Increase Your Brain Power
Sonia in Vert
Publications
Shared Idea
Interesting Excerpts
Awards and Honors
Presentations
This Week's Puzzle
Last Week's Puzzle
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).
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 specifit.to 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….

Profits, Prejudice, and Plant Patents

[These excerpts are from a book review by Helen Anne Curry in the 31 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …In 2016, the conviction of a Florida physicist on charges of conspiring to steal trade secrets confirmed that seed theft had also become, at least to those who influence U.S. federal policies and procedures, a national security threat….

      The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spared little expense in developing a case against Mo. A 2-year period saw 73 agents devote time to the effort, 17,000 emails intercepted, hundreds of hours of audio recorded and transcribed, and more. All of this was done to defend the intellectual property of two extremely profitable, world-leading agribusinesses —"American industry”—against the haphazardly organized incursions of an expanding Beijing-based animal feed corporation that did not even have the expertise in place to efficiently exploit stolen seeds—"unfair foreign competition.”

      To understand why the U.S. government devotes a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars to investigating and litigating on behalf of Monsanto…one really needs to appreciate global politics.

      Hvistendahl considers factors that range from the FBI's post-Cold War refashioning, which contributed to a new narrative of industrial espionage as a national security threat, to the effects that greater meat consumption in China have had on demand for feed corn and, therefore, seed corn. The consolidation of agribusiness features prominently as well, a factor that both explains, and is explained by, the dogged defense of patents on corn and other crop varieties described above.

      …For nearly two decades, the FBI and other U.S. agencies have expounded an account of China's espionage strategy in which the Chinese government is said to rely on “a dispersed network of nontraditional collectors” rather than professional agents. This vision of a “'human wave' of students, scientists, and engineers...who gather intelligence ad hoc” wrongly implicates all ethnic Chinese working in the United States as potential spies for the Communist Party.

      Hvistendahl provides evidence that this characterization, which evokes old racist fears of “the yellow peril,” not only is fundamentally inaccurate with respect to China’s state-led spy operations but also produces racially motivated suspicion, hostility, and harm. Wrongful investigations have ruined careers and lives.

      Is American industry really at risk? Or is it values such as tolerance, openness, and justice that are truly in danger?...

Game Over

[These excerpts are from a book review by Stacie L. Pettyjohn in the 31 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …an overview of German Admiral Karl Doenitz’s plan to use a fleet of U-boats to cut off commerce to the United Kingdom, which the island nation needed to stay in the war. Although a similar strategy had been tried unsuccessfully in World War I, Doenitz believed that improved communications would enable groups of U-boats to operate together, like a wolf pack, and allow them nate and defeat escorted convoys.

      Doenitz’s plan, devised in 1937, was not realized until June 1940, when Germany’s occupation of France gave it Atlantic bases. Nazis called this the “happy time” because their U-boats roamed the seas with impunity, sinking civilian vessels carrying cargo….According to Parkin, this success was largely due to bold tactics developed by German Captain Otto Kretschmer, who launched night attacks within the columns of a convoy, firing torpedoes at point-blank range, then submerging until the convoy dispersed.

      In January 1942, Winston Churchill enlisted Captain Gilbert Roberts to lead a small organization—the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU)—charged with identifying U-boat tactics, developing effective countermeasures, and teaching British sailors to use new countermaneuvers. Lacking competent men to staff WATU, Roberts turned to the Women’s Royal Naval Service (known as the “Wrens”), which assigned women who had a “keen mind for numbers” to build and run a game modeling a two-sided tactical fight between British escorts and German U-boats.

      During this game, the two sides maneuvered their respective vessels, dropped depth charges, and fired torpedoes on a linoleum floor, where each 10-inch square represented one nautical mile. The British team commanded their escorts from behind white sheets designed to limit their line of sight to replicate the view from a ship's bridge. While British ships were outlined in conspicuous white chalk, the U-boats were marked in green, rendering them invisible. Throughout the game, the Wrens measured and marked the ships' movements, provided intelligence, guided discussions, and played as the German team. Roberts presided over the game and the postgame discussion.

      Parkin nicely highlights how this war game was used for multiple purposes at different times during the war. Roberts and the Wrens first used the game to uncover Kretschmer’s tactical innovation, for example. They then used it to develop and test countermeasures. Additionally, the game was used to teach skeptical audiences the superiority of WATU’s countermeasures when compared with existing tactics. By the war’s end, nearly 5000 sailors had taken WATU’s weeklong course covering four different battle scenarios.

      …when British convoys used WATU-developed tactics and, bolstered by aircraft and naval support groups, fended off the largest wolf-pack attacks of World War II. After 41 U-boats were sunk in May 1943, the Battle of the Atlantic turned decisively toward the Allies….

      Sadly, the Wrens were an anomaly, reflecting a brief moment when women were war games out of necessity, operating in a field that to this day is dominated by men. Yet gender diversity has been shown to yield better and more innovative solutions in such settings, and achieving it should be a priority.

A Microbiome Silver Bullet for Honey Bees

[These excerpts are from an article by Robert J. Paxton in the 31 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      The western honey bee (Apis mellifera) brings tangible benefits to humans as an important pollinator and insights into social evolution as a model organism. Yet, despite close scientific scrutiny, it is under global threat from a range of stressors…that are unlikely to diminish with global change. Chief among these are pests and pathogens, remedies to which are either ineffective, short-term, expensive, or impractical….Leonard…reveal a hidden microbiological key to fight these pests and pathogens: genetically modified honey bee gut bacteria tailored to induce host RNA interference (RNA1)-based defense…that is effective, long-term, potentially cheap, and easy to apply. This important approach may not only provide a solution to many of the honey bee's woes, it also offers a new functional genomic toolkit with which to dissect the molecular intricacies of honey bees and their societies.

      Originally brought to the Americas by early European settlers, the honey bee is now globally distributed and indispensable in agriculture. Yet its success—and intercontinental transport—has been accompanied by the spread of its numerous pests and pathogens, foremost among which are the exotic Varroa destructor (hereafter “varroa”) ectoparasitic mite and deformed wing virus (DWV), a killer pathogen transmitted by varroa mites….The varroa-DWV nexus is widely blamed for increased honey bee mortality across the temperate world and both mite and virus are nowadays ubiquitous, infecting more or less every hive…; colony collapse is the outcome. Current treatments include a range of natural and synthetic miticides to kill varroa or high-tech solutions that induce a natural innate host defense mechanism, RNAi, to reduce pathogen (including viral) burden….But the former has limited efficacy because mites soon evolve resistance; moreover, miticides can enter the human food chain through contamination of honey. The latter, by contrast, has proven effective in controlling DWV…but is expensive and the benefits are temporary—on the order of days or weeks. Now, Leonard…have genetically modified one honey bee gut bacterium, Snodgrassella alvi, thereby refining a system to induce RNAi within hosts. This approach seems to offer bees sustainable protection from varroa or DWV. Could this be a silver bullet for the honey bee?

      RNAi is a biological process found in most eukaryotes that regulates endogenous as well as exogenous (foreign) RNA, such as that of viruses. Introducing exogenous double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) into a host cell causes that cell's molecular machinery to degrade like-sequenced RNA. This can reduce the expression of a corresponding host gene (so-called gene “knockdown”) or lead to the destruction of a viral RNA, resulting in viral control….But there is a catch—dsRNA is expensive to produce in large quantities, inherently unstable, and difficult to direct into host cells, where it is needed.

      …an insect’s gut bacteria—its microbiome—can be engineered to express copious dsRNA in a stable manner that acts systemically in insect hosts. Leonard…have perfected this approach by engineering S. alvi to express varroa or viral genes and feeding the engineered bacteria to honey bees. When the corresponding varroa or viral dsRNA was produced by the ingested bacteria (and then taken up by the host—in the case of varroa, even passed on to mites feeding on honey bee tissue), the host's RNAi machinery was activated to destroy those RNA sequences—self-destruction in the case of varroa. Thus, when treated honey bees were subsequently challenged with varroa or DWV, mites died and viral replication was suppressed: a major breakthrough in their control….

      …laboratory-based experiments used handfuls of worker honey bees. The next step is to scale up with full-sized colonies, which contain up to 50,000 individuals, to demonstrate field-realistic feasibility….

      Other major problems facing honey bees include insecticide (mis)use and loss of flower-rich habitat….Honey bee gut bacteria engineered to alter host expression of genes involved in detoxification or pollen digestion might go some way to resolving these problems, too. As well as promising insights into fundamental aspects of biology….approach has great potential to improve bee—and even our own—health….

Beating Back Extinction

[These excerpts are from an article by Jason G. Goldman in the Febuary 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Scientists, conservation organizations and governments trying to stem the tide of extinction often focus efforts on protected areas such as national parks and wildlife preserves. But with as many as a million species at risk, this strategy may not be enough to conserve wildlife, especially in a world increasingly disrupted by climate change.

      Slowing the mass extinction that now appears to be underway will require more creative means of coexisting alongside wild plants and animals. A new study underscores the effectiveness of some such approaches by examining indigenous-managed lands….

      Schuster and his team analyzed more than 15,000 areas in Australia, Brazil and Canada. They found that the total diversity of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles was highest on lands either managed or comanaged by indigenous groups, whereas randomly selected locations with no formal protection were the least biodiverse. For threatened species in particular, indigenous lands scored slightly higher than protected lands on overall species richness in Brazil and Canada, as well as higher for threatened amphibians and reptiles in Australia, mammals in Brazil, and birds and reptiles in Canada….

