ready skill,” not to foster empathy or learn about American history or Christianity….

      Just as professors brought their values to the table in the 1990s standards movement, so did business leaders in the 2000s, and they took for granted that the primary purpose of education is economic. Under the standards-setting agenda launched by the first President Bush, it was assumed that public schooling aimed also to promote citizenship and intellectual development. However, Common Core supporters seemed to care little about whether students read literature, learned about the Civil War, or studied the moon's geology. As then-CEO of Exxon (and more recently the U.S. Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson put it, “I’m not sure public schools understand ... that we, the business community, are your customer. What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation….”

      Under the Common Core, education matters for its cash value. As in Progressive education, skills matter more than knowledge gained from immersion in the arts and sciences. And if public schools' primary mission is to prepare people for work, then what does it matter whether they prepare young people for citizenship or to use their minds well?

      …To challenge anti-intellectualism in American education, the liberal arts and sciences will need to be restored to their central place in the curriculum, and this will require bringing professors from those academic disciplines back into the conversation about what ought to be taught and learned in K-12 education. As we learned from the Common Core, when the stage is ceded to business-minded leaders, they will emphasize process over content and shallow, saleable skills over deeper academic subject matter. And as we’ve learned from the history of the Progressive Era, when the stage is ceded to education professors, much the same is likely to happen.

      My point is not to sideline education schools, but to recognize their limits. As professional schools, they are tasked with preparing educators to teach and lead. So, too, should they provide future teachers with an understanding of their vocation — including the history, philosophy, and sociology of education. But education schools are not equipped to provide intellectual guidance when it comes to the study of academic content areas…

Kappan Authors on Intellectula Development

[These excerpts are from an article by Teresa Preston in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …In January 1935…Earl Marlott asked “Does America believe in thinking?” Too many Americans prefer action to contemplation, he argued, and this influences our schools in numerous ways. Completing projects often comes to seem more important than learning the principles and ideas behind them. Activity is exalted over thinking, and schools often emphasize training rather than education….

      But while dozens of Kappan authors since the 1930s have called upon educators to do more to teach young people to use their minds, they haven't always agreed on what such teaching should look like or the extent to which it should emphasize the study of tradi-tional academic content.

      …authors tended to disagree. In an April 1957 article….Schools shouldn’t attempt to fill children’s heads with the vast amounts of content contained in the various disciplines. Rather…they should focus on teaching students how to think about content….

      Such instruction would engage students in carefully examining their own beliefs and exploring relevant issues. This would not, Metcalf was careful to explain, mean teaching students only what they are interested in. Quite the contrary: Part of an educator's job would be to “build interest in a socially significant conflict whenever that interest is lacking in students and proceed to help students resolve the conflict at a level of understanding appropriate to their maturity….”

      Writing in January 1958, Frederick Neff…introduced another line of criticism….As new discoveries are made and knowledge expands, argued Neff, previously held beliefs and values become obsolete. Ideally, our schools should help students raise and confront new questions, rather than teaching them old answers….

      The arguments about what constitutes an appropriately intellectual education continued into the 1980s and ‘90s, highlighted…the alarm about students’ shallow supply of knowledge about the world. In response to this line of thinking, Edmund Janko…pointed out that kids did, in fact, have plenty of background knowledge, just not about the same things that many teachers value — for example, they knew what was happen-ing with their favorite baseball team, and they knew the poetic lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. Moreover, those who fretted about children's lack of knowledge were missing the bigger point: “The real heart of the matter — the thing that disturbs teachers the most — is not students' ignorance, but their unwillingness or inability to deal intellectually with what they do know….”

      According to Janko (much as Metcalf and Olsen had argued three decades earlier), giving students more facts was not going to be of much value if they were unable or unwilling to think critically about those facts. Yet the kinds of lessons that would encourage critical thinking would also need to allow for some ambiguity and disorder, perhaps more than teachers and students would be comfortable with. Such lessons were important to students’ intellectual development, because real intellectual engagement in the issues would not be easily found elsewhere….

A Republic of Dunces?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Rafael Heller in the April 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      Has intellectual life in America declined to a new low? Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, certainly thinks so. As he writes in his 2017 best seller, The Death of Expertise, our “foundational knowledge” about history, geography, science, and many other subjects “has crashed through the floor of ‘uninformed,’ passed ‘misinformed’ on. the way down, and is now plummeting to ‘aggressively wrong.’“

      Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, argues Nichols, everyone can instantly access information that will permit them to challenge the expert consensus on just about anything And thanks to the vastness of the internet, one can find "evidence" to justify any belief, from the idea that Obamacare establishes death panels, to the notion that vaccines cause autism, to the insistence that climate change is a hoax. “People don’t just believe dumb things; they actively resist further learning rather than let go of those beliefs,” says Nichols. "The issue is not indifference to established knowledge; it’s the emergence of a positive hostility to such knowledge. This is new in American culture.”

      …It’s worth noting that Nichols resists the temptation to blame the public schools for the sorry state we're in. For example, people who refuse to vaccinate their children tend to be well-educated and should know better. The real problem, he argues, is that “ignorance has become hip, with some Americans wearing their rejection of expert advice as a badge of cultural sophistication.”

      Still, though, those of us who work in K-12 education cannot pretend that we have nothing to do with what the historian Richard Hofstadter termed “anti-intellectualism in American life.”….it has been many decades since our policy makers and school system leaders shared a consensus on the merits of providing every child with a liberal education. Even today, after a 30-year push to raise academic standards in English, math, and other subject areas, we aim not to cultivate students’ intellectual curiosity, so much as to make sure they master the skills employers are looking for.

      Nor, when we do try to provide a liberal education, can we avoid the anti-intellectualism that bears down on us from outside the classroom….teachers’ efforts to provide a rich curriculum are often constrained by top-down management, organized opposition to the teaching of science, and local resistance to having children read “dangerous” books….

What Tree Rings Can Tell Us

[These excerpts are from a book review by Lori Daniels in the 17 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      Many of us have counted the rings of a tree to reveal its age. But did you know that evidence of epic fires, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, drought, famine, and the rise and fall of ancient empires is also embedded in a tree’s circumference? Valerie Trouet’s Tree Story is an informative introduction to the science of tree rings….

      Long chronologies are formed by cross-dating the rings of living trees with those of dead trees. The oldest living dendrochonologically dated tree is a bristlecone pine in California that is ~5000 years old. The longest tree-ring chronology is composed of living and archaeological oak-pines from Germany and spans an astounding 12,650 years.

      The quest for long-lived trees leads den-drochronologists deep into the wilderness and to the tops of mountains. Here, they extract increment cores using band-operated borers, a nondestructive way to collect rings from living trees. Dendrochronologists can also be found analyzing archaeological ruins and shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean, where tree rings of past centuries are preserved in ancient timbers….

      Climate history is often embedded in long tree-ring chronologies. In some cases, the relations are intuitive—wide rings in trees growing on mountaintops indicate warm years, whereas narrow rings in trees of semiarid climates indicate hot, dry summers. Other relations are more challenging to decipher and require multiple proxies and other climate-sensitive biotic and abiotic time series….

      Drought-sensitive tree rings from the Mediterranean cross-referenced with the annual increments of a stalagmite deep in a Scottish cave, for example, have revealed the seesaw climate of the North Atlantic Ocean, a driver of contemporary global climate and the key to understanding the onset of the Little Ice Age. Meanwhile, the tree rings of blue oaks in the Central Valley reflect regional drought and snow accumulation in the nearby Sierra Nevada, showing California's recent megadrought to be a 500-year record.

      Cross-referencing tree rings with marine records from corals, fish otoliths, and bivalve shells has enriched our understanding of the relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere, shedding light on, for example, the El Nifio-Southern Oscillation and other variations in the Pacific climate system. Cross-referencing tree rings with ice cores from the remote ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, meanwhile, has allowed us to chronicle volcanic eruptions that had global effects on temperature, and river flows that drove agricultural collapse and famines in countries ranging from Ireland to Egypt. Trouet even demonstrates how tree rings helped decipher the environmental context of the bubonic plague, revealing how climate change amplified past epidemics.

      …deftly debunks the arguments of climate-change deniers. She shows how tree-ring science provides distinctive context to the record-breaking droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires that have plagued the World in the past decade. In the case of wildfires, using crossdated fire-scar records and tree-ring climate proxies, she shows how the combination of displacement of indigenous peoples by Europeans, ongoing land-use change, and fire suppression has transformed landscapes, making them more flammable, especially as 'the climate warms….

The Hunger Forecast

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 17 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      The Indian Ocean seemed ready to bit Africa with a one-two punch. It was September 2019, and the waters off the Horn of Africa were ominously hot. Every few years, natural swings in the ocean can lead to such a warming, drastically altering weather on land—and setting the stage for flooding rains in East Africa. But at the same time, a second ocean shift was brewing. An unusually cold pool of water threatened to park itself south of Madagascar, leading to equally extreme, but opposite, weather farther south on the continent: drought.

      Half a world away, at the Climate Hazards Center (CHC) of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), researchers took notice. Climate models, fed by the shifting ocean data, pointed to a troubling conclusion: By year’s end, that cold pool would suppress evaporation that would otherwise fuel rains across southern Africa. If the prediction held, rains would fizzle across southern Madagascar; Zambia, and Mozambique at the beginning of the growing season in January, the hungriest time of year. Zimbabwe, already crippled by inflation and food short-ages, seemed particularly at risk….

      The forecasts are needed more than ever. From 2015 to 2019, the global number of people at risk of famine rose 80% to some 85 million—more than the population of Germany. Wars in Yemen, Syria, and Sudan are the biggest driver of the spike. Global warming, and the droughts and storms it encourages, also plays a role. The pace and severity of storms and droughts in Africa seem to be increasing….

      The consequences of drought can be catastrophic, but it is hard to detect Unlike temperature, rainfall is spotty and local, heavily influenced by terrain. Three important clues that drought is coming—low accumulated rainfall, a lack of soil moisture, and high air temperatures —are difficult to measure from space….

      Forecasting drought months into the future is even harder. Weather forecasts stretch out only a few weeks. Moving beyond that requires an understanding of large-scale climate patterns that influence weather over months or years….

The Lockdwons Worked—but what Comes Next?

[These excerpts are from an article by Kal Kupferschmidt in the 17 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      The world is holding its breath.

      After the novel coronavirus made its way around the world, one country after another adopted harsh measures to stop SARS-CoV-2 from spreading and overwhelming hospitals. They have hit the pause button on their economies and their citizens' lives, stopping sports events, religious services, and other social gatherings. School closures in 188 countries affect more than 1.5 billion students. Borders are closed and businesses shuttered. While some countries are still seeing daily case numbers increase, others—first in Asia but increasingly in Europe—have managed to bend the curve, slowing transmission of COVID-19….

      …Most researchers agree that reopening society will be a long haul, marked by trial and error….

      The number to watch in the next phase may no longer be the actual number of cases per day, but what epidemiologists call the effective reproduction number, or R, which denotes how many people the average infected person infects in turn. If R is above 1, the outbreak grows; below 1 it shrinks. The goal of the current lockdowns is to push R well below 1. Once the pandemic is tamed, countries can try to loosen restrictions while keeping R hovering around 1, when each infected person on average infects one other person, keeping the number of new cases steady.

      …the more a country reduces transmission domestically, the greater the risk that any new outbreaks will originate with travelers. And foreign visitors are generally harder to trace than citizens and more likely to stay at hotels and visit potential transmission hot spots….

      The third dashboard dial, social distancing, is the backbone of the current strategy, which has slowed the spread of the virus. But it also comes at the greatest economic and social cost, and many countries hope the constraints can be relaxed as case isolation and contact tracing help keep the virus in check. In Europe, Austria took the lead by opening small shops on 14 April. Other stores and malls are scheduled to follow on 1 May, and restaurants maybe a few weeks later. A 13 April report from the German National Academy of Sciences argued for slowly reopening schools, starting with the youngest children, while staggering break times and making masks mandatory….

      Finding out how any particular measure affects R is not straightforward, because infections that occur today can take weeks to show up in disease reports….

      There’s one other, unknown factor that will determine how safe it is to loosen the reins: immunity. Every single person who becomes infected and develops immunity makes it harder for the virus to spread….

      Immunity will inevitably build up as more people become infected, but some researchers argue for ramping up immunity more quickly, by letting the virus spread in younger people, who are less susceptible to severe illness, while “cocooning” more at-risk patients, such as the elderly….

      Skeptics doubt that vulnerable populations could really be protected. In many countries, multiple generations live under one roof, and young people work at nursing homes. Nor are scientists certain that COVED-19 produces robust, long-lasting immunity. Several studies seek to address these questions.

      For now, the most likely scenario is one of easing social distancing measures when it's possible, then clamping down again when infections climb back up, a “suppress and lift” strategy that both Singapore and Hong Kong are pursuing. Whether that approach can strike the right balance between keeping the virus at bay and easing discontent and economic damage remains to be seen.

      Even Singapore and Hong Kong have had to toughen some social distancing measures in recent weeks after a surge of cases….

      …a path out of the dilemma now facing the world will come from research. It might take the form of an effective treatment for se-verely ill patients, or a drug that can prevent infections in health care workers, or—ultimately—a vaccine.

Earth Day at 50

[These excerpts are from an editorial by James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg in the 17 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      The spring of 2020 Win be remembered for the coronavirus pandemic. But at this moment, it is worth remembering that 50 years ago, the United States confronted a very different crisis. That April, millions of Americans participated in Earth Day “teach-ins” across the nation. These events galvanized Democrats and Republicans into action: President Nixon and Congress worked together to pass a blitz of science-based policies that aimed to protect public health and the environment—including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act—with large bipartisan majorities.

      These laws elevated science above economics or special-interest politics to inform public policy. They specified the role of science in evaluating environmental impacts, setting air pollution standards, and deciding when a, species needed protection….

      A half-century of investment in those laws has paid tremendous dividends. Although inequities persist in environmental exposures and new environmental challenges have arisen, Americans have witnessed dramatic improvements in environmental quality since the 1970s. By the early 1980s, the Clean Air Act had extended the life of the average American by 1 year. In 2010, the Clean Air Act and its 1990 amendments were estimated to prevent 3.2 million lost school days, 13 million lost workdays, and 160,000 premature deaths. The Clean Water Act is responsible for substantial declines in most major water pollutants. Scientists estimate that the Endangered Species Act has prevented the extinction of 291 species and helped 39 species to a full recovery.

      The U.S. government’s uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic shows how much has changed since the early 1970s. Although millions of Americans have followed the advice of infectious disease experts this spring—sheltering at home and practicing social distancing—President Donald Trump often eschewed tornado politics, especially in the early weeks of the crisis, questioning the advice of scientific experts. Instead, he followed his hunches and went with his gut—an approach that contributed to the nation’s slow response to the pandemic and the scale of the outbreak.

      Although it may be tempting to chalk up Trump’s disregard for science to his mercurial leadership, his uneasy relationship to scientific expertise has deep roots in conservative politics. The shift away from science-based policy-making began during the 1980 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan not only endorsed the idea of teaching creationism in public schools, but cheerfully mocked environmental laws and projected a blithe nonchalance toward environmental problems. In the years after Reagan’s presidency, conservative leaders have often elevated values above science when it comes to environmental policy and public health.

      What are these values? On the environment, conservatives have consistently turned to three themes: a belief in American exceptionalism; an unwavering faith in the market and an abundance of natural resources; and a deep skepticism of science….conservatives had been characterizing climate change as a “hoax” for decades.

      In the half-century since Earth Day, anti-scientism has metastasized as conservatives have successfully wedded it to core conservative values: Science is dismissed as the province of liberal elites, anti-religious in its secularism and anti-capitalist in its support for science-based regulation. What today's coronavirus pandemic makes clear is the grave cost of delay and inaction in the face of urgent scientific warnings….Meeting challenges like the coronavirus and climate change will require policy actions that match the scale and scientific-based rigor of those from the 1970s.

The Moment to See the Poor

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Joachim van Braun, Stefano Zamagni and Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo in the 17 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has illuminated inequities that have put poor people—in both low-income nations and in rich countries—at the greatest risk of suffering. Pope Francis recently pointed to that in an interview: “This is the moment to see the poor.”

      Until science finds appropriate drugs and a vaccine to treat and prevent COVID-19, today’s paradox is that everybody needs to cooperate with others while simultaneously self-isolating as a protective measure. Yet, whereas social distancing is quite feasible for wealthy people, poor people crowded in urban slums or refugee camps do not have that option and lack face masks and hand-washing facilities. To address the risks in large, crowded cities in developing countries, we must support prevention by testing, providing access to protective equipment, and launching a big effort to build provisionary hospitals to isolate infected people.

      In addition, the digital divide be-tween the rich and poor may be costing lives. Inequitable distribution of technology and online resources means that crucial information on COVID-19, particularly early warnings and recommended early responses, are not timely, if received at all, in low-income communities. Without access to responsible, transparent, and current information, a. cacophony of unproven assumptions can instead spread through poor communities. This gap in access to technology also translates into a lack of opportunities for distance learning while schools are closed, and teleworking during societal lockdown is infeasible for millions of low-income workers because of the nature of their jobs and lack of access to communications infrastructure. That COVID-19 is teaching us is that universal access to Internet and communication technologies should be a human right.

      Unfortunately, these inequities lead to yet others, in poor communities. COVID-19 is adversely affecting national economies and is destroying small businesses and farmers. The disruptive consequences for food systems, especially, hurt poor people, who spend most of their income on food. This is increasing hunger and exacerbating the public health threat of the pandemic….

      COVID-19 has also exposed the fragility of interconnectedness. Increasing global economic interactions have opened the world to massive cross-border flows of goods, services, money, ideas, and people. That allowed many to move out of poverty. However, curbing the rapid spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome--coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) requires closing borders around infection hotspots. These closings must be temporary only, and they must not hinder cooperation between nations to handle the pandemic….The pandemic initially inspired nations to look inward. Seeking a solution to COVID-19 through national isolation would be counterproductive. SAILS-CoV-2 does not recognize borders. Rich nations need to support transnational and UN organizations in their global efforts to control spread of this contagion.

      Science capacity in general, and specifically related to infectious diseases, is highly unequal around the world. This contributes to a greater risk of suffering in poor nations….

      Other major global crises, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, demand cooperative global responses that don’t leave out the poor. Once COVID-19 is under control, the world cannot return to business as usual. A thorough review of woridviews, lifestyles, and the problems of short-term economic valuation must be carried out. A more responsible, more sharing, more caring, more inclusive, and fairer society is required if we are to survive in the Anthropocene.

Pandemic Brings Mass Vaccinations to a Halt

[These excerpts are from an article by Leslie Roberts in the 10 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      …They could either continue to support mass vaccination campaigns in poor countries but risk that they would inadvertently help spread COVID-19--or recommend their suspension, inevitably triggering an upsurge of many other infectious diseases.

      In the end, they chose the latter, and mass vaccination campaigns against a host of diseases are now grinding to a halt in many countries. For many children, these campaigns are the only chance to get vaccines. Some 13.5 million have already missed out on vaccinations for polio, measles, human papillomavixus, yellow fever, cholera, and meningitis since the suspensions began….And in the case of polio, the pause imperils the success of a 3-decade eradication campaign that was already in trouble.