      Each country has a different geography, climate and colonization history. Yet remarkably, Schuster says, the best indicator for species diversity is whether a given area was managed by an indigenous community. He points out that practices such as sustainable hunting, fishing and foraging, as well as pre-cribed burning, are more likely to occur in such areas….

Weight Is Not Enough

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

      …Higher body masses are associated with increased risk for hypertension, diabetes and coronary disease. Many epidemiological studies of hundreds of thousands (in some cases, millions) of patients have shown that heavier people are at higher risk for these illnesses. But the big picture is not the whole picture. Researchers have identified a subset of obese people considered to be “metabolically healthy”—meaning they do not exhibit elevated blood pressure or the diabetes precursor called insulin resistance, for example. Although the numbers vary greatly depend-ing on the study, the metabolically healthy population could comprise anywhere from 6 to 75 percent of obese individuals.

      One intriguing report published in 2016 found that a higher body mass index (or BMI, the ratio of weight to height) “only moderately increased the risks for diabetes among healthy subjects” and that unhealthy thin people were twice as likely to get diabetes as healthy fat people. Clearly, there is more to the equation than weight. Although the association between excess weight and disease is very real, individual experience can vary greatly and hinges on personal physiology and behavior.

      Despite such findings, doctors routinely recommend dieting for weight loss as a means to “treat” poor health indicators such as high cholesterol and insomnia in obese patients—an approach with an abysmal success rate. Virtually no diet works in the long term….Spending years trapped in a cycle of losing weight, regaining it, then losing it again is associated with poorer cardiovascular health outcomes and contributes to hypertension, insulin resistance and high cholesterol. It is time that doctors ditch the scale-centric health care practice and focus on behaviors that have proven positive outcomes for health. Lifestyle changes, such as enhancing on’'s nutrition by eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with increased physical activity and smoking cessation, can improve blood pressure, blood lipid levels and insulin sensitivity—often independently of changes in body weight.

      Among the more insidious by-products of weight-centric health care are the increased stigma and shame experienced by the overweight. The well-reported anecdotal experience of innumerable fat people is that doctors often prescribe weight loss without examining them, running tests or performing other normal procedures for conditions that thin people would be screened for automatically….

      …And research suggests that the chronic stress of living with the shame of being a heavy person may underlie metabolic changes that increase the storage of fat, elevate blood pressure and drive up blood lipid levels….

The EPA Hits a New Low

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrew Rosenberg in the Febuary 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has one job: to protect public health and safety and the environment we live in, with the best available science. It is a mission that saves lives. But that mission could end if EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler succeeds in restricting the science that the agency can use.

      …It sounds like a small change, but it has the potential to do enormous damage.

      An attempt to add this rule in 2018 was met with widespread condemnation from public health experts and the science community. A supplemental proposal is a new effort by Wheeler to abandon science-based protections that have worked effectively for decades to deliver cleaner air, cleaner water and healthier communities. So what does the rule do in its “clarified” form?...

      It is a political change made to achieve political goals. Far from a move toward transparency, this rule was designed by political staff on the basis of proposals long pushed by lobbyists for the tobacco industry and fossil-fuel extractors. The EPA's own scientific experts were secondary to the process, and its Science Advisory Board was given very little opportunity to review it. Worse, the EPA administrator can pick and choose when the rule does and does not apply—the exact opposite of a transparent or science-based process. The EPA got nearly 600,000 critical comments on the original proposal, including opposition from major scientific societies, public health groups and universities. It largely ignored them.

      This proposal puts a set of handcuffs on the agency, with industry-linked political appointees holding the key. It will make it harder for the EPA to protect communities or to hold polluters accountable. It is a declaration by Wheeler and his deputies that they don't care about public health.

The Pollinators: A Different Kind of Bee Movie

[These excerpts are from a movie review by Jacob Clark Blickenstaff in the Febuary 2020 issue of NSTA Reports.]

      …Bees have been getting attention for the last 10-15 years because of significant die-off events that threaten commercial agriculture worldwide. The 2019 documentary The Pollinators gives a detailed picture of the commercial bee industry in the United States, and examines the ongoing threats to bees….The documentary includes suggestions for how individuals can make choices in their daily lives to support both managed and native pollinators.

      Many of the fruits and vegetables we expect to regularly find in the supermarket rely on insects for pollination. Recall that pollen from a male flower has to get to a female flower to produce a fruit, and that what a botanist defines as a “fruit” includes a lot of produce a dietician would call a “vegetable,” including peppers and tomatoes. Bees are so important for the pollination of nut trees like almonds that millions upon millions of bees are trucked to California every year for the short pollination season. Once that season ends, the bees are packed up and moved to other parts of the country to pollinate other crops like apples, cherries, and blueberries. Some beekeepers move their hives more than 20 times each year, following the flowering /pollinating schedules of different crops.

      Many separate threats to bees have combined in recent years to make it especially hard for both managed and native bees to survive. Farmers have switched to pesticides that are less harmful to people, which is good. Unfortunately, the newer pesticides take longer to degrade in the environment, so once the pesticide is on a field, it can be toxic to bees for years to come. Other chemicals used on farms are also harmful, including fungicides to control fungus on crops and herbicides to control weeds.

      When one kind of crop takes over large areas of land, only a short window of time occurs when that crop produces the nectar and pollen that bees need for food. Managed bees are fed or moved on to another crop, but local native bees have nothing to eat when the crop is not blooming. With little or no food, the hive is severely weakened.

      Bee colonies can also become infested with an even smaller insect, the verroa mite, a bee parasite. It attaches to the body of a young pupa or adult bee and sucks out essential nutrients. If several mites attach to one bee, they might kill it outright. The mites also carry viruses harmful to bees, causing even greater damage.

      While a healthy colony could probably handle any one of these three threats, two or more could be fatal. A feedback loop exists in which the one problem weakens the colony, making it more susceptible to additional threats.

      …Native bees and other pollinators can’t move away from pesticides or from areas where crops replace seasonal forage, so they are even more susceptible to these hazards….

      No field can be used repeatedly without periodic “rest.” Some farmers are planting a bee-friendly cover crop that flowers during much of the year. That way, local bees can find food outside of the bloom time for the farmer's main crop.

      Another method to limit pesticide use is to try to concentrate the pest insects in one place. Some plants are especially attractive to the pest bugs, so a narrow strip of those “bait” plants can collect a lot of the pests, and the pesticide can be applied in that small area, rather than over the whole field. (This strategy is also much less expensive for the farmer, another big plus.)

      We as individual consumers can take several other measures that can support bees and other pollinators:

      • Plant a pollinator garden to provide forage for most of the year….

      • Avoid using pesticides unless absolutely necessary….

      • Buy local honey to support local beekeepers.

      • Consider purchasing fruits and vegetables that are less than “perfect” so that farmers will have a market for crops that use fewer chemicals in their production….

United Kingdom Breaks from EU Farm Subsidies

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 24 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …the U.K. government proposed radical changes to £3 billion a year in agricultural spending that will focus the money on benefits to climate, ecosystems, and the public. “It’s dramatic and utterly critical,” says Dieter Helm, an economist at the University of Oxford. “This is an agricultural revolution.”

      …farmers will be given subsidies not simply for cultivating land—the current EU system—but only for delivering “public goods.” These include sequestering carbon in trees or soil, enhancing habitat with pollinator-friendly flowers, and improving public access to the countryside. To ease the transition, direct subsidies will be phased out over 7 years beginning in 2021, and new payments for environmental services will be tested in pilot projects….

      After the destruction and starvation of World War II, European tariffs helped protect farmers from foreign competition while subsidies boosted their yields….New lands were brought under the plow and hedgerows were ripped up, leading to erosion. Excessive fertilizer and pesticides polluted air and water. And the loss of habitat harmed pollinators and ther wildlife….

      …The new bill addresses only England, because the United Kingdom allows Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to determine their own agriculture policies….

      …But Helm sees lifelines for some of these farms, such as payments for sequestering carbon with tree plantations or restored peatlands. Grants for restoring heritage buildings or enhancing landscape beauty could also help sustain farms while boosting tourism. Other payments will help farmers adapt to climate change or reduce their environmental impact. Subsidies for equipment to inject manure into the soil, for example, could reduce both air pollution and the need for chemical fertilizers.

      About one-eighth of existing U.K. farm subsidies pay for environmentally friendly activities such as maintaining hedgerows and other habitat, and those efforts will expand….

      …figuring out how to maximize the benefits will require research. Carbon sequestration payments could backfire if used in the wrong places. For example, planting trees in peatlands can dry them out, releasing more greenhouse gases than would ever be sequestered by the trees….

      Other countries will be watching closely….

Overhaul Environmental Risk Assessment for Pesticides

[These excerpts are from an article by C.J. Topping, A. Aldrich and P. Berny in the 24 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      Among aspects of agricultural intensification that have been criticized for negative impacts on biodiversity…, pesticides have been linked to declines in insects, birds, and biodiversity in aquatic systems….If pesticide use is to blame, even partially, then this raises questions both about pesticide use and the regulatory procedures that are used to protect the environment….Environmental risk assessment (ERA) of pesticides does not account for many stressors that have intensified in recent years, such as climate change, habitat destruction, and increasing landscape homogeneity, the combination of which can aggravate effects of pesticides in nature….