      The suspensions began on 24 March, when leaders of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) called on countries to postpone all polio vaccination campaigns until the second half of the year. The huge campaigns—door-to-door efforts that reach 400 million to 450 million annually—are the mainstay of the eradication program….The vaccination drives would put both communities and frontline health workers at risk of infection with the coronavirus, he says. But he concedes more children will be paralyzed in countries where polio is still circulating, and the virus will likely spread to countries that are now polio-free.

      The polio eradication effort is already reeling from setbacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the wild virus is surging, and in Africa, where outbreaks caused by the live polio vaccine itself are spiraling out of control….

      For now, measles campaigns are continuing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the world’s biggest outbreak has so far killed an estimated 6500 children—far more than the recent Ebola outbreak in that country—and sickened more than 340,000….

G20 Leaders Must Answer to COVID-19

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Caroline Atkinson in the 10 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      Last week, the United Nations declared the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to be the greatest test the world has faced since World War II. Every day brings news of more infections and deaths, together with rising economic hardship as businesses close and jobs are lost. A global health crisis is now triggering a global economic crisis. On 26 March, the G20 nations, representing the world’s 20 largest economies, declared their intention to unite in response to the emergency. What should be their next steps?

      As COVID-19 has swept across the world, governments have reacted piecemeal and in starkly different ways. In China, after a dangerous period of denial, the government enacted drastic measures to stop disease spread. In South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, governments swiftly im-plemented mass testing, contact tracing, and firm guidelines. By contrast, in Europe and the United States, most leaders were slow to react. Rampant spread of COVID-19 across these continents is now illuminating how serious this threat is to life and livelihoods.

      The scientific community has been quick to collaborate across borders to try to understand the virus and develop ways to combat it. Now governments must come together and coordinate broader global action to address the pandemic, to reinforce the impact of economic and financial measures being taken at a national level, and to plot the way forward out of this crisis and beyond to forestall the next one.

      Luckily, the G20 is a mechanism for major countries to coordinate, even though governments’ initial impulses were to turn sharply inward. Its informal network of policy-makers, who advise government leaders and prepare for top-level summits, has broad reach across their governments. The direct link between these advisers and G20 leaders can drive cooperation and secure swift agreement when a meeting looms….

      G20 leaders—whose nations account for more than 80% of the world economy—have met annually since the global financial crisis of 2008. Their actions in response to that crisis—enacting coordinated budget stimulus, easing monetary policy, and providing emergency funding for countries in trouble—were credited with stabilizing the global financial system and pulling the world back from a depression. Since then, G20 agreements have not been as dramatic or sweeping. However, political push from G20 leaders has been important to resolve differences on multiple global issues, from trade, to cybersecurity, to health (during the Ebola outbreak in 2014), to climate. Indeed, ahead of the 2015 Paris Agreement, these leaders signed key provisions that underpinned success-ful consensus for strengthening global response to climate change. Faced with a clear global crisis as we are today, the G20 network is there to be activated.

      …G20 leaders should act on five key issues immediately. These include deeper scientific and medical cooperation across borders to ensure that emerging disease solutions are rapidly shared and scaled. Also key is financing for vaccine and drug development and distribution. This is vital and costs little (about $9.4 billion) relative to the huge budget outlays already being committed to in national economic rescue plans.

      The G20 must also support emergency and longer-term funding through international channels for poorer countries with limited resources to respond to COVID-19….

      And to prepare for the next pandemic, as we collectively failed to do for COVID-19 (despite warnings from Ebola), nations will need to improve national and global health systems and create incentives so that drug and vaccine markets work in new ways.

      Enormous uncertainty about the path of this new coronavirus—and thus of the global economy—complicates policy-making. But global leaders must rise to the occasion. Hoping that this crisis can be solved for the long-term by national governments acting alone is a dangerous illusion.

Lead Pollution Tracks the Rise and Fall of Medieval Kings

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 3 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      …farmers mined and smelted so much lead that it left toxic traces in their bodies—and winds blew lead dust onto a glacier 1500 kilometers away in the Swiss Alps….the glacier preserves a detailed record of medieval lead production, which they have deciphered with a new method that can track deposition over a few weeks or even days.

      Lead tracks silver production because it is often found in the same ore, and the team found that the far-flung lead pollution was a sensitive barometer of the medieval Eng-lish economy….lead spiked when kings took power, minted silver coins, and built cathedrals and castles. Levels plunged when plagues, wars, or other crises slowed mining and the air cleared….

      Most people associate lead pollution with the Industrial Revolution, when lead became widely used in paints, pipes, and ceramics. But researchers have long known that the Romans also absorbed high levels of lead as they smelted silver and other ores. Recently, scientists have identified startling spikes of lead deposited in medieval times in Arctic ice cores and in lake sediments in Europe. A study last year suggested most of the pollution came from mines in Germany.

      The new study, however, points to England….

Emerging from AI Utopia

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Edward Santow in the 3 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      A future driven by artificial intelligence (Al) is often depicted as one paved with improvements across every aspect of life—from health, to jobs, to how we connect. But cracks in this utopia are starting to appear, particularly as we glimpse how AI can also be used to surveil, discriminate, and cause other harms. What existing legal frameworks can protect us from the dark side of this brave new world of technology?

      Facial recognition is a good example of an Al-driven technology that is starting to have a dramatic human impact. When facial recognition is used to unlock a smartphone, the risk of harm is low, but the stakes are much higher when it is used for policing. In well over a dozen countries, law enforcement agencies have started using facial recognition to identify “suspects” by matching photos scraped from the social media accounts of 3 billion people around the world. Recently, the London Metropolitan Police used the technology to identify 104 suspects, 102 of whom turned out to be “false positives.” In a policing context, the human rights risk is highest because a person can be unlawfully arrested, detained, and ultimately subjected to wrongful prosecution. Moreover, facial recognition errors are not evenly distributed across the community. In Western countries, where there are more readily available data, the technology is far more accurate at identifying white men than any other group, in part because it tends to be trained on datasets of photos that are disproportionately made up of white men. Such uses of AI can cause old problems—like unlawful discrimination—to appear in new forms.

      Right now, some countries are using AI and mobile phone data to track people in self-quarantine because of the coronavirus. disease 2019 pandemic. The privacy and other impacts of such measures might be justified by the scale of the current crisis, but even in an emergency, human rights must still be protected. Moreover, we will need to ensure that extreme measures do not become the new normal when the period of crisis passes.

      It’s sometimes said that existing laws in Western countries don’t apply in the new world of AL But this is a myth—laws apply to the use of AI, as they do in every other context. Imagine if a chief executive officer of a company preferred to recruit people of a particular race, unfairly disadvantaging other people, or if a bank offered credit more readily to men than women. Clearly, this is unlawful discrimination. So, why would the legal position be any different if discrimination occurred because these people were similarly disadvantaged by the use of an algorithm?

      The laws that many countries already use to protect citizens—including laws that prohibit discrimination—need to be applied more rigorously and effectively in the new technology context….For example, our laws should make crystal clear that momentous decisions—from sentencing in criminal cases to bank loan decisions—cannot be made in a “black box,” whether or not AI is used in the decision-making process….

      …AI offers many exciting possibilities and opportunities for humanity, but we need to innovate for good and ensure that what we create benefits everyone.

This is Real

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 3 April 2020 issue of Science.]

      …Despite the exceptional job they are doing providing factual updates during White House press conferences, Fauci and his accomplished colleague Dr. Deborah Birx have become targets for political attacks from allies of the administration who are not qualified health advisers and don't know what they are talking about. This is unacceptable. Facts about the spread of the virus and its dangerous health and societal consequences are not political. A survey of health officials shows this to be the case….

      In looking at the papers coming to Science and posted on preprint servers, it is clear that the only way we can get a handle on the situation is with international collaboration. The data coming out of Chinese labs studying the virus—how it spreads and the disease that it causes—as well as the findings of Chinese scientists on the ground, are indispensable in finding a solution. That’s why the racist labeling of the virus is doubly dangerous. In his interview with Science, when Fauci was asked if he would ever call it the “Chinese virus,” he simply said, “No.”

      Bill Roper isn’t the only former Republican health official sounding the alarm. Earlier this week, just as President Trump was shifting to messages about accelerating a return to work, his own former director of the Food. and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, struck a somber tone. Gottlieb has been an important and vocal advocate of prioritizing public health. He said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on 22 March that “America’s coronavirus epidemic is only beginning” and that “COVID-19 can’t be allowed to rage through the country untamed.”

      Still, Fauci, Gottlieb, and Roper all believe that the United States can avoid the worst if it stays focused. Fauci has been pleading for a few more weeks of strong action and reminding people that the pandemic won’t last forever….

      But they’re sober about the short term. I ended my conversation with Roper by asking what message he had for our readers. He was succinct: “This is real.”

Attack Mode

[These excerpts are from an article by Matthew Hutson in the 13 April 2020 issue of The New Yorker.]

      …this past December, a diseease with similar symptoms flared up in China and, eithin a month, was linked to another coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. “…However; the experience with SARS also put apause on our natural reaction to jump in and get involved.” His attitude shifted when the story did. “It was the growing magnitude of the outbreak that told. us, `Oh, we’d better think. about getting into this,’” he said.

      …This project was prompted by the COVID-19 crisis, but the mission goes beyond it; the researchers are thinking not only about the dcurrent pandemic but about future ones as well.

      What will the next global pathogen be? “If you’d asked me that three or four months ago, l would have said influenza,” Ho told me, with a chuckle of dismay. For scientists, this isn’t just a thought experiment; it’s the sort of question that shapes years of research. Two years ago, a team at Johns Hopkins issued a report titled “The Characteristics of Pendemic Pathogens,” which was based on a literature review, interviews witli more than a hundred and twenty experts, and a meeting devoted to the issue. It grimly considered the possibilities.

      Could bacteria do us in? Outbreaks of plague have wreaked havoc throughout history, but the development of effective antibiotics in the past century took bacteria off the table as a global biological risk for the most part….Bacteria can evolve, and develop drug resistance, but usually not quickly. How about fungi? They threaten some species, but don’t adapt well to warm-blooded hosts (and may have helped encourage the evolution of warm-bloodedness). Prions? These are responsible for mad-cow disease and its human variant, but are mostly avoidable by preventing food contamination and refraining from cannibalism. Protozoa? Malaria has killed perhaps half of all humans who have ever lived. But protozoa are typically transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes and fleas, which are limited by climate and geography. Viruses, the report concluded, are the real menaces.

      Not just any viruses, though. The likeliest candidates are those with a.genome of RNA, which evolve faster than those: with DNA. Viruses that spread before symptoms appear also have a considerable advantage. (The only infectious disease we’ve wiped out, smallpox, is not contagious during the incubation period.) And the most daunting are those transmitted by respiration, rather than by feces or bodily fluids, which can be controlled through sanitation. Viruses that can move between animals and humans are especially hard to manage. All in all, this character sketch gets us pretty close to identifying two classes of viral assailants: influenza and coronaviruses.

      None of our off-the-shelf treatments equip us for such a pandemic….For the roughlytwo hundred identified viruses that afflict us, there are approved treatments for for only ten or so. And the antiviral drugs that exist tend to have narrow targets. Only a few have been approved for use against more than one disease. Many drugs that work on one virus don’t work on others within the same family; antivirals suited for some herpesviruses (such as the one that causes chicken pox and shingles) aren’t suired for others. Some antivirals can’t even treat different strains of the same virus.

      And so every time a new virus appears we scramble for a new treatment. Our usual antiviral approach is, as researchers say, “one bug, one drug”; often, it’s no drug. Ho has spent forty years fighting the AIDS epidemic, which has killed thirty million people and still killd nearly a million a year; he has seen three coronaviruses ambush us in the past two decades. Like many scientist, he’s tired of being behind the ball. He’d like to see a penicillin for viiuses—one pill, or, anyway, a mere handful—that will eliminaxe whatever ails us. He and his colleagues aim to have these next-generation drugs ready in time for the next pathogen….

      Viruses are quite conniving for things that are not alive, A bacterium is a living cell that can survive and reproduce on its own. By contrast, a virion, or virus particle, can do nothing alone; it reproduces only by co-opting the cellular machinery of its host. Each virion consists of nothing more than a piece of DNA or RNA encased in protein, sometimes surrounded by a lipid membrane. When it gets itself sucked into a cell, it manipulates the host into building the proteins necessary for viral replication—in essence, turning it into a virus factory. Some of the proteins start to work on duplicating the virus’s genome; others form a bew viral coat. Those components get bundled into entirely new virions, produced by the thousands, which then pop out of the cell and make their way to other cells, within the same body or into a new one, happy to sail on the wind of a sneeze.

      The fact that viruses have so few moving parts is one reason they are so hard to destroy without carpet-bombing the host organism….The strategies employed against bacterial diseases are generally useless when it comes to viruses. Some antibiotics, including penicillin, interfere with proteins that form the cell walls of bacteria, causing the germs to break open and die. (Viruses don’t have cell walls.) Other antibiotics interfere with bacterial ribosomes—tiny intercellular structures that manufacture proteins—or mess with an n=enzyme crucial to a bacteria’s metabolism. (Viruses have neither.) When a strain of virus does have an obvious vulnerability, there’s no guarantee that another strain will share it—an obstacle for crafting general antivirals, And viruses tend to mutate quickly and readily acquire drug resistance, as Ho found with H.I.V.

      The most valuable weapon against viruses remains the vaccine--but vaccines (at least the kinds we’ve formulated so far) tend to work against only specific, identified viruses, and have to be taken before infection. Since they’re not effective for everyone, moreover, we’d want antivirals for acute treatment even if we had a vaccine in hand. And fast-mutating viruses, like influenza, present a moving target, which is why, by the time a new batch of flu vaccine is manufactured every year, its already outdated, powerless to fight much of what comes along. These limitations typically apply to antibody therapies: as well: they tend to be a single, already encountered virus, and can’t be stockpiled for use against new ones. That’s why Ho and his colleagues, like researchers elsewhere, are looldng for molecular vulnerabilities in virus families, and ways to exploit them….

      To replicate, viruses need to chop things up; they also need to glue things together. Proteases do the chopping. Another class of proteins, called polymerases, do the gluing. Interfere with the polymerases and you interfere with the assembly of the viral genome.

      DNA and RNA molecules are strings of smaller molecules called nucleotides. A good way to stop polymerases. from functioning, it turns out, is to supply decoy versions of these nucleotides. A virus is tricked into integrating these building blocks into its own genetic sequence. These nucleotide “analogues” are faulty parts; once they’ve been added to a chain of viral RNA, they effectively bring things to a halt. It’s as if you’d been assembling a toy train from a pile of cars and someone slipped in a car with no hitch on the back, ending-the sequence prematurely. Human cells are generally good at detecting and avoiding such defective parts; viruses are more easily duped….

      The usual goal with antivirals is to interfere with a viros, not the host. But some researchers have taken a seemingly counterintuitive approace, seeking to change the host environment in a way that makes it less congenial to viruses. With “host-targeted antivirals,” the aim is to disrupt certainprocesses in the human cells which are used for viral replication but—with luck—not for much else….

      Host-targeted drugs…could have a broader application than other antiviral drugs. No matter which specific virus invades them, human cells have the same basic machinery. The challenge is typically to find a dosage high enough to bother the virus but not so high that it harms the host. It helps that our cells feature redundancy: if you interfere with one cellular protein that viruses depend on, the cell often has a backup for itself….

      Other host-directed drugs are being tested for use against SARs-CoV-2. A pancreatitis drug, camostat mesylate, inhibits a cellulat enzyme that helps some viruses dock with cells, and was shown last month to work against the new coronavirus, at least in cell cultures. And, because the same enzyme is enlisted by other coronaviruses, like the ones that cause SARS and MERS, there’s hope_ that the drug might be effective against a range of these viruses.

      …Now at his desk, Ho reflected on negligence and hubris. “We as a society dropped the ball after SARS,” he, said. “Just because the virus went away; we naively thought, well you know, goodbye, coronaviruses.” There’s no reason, Ho said, to think that it will ever be possible to bid such a farewell: “This is the third coronavirus outbreak in two decades.” There is, undoubtedly, a fourth, somewhere on the horizon, if a different RNA virus doesn'’ encircle the world first. There is no way to predict what disease it will cause—it won’t be SARS, or MERS, or COVID-19—but certain things will be the same. Masks will come out, streets will empty, fear will take hold. One thing might be different, if Ho and others like him have their way: there might be a therapeutic arsenal already in place.

      “This one is teaching us the lesson that we should persist and come up with permanent solutions,” he said. “We need to persist until we find a broader solution. An outbreak due to this virus or some other viruses will surely come back.”

Race to Find COVID-19 Treatments Accelerates

[These excerpts are from an article by Kal Kupferschmidt and Jon Cohen in the 27 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      …The World Health Organizatio (WHO) last week announced a major study to compare treatment strategies in a streamlined clinical trial design that doctors around the world can join. Other trials are also underway; all told, at least 12 potential COVID-19 treatments are being tested, including drugs that are already in use for HIV and malaria, experimental compounds that work against an array of viruses in animal experiments, and antibody-rich plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19. More than one strategy may prove its worth, and effective treatments may work at different stages of infection….

      Researchers want to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 2014-16 West African Ebola epidemic, in which willy-nilly experiments proliferated but randomized clinical trials were set up so late that many ended up not recruiting enough patients….

      To that end, WHO on 20 March announced the launch of SOLIDARITY, an unprecedented, coordinated push to collect robust scientific data rapidly during a pandemic. The study, which could include many thousands of patients in dozens of countries, has emphasized simplicity so that even hospitals overwhelmed by an onslaught of COVID-19 patients can participate. WHO’s website will randomize patients to local standard care or one of the four drug regimes, using only ones available at the patient’s hospital. Physicians will simply record the day the patient left the hospital or died, the duration of the hospital stay, and whether the patient required oxygen or ventilation….

      The design is not blinded: Patients will know they received a drug candidate, and that could cause a placebo effect, Henao Restrepo concedes. But it is in the interest of speed….

      Rather than taking years to develop and test compounds from scratch, WHO and others want to repurpose drugs that are already approved for other diseases and have acceptable safety profiles. They’re also looking at experimental drugs that have performed well in animal studies against the other two deadly coronaviruses, which cause SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). And they are focusing on compounds plentiful enough to treat a substantial number of patients.

      For its study, WHO chose an experimental antiviral called remdesivir; the malaria medication chloroquine (or its chemical cousing hydroxychloroquine); a combination of the HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir; and that combination plus interferon-beta, an immune system messenger that can help cripple viruses. The treatments would stop the virus by different mechanisms, but each has drawbacks.

      Remdesivir, developed…to combat Ebola and related viruses, shuts down viral replication by inhibiting a key viral enzyme, the RNA polymerase. It didn’t help patients with Ebola in a test during the 2019 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But in 2017, researchers showed in test tube and animal studies that the drug can inhibit the SARS and MERS viruses.

      The drug, which is given intravenously, has been used in hundreds of COVID-19 patients in the Ubited States and Europe under what’s known as compassionate use….some doctors have reported anecdotal evidence of benefit, but no hard data….

      Like most drugs for acute infections, remdesivir may be much more potent if givenearly….

      Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have received intense attention because of positive results from small studies and an endorsement from President Dnald Trump, who said, “I feel good about it.” The drugs decrease acidity in endosomes, compartments that cells use to ingest outside material and that some viruses co-opt during infection. But SARS-Cov-2’s main entryway is different: It uses its so-called spike protein to attach to a receptor on the surface of human cells. Studies in cell culture have suggested chloroquine can cripple the virus, but the doses needed are usually high and could cause severe toxicity….

      Research from COVID-19 patients are murky. Chinese researchers who treated more than 100 patients touted chloroquine’s benefits in a letter in BioScience, but they did not publish data. And WHO says “no dta has been shared” from more than 20 other COVID-19 studies in China using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine….

      Hydroxycloroquine might actually do more harm than good. It has many side effects and can, in rare cases, harm the heart—and people with heart conditions are in higher risk of severe COVID-19….

      Many coronavirus researchers are similarly skeptical of the lopinavir-ritnavir combination….the first trail with COVID-19 was not encouraging, When doctors in Wuhun, China, gave 199 patients standard care with or without lopinavir-ritonavir, the outcomes did not differ substantially….

      Other approval and experimental treatments are in testing against coronavirus or likely soon to be. They include drugs that can reduce inflammation, such as cortisosteroids and baricitinib, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Some researchers have high hopes for camostat mesylate, a drug licensed in Japan for pancreatitis, which inhibits a human protein involved with infection. Other antivirals will also get a chance, including the infuenze drug favipiravir and additional HIV antiretrovirals. Researchers also plan to try to boost immunity with “convalescent” plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients or monoclonal antibodies directed at SARS-CoV-2….

      Crucially, doctors and researchers around the world are tackling the problem with urgency….

COVID-19 Needs a Manhattan Project

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Seth Berkley in the 27 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      There is an unprecedented race to develop a vaccine against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). With at least 44 vaccines in early-stage development, what outcome can we expect? Will the first vaccine to cross the finish line be the safest and most effective? Or will it be the most-funded vaccines that first become available, or perhaps those using vaccine technologies with the fewest regulatory hurdles? The answer could be a vaccine that ticks all these boxes. If we want to maximize the chances for success, however, and have enough doses to end the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, current piecemeal efforts won’t be enough. If ever there was a case for a coordinated global vaccine development effort using a “big science” approach, it is now.

      There is a strong track record for publicly funded, large-scale scientific endeavors that bring together global expertises and resources toward a common goal. The Manhattan Project during World War II didn’t just bring about nuclear weapons quickly; it led to countless changes in how scientists from many countries work together. The Human Genome Project and CERN (the European Prganization for Nuclear research) engaged scientists from around the world to drive basic research from their home labs through local and virtual teamwork. Taking this big, coordinated approach to developing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will not only potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives, but will also help the world be better prepared for the next pandemic.

      An initiative of this scale won’t be easy. Extraordinary sharing of information and resources will be critical, including data on the virus, the various vaccine candidates, vaccine adjuvants, cell lines, and manufacturing advances. Allowing different efforts to follow their own leads during the early stages will take advantage of healthy competition that is vital to the scientific endeavor. We must then decide which vaccine candidiates warrant further exploration purely on the basis of scientific merit. This will require drawing on work already supported by many government agencies, independent organizations like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and pharmaceutical and biotech companies to ensure that no potentially important candidate vaccines are missed. Only then can we start to narrow in on thaose candidates to be advanced through all critical trial phases. This shortlist also needs to be based on which candidates can be developed, approved, and manufactured most efficiently.

      Trials need to be carried out in parallel, not sequentially, using adaptive trial designs, optimized for speed and tested in different populations—rich and developing countries, from children to the elderly—so that we can ultimately protect everyone. Because the virus is spreading quickly, testing will be needed in communities where we can get answers fast—that means running trialsanywhere in the world, not just in preset testing locations. Working with regulators early in the process will increase the likelihood of rapid approvals, and then once approved, a coordinated effort will ensure that sufficient quantities are available to all who need the vaccine, not just to the highest bidder.

      All of this will require substantial funding, which is the big ask of big science. Late-stage clinical trials are not cheap, nor is vaccine manufacturing. Although new modular manufacturing methods may speed up the process and cut costs, a single vaccine facility can cost half a billion dollars. Distribution comes at a cost, too….As for dissemination, those organizations with experience in global vaccine distribution, like Gavi, will be at the ready.

      Ideally, this effort would be led by a team with a scientific advisory mevhanism of the highest quality that would operate under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), for example. But none of this will be possible without political will and a global commitment from leaders of the G7 and G20 countries and multilateral organizations, like the WHO and the World Bank. A pandemic of this magnitude, affecting so many lives, livelihoods, and economies, demands this….

Underpromise, Overdeliver

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 27 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      The majority of crises that most of us have lived through have not looked to science for immediate answers. In many cases, much of the scientific analysis came after the fact—the effects of climate change on extreme weather events; the causes of nuclear accidents; and the virology of outbreaks that wre contained such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003 or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012. Now, science is being asked to provide a rapid solution to a problem that is not completely described.

      …It is difficult to share progress with adequate caveats about how long things may take or whether they will work at all. The scientific method is a very deliberate process that has been honed over time: Basic research, which describes the problem, is followed by applied research that builds on that understanding. Now, scientists are trying to do both at the same time. This is not just fixing a plane while it’s flying—it’s fixing a plane that’s flying while its blueprints are still being drawn.

      On the testing side, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology is allowing folks to know quickly whether they are infected with SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of COVID-19. However, a negative PCR test result may lead a person to erroneously concluse that they’re in the clear, which is a danger to controlling the spread. We urgently need serology tests that show whether someone has had the infection and recovered. And we must be able to identify individuals who have some immunity to SARS-CoV-2 because understanding their biology may contribute to helping the world recover.

      When it comes to drug trials, we’ve now seen the first negative result on the lopinavir-ritonavir combination, which performed no better than placebo. Efforts are underway to identify other possible drugs—remdesivir, novel antivirals, and numerous antibodies. These are exciting possibilities, but also extremely speculative. Political overhyping of such approaches is extremely dangerous—it risks creating false expectations and depleting drugs needed to treat diseases for which they are approved. And it sets science up to overpromise and underdeliver.

      As for vaccines, we know so little about SARS-CoV-2. Developing a vaccine could take at least a year and a half—as many experts have suggested—or maybe won’t happen at all. Fortunately, a clinical trial for a vaccine is already underway in the United States, but the public must be told that these early vaccines may not work or be safe—that this vaccine is only being tested for safety, not efficacy, at this point.

      Scientists involved in COVID-19 research know these caveats. But the general public—who are agonizing over how long this pandemic will last, how it will effect the economy, and whether they and their loved ones will be safe—are looking for hope wherever they can find it. If science can deliver answers, public trust in science could increase substantially (the high point for trust in science in the United States was at the end of World War II). But if the scientific community contributes to building up hope in the fight against COVID-19, but then doesn’t deliver, the consequences for science could be dire, especially if politicians continue to amplify the false hope irresponsibly.

      When science addressed the HIV/AIDS crisis, it took years of careful virology, drug development, and epidemiology. The global scientific assault on COVID-19 is faster….I worry that enengendering false hope will cause complacency that will deprive us of time needed to find a lasting solution. And I worry about lasting damage if science overpromises.

      Let’s underpromise. Let’s overdeliver.

Cow Power!

[These excerpts are from an article by Katie Navanna in the April 2020 issue of ChemMatters.]

      …Methane makes up about 16% of all greenhouse gases. These gases, which occur in trace amounts in the atmosphere, don’t actually work like a greenhouse. Actual greenhouses have windows that allow warming rays from the sun into the structure, and prevent warm air from leaving. Greenhouse gases, however, absorb infrared radiation from the sun-warmed surface of the planet. These gases then transfer the absorbed energy o surrounding atmospheric gases via bond vibrations. This increases the average thermal energy and raises the temperature….

      …human activities, including dairy farming, emit these gases into the atmosphere in increasing amounts, and the atmosphere becomes warmer.

      Cows release methane from both ends:by burping and through their manure. Cows, like other ruminants including sheep, goats, and giraffes, have four stomach chambers. As the animals eat a mixture of hay, grass, and grains, microbes in one of the chambers, the rumen, process the food. During this process, called enteric fermentation, methane is created—and released through belches.

      Methane production from cow poop is actually an unintended consequence of waste-mangaement practices. Decades ago, dairy farmers kept small herds and spread manure on fields as a natural fertilizer at about the same pace that cows produced it. But as herds grew into the thousands, farmers built and covered storage pits to hold the manure….

      Now, rather than letting the methane from manure escape into the air, dairy farmers can harness the gas by trapping it in human-made anaerobic digesters. An anaerobic digester is like a cow’s stomach on an industrial scale—it’s an oxygen-free environment where biological processes break down organic matter.

      The size and shape of digesters vary. In California, they look like oversized football fields covered in black plastic. In New York, above-ground dome-shaped buildings are capped with flexible plastic coverings. These systems are maintained at the same temperature as a cow’s digestive system…creating an environment in which anaerobic microbes can thrive.

      The process starts when the cows are fed. A sthey chew, the meal moves into their stomach, where microbes break down the food. The cow passes the digested food as manure, which is then pushed with a tractor or scooped up and driven to a digester.

      Inside the digester, bacteria use biological catalysts called enzymes to break down the manure’s insoluble polymers, including cellulose, into smaller, soluble components. These smaller components, such as glucose, get broken down even further, and the gases CO2 and CH4 are produced.

      The overall process can be described by the following reaction:

                     C6H12O6 --> 3CO2 + 3CH4

      Digesters capture the methane, preventing it from escaping into the atmosphere.

      Burning the methane releases thermal energy, which turns a turbine and powers a generator….

Is Your Phone Sustainable?

[These excerpts are from an article by Michael Tinnesand in the April 2020 issue of ChemMatters.]

      …experts say that we’re on the road to depleting global supplies of indium within the next 100 years. The metal comes from zinc mines around the world and and is often combined with tin and oxygen to form thing films of indium tin oxide (In2O5Sn). These films are the conductive, transparent coatings that enable touchscreen technology.

      But you’ve learned that matter can’t be created or destroyed. So, if atoms are forever, what does it mean to run out of certain elements? Do they age and wear out? If the supply of indium runs dry, would this mean the end of touchscreens?

      …Problems arise when natural cycles become unbalanced, which often happens with the large-scale production of stuff. So, while atoms and molecules don’t get too old, they might get stuck in consumer goods that do wear out and can no longer be recovered in a cost-effective way. We often stash indium-containing phones in desk drawers or send them to landfills when we buy a new one. In doing so, we make those atims inaccessible for re-use. Meanwhile, the number of products that contain indium continue to grow.

      In 2015, a U.S. Department of Eenrgy report noted that indium production from zinc mines was easily meeting demand. But it also predicted that the price of indium would likely go up considerably over the coming decades as the supply dwindles.

      Would touchscreens then become unaffordable? Some experts doubt that this will happen. Scientists have been studying replacements for indium tin oxide, with graphene being one possible substitute. Graphene is a material made of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like lattice. Experts have called it a wonder material because it’s stronger than steel, more elastic than rubber, and more electrically conductive than copper.

      Still, indium isn’t the only element that’s expected to become increasingly difficult to source. There are many examples of endangered elements, including neodymium, which is used for motors in hybrid and electric acrs….

Studies Debunk Claims of Abortion Regret, Increased Suicide Rate

[These excerpts are from an article by Stacie Murphy in the March 2020 issue of Population Connection.]

      A pair of new studies contradict claims from anti-choice advocates that abortion often leads to negative long-term emotional consequences, including an increased risk of mental health problems and suicide.

      In November, a University of Maryland study of 520,000 Danish women spanning 17 years found no link between abortion and attempted suicide. According to Julia R. Steinberg, the study’s lead author, “The view that having an abortion leads to suicidal thoughts, plans, or even suicide attempts has been used to inform abortion policies in some regions of the world. The evidence from our study does not support this notion.” The strongest risk factor, instead, was the presence of pre-existing mental health problems.

      In January, researchers from the University of California San Francisco released results from their study of 667 women who were asked about their feelings about their abortions one week after the procedure and twice a year after that. At one week, 51 percent of participants reported feeling mostly positive emotions about their decision, while only 17 percent expressed negative feelings. One-fifth said they had few or no feelings about the experience. After five years, 84 percent reported either positive or no feelings, while only 6 percent reported negative feelings. Nearly all (99 percent) respondents reported that they felt they had made the right decision for themselves….

      The study’s authors said the results “challenge the rationale for state-mandated counseling protocols ... and other policies regulating access to abortion premised on emotional harm claims (e.g., waiting periods).”

Other Eyes Watching

[This excerpt is from an article by John W. Campbell, Jr., in the February issue of Astounding Stories.]

      Unfortunately, hydrogen and nitrogen, while they unite to form ammonia, do not do so very willingly, as Earth chemists know. During the War, Genrmany spent millions developing very complex and expensive apparatus to force the unwilling elements together. Haber, the inventor, should have been killed, by all rights, in one of the almost innumerable explosions they had trying to force these two into combination.

      The principal point of the process is pressure—pressure in large doeses—and they tried to use enormous steel retorts, made of metal of the finest quality and nine inches thick. But hydrogen has a nasty habit of forming a compound with iron—iron hydride—under these conditions, and that compound is twice as brittle as glass and not a tenth as strong. The retorts, fifty feet long and three feet in diameter, for all theose nine-inch walls, blew up. Hydrogen and nitrogen do not unite readily, except under great pressure—

Who’s Rational about Risk?

[These excerpts are from an article by Naomi Oreskes in the April 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Scientists often complain that people are irrational in their opposition to technologies such as nuclear power and genetically modified (GM) crops. From a statistical perspective, these are very safe, and so (it is argued) people's fear can be explained only by emotion, undergirded by ignorance. Electricity from nuclear power has led to far fewer direct deaths than has coal-fired power, yet many people are afraid of it, and hardly anyone is afraid of coal plants. Similar arguments can be made about GM crops, which studies have shown are generally safe for most people to eat.

      Scientific illiteracy may be part of the problem. Most of us are afraid of things we don't understand, and studies have shown that scientists tend to be more accepting of potentially risky technologies than laypeople. This suggests that when people know a lot about such technologies, they are usually reassured.

      But there’s more to the issue than meets the eye. It is true that many of us fear the unknown, but it is also true that we can be cavalier about routine risks. Part of the explanationis complacency: we tend not to fear the familiar, and thus familiarity can lead us to underestimaterisk. The bipartisan commission that reviewed the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill concluded that complacency—among executives, among engineers and among government officials responsible for oversight—was a major cause of that disaster. So the fact that experts are unworried about a threat is not necessarily reassuring.

      Scientists also make a mistake when they assume that public concerns are wholly or even mostly about safety….

      Geoengineering to lessen the impacts of climate change is another example. Some concerns about geoengineering— not just among laypeople but among scientists as well—have more to do with regulation and oversight than with safety. Who will decide whether this is a good way to deal with climate change? If we undertake the project of setting the global temperature by controlling how much sunlight reaches Earth's surface, who will be included in that "we," and by what process will the “right” global temperature be chosen?

      Such considerations may help explain the results of a classic study of perceptions of health risks from a polluted environment, which showed that white women, as well as nonwhite men and women, were substantially more worried about these risks than white men. Because scientists are for the most part less worried about risks than laypeople, we might conclude that the insouciant white men are right and the others unnecessarily troubled.

      Of course, the majority of scientists are white men, so it’s not entirely surprising that their views track with those of the demographic group to which they belong. And there is a more important point here: risks are not equally distributed. Women and people of color are more likely to be the victims when things go wrong (think the Marshall Islands or Flint, Mich.), so it makes sense that they tend to be more worried. Moreover, women and people of color have historically been excluded from important decision-making processes, not just in science and technology but in general. When you're excluded from a decision-making process, it is not irrational for you to view that process as unfair or to be skeptical about what it yields.

      Can we say whether men or women are more rational about risk? Can we say which group’s view is closer to an accurate as-sessment? Well, here’s one relevant datum: women are more likely than men to wear seat belts.

The Trouble with Teeth

[These excerpts are from an article by Peter S. Ungar in the April 2020 issue of Scientifi American.]

      …Indeed, the teeth of modern-day humans are a profound contradiction. They are the hardest parts of our body yet are incredibly fragile. Although teeth endure for millions of years in the fossil record, ours cannot seem to last a lifetime in our mouths. Teeth gave our ancestors dominance over the organic world, yet today ours require special daily care to be maintained. The contradiction is new and is limited largely to industrial-age and contemporary populations. It is best explained by a mismatch between today's diets and those for which our teeth and jaws evolved. Paleontologists have long understood that our teeth are deeply rooted in evolutionary history Now clinical researchers and dental practitioners are also starting to take notice.

      …eyes have nothing on teeth. Our teeth break foods without themselves being broken—up to millions of times over the course of a lifetime—and they do this despite being built from the very same raw materials as the foods they break. Engineers have much to learn from teeth. Their remarkable strength comes from an ingenious structure that gives them the hardness and the toughness to resist the start and spread of cracks. Both properties result from the combination of two components: a hard external cap of enamel made almost entirely of calcium phosphate and an internal layer of dentin, which also has organic fibers that make the tissue flexible.

      The real magic happens on the microscopic scale, though. Think of a single strand of dried spaghetti breaking easily when bent. Now imagine thousands of strands bunched together. Enamel structures known as crystallites are like those strands, each one 1,000th the width of a human hair. They bundle together to form rods of enamel called prisms. In turn, prisms are packed together, with tens of thousands per square millimeter, to form the enamel cap. They run parallel to one another from the surface of the tooth to the underlying dentin, wriggling, weaving and twisting as they go—an elegant configuration that confers impressive durability.

      This design did not emerge overnight. Nature has been tinkering with teeth for hundreds of millions of years. Recent insights from paleontology, genetics and developmental biology have allowed researchers to reconstruct the evolution of their structure.

      The first vertebrates were jawless fishes that appeared more than half a billion years ago, during the Cambrian period. These earliest fishes did not have teeth, but many of their descendants had a scaly tail and head armor made from toothlike plates of calcium phosphate. Each plate had an outer surface of dentin, sometimes covered by a harder, more mineralized cap, and an interior pulp chamber that housed blood vessels and nerves. Some fishes' mouths were rimmed by plates with small nubs or barbs that may have assisted in feeding. Most paleontologists think that these scales were eventually co-opted by evolution to form teeth. In fact, the scales of today's sharks are so similar to teeth that we lump them together in a category of structures called odontodes. Developmental biologists have shown that shark scales and teeth develop the same way from embryonic tissue, and recently molecular evidence confirmed that they are controlled by the same set of genes.

      The earliest definitive teeth came later, with the jawed fishes. These were mostly simple pointed structures that could be used to capture and immobilize prey and to scrape, pry, grasp and nip all manner of living things. For example, some acanthodians—extinct spiny fishes related to ancestral sharks—possessed teeth about 430 million years ago in the Silurian period. They had no hypermineralized caps covering their dentin crowns, and they were neither shed nor replaced, but they were teeth nonetheless. Some had lip and cheek scales that graded into teeth the closer they occurred to the mouth, a smoking gun for continuity between the two structures. Even in their earliest forms, teeth must have given their bearers an advantage because they spread quickly through the primeval oceans, and those lineages that had them eventually sidelined those that did not.

      Once teeth were in place, many innovations followed, including changes in their shapes, numbers and distributions, in how they were replaced and in how they attached to the jaw. Enamel first appeared by around 415 million years ago, close to the boundary between the Silurian and Devonian periods, in a group called the sarcopterygians. This group includes modern-day tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles and mammals) and the lobe-finned fishes, best known for their paired front and back fins, with bones and muscles resembling those in limbs. Other fishes lack both enamel and the suite of genes that encode the proteins required to make it. Enamel was initially limited to the scales, which suggests that like teeth, enamel originated in skin structures and then made the leap to the mouth.