      The aim of ERA is to determine whether use of a pesticide can be made safe for a receiving environment. The current regulatory procedure evaluates each product separately for each agronomic use—a single-product, single-crop assessment, resulting in authorization or nonauthorization of the product for that use. This approach makes the regulatory scheme tractable, and if the risk is managed appropriately and the product applied accordingly, then pesticides should not pose an unacceptable threat….

      Risk assessments are based on the use of a single pesticide in a specific crop. Yet, the number of mixtures and sequential treatments with pesticides in the landscape can be very high…and is the norm across Europe….Similar situations are described in the United. States, Australia, and elsewhere. Any organism spending time in a single field is unlikely to face a single-product scenario, necessitating the consideration of the application sequence in the ERA. The current approach also ignores scale of use; hence, once approved for a crop, the area over which that crop is grown is not considered.

      …Where direct exposure to nontarget organisms makes harm unavoidable (for example, insecticides applied to kill insect pests may kill nontarget insects), the ERA requires recovery experiments to demonstrate recovery potential. For most species, recovery in the contaminated area is by emigration from source habitats. However, this assumes a balanced source-sink dynamic that does not reflect intensive modern agriculture. The experiment, conducted for single fields or plots within an untreated area, does not represent the real ratio of source and sink habitat, something constantly changing because of continued agricultural intensification. The consequence is an underestimation of the risk in the long term…as source areas become depleted owing to dispersal of organisms into the sinks contaminated with pesticides.

      In addition, in a mosaic of pesticide applications, wide-ranging animals (such as honey bees) are exposed to a cocktail of pesticides even more diverse than that applied to a single field. Current ERA also does not consider temporal dynamics. A declining population will be less resilient to future stressors, and thus, a spiral of decline may ensue. ERA ensures that assumptions regarding population health will be incorrect because multiple (regulated and nonregulated) stressors are ig-nored entirely.

      …The sensitivity of a few surrogate species is assumed to reflect the sensitivity of all organisms. Often, the choice of surrogate species is based on which species can be reared in the laboratory….

      Policy goals for ERA are changing, yet ERA ractice does not reflect this….

      Overall, the risks must be communicated to the public, whose choices will ultimately determine the future of agricultural production and landscapes. Recent studies about the plight of biodiversity have already alerted the public, which is now putting pressure on industry, farmers, and regulators. The time is therefore right. This future view of pesticide ERA and regulation cannot address all concerns nor remove all uncertainties. However, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of good. We can retarget ERA to address better the key environmental questions. This will always be a compromise that needs to be balanced with input from all stakeholders. However, it is feasible, and the need for action is urgent.

Drop the Chalk

[These excerpts are from an editorial by H. Holden Thorp in the 24 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …Despite evidence to the contrary, most science departments believe that the only way to produce scientists is to bludgeon young people with too much material, in the wrong setting, at the wrong time, and with the wrong kinds of assessments. The rationale is that only by mastering an abundance of facts and quantitative skills can someone become a scientist—and that’s where one must start, not finish.

      I understand the people who make this case because I used to be one of them, a professor filled with righteousness about all of the things that students had to learn. Then I went into administration, saw the data on how poorly universities were doing, and changed my mind. A smart social science colleague told me that instead of weeding out, we should be weeding in. That rocked my world. Even so, I mostly failed at getting the PowerPoint and the big chalk out of the hands of my colleagues who were convinced that the old way was the right way.

      …Lots of research on learning supports the idea that we learn new things best when we need them….

      …active learning that is heavy on group work and discussion creates a better opportunity for students of all identities to succeed in science. Yet 55% of all science instruction in the United States is still traditional lecturing. Only 27% has a modest intervention such as multiple-choice questions with clickers to engage students during class. And only 18% is designed for students to work through problems together in class after learning didactic material in advance. This is the face of modern science education, even when a Nobel laureate has shown that lectures don't work effectively.

      Whom do lectures work for? They work for those who love to memorize facts and equations and can “plug and chug” on exams. They work for those who are not subjected to social cues that make sitting in a large lecture hall and taking high-stakes tests intimidating. They work for those who look like the people who were in the classrooms when this method of teaching was invented. That’s not fair and it’s not going to cut it for the future of science and the planet….

Just Say No!

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrew Zucker, Pendred Noyce and Andrew McCullough in the January 2020 issue of The Science Teacher.]

      …As the use of social media increases-45% of teens say they are online “almost constantly…”—misinformation spreads faster and further. Even as schools continue to provide accurate information to young people, science teachers now also need to teach students how to judge the quality of supposedly “scientific” information they encounter online, on TV or radio, from friends, or anywhere.

      …reading the newspaper makes it obvious that scientific misinformation is a serious problem that requires teachers’ attention. Moreover, science—with its accepted methods for verifying new claims and building common knowledge—provides an ideal domain for honing the skills needed to be a critical consumer of information.

      Moreover, social science research shows it is possible to “inoculate” people against misinformation; in other words, teachers can use experimentally tested approaches that will help students learn to separate science fact from science fiction….

      There are several other reasons it has become important to teach students how to judge the accuracy of allegedly “scientific” claims. For one thing, research shows that some people, such as climate change skeptics, accept scientific misinformation not from a lack of knowledge but from cultural polarization….Furthermore, there are too many false “scientific” claims for teachers to focus separately on each of them. More than ever, then, students need to be taught how to think critically about dubious claims.

      In addition, studies confirm what many teachers already know: students typically are not good at searching for reliable information online. Many students are unaccustomed to questioning the first online resource they encounter, even if it is wholly unreliable….

Scientific Media Literacy

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

      Fake news. Pseudoscience. Bad Science. Never before has so much information, both good and bad, been available to us. One study of students' online reasoning skills found that “96 percent of students did not consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website's credibility. Instead of investigating who was behind the site, students focused on superficial markers of credibility…."

      Another study…found that students could not discern fact from fiction when exposed to scientific posts on social media. For most of us, this finding is probably not surprising. But what are we doing to counteract this situation in our science teaching? Do we focus on media literacy in our classrooms? What activities do we do to make our students better consumers of science information?

      …If our students graduate knowing the steps of the Krebs cycle but cannot read and interpret scientific reports and social media posts, then we have failed. Our students are consumers of the plethora of information present in today’s world. They are future voters on vital issues, such as climate change, bioengineering, and other scientific phenomena. It is paramount that they understand the science behind these issues.

      In 2007 it was estimated that “70 per-cent of Americans can’t read and understand the science section of the New York Times.” Although this statistic is dated, my hunch is that the percentage is most likely about the same. Currently, 69 percent of U.S. adults say their trust in the news media has decreased in the past decade….With this mistrust in the media and with the huge amounts of new scientific information surfacing daily, it is imperative that we move media literacy near the top of what we do as science educators. Factoids come and go but scientific literacy is a lifelong skill we must help our students master.

Born in China, Taught by AI

[These excerpts are from an article by Karen Hao in the January/February 2020 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Experts agree AI will be important in 21st-century education—but how? While academics have puzzled over best practices, China hasn’t waited around….

      But experts worry about the direction this rush to AI in education is taking. At best, they say, AI can help teachers foster their students' interests and strengths. At worst, it could further entrench a global trend toward standardized learning and testing, leaving the next generation ill prepared to adapt in a rapidly changing world of work.

      As one of the largest AI education companies in China, Squirrel highlights this tension. And as one of the best poised to spread overseas, it offers a window into how China’s experiments could shape the rest of the world….

      Every educational expert I spoke to for this story began by making the same point: to understand how AI could improve teaching and learning, you need to think about how it is reshaping the nature of work. As machines become better at rote tasks, humans will need to focus on the skills that remain unique to them: creativity, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving. They will also need to adapt quickly as more and more skills fall prey to automation. This means the 21st-century classroom should bring out the strengths and interests of each person, rather than impart a canonical set of knowledge more suited for the industrial age.

      AI, in theory, could make this easier. It could take over certain rote tasks in the classroom, freeing teachers up to pay more attention to each student….

No Computer Left Behind

[These excerpts are from an article by Natalie Wexler in the January/February 2020 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …Schools across the country have jumped on the education technology bandwagon in recent years….As older education reform strategies like school choice and attempts to improve teacher quality have failed to bear fruit, educators have pinned their hopes on the idea that instructional software and online tutorials and games can help narrow the massive test-score gap between students at the top and bottom of the socioeconomic scale. A recent Gallup report found that 89% of students in the United States (from third to 12th grade) say they use digital learning tools in school at least a few days a week.

      Gallup also found near-universal enthusiasm for technology on the part of educators. Among administrators and principals, 96% fully or somewhat support “the increased use of digital learning tools in their school,” with almost as much support (85%) coming from teach-ers. But it's not clear this fervor is based in evidence. When asked if “there is a lot of information available about the effectiveness” of the digital tools they used, only 18% of administrators said yes, along with about a quarter of teachers and principals. Another quarter of teachers said they had little or no information.

      In fact, the evidence is equivocal at best. Some studies have found positive effects, at least from moderate amounts of computer use, especially in math. But much of the data shows a negative impact at a range of grade levels….college students in the US who used laptops or digital devices in their classes did worse on exams. Eighth graders who took Algebra I online did much worse than those who took the course in person. And fourth graders who used tablets in all or almost all their classes had, on average, reading scores 14 points lower than those who never used them—a differential equivalent to an entire grade level. In some states, the gap was significantly larger….