      Teeth figured heavily in the origin and early evolution of mammals because of their role in supporting warm-bloodedness (endothermy). Generating one's own body heat has a lot of advantages, such as enabling one to live in cooler climates and places with more variable temperatures; allowing one to sustain higher travel speeds to maintain larger territories; and providing stamina for foraging, predator avoidance and parental care. But endothermy comes with a cost: mammals burn 10 times as much energy at rest as reptiles of similar size do. Selective pressure to fuel the furnace has fallen on our teeth. Other vertebrates capture, contain and kill prey with their teeth.

      Mammalian teeth must wring more calories out of every bite. To do that, they must chew. Mammalian teeth guide chewing movements; direct and dissipate chewing forces; and position, hold, fracture and fragment food items. For teeth to function properly during chewing, their opposing surfaces must align to a fraction of a millimeter. The need for such precision explains why, unlike fishes and reptiles, most mammals do not just grow new teeth repeatedly throughout life when old ones wear out or break. Ancestral mammals lost that ability to facilitate chewing.

      Enamel prisms are part of the same adaptive package. Most researchers believe they evolved to increase tooth strength to the level needed for chewing. Whether the prisms evolved once or several times independently is a matter of some debate, but in any case, the basic mammalian tooth structure—a dentin crown capped by prismatic enamel—was in place in the Triassic period. The myriad forms of mammalian molars, including ours, followed as mere tweaks of the same general plan….

      The evolutionary historyof our teeth explains not only why they are so strong but also why they fall short today. The basic idea is that structures evolve to operate within a specific range of environmental conditions, which in the case of our teeth include the chemicals and bacteria in the mouth, as well as strain and abrasion. It follows that changes to the oral environment can catch our teeth off guard. Such is the case with our modern diets, which are unlike any in the history of life on our planet. The resulting mismatch between our biology and our Illustration by AXS Siomedira 1 Animation Studio behavior explains the dental caries (cavities), impacted wisdom teeth and other orthodontic problems that afflict us.

      Dental caries is the most common and pervasive chronic disease in the world. It afflicts more than nine in 10 Americans and billions of people across the globe. Yet over the past 30 years I have studied hundreds of thousands of teeth of fossil species and living animals and seen hardly any tooth decay.

      To understand why the teeth of modern-day humans are so prone to decay, we need to consider the natural oral environment. The healthy mouth is teeming with life, populated by billions of microbes representing up to 700 different species of bacteria alone. Most are beneficial. They fight disease, help with digestion and regulate various bodily functions. Other bacteria are harmful to teeth, such as mutans streptococci and Lactobacillus. They attack enamel with lactic acid produced during their metabolism. But concentrations of these bacteria are usually too low to cause permanent damage. Their numbers are kept in check by their commensal cousins, the mitis and sanguinis streptococcal groups. These bacteria produce alkalis (chemicals that raise pH), as well as antimicrobial proteins that inhibit the growth of harmful species. Saliva buffers the teeth against acid attack and bathes them in calcium and phosphate to remineralize their surface. The balance between demineralization and remineralization has held for hundreds of millions of years, and both beneficial and harmful bacteria are found in oral microbiomes across the mammalian order. We evolved to maintain a stable community of microbes….

      …Diets rich in carbohy-drates feed acid-producing bacteria, lowering oral pH. Mutans streptococci and other harmful species thrive in the acidic environment they produce, and they begin to swamp beneficial bacteria, further reducing pH. This chain of events leads to what clinical researchers call dysbiosis, a shift in balance wherein a few harmful species outcompete those that normally dominate the oral microbiome. Saliva cannot remineralize enamel fast enough to keep up, and the equilibrium between loss and repair is shot. Sucrose—common sugar—is especially problematic. Harmful bacteria use it to form a thick, sticky plaque that binds them to teeth and to store energy that feeds them between meals, meaning the teeth suffer longer exposure to acid attack.

      Bioarchaeologists have long suggested a link between caries and the transition from foraging to farming within the past 10,000 years or so during the Neolithic period because acid-producing bacteria consume fermentable carbohydrates, which abound in wheat, rice and corn….found a more than sixfold increase in the incidence of caries with the adoption and spread of maize agriculture along the prehistoric Georgia coast. The link between tooth decay and agriculture is not that simple, though. Caries rate varies among early farmers over time and space, and the teeth of some hunter-gatherers, such as those with honey-rich diets, are riddled with cavities.

      The biggest jump in the caries rate came with the Industrial Revolution, which led to the widespread availability of sucrose and highly processed foods. In recent years researchers have conducted genetic studies of bacteria entombed in tartar on ancient teeth that document the ensuing transition in microbial communities. Processed foods are also softer and cleaner, setting up a perfect storm for caries: less chewing to cut the organic film and fewer dietary abrasives to wear away the nooks and crannies in teeth where plaque bacteria take refuge.

      Unfortunately, we cannot regrow enamel like we can skin and bones because of the way our tooth caps form. This limitation was established back when enamel first evolved in the lobe-finned fishes. Ameloblasts, the cells that make enamel, migrate outward from the inside of the cap toward the eventual surface, leaving trails of enamel—prisms—behind. We cannot make more enamel, because the cells that make it are sloughed off and lost when the crown is complete. Dentin is another story. The odontoblast cells that produce it start back-to-back with the ameloblasts and migrate inward, eventually coming to line the pulp chamber. They continue to produce dentin throughout an individual’s life and can repair or replace worn or wounded tissue. More serious injury calls for fresh cells that form dentin to wall off the pulp chamber and protect the tooth.

      As cavities grow, however, caries can overwhelm these natural defenses, infecting the pulp and in the long run killing the tooth. From an evolutionary perspective, a couple of centuries is a flash in the pan—not nearly enough time for our teeth to adapt to the changes in our oral environment wrought by the introduction of table sugar and processed foods.

      Orthodontic disorders are also at epidemic levels today. Nine in 10 people have teeth that are at least slightly misaligned, or 1 maloccluded, and three quarters of us have wisdom teeth that do not have enough room to emerge properly. Simply put, our teeth do not fit in our jaws. The ultimate cause is, as with caries, an imbalance caused by an oral environment our ancestor’ teeth never had to contend with.

      …So our teeth evolved for tough foods in an abrasive environment, and our soft, clean diet has upset the balance between tooth size and jaw length. Hence the assembly line at the oral surgeon’s office. Whether by wear or extraction, tooth mass has to go….

      An evolutionary perspective reveals our dental disorders as a consequence of an ecological shift. This new vantage point is starting to help researchers and clinicians tackle the root causes of dental disease. Sealants shield our crowns, and fluoride strengthens and remineralizes enamel; however, these measures do nothing to change the conditions in the mouth that bring about decay. Antiseptic mouthwashes kill the bacteria that cause cavities, but they also kill beneficial strains that have evolved to keep harmful bacteria in check. Inspired by recent innovations in microbiome therapies, researchers are beginning to focus on remodeling the dental plaque community. Oral probiotics, targeted antimicrobials and microbiota transplants are on the horizon….

      No one wants toddlers to choke when they eat, but perhaps there are better options for weaning our youngsters than mashed peas….But perhaps if we fed our children foods requiring vigorous chewing from an earlier age, like our ancient ancestors did, we could spare many of them the need for such interventions.

Tackling the Toughest Tech

[These excerpts are from an article by Wade Roush in the April 2020 issue of Scientifi American.]

      Some global crises, such as climate change, are too big to overcome through individual action or even through government-level policy change. To survive this century, we are also going to need some huge science and engineering breakthroughs—especially in areas such as energy and transportation. Unfortunately, the systems we have built to encourage innovation are in a dismal state.

      Federal investment in R&D as a share of the overall economy is lower than at any point in the past 60 years. And venture capital—the industry that is supposed to take risky ideas from government or university laboratories and turn them into valuable businesses—has instead spent the past decade investing in low-stakes tech that helps us order takeout, avoid taxis, swap seines and overpay for desk space. Many of Silicon Valley’s “unicorns” are doing no more to improve the world than their mythical namesakes….

      There is, however, at least one bright spot in the world of tech investing. I got a glimpse of it on a recent visit to The Engine, a for-profit venture firm set up in 2016 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is designed to fund ambitious ideas in areas it calls “tough tech”: energy, nanotechnology, quantum computing, immunotherapy and other fields where the technical and regulatory challenges are too daunting for most venture capitalists.

      A case in point: Commonwealth Fusion Systems. The Engine-backed start-up has turned a former Radio Shack down the street from M.I.T. into a lab where it tests components for future fusion reactors that could produce nearly inexhaustible, economical, carbon-free energy with vastly less radioactive waste than conventional nukes—an elusive goal that scientists have been trying in vain to accomplish for more than half a century. Chief operating officer Steve Renter says Commonwealth’s “Kitty Hawk moment”—when it proves its demonstration machine can generate more energy than it consumes—could come as soon as 2025….

      Part of what sets The Engine apart is the timescale of its $200-million fund. Limited-partner investors know they might not get their money back for 18 years or more, compared with the eight- to 12-year life of a typical venture fund. Plus, the firm provides lab space and equipment in addition to mentorship and networking. And it welcomes companies that hopscotch across disciplines in ways that might puzzle other investors….

      There are 20 start-ups at The Engine right now, and the firm is renovating an old Polaroid building that will soon hold 100 companies and 800 entrepreneurs. Researchers come to The Engine not because they are trying to make a quick buck but because they have an idea they can't bring alive anywhere else….

DNA Trap

[These excerpts are from an article by Harini Barath in the April 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Scientists have crafted a trap for the dengue virus using a scaffold made from fragments of DNA. The star-shaped structure is engineered to single out the virus in the bloodstream and latch on to it with precision, providing a powerful yet simple test to detect the mosquito-transmitted disease.

      Dengue is the world’s fastest-growing vector-borne disease, with multiple serious outbreaks in 2019. In its severe forms, it can cause internal bleeding and is sometimes fatal_ There is no widely accepted vaccine or targeted treatment for dengue, so accurate early detection is crucial.

      The spherical surface of the dengue virus is peppered with antigens, special proteins the virus uses to attach to the cells it infects. Scientists…constructed a flexible scaffold using DNA nanotechnology to mirror the proteins’ arrangement on a hemisphere of the viral surface. The tips and vertices of this five-pointed “DNA star” align with the antigens and carry molecules that they glom on to. The multiple attachment points make the binding strong and very precise…the DNA star targets only viruses with that particular pattern. Once binding occurs, the star fluoresces, or lights up….

      Current gold-standard dengue tests require sophisticated laboratory set-ups and training. “Our technology is very sim-ple; we need only one to two minutes, and the cost is only 50 cents for each test”….the researchers compare their technology with current clinical tests and make a case for its superior sensitivity and accuracy. It should work before symptoms appear, and the DNA nanostructures are nontoxic and friendly to human tissue, the researchers say.

Vanquishing False Idols, Then and Now

[These excerpts are from an article by Kevin P. Weinfurt in the 30 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      In the early 17th century, the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon envisioned a bold, multiphase program to accumulate knowledge of the natural world. A critical part of this plan was Novum Organum, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year. In this work, Bacon attempted to undo the centuries-old dominance of Aristotelian forms of inquiry, encouraging readers to instead apply inductive reasoning to carefully curated observations of the natural world.

      “Book One” of Novum Organum addressed why so little progress had thus far been made in understanding nature. Here, Bacon cautioned against “idols and false notions” that can interfere with the quest for scientific knowledge, providing the first and possibly the most comprehensive catalog of human foibles that can threaten the integrity of science….

      Bacon, a contemporary of Galileo and Shakespeare, wrote Novum Organum at a time when many still believed that truths about the world were handed down by monarchs and ministers. He spoke for the burgeoning empirical sciences, encouraging readers to use the inductive method to throw off the shackles of authority. But if we are to realize his vision for a practice of science that frees people from the shackles of both authority and their own minds, it might be a good idea to update the idols to reflect the modern challenges threatening the scientific enterprise today….

      One year after the publication of Novum Organum, Bacon, who was seriously in debt, was accused of corruption, briefly jailed in the Tower of London, and barred from Parliament for life. It took several decades before his work began to receive wide praise, and in 1660 it inspired the creation of the Royal Society. A modern reader might be similarly inspired by Novum Organum’s subtlety of thought, commitment to understanding nature as it is, and excitement about the potential for science to be a liberating force for humankind.

Sexism and the Stars

[These excerpts are from a book review by Jennifer Carson in the 30 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      In the early 20th century, astronomers believed in a uniformity principle that held that all objects in the universe were made of the same elements, in approximately the same amounts. In 1925, however, Cecilia Payne, a Ph.D. student at Harvard, discovered that stars are composed of a million times more hydrogen than was previously assumed. But because she was young and female, the scientific community rejected her findings. It would take several decades before Payne-Gaposchldn received Lthe recognition she was due….

      The reader meets physics luminaries and future Nobel Prize winners in the Cavendish laboratory, where Payne-Gaposchkin trained as an undergraduate. The lab was directed by J. J. Thomson when she arrived and Ernest Rutherford when she left. (Thomson, incidentally, believed that women “simply did not have the intellectual capacity to be world-class physicists.”) Payne-Gaposchkin was also taught by Niels Bohr, whose quantum theory of atomic structure would enable her to come to her own revolutionary conclusions.

      By the end of her time at Cambridge, it had become clear to Payne-Gaposchkin that she would never be employed as an astronomer in England. So she secured a fellowship at the Harvard Observatory and moved to America. Here, she was granted research opportunities, but the discrimination she had experienced at home continued.

      One of the most egregious perpetrators of this discrimination was Harvard’s president, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who declared that Payne-Gaposchkin would never be named a professor as long as he was alive. “Lowell had tried to limit Jewish enrollment at Harvard to 15 percent, and he tried to ban black students from living in the freshman dorms. In both instances, the Harvard Board of Overseers overruled him.” writes Moore. “The board did not overrule him, however, when he decreed in 1928 that women should not receive teaching appointments from the Harvard Corporation.” Payne-Gaposchkin was devastated…

      Despite these and other hardships, Payne-Gaposchkin’s accomplishments were remarkable. She wrote several books and more than 270 journal articles, was elected to both the Royal and American Astronomical Societies and the American Philosophical Society, earned an honorary doctorate from Smith College, and was the first woman to receive the American Astronomical Society’s lifetime achievement award. In 1956, after Lowell’s death, she was named the first female professor at Harvard. She died just before the election that would have admitted her to the National Academy of Sciences.

      …This is a view Payne-Gaposchkin echoed in her own memoir: “Do not undertake a scientific career in quest of fame or money. There are easier and better ways to reach them. Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive.”

How I Faced My Coronavirus Anxiety

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Liu in the 30 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      In early February, I was working from home when I received a message informing me—and all the other professors at my university in China—that courses would be taught online because of the novel coronavirus. I was already feeling anxious about the mounting epidemic, and my university had locked its doors a few days earlier. Then, when I realized I’d have to teach students online, my anxiety level grew. I didn’t have any experience with online teaching platforms. I was also skeptical about how effective they’d be. “How will I gauge the students’ reactions to my lectures through a computer screen?” I wondered. “Will they learn anything?”

      …Years ago, I’d heard that Taoism philosophies were helpful for finding internal peace. So, I decided to listen to a few recordings. One instructed listeners to “govern [yourself] by doing nothing that goes against nature.” That resonated with me because I realized that I’d been trying to push my anxieties aside and force myself to concentrate on work—an approach that wasn’t working because it didn't feel natural. From then on, I told myself that it was OK to feel anxious, even if it impeded my work. That helped to lessen my internal struggles.

      Over the past 2 months, I’ve also learned how to teach courses online, and I have found unexpected joy in that process—even though I struggled at first….

      My first lecture was especially difficult because I couldn’t see the students’ faces. I was accustomed to lecturing in front of an audience. Online, I felt like I was speaking at my students but not getting anything in return. I communicated with a few of them afterward to get their feedback and they agreed with me, saying that I needed to find a way to make my lectures more interactive. So, I started to encourage my students to leave questions for me in the platform’s comment section during my lectures.

      Almost immediately, my students started peppering me with questions. I was surprised by the level of engagement. In a normal classroom setting, they are afraid to raise their hands; most wait until after the lecture is over to approach me and ask a question. But online, students were more comfortable sharing their questions in front of the entire class. That was a great outcome because if one student has a question, it’s likely that another student has the same question and would benefit from hearing the answer. I’ve also been pleased to see from the homework assignments that they are following my teaching well….

Time to Pull Together

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 30 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      It is now hard to imagine a world that isn’t permanently changed by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We don't know whether this is an event like 9/11 or the 2008 global financial crisis—where life will mostly go back to the way it was—or whether the institutions and practices of the future will transform in ways that we can’t yet imagine. The success of the world's scientists—along with strong political and social leadership—will determine which scenarios unfold, so it is time to focus on what we can all do to help.

      On the political front, there is finally some progress as exceptional public servants have emerged as the face of the crisis….as the steadfast and consistent messengers during this crisis is reassuring for citizens and for the experts who are working tirelessly to find answers.

      And indeed, there are very important questions to answer. Will recovery from the first infection confer lasting immunity? Will the first vaccine that proves it works cause side effects that undermine its value? Will the vaccines under development trigger neutralizing antibodies? Do widely used inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzyme promote or inhibit infection? Will the broad-spectrum antiviral drug remdesivir or viral protease inhibitors thwart the virus?

      Then there are also public health and epidemiology questions. Do school closings help or hurt? What happens if hospitals become overwhelmed? If we discover an effective vaccine or drug, can enough be made and delivered to everyone? What are the long-term effects of this crisis on mental health, social well-being, and the economy? What happens when social restrictions, like those in China, are lifted?

      We can draw hope from the science at work….The only way questions will be answered is if scientists can do their work, because scientific knowledge is often the key to knowing what actions to take. So, institutions need to do everything possible to allow these folks to get to the lab safely. Research institutions need to shut down all functions except for clinical care, research on the virus, and public health communication. To support these vital operations, institutions need to provide childcare for scientists and staff whose children are now home from school. And they need to alleviate concerns about the future for these staff by extending tenure clocks, guaranteeing status in graduate school, and extending postdoctoral contracts.

      As for the scientific community who are not working on the virus—we know well that other major problems still exist, such as climate change, inequality, and other diseases. It is understandably very difficult to pause research in other arenas for an indefinite amount of time. This crisis is calling for extraordinary measures….Working from home will make it safer for those who must be in buildings and laboratories to do work related to the virus—fewer people in the hallways, lunchrooms, and other public areas will slow the spread of the virus so that work on COVID-19 can continue….

      On so many fronts, this is a battle of a lifetime and a test of our responsibilities for each other and the strength of our compassion….

A Cut Above

[This excerpt is from an article by Jillian Kramer in the April 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Hemorrhage—blood escaping profusely from a ruptured vessel—is a leading cause of potentially preventable death. Bandages often fail to stop the bleeding. But researchers say they have developed a better kind of dressing: one that repels blood and bacteria, promotes quick clotting and detaches without reopening the initial wound.

      While developing blood-repelling coat-ings for medical devices, scientists…found that one mixture of carbon nanofibers and silicone had an unexpected effect: it boosted blood clotting. So they sprayed the mixture onto conventional cotton gauze and applied heat to make it stick. In laboratory tests and experiments with rats, they observed that this new bandage promoted the production of fibrins, proteins that form a meshlike network at wound sites to aid clotting. The bandage also stayed dry, repelling blood, which made it easy to pull away from a wound—and an investigation using Escherichia coil showed that bacteria in a solution could not adhere to the material….

      …more tests are needed to understand why the nanofibers encourage fibrin formation. But…producing the material is inexpensive and could be replicated on a larger scale.…

      …human trials would be needed to prove the bandage’s real capabilities….

If You Learn A, Will You Be Better Able to Learn B?

[These excerpts are from an article by Pedro De Bruyckere, Paul A. Kirschner and Casper Hulshof in the Spring 2020 iissue of American Educator.]

      …Transfer of learning is seen as the use of knowledge, skills, and/or attitudesthat you’ve learned in one situation in a different situation. This new situation can be either a similar situation (near transfer) or a dissimilar situation (far transfer). In recent years, we’ve encountered numerous different forms that claim to be examples of far transfer:

   • Learn how to program, so that you can more easily learn mathematics.

   • Learn Latin, so that you can better learn other languages.

   • Learn music, so that you can better learn arithmetic.

   • Learn chess, so that you can better learn to do just about everything!

      But are these claims justified? Are they really examples of far transfer?

      …Far transfer was an idea first examined in 1923 by Edward Thorndike….

      To explain such situations, Thorndike formulated his theory of identical elements, which posits that near and far transfer can best be regarded as a continuum. Or to paraphrase his basic conclusion: transfer is easier in relation to the extent that there are more similar or identical elements between what has already been learned and what needs to be learned in the future. Accordingly, he argued that near transfer is, by definition, much easier than far transfer. If we were to take the precepts of this “old” theory at face value, the outlook for the advocates of far transfer might be fairly pessimistic….

      In 2011, chess became a compulsory subject in Armenian schools. Armenian authorities were convinced that chess is the key to success at school and in life. By making chess mandatory. they hoped to teach children how to think creatively and strategically. As a result, they will become more intelligent and be better able to solve problems. What's more, this does not just mean chess problems, but all problems in all other school subjects, as well as in later life. If true, this is extremely far transfer. There are indeed research studies that demonstrate a link between chess mastery and improved cognitive skills and work performance.

      In essence, what the Armenian Ministry of Education was saying is that learning how to play chess not only is the key to developing general skills (in particular, problem solving), but also has a crucial impact on general character traits, such as emotional stability, intellect, memory, alertness, and, above all, creativity….

      Creativity is not a skill, and it cannot be taught or learned. Creativity is a quality or characteristic that a person possesses….Viewed in these terms, it’s not simply that creativity can’t be learned; it’s also very difficult to influence. All that teachers can do is to provide a learning climate that offers psychological safety—a climate in which learners feel sufficiently secure—so that they have the courage and the confidence to do things and say things that, at first glance, perhaps seem odd or not completely right. In other words, teachers can provide an environment that encourages students to take risks, safe in the knowledge that their mistakes will be tolerated with understanding. We call this psychological safety.

      Memory is also a trait, so it, too, cannot be learned. This does not mean that it cannot be trained or improved, but such training needs to be highly focused and demands a huge investment in time. Consequently, this is not something that can be achieved “en passant” simply by learning to play chess.

      …According to Robinson, creativity is “the process of having original ideas that have value.” The key word here is “value.”

      Without knowledge and skills, it’s impossible—except by sheer luck—to create something of value. In fact, if you don’t have the requisite knowledge, you are not even in a position to assess the value of what you have done….

      …The idea that music can have a positive effect on executive functions is nothing new, although it’s still far from clear how long this effect lasts….

      And it doesn’t just have to be chess. Imagine that something else comes along—the use of classroom rituals, for example—that is proven to have a more significant impact on improved executive functions than music. If music is regarded purely as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself, this might even lead to its removal from the curriculum!...

      Apart from a huge fortune in the bank, what do Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They both learned Latin in schoo1. Various universities still use Latin names to add a certain cachet to the study of classics and classical languages. It is as though they seem to say that knowledge of Latin is the secret to success!...

      As far as the second question is concerned-can learning Latin help you to think better?-very little meaningful research has been conducted, largely because it’s so difficult to define what we mean by “thinking” to everyone’s satisfaction. Be that as it may, one study concluded that there was no relationship between the skills needed to learn Latin and the skills needed to learn other languages or mathematics. But that is more or less as far as the research goes at this stage. In other words, there is nothing to suggest a link between “learning Latin” and “better thinking.”

      If it’s unlikely that Latin makes it possible to learn other languages more easily, and if Thorndike’s theory suggests that far transfer is equally improbable, we can then reasonably ask the same question that we asked of music: Should Latin still be taught because of any intrinsic value of its own? Up to a point, the answer is yes. There are indications that learning Latin can lead to greater self-confidence and a deeper appreciation for other cultures, although this can just as easily be said for many other foreign languages, such as Chinese.

      The British classicist Mary Beard offers a more specific reason for learning Latin: it gives young people access to the literary tradition that forms the basis of Western culture. Again, this might well be the case, but it’s open to discussion as to whether that argument alone is sufficient to merit including Latin in the curriculum. In fact, all the “old” arguments in favor of Latin—that it has specific characteristics that make it easier to learn other languages and also improves a student’s general ability to think—no longer seem relevant or credible in this modern day and age.

      …This is not to say that there is no evidence whatsoever for far transfer, but it's very clear that the level of reliable evidence decreases in relation to the quality of the research: the better the research, the scanter the evidence….

The Origin of Federal Air Pollution Policy

[These excerpts are from an article by Jen Reidel in the March 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …On October 27, 1948, a thick smog covered Donora, a Pennsylvania city of 13,000 residents, most of whom worked in steel factories. Over four days, Donora experienced one of the worst air pollution disasters in American history. The smog caused nineteen deaths, negatively affected the health of over 1,440 people, and caused mild symptoms in another 4,470 residents. Factory officials convinced the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) to study the disaster. The initial USPHS report released in 1949 did not assign sole blame to the factories, but did highlight effects of air pollution and became a catalyst for federal attention.

      In December 1949, President Harry Truman directed his executive departments to co-sponsor a conference on air pollution. Truman’s request resulted in the federal government hosting the first ever United States Technical Conference on Air Pollution, May 3-5, 1950, assembling 500 experts representing a cross section of industries, who identified causes and impacts of pollution on Americans….Conference recommendations resulted in the passage of the Federal Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 providing money for scientific research on air pollution and lead to subsequent Clean Air Acts….

Transgender Perspectives in the Biology Classroom

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Hobbs in the March 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …Please be aware that I am not telling these stories to create the idea that trans people and/or students are victims, or to encourage a deficit mindset in teachers. I am telling these stories to create empathy and reliability so that teachers are moved to action….

      I verbally follow up with, “Everybody is different, everyone is unique, and everyone is struggling in their own way. It is important, no matter whatever else, that if a person looks or speaks differently, to always be kind. Always be kind. Treat them how you would want to be treated.” If you do not say it, students will not assume it….

      I point out gender assumptions during direct instruction. For example, most students have the misconception that larger mammals are male, and smaller ones are female. For many organisms, it is the opposite—females are larger than males—and we talk about reasons why during the ecology unit. At some point our cultural definitions of gender break down in the biological world.

      Some students simply want to “pass” (their gender identity and physical appearance match), as opposed to being “clocked” (physical appearance and gender expression are different to the observer). I never talk about a person’s gender expression or identity in class, and I police group interactions so that gender-complex students know they are safe.

      If I am unsure about a student’s gender, I ask, “What is your preferred/ affirmed pronoun?” Some preferred pronouns may be plural like “They/ Theirs”….I make sure to use their preferred pronoun and ensure that other students in the classroom use it Using the wrong pronoun is a microaggression—a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group. If you do misgender someone and they correct you, simply say “thank you for the correction, I will do better next time,” instead of apologizing. When someone hears constant apologies, they can infer that their gender identity is a weight or a burden….

      Students may or may not he changing clothes when they get to school or before they return home. Parents may be completely unaware of their child’s gender identity and expression, or they can he very supportive and well-informed. It is important to note that parents have gone, or arc going through, a grief process of losing the ideas they had for their child related to the sex that was assigned at birth.

      At some point parents can begin to see the new possibilities and the exciting reality of their child becoming their more-authentic self. I do make sure to keep parents up-to-date on any symptoms that are indicative of a change in mental health. Once I make contact, a parent will usually reveal what they know….

      One of the best questions I have been asked is: “What do you say to a colleague who refuses to use the right pronouns or name for a student?” My response is: “We teach all kinds of students we fundamentally disagree with, even bullies and bigots. As teachers in public school, we are required to meet students’ needs, not teachers’ pedagogical ideology. This student has made some specific requests and is asking nicely to be treated kindly by meeting chose requests.”

      …Many teachers might assume they only need to recognize that gender is a spectrum in the genetics unit, and only when there is a trans or gender-complex student in the class. Making trans and gender-complex students feel recognized and safe to be their authentic self is the main goal, but it is not the only goal. I fee] that every cis-gender (gender identity and gender expression culturally match sex assigned at birth) student also needs to hear and have adults model this recognition. In the future, whether it’s during the next class period, in the next year, at college, or in the workforce, students need a baseline of understanding. Then, they can correct others when misgendering occurs and help create a culture where violence and discrimination against trans people is simply past history.

      …Many teachers may be hesitant to explain these issues, answer questions, or incorporate these practices. However, people are dying because of trans discrimination. Twenty-eight people died in the United States in 2017 from violent assaults due to their gender identity….We cannot continue to teach while ignoring the damage our hidden curriculum does to the outside world. As biology teachers, the vast majority of us are advocates for environmental justice. It is an easy value and stance to advocate. But I am calling for social justice—the kind that recognizes and respects all students in the classroom.

Being Unique or Being Identical

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul G. Hewitt in the March 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      When I was a child and my mother wished to be alone for a little while, she’d tell me to go out on the lawn and not to come back until I found a four-leaf clover. It was a fun activity, for they’re not as rare as people think. What nobody at the time knew was that if Mom had asked me to find two identical leaves, whether in groups of three or four, I would have been unsuccessful—no two clover leaves in the world are truly identical.

      …The same is true of the leaves of any plant, including trees! What many people don’t realize is that scientists have determined that in all the world, no two leaves of any plants are identical. Each is one of a kind—unique. This is astounding!...

      We see in photographs and videos huge numbers of penguins in Antarctica that appear to be identical. We don’t recognize differences within a species that would be obvious if we spent time with these fascinating birds. Similarly, when people first meet people of a different ethnicity, they see the others as all looking alike. This occurs both ways until a time of familiarity when differences become apparent.

      Distinguishing among penguin faces isn’t a problem for penguins who leave the colony for months in search of food; upon returning they clearly recognize their mates. VOice recognition helps, for each communicates with its own distinctive sound. Their calls to one another are recognized among the noise of many. Perhaps their sense of smell aids identification. In any event, each penguin is unique, with no two being exactly the same….

      One main reason for uniqueness has to do with physical composition. Leaves, faces, ladybugs, and other entities we see in nature are composed of constituent parts. Variations in the arrangement of these parts, however subtle, contribute to their differences. So we ask, are there any groups in which the members are identical—the same from one member to another? The answer is yes—the fundamental particles of physics, the most familiar of which is the electron!

      …Electrons are one group in the family of fundamental particles. Other fundamental particles include quarks, muons, and neutrinos, all of which are indistinguishable from one another—all are the same. The electrons that travel in wires, carry power to our homes, and vibrate in our smartphones are the same electrons as the electrons that surround the atomic nucleus. One electron is the same as any other electron: they are truly clones….

      Being unique is common in the macroworld. The structures of one-of-a-kind things are generally complex, having many structural parts. Things composed of dozens (or millions) of individual parts typically have so many ways of arranging the parts that no two arrangements will be identical. However, in the subatomic world where identical things exist, structures are simple, having no smaller parts.

      Under certain conditions, some composite particles—particles made up of smaller particles—can be identical as well. For example, hydrogen atoms in their ground state, or lowest energy state, are identical. But identical composite particles tend to be no more complex than a simple molecule. We don’t have to go very far up the complexity scale before being identical, although possible in principle, becomes less and less likely. So the uniqueness of every leaf, every face, and the pattern of spots on a ladybug can be understood in terms of the complexity of their structure at the atomic scale.

Genome Analyses Help Track Coronavirus’ Moves

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt in the 13 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      …They offer clues to how the virus, named SARS-CoV-2, is spreading and evolving. But because the sequences represent a tiny fraction of cases and show few telltale differences, they are easy to overinterpret….

      …is also studying the genome of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2). But for now, scientists who analyze genomes can only make “suggestions”….

      The very first SARS-CoV-2 sequence, in early January, answered the most basic question about the disease: What pathogen is causing it? The genomes that followed were almost identical, suggesting the virus, which originated in an animal, had crossed into the human population just once. If it had jumped the species barrier multiple times, the first human cases would show more variety.

      Some diversity is now emerging. Over the length of its 30,000-base-pair genome, SARS-CoV-2 accumulates an average of about one to two mutations per month….

      …Still, the wealth of genomes is just a tiny sample of the more than 100,000 cases worldwide, and it's uneven. On 9 March, Chinese scientists uploaded 50 new genome sequences—some of them partial—from COVID-19 patients in Guangdong province; most previous ones were from Hubei province. But overall, less than half of the published genomes are from China, which accounts for 80% of all COVID-19 cases. And sequences from around the world are still very similar, which makes drawing firm conclusions hard….

      Scientists will also be scouring the genomic diversity for signs that the virus is getting more dangerous. There, too, caution is warranted….they fell into one of two distinct types, named S and L, distinguished by two mutations. Because 70% of sequenced SARS-CoV-2 genomes belong to L, the newer type, the authors concluded that this type has evolved to become more aggressive and to spread faster.

      …Some researchers have called for the paper to be retracted. “The claims made in it are clearly unfounded and risk spreading dangerous misinformation at a crucial time in the outbreak”….

      Most genomic changes don’t alter the behavior of the virus….The only way to confirm that a mutation has an effect is to study it in the lab and show, for instance, that it has become better at entering cells or transmitting….So far, the world has been spared that piece of bad news.

Do Us a Favor

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 13 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      “Do me a favor, speed it up, speed it up." This is what U.S. President Donald Trump told the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, recounting what he said to pharmaceutical executives about the progress toward a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Anthony Fauci, the long-time leader of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been telling the president repeatedly that developing the vaccine will take at least a year and a half—the same message conveyed by pharmaceutical executives. Apparently, Trump thought that simply repeating his request would change the outcome.

      China has rightfully taken criticism for squelching attempts by scientists to report information during the outbreak. Now, the United States government is doing similar things. Informing Fauci and other government scientists that they must clear all public comments with Vice President Mike Pence is unacceptable. This is not a time for someone who denies evolution, climate change, and the dangers of smoking to shape the public message. Thank goodness Fauci, Francis Collins [director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)], and their colleagues across federal agencies are willing to soldier on and are gradually getting the message out.

      While scientists are trying to share facts about the epidemic, the administration either blocks those facts or restates them with contradictions. Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation. The administration has repeatedly said—as it did last week—that virus spread in the United States is contained, when it is clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. After 3 years of debating whether the words of this administration matter, the words are now clearly a matter of life and death….

      I don’t expect politicians to know Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetism or the Diels-Alder chemical reaction (although I can dream). But you can’t insult science when you don’t like it and then suddenly insist on something that science can't give on demand. For the past 4 years, President Trump's budgets have made deep cuts to science, including cuts to funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH. With this administration’s disregard for science of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the stalled naming of a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy—all to support political goals—the nation has had nearly 4 years of harming and ignoring science.

      Now, the president suddenly needs science. But the centuries spent elucidating fundamental principles that govern the natural world—evolution, gravity, quantum mechanics—involved laying the groundwork for knowing what we can and cannot do. The ways that scientists accumulate and analyze evidence, apply inductive reasoning, and subject findings to scrutiny by peers have been proven over the years to give rise to robust knowledge. These processes are being applied to the COVID-19 crisis through international collaboration at breakneck, unprecedented speed….But the same concepts that are used to describe nature are used to create new tools. So, asking for a vaccine and distorting the science at the same time are shockingly dissonant.

      A vaccine has to have a fundamental scientific basis. It has to be manufacturable. It has to be safe. This could take a year and a half—or much longer. Pharmaceutical executives have every incentive to get there quickly—they will be selling the vaccine after all—but thankfully, they also know that you can't break the laws of nature to get there.

      Maybe we should be happy. Three years ago, the president declared his skepticism of vaccines and tried to launch an antivaccine task force. Now he suddenly loves vaccines.

      But do us a favor, Mr. President. If you want something, start treating science and its principles with respect.

Education and Presidential Politics

[These excerpts are from an article by Maria Ferguson in the March 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …Some candidates have offered plans to raise teacher pay and eliminate student debt. Others have promised to end standardized testing or make schools safer for students and teachers.

      But even for those with the best of intentions, making good on any large-scale education promise is not as simple as it sounds. Despite an annual education budget of just under $73 billion, presidents and their administrations have limited power over hot-button issues like teacher compensation, testing, and school safety. These issues make for excellent campaign fodder, but in reality, they are controlled by a large and often unwieldy cast of state and local leaders who may or may not care what the president thinks.

      Since President Donald Trump has never demonstrated much interest in or a compelling vision for public education, this is likely not something that keeps him up at night. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, however, learned the limits of her power early on in the administration. Despite her zeal for deregulation and a choice-driven U.S. education system, DeVos has not transformed the operational landscape of public education in any significant way. All of her bu-get proposals and her efforts to garner support for privately funded “Education Freedom Scholarships” — which would allow students to attend private or religious schools by way of an annual tax credit — have garnered little support. And her efforts to paint U.S. public schools as flaming cauldrons of doom and despair have not really stoked a school choice revolution.

      Whatever impact DeVos has had comes in the form of damage, not progress. By rolling back several important Obama-era rules regarding student debt protections and civil rights enforcement, DeVos has eliminated some much-needed and hard-earned safeguards for students. This leaves the 2020 Democratic candidate with the challenging task of determining how to repair the damage….

      For both political and emotional reasons, the plight of teachers is always a theme in presidential elections. Teacher unions are a powerful force in politics, and their support can either buoy a candidate or drown them. At the same time, teachers represent a kind of hopeful selflessness that resonates with many Americans. Almost everyone has a favorite teacher who supported and believed in them, so when a candidate paints a picture of an increasingly beleaguered profession that is struggling to attract young talent, voters are eager to hear how they will change all that when they are president. Several candidates have laid out plans to increase teacher pay, especially for teachers in high-need, low-income schools; and some have talked about making more competitive teacher salaries a requirement for additional Title I funds.

      But perhaps the best rule of thumb for any candidate seeking teacher support would be to first do no harm, something recent education secretaries should also have considered….When it comes to teachers, presidential candidates should embrace the power of the bully pulpit to remind Americans how challenging the profession can be. Then they should take the time to learn which policies truly promote and support excellent teaching.…

      As the primaries continue, education issues, and whatever small controversies they may create, will fade into the background. This is the predictable arc of a presidential campaign. Education issues always surface in the early stages of the campaign as candidates scramble for support among key interest groups and state and local leaders….