      Judging from the evidence, the most vulnerable students can be harmed the most by a heavy dose of 'technology—or, at best, not helped….. A flipped college math class resulted in short-term gains for white students, male students, and those who were already strong in math. Others saw no benefit, with the result that performance gaps became wider.

      Even more troubling, there’s evidence that vulnerable students are spending more time on digital devices than their more privileged counterparts. High school students in questionable online “credit recovery” courses are disproportionately likely to be poor or members of minority groups (or both)….

      The dangers of relying on technology are also particularly pronounced in literacy education and at early L grade levels….

      Why are these devices so unhelpful for learning? Various explanations have been offered. When students read text from a screen, it's been shown, they absorb less information than when they read it on paper. Another frequently cited culprit is the distraction the devices afford….

      …while technology can do a credible job of imparting information, it’s not so good at demonstrating the “social usefulness” of knowledge….

      In addition to sapping motivation, technology can drain a classroom of the communal aspect of learning. The vision of some ed tech advocates is that each child should sit in front of a screen that delivers lessons tailored to individual ability levels and interests, often on subjects chosen by the students themselves. But a vital part of education is different kids bouncing their ideas off each other….

      Still, recognition seems to be growing that technology can be counterproductive….

      Educators and reformers aiming to advance educational equity also need to consider the mounting evidence of technology’s flaws. Much attention has been focused on the so-called digital divide—the relative lack of access that lower-income Americans have to technology and the internet….But let’s not create a digital divide of the opposite kind by outsourcing their education to devices that purport to build “skills” while their peers in richer neighborhoods enjoy the benefits of being taught by human beings.

It Gets Worse

[These excerpts are from an article by Malcolm Harris in the January/February 2020 issue of MIT Technology Review.]

      …In a famous essay from the early 1930s called “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Keynes imagined the world 100 years in the future. He spotted phenomena like job automation (which he called “technological unemployment”) coming, but those changes, he believed, augured progress: progress toward a better society, progress toward collective liberation from work….

      Instead of progress toward a labor-free utopia, America has experienced disappearing jobs as a kind of economic climate change. Apocalyptic forecasts loom while poor and working-class communities take the brunt of the early impacts: wage stagnation, deregulated and unsafe workplaces, an epidemic of opioid addiction. The increasingly profligate wealth on the other end of society is no less disturbing….

      Rather than relieving workers from toil, improvements in technology grind out their efficiencies by molding laborers into unreasonable shapes. Across departments, Amazon workers report being forced by the circumstances of their jobs to urinate in bottles and trash cans. Using layers of subcontracting agreements, the largest firms insulate themselves from responsibility to and for their lowest-wage workers. Recent investigations into Amazon’s last-mile shipping reveal exhausted drivers whose required carelessness has, predictably, been known to kill people. The company remains, as far as the business community is concerned, exemplary.

      Everywhere, the idea of liberation from work seems like a dream. Workers making parts for iPhones have been exposed to toxic chemicals; Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn is regularly under the microscope for poor labor conditions….

      …According to the Economic Policy Institute, while worker productivity increased 69.6% between 1979 and 2019, hourly pay has risen a measly 11.6%. “The income, wages, and wealth generated over the last four decades have failed to ‘trickle down’ to the vast majority largely because policy choices made on behalf of those with the most income, wealth, and power have exacerbated inequality,” the EPI says. The difference between produc-tivity and pay is an increase in exploitation: workers doing more and getting less….

      Here all pursue their individual interests, and together that adds up to the best of all possible worlds—at least as long as the government stays out of the way….The trickle-down theory has fared worst of all; the rich pocket, rather than reinvest, their tax cuts.) Most people bought the libertarian hype, and when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, many were surprised to find out markets weren’t actually self-regulating the way they had been told.

      The subsequent bailouts, however, made it difficult to argue that governments could only ever get in the way of the economy’s proper functioning….

      …For Keynes the most dangerous kind of avarice was not trying to make money, but holding it in your pockets for too long….

      …he never identified the mechanism that would end the capitalist accumulation game. Even if we did produce enough stuff to pass the finish line, how would we know? And who's going to make the rich share, or even just stop taking more? He knew that we could keep growing along these lines for only so long, but he ruled out revolution….

      And workers weren’t the only thing Marx saw getting used up: “All progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil,” he wrote. “All progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility.” Environmentalism was not a basic tenet of Marx’s thought, but unlike the economists, he understood intuitively that extractive production had natural limits….

      …In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that global warming is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate. In the event we do hit that mark, experts predict a rise of between 26 and 77 centimeters (10 and 30 inches) in sea level, a rapid increase in species extinctions, hundreds of millions more people experiencing water and food shortages, and sustained extreme weather the likes of which the modern human species has never encountered. We have been stockpiling not just wealth, but disasters.

      One protest sign at the youth climate strike put it succinctly: “You’ll die of old age. W’'ll die of climate change…."

      …We need to get the carbon out of the atmosphere and the plastics out of the ocean, keep the oil in the ground and the undomesticated species we have left alive. Anything else is a catastrophic failure….

      The kids recognize that capitalism has been using up human and natural resources rather than building a better society. Rather than a mere reaction to the housing crash and global warming, we can see a deep, emergent understanding. Much to everyone’s surprise, Keynes’s grandchildren have become Marxists….

      Like football, where the increasing size and strength of the players has made brain damage almost certain at the highest levels of the game, capitalist production has become an objective hazard for the entirety of human society….

Knowledge in the Anthropocene

[This excerpt is from a book report by Deborah R. Coen in the 17 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      Can science save humanity? In the face of runaway climate change and massive species extinction, some say that we already know all we need to know to fix these problems: Further research is a distraction and what we need now is action. Others anticipate a feat of technical ingenuity that will catapult us out of our current crisis. In their view, the “Anthropos” of the Anthropocene is well on the way to mastering the Earth system. A middle ground between these positions hardly seems to exist….

      Renn argues that the crisis of the Anthropocene is indeed a problem of knowledge, but he sharply distinguishes himself from those hunting for a technical fix. Knowledge, for Renn, is a broad and varied concept, with crucial experiential and ethical dimensions. Modern science, although uniquely efficacious, is just one facet of the evolution of human knowledge. Understanding this evolutionary process, he argues, is the key to reorienting science for the Anthropocene.

      Taking a cue from biologists, Renn thinks of knowledge as an adaptive system, one that gradually transforms the material and cultural conditions of its own existence. Knowledge evolves through a slow, piecemeal process akin to ecological succession. If we want to guide the future evolution of science, we had better get familiar with its past.

      Renn’s history of knowledge is alternately triumphant and tragic. On the bright side, he traces the development of techniques of representation that have increasingly allowed for reflective engagement with knowledge-making. His foremost example is the internet. With the proper oversight, he proposes, the internet has the potential to “optimize the current knowledge economy toward a global coproduction of knowledge,” building new connections be-tween local stores of knowledge and new opportunities to put knowledge into action. What’s more, science has evolved unprecedented power to reshape the “cultural abstractions” that govern human behavior—as, for instance, in the idea of an ecological footprint.

      Yet this history of modern science is also a story of loss. Market forces have distorted science’s ambitions, diverting it from the humanitarian aims of earlier centuries. The globalization of science has suppressed local forms of knowledge and alienated nonexpert populations. Renn thus returns to the past in part to remind readers of the value of natural knowledge produced in other eras, by a panoply of human cultures, even by nonliterate societies.

      …He argues that modern science, rather than striving to be value-free, should embrace ethical projects of the sort usually associated with religion. Fully aware of the atrocities that could result from turning science into a religion, he nonetheless proposes that we “seek out the eschatological dimensions of science itself and cultivate its role as a guide in a fragile world whose future depends on it.”

      Ours is hardly the first era to witness calls for a wholesale reform of natural knowledge. From Francis Bacon in the 17th century to Vannevar Bush in the 20th, modern science has had its fair share of visionary reformers….

Do Bans Help Modern Public Health?

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Lawrence O. Gostin in the 17 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …A prohibition on hazardous activities is a blunt tool because products often have both public health risks and benefits. Using illicit drugs is addictive and harmful, but needle exchanges can reduce harms. E-cigarettes can cause acute and longer-term hazards, but they can help cigarette smokers to quit. If government bans a product, it cannot tax it, thus forgoing vital revenues. Lawful marijuana sales in the United States, for example, have financed public services, such as education.

      There are no easy answers, but strict regulation of unsafe products is a more flexible tool ± to decrease behavioral risks, while avoiding social harms (a black market or discriminatory enforcement)….

      Tobacco control offers a paradigmatic case of effective '' rules. A suite of measures, including taxes, age limits for purchasing, marketing restrictions, graphic warnings, and public smoking curbs, has greatly reduced smoking rates….Similar public health benefits could be achieved by controlling other unhealthy products, including alcoholic beverages, “junk” foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Taxes, for example, have been shown to reduce consumption of the latter. Gradually reducing sodium in packaged foods could lower hypertension rates.

      Government sometimes criminalizes activities without any evidence of harm….

      Marijuana laws stir public/ controversy, but there is also incomplete evidence regarding the health benefits and harms. Government strategies are inconsistent: U.S. federal law bans all marijuana use, whereas many states allow marijuana for personal use or require a medical prescription. The majority of drug arrests in the United States are for marijuana, and mostly for simple possession. Discriminatory enforcement has led to disproportionate incarceration rates among African Americans.

      Bans have another downside. Researchers can assess the effectiveness of regulations, but once government prohibits an activity, it becomes hard to evaluate….