      Presidential candidates quickly learn that voters care about education only up to a point, and sometimes it is easier and safer for them just to avoid the issue and focus on something else. This is unfortunate because even if education is, for the most part, a local issue, its impact on our country is tremendous. In recent years, we have seen what happens when our electorate does not have a full and accurate understanding of its own democracy. If our country is to maintain the principles of a free and fair society, a high-quality education should and must matter to everyone, no matter how complicated the issues are. As Americans we should expect no less from our candidates and ourselves.

The Landmark Case that Almost Never Was

[These excerpts are from a book review by Michael B. Gerrard in the 6 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency is widely seen as the most important U.S. environmental ruling of all time. But the suit, which led to a ruling that the Clean Air Act of 1970 empowered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases, was almost never brought. Richard J. Lazarus’s wonderful new book, The Rule of Five, is the inside story of how this case came to be, how its lawyers struggled and fought over theories and roles, and how the late Justice John Paul Stevens patched together the five votes needed to secure a majority.

      Lazarus is ideally suited to tell this story. A law professor at Harvard, he has represented the government and environmental groups in 40 Supreme Court cases and presented oral argument in 14….

      The case in question was the brainchild of Joe Mendelson, a lawyer working for a little-known environmental group in Washington, D.C., called the International Center for Technology Assessment. In 1998, he drafted a 35-page petition to the EPA, arguing that it was the agency’s responsibility to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants, and put it in a drawer, awaiting the right time to file. A year later he decided that the time had come, but leaders of other environmental organizations pleaded and then pressured him not to file, thinking it would be better to wait for the expected ascension of a climate champion, Vice President Al Gore, to the presidency in January 2001. Mendelson filed anyway.

      The EPA sat on the petition until after the November 2000 election….

      …to everyone’s shock—the Supreme Court took the case….

      …In the months that followed, Justice Stevens found ways to persuade his colleague Anthony Kennedy to give him the crucial fifth vote needed to prevail.

      Lazarus walks readers through all of the procedural steps and legal theories that surrounded this case, using lucid prose that is easy for non-lawyers to follow. The book is a master class in how the Supreme Court works and, more broadly, how major cases navigate through the legal system.

      The Massachusetts v. EPA decision was the basis for almost all of the Obama administration’s actions on climate change, which included stricter regulations of emissions from motor vehicles and power plants. These actions, in turn, gave President Obama the legitimacy to press fellow world leaders to reach a landmark agreement on climate change in Paris in December 2015. However, in February 2016, the Supreme Court put Obama’s Clean Power Plan on hold, and President Trump has pressed to repeal it, to weaken the motor vehicle rule, and to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. As Lazarus rightly concludes, the most important legal decisions are made not in the courtroom, but at the ballot box.

Can China’s COVID-19 Strategy Work Elsewhere?

[These excerpts are from an article by Kai Kupferschmidt and Jon Cohen in the 6 March 2020 issue of Science.]

      Chinese hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 patients a few weeks ago now have empty beds. Trials of experimental drugs ca’n’t find enough eligible patients. And the number of new cases reported each day in China is dropping precipitously.

      These are some of the startling observations in a report released on 28 February by a team of 12 Chinese and 13 foreign scientists who toured five cities in China to study the state of the COVID-19 epidemic and the effectiveness of the country’s response. Even some on the team, organized jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese government, say they were surprised….

      But the report is unequivocal. “China’s bold approach to contain the rapid spread of this new respiratory pathogen has changed the course of a rapidly escalat-ing and deadly epidemic,” it says….

      Members of the task force say the rest of the world should learn from China. But critics say the report failed to acknowledge the human rights costs of the most severe measures imposed by China’s authoritarian government: massive lockdowns and electronic surveillance of millions of people….Many also worry that a resurgence of the disease will occur after the country lifts some of its strictest control measures and restarts its economy, which has taken a huge hit.

      The report comes at a critical time in what many epidemiologists now consider a nascent pandemic. The number of affected countries is rising rapidly—it stood at 72 as Science went to press….

      But cases have plummeted in China. On 10 February, the first day of the mission, the country reported 2478 new cases. Two weeks later, when the foreign experts packed their bags, the daily number of new cases had dropped to 409. (On 3 March it had dropped further to 129 new cases, compared with 1848 in the rest of the world.) China’s epidemic appears to have peaked in late January, according to the report.

      Members of the team traveled to Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and the hardest hit city, Wuhan. They visited hospitals, laboratories, companies, live animal markets, train stations, and local government offices….

      As part of the effort, Chinese scientists have compiled a massive data set that gives the best available picture of the disease. The mission report says about 80% of infected people had mild to moderate disease, marked by fever and a dry cough; 13.8% had severe symptoms; and 6.1% had life-threatening episodes of respiratory failure, septic shock, or organ failure. The case fatality rate was highest for people over age 80 (21.9%), and people who had heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension, but 3.8% overall. Children made up a mere 2.4% of the cases, and almost none was severely ill. People with mild and moderate illness took 2 weeks on average to recover.

      The report highlights how China achieved what many public health experts thought was impossible: containing the spread of a widely circulating respiratory virus….The most dramatic—and controversial—measure was the lockdown of Wuhan and nearby cities in Hubei province, putting at least 50 million people under a mandatory quarantine since 23 January. That has “effectively prevented further exportation of infected individuals to the rest of the country,” the report concludes. Most of China did not face such severe measures: People were asked, but not required, to quarantine themselves if they felt ill, and neighborhood leaders moni-tored their movements.

      Chinese authorities also built two dedicated hospitals in Wuhan in about 1 week, sent health care workers from all over China to Hubei, and launched an unprecedented effort to trace contacts of confirmed cases. In Wuhan alone, more than 1800 teams traced tens of thousands of contacts. Aggressive “social distancing” measures implemented in the entire country included canceling sporting events and shuttering theaters, schools, and businesses. Anyone who went outdoors had to wear a mask.

      Two widely used mobile phone apps, AliPay and WeChat—which in recent years have replaced cash in China—have helped enforce the restrictions, because they allow the government to keep track of people’s movements and even stop people with con-- firmed infections from traveling….Color codes on mobile phone screens—in which green, yellow, or red designate a person's health status—let guards at train stations and re. other checkpoints know who to let through.

      “As a consequence of all of these measures, public life is very reduced,” the report notes. But the measures did work. In the end, infected people rarely spread the virus to anyone except members of their own household….Once all the people living together were exposed, the virus had nowhere else to go and chains of transmission ended. “That’s how the epidemic truly came under control,” Leung says.

      It’s debatable how much of this could be done elsewhere….

      And the benefit may be short-lived. “There’s no question they suppressed the outbreak,” says Mike Osterholm….Reducing the peak number of cases buys a health system time to deal with later ones, public health experts say. But once the restrictions are lifted, “It’ll come roaring right back,” Osterholm predicts….

Making the Complex Work of Teaching Visible

[These excerpts are from an article by Pam Grossman in the March 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …Unfortunately, things have not improved over the past two decades. The number of children facing challenges associated with living in poverty has only increased, making the work of teaching only more complex. Yet, despite the now widespread recognition that teachers represent the most important school-level influence on student achievement, teachers have continued to lose earning power; currently, according to economist Eric Hanushek, teachers are underpaid by at least 20%...

      Not surprisingly, college graduates are increasingly opting out of teaching as a career option. In the past 10 years, both the total enrollment in teacher education programs and the number of individuals completing a preparation program dropped by almost a third; in some states, such as Pennsylvania, enrollments dropped by more than 50%....Black male teachers still represent only 2% of the teaching force, even as evidence mounts that having a teacher of the same race supports student achievement….

      So how do we turn this tide? How might re-envisioning the narrative of teaching as a profession help restore the image of teaching as both intellectual and relational work, central to achieving equitable opportunities for young people and critical to the future of our fractured society?

      …The move toward requiring master’s degrees for teachers, the definition of pedagogical content knowledge, and the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the 1980s and 1990s were all explicit efforts to professionalize teaching by following the lead of the high-status fields of medicine, law, and architecture.

      However, critics have argued that teaching has few of the hallmarks of a profession — a specialized knowledge base, the ability to practice autonomously, and the right to control entry into the field. Others have argued against the very idea of professionalization, preferring to emphasize the artisanal nature of teaching as more a result of individual craft rather than collective expertise. Still others argue that the very idea of professionalism creates distance between teachers and the people they serve and may undermine the relational nature of teaching practice. Indeed, these sociological definitions of professionalism focus mainly on the organizational structures that define an occupation, and they say little about the work that people do.

      Recent decades have also seen the emergence of a countertrend, focusing on the creation of professional networks that put teachers and teaching at the center of efforts to professionalize teaching….

      …All too often, teachers have been portrayed and even valorized as isolated artisans, each doing their own thing in the classroom. New teachers are urged to create their own materials, chart their own paths, and reject professional education in favor of learning from their own experience.

      The assumption that teaching is highly individualistic has often been used to resist efforts at specifying — or, some fear, prescribing or oversimplifying — what accomplished teachers actually do in the classroom….

      But, some might argue, if we try to specify precisely what accomplished teachers do, don’t we risk framing instruction as a purely technical practice — a series of moves and behaviors — ignoring the relational aspects of the work? To the contrary, the more closely we describe successful teaching, the more clear it becomes that the work of teaching is deeply interpersonal. To engage students in learning, teachers need to build positive relationships with them….And building such relationships —across cultural and racial differences in crowded classrooms with students who have not chosen to be in a teachers’ class — is complex and difficult work that requires knowledge, skill, judgment, and the negotiation of personal identity. Highlighting this feature of teachers' work makes it more, rather than less, visible….

Carbon-Cutting Cuds

[These excerpts are from an article by Jennifer Walter in the March/April 2020 issue of Discover.]

      …The cows’ special diet includes small portions of a red seaweed called Asparagopsis armata. It contains a compound called bromoform, which inhibits the action of an enzyme that produces methane during the cows’ digestion. Less methane means less burping. And, on a global scale, less burping could mean slowing down climate change….

      The EPA estimates that methane from livestock, especially cows and other ruminants (cud-chewers) like sheep, makes up almost one-third of agricultural emissions in the U.S. And although agriculture accounts for a smaller percentage of total greenhouse gas production than sectors like transportation and energy, it produces more methane, which warms the Earth up to 86 times as much as CO2.

      When cows eat, they burp food back, up, chew it as cud and swallow it again to make it easier to digest. But during that process, which cows repeat dozens of times throughout the day, an enzyme made by microorganisms in their gut produces methane as a byproduct.

      …it wasn’t until 2016 that researchers in Australia finally homed in on a strand called Asparagopsis taxiformis. In lab models, they found that grass feed that was 2 percent seaweed could cut methane emissions by nearly 99 percent….But questions remained about the seaweed's effectiveness in actual cow stomachs.

      …When they tested a similar species, A. armata, at low levels in the diets of lactating dairy cows, they found that a diet of just 0.5 percent seaweed led to a 26-percent decrease in methane A 1-percent seaweed diet produced 67 percent less methane….

      Researchers still need to ensure the burp-curbing compounds, which are sensitive to heat and light, will be shelf-stable and remain effective in real-world applications. And even if the seaweed succeeds, methane from livestock account for just 5 percent of greenhouse gas production in the U.S., so the overall picture won’t improve much….

An Elegy for Cash

[These excerpts are from an article by Mike Orcutt in the March/April 2020 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …This is a feature of physical cash that payment cards and apps do not have: freedom. Called “bearer instruments,” banknotes and coins are presumed to be owned by whoever holds them. We can use them to transact with another person without a third party getting in the way. Companies cannot build advertising profiles or credit ratings out of our data, and governments cannot track our spending or our movements….

      We shouldn’t take this freedom for granted. Much of our commerce now happens online. It relies on banks and financial technology companies to serve as middlemen. Transactions are going digital in the physical world, too: electronic payment tools, from debit cards to Apple Pay to Alipay, are increasingly replacing cash. While notes and coins remain popular in many countries, including the US, Japan, and Germany, in others they are nearing obsolescence.

      This trend has civil liberties groups worried….

      However, there’s no evidence that any governments are even thinking about deploying tools like this. And regardless, can any government—even Sweden's—really be trusted to blind itself?

      That’s wishful thinking….While you may trust your government or think you've got nothing to hide, that might not always remain true. Politics evolves, governments get pushed out by elections or other events, what constitutes a “crime” changes, and civil liberties are not guaranteed….

      But in some places people just need something that works, however imperfectly. Take Venezuela. Cash in the crisis-ridden country is scarce, and the Venezuelan bolivar is constantly losing value to hyperinflation. Many Venezuelans seek refuge in US dollars, storing them under the proverbial (and literal) mattress, but that also makes them vulnerable to thieves.

      What many people want is access to stable cash in digital form, and there’s no easy way to get that….Owing to government-imposed capital controls, Venezuelan banks have largely been cut off from foreign banks….

      How big a problem is this? That depends on where you live, how much you trust your government and your fellow citizens, and why you wish to use cash. And if you’d rather keep that to yourself, you’re in luck. For now.

Air Pollution’s Systemic Effects

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Shaw in the March/April 2020 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      Breathing fine particles suspended in the air is harmful for everyone—and can kill those with cardiovascular or respiratory vulnerabilities, a fact known since the 1990s. Now a study of 95 million Medicare hospitaliation claims from 2000 to 2012 links as many as 12 additional diseases, including kidney failure, urinary tract and blood infections, and fluid and electrolyte disorders, to such fine-particle air pollution for the first time. The research demonstrates that even small, short-term increases in exposure can be harmful to health, and quantifies the economic impact of the resulting hospitalizations and lives lost.

      Fine particles (known as PM2.5 because they are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) can slip past the human respiratory system’s copious mucosal defenses in the nose and upper airways. These tiny byproducts of combustion, principally of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, land in the thin-membraned alveolar sacs deep in the lungs where oxygen exchange occurs. From there, they can pass into the blood. But the full extent of the systemic harm they cause is not well understood….

      To do so, the researchers used a “big-data” approach, aligning Medicare-patient hospital admissions by time and geography with known levels of PM2.5 pollution on the previous day. That information was modeled using satellite and temperature data, and verified with actual measurements from thousands of ground-based monitoring stations….

      …satellite data for air pollution is provided in one-square-kilometer grids, whereas temperature and weather data cover areas of 32 square kilometers. And patient zip code records must be aligned with both these measures. Overcoming such hurdles so that the data sources can all talk to each other is challenging, but worthwhile….

      To the known effects on the cardiovascular, respiratory, and nervous systems, the team’s work has added pathologies of the blood, gut, skin, and kidney….

      The research demonstrates that every microgram-per-cubic-meter increase in PM2.5 within a 24-hour period has an incremental effect on human health. Even when starting from zero (perfectly clean air), each such increase of one microgram in concentration was associated with an annual increase of 634 deaths and 5,692 hospitalizations, as well as 32,314 patient-days in hospital. In the United States, such increases in pollution occur on more than 122 days a year in every geographic region. In lay terms…this represents “one additional hospitalization per day for every zip code for half of the year.” These data correspond to $100 million in annual inpatient and post-acute care costs, and an estimated $6.5 billion in lost value of human life. In the United States, where fine particle pollution began rising again in 2016 after a long-term decline, Environmental Protection Agency regulations specify that exposures greater than 35 micrograms of PM2.5 or less in a 24-hour period are unhealthy. (The target for annual, or long-term, limit of exposure, averaged over three years, is 12 micrograms per cubic meter.)

      …these findings understate the economic impact of fine-par-ticle pollution in several ways. The study captured only effects that led to hospitalization, and not prior visits to a doctor or the costs of previously prescribed medication, or costs after discharge (including readmission, outpatient, and drug costs). And it captured only fee-for-service patients, not those covered in HMOs. It didn’t capture effects on mental health, or in fact “any encounter with the healthcare system that did not lead to a billing record in the hospital.” And it did not capture data for any-Lone under the age of 65….

      Older people may be more vulnerable to air pollution than young people with eakhy immune systems, …but everyone is affected….

      …there is another common benefit to controlling PM2.5 that is often overlooked in discussions of air pollution: “There is a direct linkage between the sources of fine particulate matter and the sources of greenhouse gases. Most are the same.”

Healthy Plate, Healthy Planet

[These excerpts are from an article by Jacob Sweet in the March/April 2020 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      …In 1980, seven years before that first KFC, the prevalence of Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes in China was less than 1 percent of the population. In 2001, that had risen to 5.5 percent. Now, with an estimated 116 million diabetics in the country, the number is 12 percent—and still rising.

      …It’s one thing to know that among large populations, heavy consumers of red meat are at a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and premature death. It's another to know how red meat, compared to plant proteins like nuts and legumes, increases blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which clogs arteries and can lead to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease….

      Hu was one of the first in his field to stress the potential importance of metabolomics—the study of the chemical by-products specific cellular processes leave behind—which may allow for better diet measurements and earlier disease-risk identification When media sources need an expert on any nutrition topic, Hu often receives a call. The New York Times has asked him to comment on the health impacts of eggs, fish, red meat, walnuts, the Mediterranean diet, calorie restriction, carbohydrate as a replacement for fat, fats as a replacement for carbohydrates, and instant noodles.

      Right now, no one study or topic is as pressing to Hu as the intersection of three threats: obesity, undernutrition, and climate change. Of the seven and a half billion people in the world, about two billion are overweight, and two billion more are undernour-ished. "Both overnutrition and undernutrition are affected by climate change….When the temperature rises—when carbon dioxide increases—that can actually reduce the amount of zinc, iron, protein, and other nutrients in crops like rice or wheat...and that can further exacerbate the problem of undernutrition in the poor regions of the world.”…Animal agriculture, the second-largest contributor of human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worsens the problem.

      An increase in food production during the past 50 years has helped decrease world hunger and increase life expectancy. But a shift to “Western-style dietary patterns”—high in calories, highly processed foods, and meat—is unsustainable…because it damages not only individual and population health, but also the environment.

      Since 1963, global meat consumption has risen by 62 percent. In developing nations, the increase has been about five times that, with China increasing its meat consumption nine-fold. The more meat, the greater the cost to the environment. Food production is the world’s largest cause of biodiversity loss, responsible for 80 percent of deforestation, more than 70 percent of fresh-water use, and 30 percent of human-generated GHG emissions….Animal products play an outsized role: meat and dairy production accounts for more than 8o percent of the food sector's GHG emissions, and requires n times more fossil fuels to supply a single unit of protein than grain-based sources….Red meat is especially inefficient. Producing 50 grams of beef protein yields 17.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide on average. For tofu, beans, and nuts, it’s 1.0, .4, and .1 kilograms, respectively.

      If eating red meat were clearly healthy, nutrition scientists might face a predicament. But…red meat—and processed red meat in particular—isn’t….

      …Contrary to popular belief,…plant-based diets do not have to be vegan or vegetarian. For most people, complete elimination of meat or animal products is unrealistic and not necessary for improving health….Hu also pushes for public-health strategies to make healthier diets cheaper and more accessible—from soda taxes and agricultural subsidies to fast-food marketing and zoning restrictions that could make junk food less appealing and ubiquitous, to public-education campaigns and reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps).

      …Just as observational studies made it clear that smoking increased disease risk, he believes that obesity, chronic disease, and climate change present challenges too severe to be pushed to the future….

When Life Meets Research

[These excerpts are from aa book review by Janet Rossant in the 28 February 2020 issue of Science.]

      …Developmental biologists have studied the progression of the fertilized mammalian egg through its early cleavage divisions to the formation of the 100-cell blastocyst for many years. Such studies have suggested that there is a gradual segregation of cell fate influenced by cell polarity, cell position (inside or outside), and mechanical signals and that the embryo is able to regulate for loss, gain, or rearrangement of cells right up to the blastocyst stage. However, none of these studies really addressed the question of whether there might be asymmetries in the egg or early embryo that could bias later cell fate.

      …She describes her work on defin-ing early asymmetries in the mouse embryo and their role in informing later development in careful detail, recounting how she used tools such as cell marking, live imaging, and gene manipulation to determine that early blastomeres show a bias toward different regions and cell types of the blastocyst. However, other researchers—using different techniques—found less evidence for early differences, leading to some vigorous debates, as described in the book.

      This controversy compelled researchers who had set aside work on the early embryo to reenter the fray, bringing new tools and ideas. And, although it is still not clear what initiates asymmetries after fertilization, it is increasingly clear that by the four-cell stage, there are differences in chromatin modification and transcription factor activity among the cells that, while not permanently specifying cell fate, may bias I their future lineage contributions.

What Is Killing the Monarchs?

[These excerpts are from an article by Gabriel Popkin in the March 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …That forest is the start of a remarkable annual migration that sends monarchs as far north as Canada during the summer and brings them back to Mexico every winter….Farmers were dousing corn and soybean fields there with the weed killer Roundup to wipe out many nuisance plants. But the chemical also kills a plant precious to the monarchs: milkweed, on which adult butterflies lay the eggs and the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat….Roundup was imperiling the great monarch butterfly migration.'

      The public and many monarch scientists were galvanized by the idea. It made sense—a major food all worried about source was vanishing just as Mexico’s butterfly population was crashing. In the winter of Oberhauser’s visit, there had been about 300 million butterflies, but just over a decade later there were fewer than 100 million. The remedy, Oberhauser and others said, was to plant milkweed in large amounts to make up for the losses….Environmental groups peti-tioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus plexippus, as a threatened species to give it more habitat protection.

      But since then, some scientific cracks have emerged in the milkweed case. Monarch censuses taken in the U.S. both during and after the summer breeding season showed no steady decline, even as Mexican numbers plummeted. And many Mexican butterflies came from U.S. areas without many Roundup-soaked crop fields, other data suggested. Skeptical scientists asserted that the insects were breeding fine in northern climes but that something was taking them out on their way to Mexico….

      The identity of that something, however, remains an elusive and troubling mystery. Some data have suggest-ed that landscapes have lost nectar-giving plants that adult monarchs feed on during their southward journey and that the all-important forests at the end of the migratory route have been degraded. Scientists have also speculated that a parasite infection might be cut-ting down the migrants. (A smaller monarch population that winters on the California coast has also crashed recently. Entomologists are concerned about this group, but its habitat does not overlap with that of the eastern population, so scientists think the causes of this crash are probably different.)

      Virtually everyone agrees that overall, despite spikes and dips from one year to the next, the winter population in Mexico has been heading down for most of the past three decades. That is not good news for the monarchs. What to do about it, though, depends on the cause….But the other evidence adds confusing and complex twists to what once seemed like a straightforward story with a ready-made villain. That means helping the insects has become more complicated, too.

      …female monarchs alight on more than 70 species of milkweed plants (genus Asclepias) to feed and to lay eggs. One adult female can lay up to 500 eggs. When that job is done, she dies. From her eggs hatch caterpillars that turn into butterflies; the cycle repeats four to five times during a year.

      Monarchs that overwinter in Mexico fly north and lay eggs near the Texas border in the spring. Their offspring live two to six weeks and spawn generations that move to the Midwest and South and ultimately all the way into the Great Lakes states, New England and Canada. As the days shorten in the fall, the last butterfly generation, dubbed the “super generation,” appears. These insects can live as long as eight months because their metabolism slows down and they do not spend precious energy on reproduction. Instead they travel south—all the way from higher latitudes to Mexico, covering up to 160 kilometers in a day. By December the insects that have survived the trip are huddled on Mexican firs. They live there until early spring, when they begin their own journey north, and their children continue the odyssey.

      In the late 1970s, after a long search, biologists discovered the tiny mountainside forests where monarchs were overwintering in Mexico….

      …Agricultural chemical company Monsanto had engineered corn and soy plants with a gene that allowed them to survive exposure to the herbicide glyphosate, better known by its trade name, Roundup. That meant Roundup could be sprayed liberally, leaving money-making crops unharmed while killing nearly everything else in a field. For farmers, “Roundup Ready” corn and soy were boons. For other plants that took up space among harvest rows, they were a death sentence. By 2007 nearly all the farmed soy and more than half of the corn in the U.S. were Roundup Ready.

      …between 1999 and 2010 the overall number of Midwestern milkweed plants had declined by 58 percent….within that time span, overwintering monarch populations had fallen steeply. In fact, during the winter of 2009-2010 the occupied area of Mexican forest decreased to less than half of what it had been the previous year and dipped below two hectares for the first time since record keeping began in the early 1990s. The link between the two trends seemed inescapable….

      …But the monarch butterfly has a special place in the hearts of people in three North American nations. The insect's bright-orange color and large size, the gentle loops of its flight and, most of all, its spectacular migration have made the monarch a much loved celebrity.

      And the story had a bad guy that the public was already primed to hate. Roundup's manufacturer, Monsanto (now part of the conglomerate Bayer), embodied many people's fears about genetic engineering and corporate control of agriculture. So the idea that Monsanto’s flagship product was killing America’s flag-ship insect made big news….

      But even as the wilkweed limitation hypothesis gained public support, some scientists suspected it was being built on a flimsy foundation….the numbers did not show a steady decline but bounced up and down year to year, as is typical of insect populations.

      …Although there may still be enough total milkweed across North America to support a healthy monarch population…the use of Roundup may have shifted the milkweed distribution in ways that could do harm. If the chemical’s effect has been to concentrate milkweed plants in smaller areas outside farm fields, female monarchs may have to lay all their eggs closer to one another, forcing more caterpillars to compete for the same food and stressing the population….

      Then, in the spring of 2019, a separate team of researchers found two likely suspects: harm to nectar-producing plants along the migratory route and changes in forest density in Mexico….It was the first investigation to divide the winter monarchs into their 19 individual colonies rather than lumping all the forested areas together. Colonies with more dense forest cover, it turned out, nosted more butterflies….

      …When the southern U.S. was greener in the fall, more monarchs arrived in Mexico; when it was browner, as happened during droughts, healthier plants produced more nectar capable of sustaining migrating monarchs….

      The new evidence could indicate that there may be multiple culprits in the monarch decline, not just one….

      All sides agree that helping the monarch cannot wait until the science is settled. The area of Mexican forest occupied by monarchs plummeted in 2013 to a spot barely larger than a standard soccer pitch, a record low. Although the migratory population has rebounded somewhat since then, most researchers still view its status as precarious. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it will rule on the endangered species petition later this year….

Silky Seeds

[These excerpts are from an article by David L. Chandler in the March/April 2020 issue of MIT News.]

      Coating seeds with specially treated silk could make it possible to grow crops in otherwise unproductive soils, according to new research at MIT.

      The silk, which protects the seeds from soil that would normally be too salty, also contains a kind of bacteria that naturally produce a nitrogen fertilizer. Lab tests have shown that the seeds grow successfully in these salty conditions.

      …Such fertilizers use microbes that convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can readily take up. They avoid the drawbacks of conventional nitrogen fertilizers, which he says may degrade soil quality and are very energy intensive to produce.

      Although nitrogen-fixing bacteria occur naturally in soils around the world, they are very hard to preserve outside their native environment. But…mixing them with silk derived from silkworm cocoons…and a type of sugar did the trick. In practice, the treated silk could be simple to apply to seeds by either dipping or spray coating, they say. Legumes such as beans and chickpeas have been the focus of the research so far, but it may be possible to adapt the technique to other crops.

      The researchers are now working on coatings that could also make seeds more resistant to drought. They plan outdoor tests in Morocco this year.

Potato Signals

[These excerpts are from an article by Priyanka Runwal in the March 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      When nibbled, the leaves of one type of sweet potato release a strong-smelling chemical warning that prompts other leaves—on the same plant and those nearby—to produce defensive proteins that make them hard to digest. New research tracks this odorous alert system.

      …Other plants have chemical warning systems that prompt neighbors to prepare for attack, but individual leaves often wait to manufacture defensive compounds until bitten themselves. But this plant’s leaves produce the compound immediately when neighbors are bitten….

      To investigate this response, Mithofer and his colleagues released caterpillars on the pest-resistant sweet potato strain Tainong (TN) 57 and its more susceptible cous-in TN66, both native to Taiwan. Each “exhaled” at least 40 chemicals when attacked, but the TN57 leaves released twice the amount of a compound called DMNT, also found in other plant-defense responses.

      Next, the scientists placed a healthy TN57 plant in a closed glass tank with one whose leaves had been pierced with tweezers. Within 24 hours high levels of a protein called sporamin formed in both plants’ uninjured leaves. Sporamin, also found in sweet potato tubers themselves, is what makes it difficult for humans to digest them un-cooked—and it causes trouble in insect guts, too. When researchers released synthesized DMNT into a tank with healthy plants, the. leaves again readily formed sporamin….

What’s Missing from Medical Training

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Erin Paquette and Angira Patel in the August 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      …many physicians, ourselves included, think social issues should be at the heart of medical education.

      Formal medical school typically takes four years, followed by several years of residency and often a fellowship, and during that short time students have a myriad of competing requirements. They must learn complex biological and chemical pathways that explain disease and health. They must be educated on how to read the scientific literature and apply it to their patients. They must master many therapies and know how to adapt them to patients’ varied disease states. On top of all this, they must learn to communicate effectively and compassionately with patients and colleagues.

      Being a good doctor also demands that we understand the reasons behind poor health. Our mission is not simply to diagnose, manage and treat. Physicians should act to prevent the root causes of illness and improve well-being….

      Worldwide, life expectancy and health are directly linked with national spending on public health programs. The U.S., despite spending more on the treatment of individuals, ranks lower in life expectancy than nations that have similar overall health expenses -but choose to direct funds to population-level interventions. Our own experiences underlie our perspective that teaching this is important. Practicing in Chicago, where people living only miles apart have different life expectancies—where black mothers disproportionately experience poor obstetrical outcomes and premature births as compared with their white counterparts, where residents name stress, drug abuse and depression as the greatest health threats to local children—we see the impact of social determinants of health on our patients. For individual patients, research tells us that high levels of toxic stress and adverse experiences create epigenetic changes that raise the risk of problems such as heart disease….

      We work daily to understand the best ways to teach medical students about social determinants of health. We offer classes on health equity and advocacy designed to place medicine in its larger social context. We lead bioethics curricula that guide students in making ethical decisions while incorporating principles of social justice, public health and population health. And we work with groups…where the goal is to find and share best practices. It is through this kind of medical education and holistic understanding of systems that physicians begin to think about the total set of circumstances that brought the patient in front of us. As doctors, scientists and community members, what we want most is to prevent it from happening again.

      Physicians are trained to tackle problems at their root. System-and structural-level social issues are also drivers of poor health, and it is our duty to address them. Rather than veering out of this lane, we should find ways to engage students here without sacrificing education in other areas. Medical training must evolve to produce doctors who are able to treat the individual but also understand the larger influencers of health….

Strange Bedfellows for Human Ancestors

[These excerpts are from an article by Ann Gibbons in the 21 February 2020 issue of Science.]

      The story of human evolution is full of ancient trysts. Genes from fossils have shown that the ancestors of many living people mated with Neanderthals and with Denisovans, a mysterious group of extinct humans who lived in Asia. Now, a flurry of papers suggests the ancestors of all three groups mixed at least twice with even older “ghost” lineages of unknown extinct hominins. One candidate partner: Homo erectus, an early human who left Africa by 1.8 million years ago, spread around the world, and could have mated with later waves of human ancestors.

      The new genomic studies rely on complex models of inheritance and population mixing, and they have many uncertainties, not least the precise identities of our ancestors’ strange bedfellows and when and where the encounters took place. But, taken together, they build a strong case that even before modem humans left Africa, it was not uncommon for different human ances-tors to meet and mate….

      The gold standard for detecting interbreeding with archaic humans is to sequence ancient DNA from fossils of the archaic group, then look for traces of it in modern genomes. Researchers have done just that with Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes up to 200,000 years old from Eurasia. But no one has been able to extract full genomes from more ancient human ancestors. So population geneticists have developed statistical tools to find unusually ancient DNA in genomes of living people. After almost a decade of tantalizing but unproven sightings, several teams now seem to be converging on at least two distinct episodes of Lvery ancient interbreeding.

      …the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans—whom they call Neandersovans — interbred with a “super-archaic” population that separated from other humans about 2 million years ago. Likely candidates include early members of our genus, such as H. erectus or one of its contemporaries. The mixing likely happened outside of Africa, because that’s where both Neanderthals and Denisovans emerged, and it could have taken place at least 600,000 years ago.

      …One challenge is reconciling it with new results from other researchers that show modern human ancestors mixed with super-archaic groups more recently, in Africa….

      This ghost species may have been late H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, or a close relative. One or more late-surviving members of this ancient group met and mated with the ancestors of living Africans sometime in the past 124,000 years, the modern genomes suggest….

      Today, H. sapiens doesn’t have the possibility of quickly grabbing a load of diversity by mating with another group: For perhaps the first time in our history, we’re the only humans on the planet. It’s another reason to miss our extinct cousins, says population geneticist Carina Schlebusch of Uppsala University. “To have such a large densely spread species with ... so little ge-netic diversity ... is a dangerous situation,” hshe says.

The Art of Misleading the Public

[These excerpts are from a book review by Sheril Kirshenbaum in the 14 February 2020 issue of Science.]

      At the dawn of a new decade and in a pivotal election year, we face unprecedented challenges that threaten the environment, public health, and security. Meanwhile, dark money is being funneled through powerful lobbyists, plaguing the process of enacting informed, evidence-based policies. David Michaels’s new book, The Triumph of Doubt, is a tour de force that examines how frequently, and easily, science has been manipulated to discredit expertise and accountability on issues ranging from obesity and concussions to opioids and climate change….

      His book offers account after account of unethical bad actors working against the public good on issues ranging from asbestos to climate change. Powerful firms and individuals seeking personal gain repeat the tactics of a well-worn playbook of denial and misdirection proven effective by Big Tobacco more than 50 years ago. Michaels pulls no punches, naming the corporations and people responsible for fraud, deception, and even what he terms “climate terrorism.” He reveals the dirty ways that industries have succeeded at shaping their own narratives regarding safety and health by producing articles and diversions designed to deny and distort science while confusing the public.

      When a Boston University brain study found that 110 of 111 National Football League (NFL) players' brains showed pathologies consistent with the rare disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CIE), the NFL hired its own conflicted scientists to counter and discredit these troubling findings. When reports from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization independently linked alcohol consumption to certain cancers, the alcoholic beverage industry claimed that these associations were not real and doubled down on its messaging that moderate drinking is good for us. When the opioid epidemic hit the United States, ravaging families and communities, well-documented evidence suggests that drug companies suppressed research and misrepresented the clear science demonstrating that opioids are addictive and easily abused.

      What is most striking in The Triumph of Doubt is that Michaels is not merely reporting on how corporations and industries manufacture uncertainty. Rather, he provides an insider’s perspective on the machinations taking place in the nation's capital, in courtrooms, and across the country. He offers firsthand accounts of where and when science is for sale, instances in which data have been reanalyzed to promote uncertainty and misrepresent findings, as well as the establishment of groups that advance corporate interests while hiding their involvement….

Life without Ice

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Mark C. Urban in the 14 February 2020 issue of Science.]

      For millions of years, Arctic sea ice has expanded and retracted in a rhythmic dance with the summer sun. Humans evolved in this icy world, and civilization relied on it for climatic, ecological, and political stability. But the world creeps ever closer to a future without ice. Last year, new reports documented how record Arctic warmth is rapidly eroding sea ice….

      …last year’s minimum Arctic sea ice extent was the second lowest on record….2019 ended with the second lowest Arctic sea ice volume on record. The sea ice is now 40% smaller than it was 40 years ago, and the remaining ice is younger, thinner, and more temporary. Arctic summers could become mostly ice-free in 30 years, and possibly sooner if current trends continue.

      Although most people have never seen the sea ice, its effects are never far away. By reflecting sunlight, Arctic ice acts as Earth’s air conditioner. Once dark water replaces brilliant ice, Earth could warm substantially, equivalent to the warming triggered by the additional release of a trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The ice also determines who gets rain. Loss of Arctic sea ice can make it rain in Spain, dry out Scandinavian hydropower, and set California ablaze. And declining sea ice threatens wildlife, from the iconic polar bear to algae that grow beneath the sea ice, supporting an abundance of marine life.

      Unfortunately, the sea ice conceals not just algae, but also 90 billion barrels of oil and 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that neighboring countries would like to claim. If extracted and burned, these fossil fuels would exacerbate climate change greatly. Arctic nations are now racing to find undersea evidence that extends their continental shelves poleward, which would allow them to control these resources and substantiate military claims. If conflicts over Arctic ownership intensify, the thawing ice cap could spark a new—more aptly named—cold war….

      Sixty years later, we must now save the Arctic….

What If Aging Were a Disease?

[These excerpts are from an article by David Adam in the September/October 2019 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Since ancient times, aging has been viewed as simply inevitable, unstoppable, nature’s way. “Natural causes” have long been blamed for deaths among the old, even if they died of a recognized pathological condition. The medical writer Galen argued back in the second century AD that aging is a natural process.

      His view, the acceptance that one can die simply of old age, has dominated ever since. We think of aging as the accumulation of all the other conditions that get more common as we get older—cancer, dementia, physical frailty. All that tells us, though, is that we’re going to sicken and die; it doesn’t give us a way to change it….

      But a growing number of scientists are questioning our basic conception of aging. What if you could challenge your death—or even prevent it altogether? What if the panoply of diseases that strike us in old age are symptoms, not causes? What would change if we classified aging itself as the disease?

      …Medicine…should view aging not as a natural consequence of growing older, but as a condition in and of itself. Old age…is simply a pathology—and, like all pathologies, can be successfully treated. If we labeled aging differently, it would give us a far greater ability to tackle it in itself, rather than just treating the diseases that accompany it….

      It is a subtle shift, but one with big implications. How disease is classified and viewed by public health groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO) helps set priorities for governments and those who control funds. Regulators, including the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have strict rules that guide what conditions a drug can be licensed to act on, and so what conditions it can be prescribed and sold for. Today aging isn’t on the list….

      Nature suggests that endless life might not be inconceivable. Most famously, perhaps, the bristlecone pine trees of North America are considered biologically immortal. They can die—chopped down by an ax or zapped by a lightning bolt—but left undisturbed, they typically won’t simply fall over because they get old. Some are reckoned to be 5,000 years young; age, quite literally, does not wither them. Their secret remains a mystery. Other species appear to show signs of biological immortality as well, including some sea creatures.

      Such observations have led many to contend that life span can be dramatically extended with the right interventions. But in 2016, a high-profile study published in Nature argued that human life has a hard limit of about 115 years. This estimate is based on global demographic data showing that improvements in survival with age tend to decline after 100, and that the record for human longevity hasn't increased since the 1990s. Other researchers have disputed the way the analysis was done….