      Prohibition taught society to be cautious about bans. It is deceptively simple to criminalize a hazardous activity. But bans can create unforeseen social and political risks. The public does not support a government that tells individuals what they can or cannot do for their health. Yet government's greatest responsibility is to safeguard the public’s health. It can do that through a well-regulated society—that is, with evidence-based interventions to “nudge” the public to adopt healthier and safer behaviors.

A Beacon of Hope on Climate Change

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Randi Weingarten in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of American Educator.]

      …One of the foremost purposes of education is to prepare young people for the possibilities and responsibilities of citizenship. This goes way beyond the memorization and regurgitation of facts. Teachers guide their students to develop judgment and discernment to be engaged and empowered participants in society.

      …It’s why we reject lockstep pacing calendars, so we can have extended classroom discussions and debates. Teachers need this latitude to help their students develop the confidence to make their voices heard, the courage to challenge injustice, and knowledge of the levers that can bring about change.

      All this is necessary to prepare this and future generations to address the enormous crises of our age—extreme economic inequality; dangerous assaults on our democracy; polarization, bigotry, bullying, and divisiveness; and…escistential climate change….

      Young Americans have grown up in an age of the earth warming, seas rising, devastating wildfires, and frequent “once in a century” storms. They are taking their future into their own hands. They understand their power to bring about change. But they need people already in power to act now to address the worsening climate crisis. Beyond demonstrations, people must use the political process to change policy.

      Today, even as the focus of the environmental movement has evolved from concerns about pollution to fear of possible extinction, proponents and opponents of tackling climate change largely take their places along party lines. But safeguarding the environment was not always a partisan matter. The Environmental Protection Agency was established during the Nixon administration, and President Richard Nixon planted a tree on the South Lawn of the White House to recognize the first Earth Day. The Senate passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 without a single nay vote.

      In the decades since, environmental regulations and enforcement have helped clean up rivers so polluted with toxins that they once caught on fire, and reduced smog and acid rain. Wind and solar energy are booming. Cleaning up our environment is not a choice between jobs and the environment. As new green technologies show, we can grow the economy, sustain good jobs, and save our planet.

      The disastrous effects of climate change are outpacing policy changes to combat them. Corporations and opponents of government regulations have leveraged their fortunes and influence to undo environmental protections. Communities of color and low-income people suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and climate change. President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, and his administration has reversed many efforts to safeguard the environment. Trump and his administration have abandoned the once bipartisan leadership of the United States in addressing global climate change.

      People want a better life and a better future. But we need the means. That is why it is so important that individuals—not just the most powerful—have a voice in our democracy. Young voters increasingly name protecting the environment as one of their top concerns. People too young to vote are raising their voices in other ways---walking out in climate strikes, standing up, and speaking out.

      Young people recognize the urgency of the climate crisis that their elders failed to summon. We must join them--pushing for bold political and policy initiatives to reverse climate change and reduce the intertwining issue of economic inequality. Our youth have lit a spark and given us a beacon of hope. We must follow heir lead.

Teaching Climate Change

[These excerpts are from an article by Daniel P. Shepardson and Andrew S. Hirsch in the Winter 2019/2020 issue of American Educator.]

      Heat waves and wildfires in the West, severe storms and tornadoes in the South, intense hurricanes along the coasts, and extreme rainfall and flooding in the Midwest and Great Plains. As more and more people personally experience severe and extreme weather events, they are increasingly likely to believe in climate change. Yet, many still deny or fail to understand how human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, is causing global warming and climate change. Thus, there is a need to educate today’s students, tomorrow's leaders and decision makers, about global warming and climate change. It is, however, a challenging subject to teach. This is in part because: (1) climate change is an interdisciplinary subject; (2) it requires students to analyze scientific data and connect it to scientific models; (3) student learning is influenced by prior knowledge and experiences; and (4) it lacks a well-developed conceptual framework and learning progression….

      The scientific community agrees that the earth is warming and that this is due to human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), which alters the atmospheric composition of greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), from energy use has increased global atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to historic levels, 412 parts per million. This, in turn, has resulted in an increase in global radiative forcing, caus ing the earth’s average surface temperature to increase by about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century….This global warming has caused regional changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme weather events. In other words, the earth’s climates are changing. Natural climate variations alone, whether due to changes in the sun’s radiance, the earth’s orbit, or volcanic eruptions, cannot account for the degree of warming measured over the last 50 years….

      We should note that global warming and climate change are two distinct phenomena that are closely linked. Global warming refers to the measured increase in the global average temperature of the earth, and this warming is causing the earth's climates to change. Climate change is the statistically significant change in the atmospheric conditions due to human activity, of which global warming is one factor.

      …Weather is the short-term (hours, days, weeks) conditions of the atmosphere described in terms of temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, cloudiness, visibility, and air pressure. Weather is inherently variable, changing from day to day and season to season, with atmospheric conditions fluctuating naturally within a given range for a specific time and place.

      Climate is the average of this variability in weather for a 30-year or longer time period. It is the “smoothing” of the variation in weather. While the “average” climate is most often talked about, long-term climate data also help us describe the range of expected conditions for a location, the frequency of extreme weather, and the likelihood of certain types of weather events. Climate data are essential for understanding patterns, trends, and changes in our long-term climate. To reiterate, climate change is the statistically significant change in atmospheric conditions due to human activity….

      When it comes down to it, human-driven climate change is really an energy problem. The use of fossil fuels as an energy source results in the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere….CO2 is the key driver of global warming and climate change….

      In 2016, fossil fuels provided about 81 percent of the energy used in the United States, and accounted for about 94 percent of CO2 emissions….

Stick to Science

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

      …It turns out that “stick to science” is a tired-but-very-much-still-alive political talking point used to suppress scientific advice L. and expertise….The scientific community should not let this cycle continue because facts that have stood up to, in some cases, years of scrutiny are being suppressed Lin the service of politics….

      The scientific community needs to step out of its labs and support evidence-based decision-making in a much more public way. The good news is that over the past few years, scientists have increasingly engaged with the public and policy-makers on all levels, from participating in local science cafes, to contacting local representatives and protesting in the international March for Science in 2017 and 2018….

      Scientists must speak up. In June 2019, Patrick Gonzalez, the principal climate change scientist of the U.S. National Park Service, testified to Congress on the risks of climate change even after he was sent a cease-and-desist letter by the administration (which later agreed that he was free to testify as a private citizen). That's the kind of gumption that deserves the attention of the greater scientific community. There are many more examples of folks leading federal agencies and working on science throughout the government. When their roles in promoting science to support decision-making are diminished, the scientific community needs to raise its voice in loud objection….

Hush

[These excerpts are from an article by Dorian Fox in the Winter 2020 issue of National Parks.]

      For humans, finding natural quiet — periods of natural sounds without the intrusion of human-made noise — has become increasingly difficult. Today, around 80% of land area in the contiguous U.S. is less than a mile from a road. Tens of thousands of flights hum across the skies each day. In oceans, ships drone, and military sonar pulses. Our phones won’t stop pinging.

      Research has shown that the modern whir not only affects the behavior of wild animals, it’s also making us sick. High noise levels have been linked to heart disease, stroke, sleep disturbance and reduced workplace productivity. A 2011 World Health Organization report suggested that traffic noise significantly cut healthy life expectancy among Western Europeans.

      In recent decades, concerns over the loss of quiet have spurred a growing coalition of ecologists, techni-cians, researchers and advocates to push for change…. first-line artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs)….

      A joint study by the Park Service and Colorado State University, published in “Science” in 2017, found that manmade noise doubled background sound levels in a majority of U.S. protected lands and caused a tenfold increase in 21% of those lands. Also, in 12% of wilderness areas — which make up 53% of the park system and are the most protected public lands in America — noise pollution doubled natural ambient sound levels….

Long Live the KIng

[These excerpts are from an article by Nicolas Brulliard in the Winter 2020 issue of National Parks.]

      …While monarchs can still appear in any suitable backyard or meadow, the likelihood of spotting one is not what it used to be. Populations fluctuate from year to year, but overall numbers have been on a steady downward trend over the last couple of decades. The decline has been particularly pronounced among monarchs that overwinter on the California coast; their numbers i have dropped more than 99% since the 1980s….

      In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity…filed a petition to list the monarch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put off making a decision on the petition until late 2020. The petitioners agreed to the delay so that the latest data could be taken into account….

      …warming temperatures have added to the woes of the butterflies, which have at times migrated north before the emergence of the milkweed, the only host plants for monarch caterpillars. Moreover, while monarchs have always been sensitive to weather fluctuations, extreme events such as unseasonal cold snaps are becoming more frequent and can have devastating effects. Since 2002, winter storms have decimated the population of monarchs overwintering in the mountains of central Mexico on four separate occasions….

      Habitat loss to development and agriculture is also contributing to declines in the monarch population. That problem, which isn’t new, has been compounded by the planting of genetically modified corn and soybean crops, which have been engineered to resist glyphosate herbicides. These herbicides kill pretty much everything else, including milkweed. In addition, a federal mandate to boost the production of plant-based fuels has led to the destruction of millions of acres of grasslands….

Mussel Power

[These excerpts are from an article by Rona Kobell in the Winter 2020 issue of National Parks.]

      Washington, D.C., recently welcomed some new neighbors — about 8,700 of them.