      Whether or not they believe in either the disease hypothesis or maximum life spans, most experts agree that something has to change in the way we deal with aging….

      One thing that may underlie the growing calls to reclassify aging as a disease is a shift in social attitudes….

      One promising treatment is metformin. It’s a common diabetes drug that has been around for many years, but animal studies suggest it could also protect against frailty, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Giving it to healthy people might help delay aging, but without official guidance doctors are reluctant to prescribe it that way….

      Metformin is one of a broader class of drugs called mTOR inhibitors. These interfere with a cell protein involved in division and growth. By turning the protein’s activity down, scientists think they can mimic the known benefits of calorie restriction diets. These diets can make animals live longer; it’s thought that the body may respond to the lack of food by taking protective measures. Preliminary human tests suggest the drugs can boost older people’s immune systems and stop them from catching infectious bugs.

      Other researchers are looking at why organs start to pack up as their cells age, a process called senescence. Among the leading candidates for targeting and removing these decrepit cells from otherwise healthy tissues is a class of compounds called senolytics. These encourage the aged cells to selectively self-destruct so the immune system can clean them out. Studies have found that older mice on these drugs age more slowly. In humans, senescent cells are blamed for diseases ranging from atherosclerosis and cataracts to Parkinson’s and osteoarthritis. Small human trials of senolytics are under way, although they aren't officially aimed at aging itself, but on the recognized illnesses of osteoarthritis and a lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

      Research on these drugs has highlighted a key question about aging: Is there a common mechanism by which different tissues change and decline? If so, could we find drugs to target that mechanism instead of playing what Harvard’s David Sinclair rails “whack-a-mole” medicine, treating individual diseases as they emerge? He believes there is, and that he has found a stunning new way to rewind the aging clock.

      In unpublished work described in his coming book Lifespan, he says the key to his lab’s work in this area is epigenetics. This fast-moving field focuses on how changes to the way genes are expressed, rather than mutations to the DNA itself, can produce physiological changes such as disease. Some of the body’s own epigenetic mechanisms work to protect its cells, repairing damage to DNA…

      Because aging isn’t officially a disease, most research on these drugs exists in a gray area: they don’t—or can’t—officially tackle aging….

Getting Ready for the Next Flood

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Winter 2020 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      Climate change is making storms more frequent and mow damaging. Few places have made dlat fact more painfully obvious in recent years than North Carolina, where Hurricanes Matthew and Florence walloped the state with two “500-year” floods in 2016 and 2018. Florence took 43 lives and caused $17 billion in damage. One month later, tropical storm Michael hit. Then in September 2019, Hurricane Dorian pummeled the coast….

      In a state where the previous governor once said climate change was “in God’s hands,” the dialogue on climate change is changing….

      …In 2008, widespread flooding caused $10 billion of damage in Iowa, submerging nearly 3 million acres of farmland and inundating towns. Ten square miles of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, lay underwater, displacing 18,000 people. In response, Iowa invested in a comprehensive effort to reduce future flood damage….

      More than 10,000 acres of private land in the Middle Cedar River watershed are now using practices like buffers, ponds and keeping the soil covered with crops year-round to reduce flood risk and protect soil and water quality. Research from the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa shows that these strategies, if used on a large scale, could have reduced Cedar Rapids flooding in 2008 by 7 inches — the difference between water at the doorstep and water inside homes. IFC experts are testing this approach in eight watersheds across the state and are planning a reciprocal visit to North Carolina.

      In the In years since its inception in the wake of the floods, IFC has built a network of 300 stream sensors, rain gauges and hydrologic stations, created floodplain maps for all 99 Iowa counties and developed sophisticated computer flood modeling systems, all of which allow it to make. real-time, publicly accessible flood forecasts for more than 1,000 communities. In 2016, IFC predictions helped Cedar Rapids prepare for its second biggest flood in histmr, greatly reducing flood damage….

The Rise of Clean Cars

[These excerpts are from an article by Charlie Miller in the Winter 2020 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      At the height of the Second World War, in July 1943, a chocking mist descended on Los Angeles. Residents reported that their eyes and throats stung and families piled into their cars and headed for the mountains. A rumor spread that the Japanese had launched a chemical attack.

      In fact, it was Los Angeles’ first brush with smog, a problem that would only grow worse in the coming decades. But if you compare a photo of Los Angeles in 1970 to one taken yesterday, you’ll see a big difference. The modern picture shows much cleaner air.

      This success is due to the 1970 Clean Air Act, which started the country along a path toward healthier air. Automakers were required to build cleaner cars, and they did, although not without a fight.…Today’s vehicles produce 99% less conventional pollution than those of 60 years ago.

      But the reduction in climate pollution was far less. The emergence of climate change as a critical issue, and the ongoing threat of air pollution to public health, demand that cars become even cleaner. So, in 2012, former President Obama finalized stringent new clean air standards. The standards, which would nearly double our current fuel economy by 2025, were adopted with broad support from automakers, labor and consumers. In poll after poll, Americans still support the initiative. Over the life of the program, cleaner cars will save consumers $1.7 trillion, save lives and lower climate pollution.

      The technology automakers need to make cars cleaner is ready, such as cylinder deactivation. Car companies are investing heavily in electric vehicles, and General Motors is spending $2 billion on a battery factory in Ohio.

      The Trump administration has put all this progress at risk. Deploying misleading and false analysis, the administration is poised to unveil its proposal to roll back the clean car standards….

      The administration has now taken the fight to the next level, moving to quash California’s long-established authority to set its own, stricter clean car standards. Under the Clean Air Act, California has the right to set its ownstandards and has often done so. Other states have the option of following California’s lead, and 24 states have, most recently Colorado….

      Remarkably, Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkwagen have all announced that they will adhere to California’s stronger standards. (GM, Chrysler and Toyota have sided with the administration.)

      …Clean cars save consumers money, cut climate pollution and protect human health. Even many car companies oppose the rollback. So who supports it, besides Chrysler, GM and Toyota? Just the Trump administration and some oil companies, which stand to sell more gasoline. They are on the losing side of history.

In the Heartland, Clean Energy Shines

[These excerpts are from an article by Shanti Menon in the Winter 2020 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      …Illinois added 1,300 solar jobs in 2018, a 37% surge driven largely by the state’s r landmark Future Energy Jobs Act….Now the state is set to expand on that law with the most comprehensive package of climate legislation in the country. The Clean Energy Jobs Act will increase renewable energy, boost electric vehicles and ensure that all communities benefit from the transition to a cleaner economy….

      Trump’s rollbacks have not impeded climate momentum across the country. States like Colorado and Pennsylvania and major utilities like Xcel Energy are also taking climate action that is helping set the stage for federal climate legislation….introduce a climate bill that will transition the country to a 100% clean economy — one that produces no more pollution than we can remove — by 2050. It’s an ambitious plan, but it’s in line with what scientists say the world needs to do in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. More than 150 lawmakers have co-sponsored the 100% Clean Economy Act….

      Colorado made history in May 2019 when it passed a law mandating a 90% cut in climate pollution across its economy by 2050 and at least 50% by 2030….

      Duke Energy, one of America’s largest utilities, with 7.7 million customers in the South and the Midwest, as well as Michigan’s DTE Energy plan to cut their carbon pollution 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. These three utility commitments will create a yearly climate benefit by 2050 equivalent to closing 45 coal-fired power plants….

      …And New Mexico, which overlies part of the Permian Basin, the world’s top oil-producing region, has committed to at least a 45% reduction in climate pollution by 2030….

      Progress in places like these makes it clear that climate leadership is not limited by geography or long-standing links to fossil fuels. States, businesses and communities across the country are seeing the benefits of a clean economy that cuts pollution and creates prosperity….

      Illinois’ Clean Energy Jobs Act will grow the state's renewable electricity supply to 46% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. (The current target is 25% by 2025.) It will improve energy efficiency in buildings and offer incentives for electric buses and charging stations for cars and trucks. It will remove a subsidy that keeps dirty coal power plants — often in low-income neighborhoods — online. Other provisions will help protect displaced fossil fuel workers and expand clean energy job training.

      Instead of being rewarded for selling more energy, utilities will get paid for improving efficiency and reducing consumer demand during peak hours. This lays the groundwork for a clean, flexible grid that can accommodate a rise in electric vehicle charging and even the use of EVs as batteries to store clean energy….

Electric Trucks Pick up Speed

[These excerpts are from an article by Tasha Kosviner in the Winter 2020 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      Every day, more than 15,000 trucks pound through the neighborhood of Hunts Point in the Bronx, many bound for NewYork’s produce markets, spewing pollution as they go. It’s no coincidence that this area of New York City has some of the worst air quality and highest levels of childhood asthma in the city….

      Amid the diesel-belching behemoths clogging the road, their truck remains a novelty. EDF intends to change that. Alongside our work to shape the next federal diesel engine standards, we are working with businesses, utilities and governments to power up a rapid expansion in electric vehicles. Through our Truck and Bus Initiative, we envision the electrification of one-third of all new trucks and buses in the United States, China and Europe in the next 10 years. By 2040, that figure, for U.S. vehicles, must rise to 100%.

      The transition couldn’t be more urgent. Of the 385,000 premature deaths associated with global tailpipe pollution in 2015, diesel vehicles accounted for nearly half -- by far the largest contributor. Globally, emissions from trucks and buses are expected to double in the next 30 years. Yet to stay below the critical two degree global warming threshold established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the vast majority of global fleets must be zero-emission by 2050.

      …Electric trucks currently comprise less than 0.5% of the global vehicle fleet. To transform the industry, EDF needs to overcome the skepticism of fleet owners accustomed to diesel engines. We must drive down the cost of purchase — currently up to triple that of diesels — galvanize business demand and bolster manufacturer confidence. We must promote green electricity, work with utilities to manage increased power needs and engage policymakers at the city, state and federal levels. And all this must be done while ensuring that communities that suffer most from traffic pollution…also reap the benefits….

      To jump-start the initiative, EDF will launch pilot projects in Houston, Los Angeles and New York. In each city, we will partner with commercial and municipal fleet operators, utilities, regulators and others to establish prototype electric fleets. These fleets, and the network of private entities and public policies that support them, will serve as blueprints for a second phase of projects in more cities. Similar work will follow in London and China. Together, China, the United States and Europe comprise 65% of the global truck and bus market….

      A major barrier for early adopters is cost. Battery prices dropped 87% between 2010 and 2019 and they continue to fall. But at point of purchase, electric trucks and buses are unlikely to reach price parity with internal combustion engines for many years to come. Yet EDF modeling has shown that lower fuel costs and reduced maintenance mean that over the course of their lifetime, electric buses and some trucks are, in many circumstances, already cheaper than diesel. At an electric vehicle expo in New York City’s Union Square last fall, a salesman demonstrated why. Popping the hood of a truck, he pointed out the low number of moving parts. He showed how braking recharges the battery, reducing wear on the brakes. With typical New York swagger, he proclaimed he didn’t know how long it would take the brakes to wear out: It has never happened.

      In North Carolina, EDF is now using this fact to develop a plan to finance electric transit and school buses. Under this plan, utilities would fund the additional upfront cost of the vehicles and the school district or municipality would pay back the difference through its utility bills. Repayments would be set to never exceed the savings made….

      In a further innovation, the plan would see the utility retaining ownership of the batteries and charging infrastructure. When the buses are not in use, the utility could use the batteries to either feed back into the grid or — in a plan that will interest other storm-battered states as power sources during outages….

      Having more electric vehicles requires a greater supply of electricity. Even if companies and transit agencies want to commit to electrification, they are limited by what their utility can provide….

      With just 36 buses, power demand at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is relatively low. Larger fleets, or those that require high-speed charging, will need their utilities to provide the extra power. That can require major infrastructure works, which can take years.

      There are solutions at hand.

      In California, EDF worked with the Public Utilities Commission to develop cheaper off-peak charging rates that reduce stress on the grid and the need for additional infrastructure. We also advised on rules for operating big charging systems. The work is already having an impact. Among the state’s largest utilities, Southern California Edison is running a pilot to install hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of charging infrastructure. And PG&E recently launched the nation’s first rate specifically for charging commercial electric vehicles….

      But what of the emissions from generating that power? The good news is that U.S. electricity generation is getting cleaner every year. And looking at how electricity is generated today, electric buses are already cleaner than diesel in every state.

      More must be done to grow renewable energy but vehicle electrification cannot wait. Companies typically upgrade vehicles every 10 to 12 years, so each new die-sel sel vehicle locks in emissions for a decade at least….

      For anyone living near busy roads, electric engines are far healthier….residents living near roads with heavy truck traffic had eight times higher exposure to air pollution than those living just a few blocks away and suffered higher rates of asthma, stroke and heart disease….

      There are clear signs that the transition to electric trucks is already underway. In 2019, 43 states took actions relating to vehivle electrification. California, Colorado, New York and North Carolina all have electrification plans tied to their climate goals. In Michigan, Nevada and Virginia, students will soon join peers in new York and California by going to school on electric buses….

Assessment in the Science Classroom

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Ann Haley MacKenzie in the February 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      The word assessment conjures up so many questions for science teachers. Is it a necessary evil? When is it helpful and beneficial? What is lost during the mandatory weeks of proctoring standardized exams to our overtested, stressed, and, sometimes, apathetic students?

      …a test brought about by lawmakers who have never taught, but who believe it is their duty to often wreak havoc on teacher and students’ lives.

      There are districts losing weeks of instructional time each year while their students take a plethora of standardized tests. These weeks do not include all the time some teachers spend preparing their students for these exams. I believe time is better spent doing science rather than testing the curiosity and wonder out of our students.

      …What if you have a high school student functioning at the elementary level? What if you have students for whom English is a second language? The tests are often inequitable in these situations, even when students are provided support.

      We as teachers seem to be silent when it comes to arguing what should be going on in our science classrooms. NSTA provides a solid platform for expressing the concerns of science teachers in front of politicians, the media, and other sources needing to hear from us.

      Authentic assessments, unlike standardized tests, have a vital role. They can demonstrate growth over time in the students. Utilizing authentic assessments that play to students’ strengths is an important area of consideration….

      One size of assessment does not fit all. Play to your students’ strengths….Give them the opportunity to decide just how they will demonstrate their knowledge. Adolescent learners need choices; their voices need to be part of the decision-making process for how they will be assessed. By providing them with various ways to demonstrate their understandings and conceptual knowledge, we can better determine the gaps and strengths in our teaching practices.

      After all, assessment means “the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something.” Do our assessments address the abilities of our students….

Hidden Figures

[These excerpts are from a book review by William P. O’Hare in the 7 February 2020 issue of Science.]

      …focuses on the extent to which many marginalized populations are often not counted in official statistics and the extent to which wealthy individuals and families are often able to hide their financial resources, properties, and holdings from the government to paying taxes on these assets.

      Cobham documents a range of situations where people are missed or undercounted in official statistics, from United Nations figures to country surveys. More often than not, the most frequently missed groups are those that are economically and socially marginalized. When such groups are not accounted for, it often leads to reduced political power as well as reduced economic well-being.

      Many marginalized groups have rela-tively high net undercount rates in the U.S. census…, and areas with high concentrations of these groups often do not receive their fair share of government aid….

      The political overtones of how power can be used to deliberately undercount marginalized groups was on full display in the buildup to the 2020 U.S. census. The Trump administration, acting through the U.S. Department of Commerce, tried to add a question to the 2020 U.S. census regarding citizenship status, knowing that it would depress participation of populations with large numbers of immigrants. This attempt—which was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court but was then the subject of an executive order with similar goals—was made despite the objections of the experts at the Census Bureau, all living former Census Bureau directors, and many other statistical experts.

      Cobham next turns his attention to uncounted money and the extent to which people can hide their resources from the authorities. Hidden resources not only deprive countries of their fair share of tax revenue, they mask the real extent of economic inequality.

      Here, Cobham documents efforts currently under way to make the financial world more transparent. While such efforts are still young, they appear to be having mixed success….

      Throughout the book, Cobham argues that a lack of good data on population and finances is a major hindrance to good governance. Without good data…we have little idea if a policy or program is having a positive or negative impact.

      …Cobham makes the case for several changes in law and regulations that could help us get a more accurate assessment of populations and resources that currently go uncounted….

The Road to a 100% Clean Economy

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Fred Krupp in the Winter 2020 issue of EDF’s Solutions.]

      As we enter a new decade, the reality of cli-mate change is hitting home….

      Limiting climate change is a daunting task. Global emissions are still on the rise, but I'm encouraged by some recent developments. Young people around the world, who have the greatest stake in the future, are bringing new energy and passion to the cause. They understand the urgent need for action. In the U.S., cities and states are stepping up as never before to do their part.

      In Washington, D.C., too, legislators are beginning to wake up. In late November, the 100% Clean Economy Act was introduced in the House with the support of more than 150 co-sponsors….It’s a bold plan to slash climate pollution to net zero by 2050 at the latest, which is the ambitious but achievable climate goal we need.

      We’ve made good progress in the U.S. electric power sector: emissions are down over the past decade as coal-burning power plants close. But we can't get to an economy that’s 100% clean without going further on electricity and addressing every source of climate pollution, including transportation, now the country's number one source (see cover story….

      We’re off to a good start. In 2018, the global electric car market was 5.1 million, up 2 million from 2017. And EDF is working with citizens, utilities and governments to rapidly expand deployment of electric trucks and buses. This is critical because trucks are among the fastest-growing pollution sources globally.

      Airplanes and ships will also be getting cleaner. The International Civil Aviation Organization has agreed to cap carbon emissions from international flights beginning in 2021, with more than 80 nations participating….

      But we’re facing strong headwinds from the Trump administration, in the form of furious efforts to roll back popular clean car standards for automobiles….

Cryptic Predators

[Theis excerpt is from an article by Sandrine Ceurstemont in the February 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      When ecologist Jose Valdez and his team released 10,000 tadpoles to populate a new conservation site in Newcastle, Australia, they surrounded the area with a mesh fence to keep out hungry snakes, birds and mammals. But they hadn’t considered much smaller predators: diving beetles. The researchers soon began to witness the insects’ violent attacks, and three years later only a handful of frogs remained….

      Predators are usually larger than their prey, with vertebrates such as amphibians typically doing the eating when it comes to insects. Although role reversal has been reported—such as praying mantises consuming lizards—scientists consider this rare. Valdez suspects insects' predatory behavior has been underestimated, however….

      It is unusual to see insects hunting in packs. But while monitoring one pond at night, Valdez saw about 12 adult diving beetles surround a tadpole and quickly pull it apart….

      The researchers also noticed that certain diving beetles laid their eggs inside frog egg clutches, seemingly timed to hatch so the insect larvae could hunt down newborn tadpoles. The beetle larvae killed up to three tadpoles an hour, often discarding a half-eaten one if another was close by. “None of these behaviors were documented before,” Valdez says….

      Because insects are small, their predatory behavior is easy to miss—and they often attack in difficult-to-observe settings, such as at night or underwater. But such assaults are emerging from the shadows: recent studies have documented praying mantises regularly eating small birds, as well as giant water bugs consuming vertebrates such as turtles, frogs and snakes in Japanese rice fields.

      Insect predation could play a hidden role in declining amphibian populations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that at least 40 percent of amphibian species are threatened with extinction….

      Next, Valdez plans to quantify diving beetle predation on various amphibians. He will analyze insect gut contents and use cameras to capture more of the behavior….

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