      That’s how many mussels just were released into the Anacostia River. And residents will have to get used to them because thousands more are on the way. The adjustment shouldn't be too taxing since the new arrivals are there to be upstanding community members: They are serving as the latest reinforcements in the decades-long battle for cleaner water in the meandering 8.4-mile river.…

      Like their bivalve cousins, the oysters, mussels filter excess pollution that comes off the land — either from farm fields, sewage treatment plants or storm runoff. Some urban areas, including New York City, have turned to oysters to filter their waterways and build reefs to boost resilience to storms. But the fresh waters of the Anacostia aren’t suitable for oysters….

      …High concentrations of heavy metals, chemicals and sediment can kill mussels, but if the conditions are right, the mollusks absorb excess nitrogen and phosphorus and settle sediment. The hope is that with the mussels on the job, the Anacostia’s waters will be clearer and aquatic grasses will prosper, creating additional habitat for all manner of creatures. In addition, if all goes well, the new mussels will help revive the population that was already there, increasing their impact….

      A cleaner waterway benefits nearby neighborhoods, wildlife and the public lands along the river….

Our Tiny Inner Pharmacists

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

      Next time you swallow a pill, think about this: you may not be the only one digesting it. You might not even be the first. By now most people are aware that our gastrointestinal tract is teeming with microbes that live mostly in harmony with us, helping us break down food, synthesize vitamins, resist germs, and relay chemical signals to our brain and immune system. But an emerging field of research with a mouthful of a name—pharmacomicrobiomics—is demonstrating that our tiny inner denizens can process our drugs in ways that both help and harm us….

      Microbes can also sabotage the classic cardiac drug digoxin, which is used to treat arrhythmias and heart failure. Doctors have long known that about 10 percent of patients who take it do not benefit, because so much of the drug—more than 50 percent in some cases—is inactivated by a gut bacterium called Eggerthella lenta….only a few specific strains of E. lenta have this talent.

      Our inner microbes can work in our favor, too. The drug sulfasalazine, widely used for rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, does nothing unless gut bacteria metabolize it into an active form by breaking a chemical bond. This is also true of multiple oral antibiotics in the class known as sulfa drugs.

      Another drug that gets a microbial helping hand is metformin, the first-line medication for type 2 diabetes. In this case, it’s more of a two-way interaction. Recent studies show the drug somehow alters the mix of gut microbes in ways that make metformin more effective….

      Perhaps the most exciting work in this nascent field concerns irinotecan, used as part of a cocktail of drugs to fight advanced colon and pancreatic cancers. Irinotecan is a powerful killer of tumor cells but provokes such severe diarrhea and intestinal damage that many patients cannot tolerate enough of it to treat their disease—a phenomenon known as dose-limiting toxicity. Chemist Matthew Redinbo of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has traced the issue to a family of bugs called Enterobacteriaceae (members include Salmonella and Escherichia coil). The drug, given intravenously, circulates to the tumor and gets tagged for excretion in the liver, where it is rendered harmless by the addition of a simple sugar. Unfortunately, Redinbo explains, “microbes love sugar” so when the neutralized drug hits the GI tract on its way out of the body, the bugs pick off the sugar, reactivating the toxic drug, which then proceeds to “rip the GI tract apart.”

      Motivated in part by a young colleague’s battle with colon cancer and with irinotecan's side effects, Redinbo has developed a small molecule that stops the microbes from eating the sugar so that the drug passes harmlessly through the gut….

      If Redinbo and his colleagues succeed, they will have opened the door to a class of drugs that can modify microbes with great precision….

Neighborhood Threats

[These excerpts are from an article by Melinda Wenner Moyer in the January 2020 issue of Scientific American.]

      Over the past five decades mosquito populations in parts of the U.S. have skyrocketed by a factor of 10—a situation with worrying implications for the spread of diseases such as West Nile virus, dengue and chikungunya. And some places are apparently more nerable than others. A new study…found that in Baltimore, low-income neighborhoods bear the biggest burden: they have not only more mosquitoes but also larger ones, which often survive longer. The problem most likely is rooted in the fact that Baltimore has nearly 17,000 abandoned buildings, which are concentrated in economically disadvantaged areas and serve as convenient mosquito-breeding zones. To effectively combat mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, the study suggests, cities Iwill need to account for urban infrastructure.

      …Aedes albopictus (better known as Asian tiger mosquitoes)…, introduced to the U.S. in 1987, is now the most common in many American cities. When the researchers measured the mosquitoes’ wing lengths, a proxy for body size, they found that the insects grew larger in lower-income blocks. Bigger mosquitoes are not just a bigger annoyance: the larger they are, the longer they tend to live—and the more times each one can bite. Because mosquitoes have to bite at least once to become infected with disease-causing microorganisms and again to pass them on to people, bigger mosquitoes could pose higher disease risks. Larger mosquitoes also lay more eggs, setting the stage for higher numbers later on….

      The researchers say low-income blocks produce more and larger mosquitoes because they have more abandoned buildings than affluent blocks do and are more heavily littered with discarded containers that collect standing water. And water that pools in degraded buildings is protected by shade—which helps mosquitoes grow larger. Some cities' well-intentioned efforts to plant trees in low-income blocks may worsen the problem: trees and shrubs not only shade outdoor breeding pools but also shed leaves into the water and feed the mosquito larvae, helping them grow bigger….

      Fortunately, mosquito borne diseases are not a massive problem in the U.S. for now. From January through October 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 777 cases of West Nile virus and 614 cases of dengue (and most of the latter occurred in people infected outside the U.S.). But climate change could worsen the country’s disease landscape by broadening habitats and lengthening the time every summer that mosquitoes can breed and survive.

      …And low-income areas affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes can also become mosquito-breeding grounds. Research has shown that disasters disproportionately damage low-income housing, which also tends to be rebuilt slowly, if at all.

      Cities may, then, need to focus more mosquito-control efforts on these areas. Urban health departments typically educate homeowners about the importance of emptying water out of outdoor containers such as pet bowls, as well as trash and recycling bins. But nobody empties such receptacles in or around abandoned buildings, and so far most municipalities have not been willing to take on the job….

Time’s Up for “Anti-Gay Therapy”

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

      …The reason no minor should be subjected to this practice has nothing to do with partisan politics or religious beliefs. The putative therapy should be discarded because it is rooted in bad science. Its origins are tied to both rejected concepts about sexuality and therapies based on those discredited notions.

      Homosexuality—once explained erroneously as the result of an overbearing mother—was classified as a form of mental illness in psychiatry's first diagnostic manual, published in 1952. In the past, treatments to “cure” it included electroshock, chemical therapies such as the forced hormone treatments infamously inflicted on British mathematician Alan M. Turing, and the hiring of prostitutes for “behavioral” interventions. But milder versions persist today in the form of aggressive counseling and, at times, the administration of measures that induce nausea or vomiting.

      Trying to alter an individual’s sexual identity should be banned simply because of the irreparable harm it causes….

      The medical establishment, thankfully, has become a solid critic of anti-gay conversion. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and other organizations characterize it as useless and injurious. The public is also opposed: a 2019 Reuters/Ipsos national poll found that 56 percent of U.S. adults think conversion therapy should be illegal.

      Although medical and psychological associations have asked explicitly that Congress and state governments ban anti-gay conversion, there has been a backlash from groups such as the Liberty Counsel, which promotes ”evangelical values….”

Asimov at 100

[These excerpts are from an article by James Gunn in the 3 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      The year 1939 was also when Asimov’s first science fiction story was published in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. The sale of his stories paid for his college expenses, including the master's degree he would later earn in chemistry (He was rejected twice for medical school but would go on to earn his doctorate, again in chemistry.)

      In 1942, Asimov began research as a chem-ist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Meanwhile, he continued to sell stories but considered himself a third-rate writer until his novelette “Nightfall” received a cover story in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941. The following year, the first story of his Foundation series was published. During this period, he began the first of his robot stories, which were published together in 1950 as I, Robot….

      Kurt Vonnegut is reported to have once asked Asimov how it felt to be the man who knows everything, to which Asimov is said to have replied that he only knew how it felt /to have the reputation of omniscience….

      A case can be made that, like H. G. Wells, Asimov came along at the right time. (Wells once commented that he made his writing debut in the 1890s, when the public was looking for new writers.) But Asimov also had a restless and productive mind. His early experience of reading, and then writ-ing, science fiction gave his popular science writing a rare narrative model, while his fiction similarly benefited from his scientific training.

      Some of Asimov’s critics complained that his writing lacked style. He responded by asserting that he had a style: clarity. But it also was true that he was able to adopt new methods, particularly in his later works.

      Asimov’s fiction was based on the presumption that humanity would solve its problems by thinking coolly and logically. In his nonfiction writing, he often grappled with the messier realities of human nature. There are no records of how many minds he influenced with the latter, but his ability to communicate difficult scientific es. ideas in simple language has not been equaled since….

Study Pushes Emergence of Measles Back to Antiquity

[These excerpts are from an article by Kal Kupferschmidt in the 3 January 2020 issue of Science.]

      …Measles, which killed an estimated 142,000 people in 2017, is one of the most infectious human diseases. But when, where, and how it became a human pathogen is still debated. The closest relative of the measles virus is one that causes rinderpest, a disease that affected cattle, deer, buffalo, and other even-toed ungulate species before it was eradicated in 2011. Most researchers believe both viruses had a common ancestor that infected cattle….

      Because measles spreads so fast and infection confers lifelong immunity, scientists estimate it needs populations of 250,000 to a half-million people to avoid burning itself out. Historians believe that the largest cities reached that size around the fourth century B.C.E. But when researchers in Japan used available genomes of the measles and rinderpest viruses to build a phylogenetic tree, enabling them to date the branches, they concluded in 2010 that measles didn’t emerge until the 11th or 12th century C.E.

      The uncertainty stems in part from a surprising lack of historic sequences. Only three genomes from measles viruses occurring before 1990 are known; the oldest is one isolated in 1954 that was turned into the first measles vaccine. So Calvignac-Spencer turned to the Berlin museum, whose shelves are filled with thousands of tissues and organs floating in formalin-filled glass cases, like aquariums of human anatomy.

      Formalin fixes tissue by cross-linking proteins and other large molecules, including RNA, which the measles genome is made of. To extract RNA from such samples, scientists use techniques pioneered about 10 years ago by cancer researchers interested in formalin-fixed biopsies….

      Calvignac-Spencer’s team drew up a new phylogenetic tree using the 1912 genome as well as a new one from 1960, pieced together from a sample in another collection, and other available genomes. The resulting tree suggests the disease could have jumped to humans as early as 345 B.C.E.--- right around the time human populations reached the critical size.

      The earlier date for measles' emergence also reflects the models that the team used to analyze the viral sequences. When drawing up a family tree using differences in genomes, researchers must estimate the speed at which viral genomes diverge. In the past, their estimates were often too high, because some deleterious mutations tend to disappear over time. The new model accounts for this effect, called purifying selection. It pushes back the divergence of measles and rinderpest even without including the 1912 genome. But the genome strengthens the new timeline, Calvignac-Spencer says.

      The researchers can’t rule out that the measles virus first circulated in humans and then jumped to cattle, but that seems unlikely….And the closest relative of the two viruses, which is even older, causes peste des petits ruminants, a sheep and goat disease that probably crossed to cattle more easily than to humans….

The Higher Education Crisis

[These excerpts are from an article by Maria Ferguson in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      For most high school seniors (and their long-suffering parents), the holiday season is definitely not the most wonderful time of year. Soon-to-be graduates are deep in the throes of trying to figure out their next steps after graduation while their parents are busy trying to navigate costs, expectations, and lots of drama. Although not all students plan to attend college after high school, more students are pursuing a college education than ever before….almost 20 million students attended either a two- or four-year college this past fall, the highest enrollment rate ever.

      While the road to college is not easy for anyone, it can be especially challenging for low-income students. A recently released book about college admissions and the pursuit of equity in higher education sheds light on just how fundamentally inequitable thigher education can be….

      …Paul Tough…focuses on the unsavory truths about the college admissions process and how it undermines efforts to make higher education more Laccessible to low-income students….

      Tough hones in on issues many of us know well: the lingering inequities of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT; the outsized influence of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings; and the almighty algorithms that help ensure colleges and universities always meet their tuition targets. Taken together, these powerful forces form a virtually insurmountable elitist wall around higher education that calls into question the very nature of how institutions assess a student's performance and potential. We all may want to believe that U.S. education is a meritocratic endeavor, but the facts on the ground indicate otherwise. Starting with the admissions process and continuing right on through their years on campus, the inequities students of color and those who come from poverty face are formidable.

      …the College Board made a range of free test-prep resources available online after studies showed that wealthier students had a competitive edge because of the many test-prep resources their families could afford….

      …Months (years!) of discussions and negotiations have not produced any meaningful results, and the general atmosphere on the Hill is, well, not conducive to compromise….

      All of this inaction is playing out against a backdrop of mounting student debt. According to the Federal Reserve, student loan debt in the U.S. has now reached $1.6 trillion. When the words “trillion” and “debt” are used in the same sentence, one would think it is time for serious action, but the Trump administration seems to believe otherwise. Aside from a plan floated earlier this year to cap student loans (an idea most experts agree would do little to address the root causes of the debt crisis), the administration has offered no real plan to address the crisis. The one concrete step the administration did take actually works against students who are trying to avoid the curse of student debt. Earlier this year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos repealed the Obama-era gainful employment rule, which was developed to better protect students from predatory for-profit education providers. With its repeal, the secretary actually made it easier for profit-hungry education providers to take advantage of unwitting students.

      When looking at all these issues comprehensively, it’s hard not to believe U.S. higher education is a hot mess. But should we expect anything different when our nation’s level of income inequality is at an all-time high?...Looking ahead, it seems that if our country has indeed evolved into a knowledge-based economy, then we better get our act together when it comes to making higher education a feasible goal for most students. But righting this ship is going to take leadership, vision, and commitment, none of which seems to be present within the current administration and Congress. We have an opportunity in 2020 to bring some new ideas and energy to the problem. Let's hope U.S. voters help deliver us from this mess we are in.

Student Growth Measures: What We’ve Been Missing

[These excerpts are from an article by Doris A. Santoro in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …However, NCLB [No Child Left Behind] possessed at least one major blind spot: It did little to measure students' actual academic growth. By punishing and rewarding schools on the basis of a narrow definition of proficiency — whether their students were mastering grade-level content — the law neglected other key indicators of student learning, such [as] how much progress students were making on other standards. As a result, the entire educational ecosystem, including class-room instruction, was oriented around a single and very limited measure of student performance.

      President Barack Obama’s modified version of NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), took a step to correct this problem by directing states to capture student “growth or another valid or reliable measure” as part of their accountability systems. For many, this was a positive development. In the stakeholder meetings held throughout the country to help guide the decision making for ESSA, representatives from 48 states told the Obama administration that it was important to measure growth more accurately.

      …current assessment and accountability sys-tems still fail to measure how much students actually learn….all states are still testing students and measuring instructional effectiveness on the basis of grade-level performance. As a result, these assessments measure only a slice of student learning and cannot precisely demonstrate how much or how little a student has learned. It’s like an iceberg, where only a very small amount of information is visible, while the bulk of the information remains hidden from view. Our accountability and assessment systems unfortunately measure just one tiny portion of students’ knowledge. Meanwhile, the real truth of what students are learning — or not learning —remains hidden. Because assessments and accountability focus narrowly on grade-level proficiency, teachers tend to focus their instruction only on grade-level proficiency, instead of meeting students where they are….

The Problem with Stories about Teacher “Burnout”

[These excerpts are from an article by Doris A. Santoro December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      The expressions of concern about teacher burnout correctly imply that something is amiss in many of our public schools….If teachers are burning out, it is because they are asked to do too much with insufficient support and low salaries; school resources do not come close to meeting students’ needs; and reform efforts come fast and furious, without enough time for anyone to adjust, implement, assess, and reflect.

      And yet, calling it “burnout” tells the wrong story about the kinds of pain educators are experiencing because it suggests that the problem lies within individual teachers themselves. To say they've burned out is to portray them as weak and exhausted, defeated by the pressure, with little hope for rejuvenation. Not only does this diagnosis lead policy makers to prescribe ineffectual remedies, but it likely contributes to the more significant problem I call teacher demoralization.

      …But as I use it, the term describes teachers’ feelings about the moral and ethical challenges they face. Many teachers become dissatisfied not because they’re exhausted and worn down but because they care deeply about students and the profession and they realize that school policies and conditions make it impossible for them to do what is good, right, and just.

      …If the work cannot be done ethically, then its social value and purpose are compromised, and its practitioners, such as teachers, become demoralized.

      As a teacher educator and public school advocate, I question the idea that teachers leave simply because they've burned out. The better and more accurate story is that teachers want to engage in good work that benefits students, communities, and the profession, and they become frustrated when they cannot do so. Like the story about teacher burnout, the story of teacher demoralization can be depressing because it acknowledges that many educators are unhappy with their jobs and have considered leaving the profession. But, unlike the burnout narrative, it allows for hope and possibility. To say that teachers are burned out is to imply that they are spent and done. However, to say that they are demoralized is to acknowledge that they remain passionate and energetic and would love to be given opportunities to teach in ways that are just and good….

Helping Preservice Teachers Separate Fact from Fiction

[These excerpts are from an article by Jeremy Delamarter in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …Almost from the moment we are old enough to recognize the world around us, we are bombarded with images of teachers and teaching. They are in the books we read, in the childhood games of toddlers, in newspapers, and in magazines. Images of teachers “spill out into television studios, movie theaters, homes, and playgrounds, infiltrating all arenas of human activity….”

      This same hand-me-down phenomenon happens with preservice teachers. Like the rest of us, aspiring teachers have been saturated with images of teachers and classrooms.

      On one hand, these images of teaching can paint teaching in a flattering and inspiring light that can draw people into the profession. Teacher movies, for example, are essentially scripted highlight reels, showcasing three or four pivotal moments over the course of a year foregrounding relationship building and, often, racial catharsis. The teacher is the hero, the cowboy of the Wild West riding into town to save the day. No one cares for the students like this teacher does, and, consequently, his or her students’ lives are changed forever. The familiar tropes of the Hollywood teacher movie are well-worn and comfortable. Despite the fact that numerous studies have documented just how unrealistic these portrayals often are…, their appeal is undiminished, and people are often drawn to teaching in part because of these films’ implicit promises that teachers can singlehandedly change students' lives.

      On the other hand, these same images of teaching can lead to frustration and emotional turmoil, especially when new teachers enter the field and begin to face the realities of classroom practice. Our cultural images of teachers are too often one-dimensional, fictionalized accounts of a fantastically complex three-dimensional reality. In the movies, good teachers often begin the year by discarding standards-based instruction in favor of “life lessons” — there may even be a scene where the teacher literally throws the curriculum away. Imagine the fate of the new teacher who enters the classroom convinced that it’s more important to teach students to love math than it is to make sure that they can do math.

      Although changing students’ lives and fostering academic excellence are not mutually exclusive goals, the images of teaching that surround us often insist that teachers must, in fact, choose between them….

      Secondhand images of teaching are not the only shadows that get mistaken for reality, however. Even preservice teachers' own firsthand experiences as K-12 students can lead to unrealistic and incomplete expectations of teaching. Time spent in classrooms as students does not, in and of itself, prepare one for the realities of teaching. Though preservice teachers may have spent much of their lives observing their own teachers in action, the picture they have is incomplete….

      Even the most attentive K-12 student does not have access to what takes place behind the scenes. Students don't observe the meetings, trainings, and other collaborative activities that constitute much of a teacher's work. They don't see the planning, grading, or any of the other countless steps that it takes to implement effective instruction. They witness neither the self-doubt that accompanies a failed lesson nor the frustration of explaining the same thing for the third time in a row.

      …Because students don’t think like a teacher thinks, they don’t recognize the intentionality and structure behind much of what takes place in a well-run classroom. They experience it, but they don't necessarily see it for what it is.

      …Creating a thriving teacher workforce requires a willingness to guide future teachers through the sticky work of reconciling their expectations with reality. Closing the expectation gap is not supplemental to basic teacher education; it is a necessary step in the process of becoming a teacher. It is not enough for aspiring teachers to learn something new; they have to become something new, as well.

Telling New Stories about School

[These excerpts are from an article by Sarah M. Stitzlein and Kathleen Knight Abowitz in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      The stories we tell about schools influence our collective imagination about what schooling is and can be. They are much more than just tales we tell; they actually shape our pV beliefs and the realities that result from them….

      When we tell the story that going to school and working hard is the path to a good and lucrative job, we are promoting a set of beliefs that may lead to specific actions and outcomes, such as seeking a school that maximizes one's money-making potential. And so those stories mold the educational landscape through the policy makers we select (those who promise a strong return on our taxpayer investments in schools); the sorts of schools we offer (those aimed at preparation for well-paid careers, especially in areas high in social and economic capital); and the ways we go about assessing their quality (through tests that weed out poor-quality teachers and distinguish the best and brightest students). Our stories about education matter; they shape our preferences in the voting booth and actions on educational policies. They produce real political out-comes….

      Narratives celebrating economic aims are not new Americans have long emphasized the economic aims of education, whether those be earning certifications that lead to lucrative employment or inculcating the skills needed to succeed in a hierarchical marketplace….Since the late 19th century, business and education leaders have often been united in their expression of the idea that schools would be viewed as irrelevant and even wasteful if they could not directly link education to future job preparation and outcomes….

      Those advocating for market-based approaches tell stories with a purpose. And their stories are powerful in part because they obfuscate the interests and ideologies at play behind them. An image of happily selecting a school from an array of good choices — much as one does when selecting cereal — emphasizes the power of the consumer, but not the monetary benefit to those whose product is selected, or the harm to those who were left behind or unable to make the same choices. Policy makers…can employ such stories about school choice to increase privatization, reduce government oversight, and advance market-based reforms. Such stories have agency; they are not neutral, but rather act to bring about change, often working with the interests of school privatizers….

      …The current choice-based climate is replete with narratives that foster little reflection on public schooling's value as a public institution, its role in sustaining democracy, or its history of working to bring equal educational opportunity to more chil-dren — all of which are key aspects of the common school model and its democratic aims in early America.

      …If citizens want to shape schools with democratic purposes in mind, citizens and public education advocates need to intentionally craft new stories about present and future policy choices, resisting narratives of competition and the individualistic values driving them. Telling new stories that foreground the public or shared purposes of public education may lead us to choose candidates and back policies that better serve our children and our communities.

      …a parent who deems childrens' happiness as important may decide to support a school levy or budget to fund extracurricular activities that bring children joy, even though it is costly to taxpayers and may not deliver specific job skills….

The Toxic Twin

[These excerpts are from an article in the Winter 2020 issue of Rotunda, the member magazine of te American Museum of Natural History.]

      Our planet Earth has a twin: Venus. The second planet from the Sun and our immediate neighbor has astoundingly similar qualities to our own world. It's close in size and mass, with an internal iron core and silicate mantle and crust. Its dense atmosphere has active weather-like phenomena.

      This world also once had conditions that were very similar to those of early Earth. For 2 to 3 billion years, an active volcanic surface carved out vast plains and a mountainous landscape. Average temperatures ranged between 68 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and there may have even been shallow seas filled with liquid water.

      But around 700 million years ago, when multicellular life was flourishing on Earth, large amounts of carbon dioxide filled Venus' atmosphere. Today, its punishing conditions are in stark contrast with those of our own blue-and-green Earth, with its perfect setting for hosting life. Why did these two worlds diverge?

      More than 40 spacecraft have visited Venus through the years, starting with the U.S.. Mariner 2 in 1962. Currently, the Japanese mission Akatsuki is in orbit around Venus, studying atmospheric weather patterns such as the presence of lightning and looking for active signs of volcanism on the surface. But it was NASA’s Magellan mission, from 1989 to 1994, that marked a turning point in our understanding of what was then a still-“elusive” planet.

      When scientists received the first high-resolution images of the Venusian surface captured using Magellan’s Synthetic Aperture Radar “they whooped with delight at the astonishing detail captured by the spacecraft’s radar eyes,” according to The Washington Post.

      Magellan showed that Venus’ mysterious surface is complex and unique. It features thousands of volcanoes, a uniform distribution of craters formed through violent impacts of meteorites, and deep channels and wide valleys formed by ancient lava flows.

      But it’s now been 25 years since we last took a close look at Venus’ surface….

      When we do return, we’ll need to send robots in our stead. While Venus has a gravity similar to Earth's, the conditions on the ground would be deadly for human explorers. Its atmosphere is almost entirely made up of carbon dioxide, so thick that the pressure on the human body would feel like swimming 3,000 feet below the oceans’ surface. Venus, which is closer to the Sun than Earth by 26 million miles, also receives about twice as much sunlight per day.

      There’s another invisible but vital difference between Venus and Earth—a magnetic field.

      On Earth, the magnetic field created by our planet’s churning liquid iron core acts like a shield, deflecting solar wind particles. Venus, by comparison, rotates at an extremely slow rate, which is likely why it never formed a magnetic field. Without this powerful barrier against solar winds, its shallow seas dried up. With its water finally stripped away, the buildup of carbon dioxide in Venus’ atmosphere reached a point of no return, trapping solar energy as scorching heat. Temperatures soared to nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt lead—and created thick, toxic clouds of sulfuric acid that move so furiously they circle the planet every five days….

Engineering Life

[These excerpts are from an article by Jonathan Shaw in the January/February 2020 issue of Harvard Magazine.]

      Synthetic biology, or the application of engineering principles to the design of life, presents world-changing prospects. Could components of a living cell function as tiny switches or circuits? How would that allow biomedical engineers to build biological “smart devices”—from sensors deployed inside the body to portable medical kits able to produce vaccines and antibiotics on demand? Could bacterial “factories” replace the fossil-fueled industries that produce plastics, foods, and fertilizers? Will the secrets of living creatures that enter suspended animation during periods of drought and extreme cold be harnessed to keep human victims of trauma alive? And is the genetic information preserved in long-frozen or fossilized extinct species, like woolly mammoths, sufficiently recoverable to help save living species?

      These ideas, once the stuff of science fiction, are now the stuff of science. Some aren’t yet functioning realities, but others have launched business applications, whether in medicine (such as hospital gowns that signal exposure to infection) or in land remediation (where bacterial “factories” powered by the sun capture nitrogen from the atmosphere to help plants grow). Someday, engineered forms of life that store carbon may even be one of the solutions to Earth’s climate-change problem….

      Propelling the science forward are scores of innovations in biological science, with new discoveries coming every month. Among the most important are advances in genetic editing, including improvements in accuracy, and the ability to make hundreds of changes at once. Another is computer-aided design, widely used to model biological systems, and to build new proteins by combining amino acids in ways never seen in nature. Advances in molecular engineering are driving the construction of ever-more complex circuits made from biological materials. And the ability to freeze-dry cellular transcription machinery outside the confines of cells has enabled scientists to easily manufacture proteins at will, at any time and place….

      Many of the earliest biological switches were crude and prone to accidental triggering. The inside of even a single-celled bacterium such as E. coli, where engineered synthetic circuits are often introduced and tested, is very busy….

      Agriculture is one area of critical need: a growing world population must be fed….devised a process to manufacture inexpensively one of the most energy-intensive products farmers use: fertilizer, which provides the nitrogen that plants need to grow.

      The work builds on an artificial leaf…that harnesses solar energy to split water (H2O) in order to produce hydrogen, an energy source. To create fertilizer, Silver helped connect the artificial leaf to a strain of bacteria that can “fix” both atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen, converting them to organic forms that can be used by living organisms. Provided with an unlimited supply of hydrogen from the artificial leaf, the bacteria combine the hydrogen with carbon pulled from the atmosphere to create a solid fuel that the bacteria store internally, as a long-term energy supply….

      The bacteria are then mixed into the soil, where some remain, and others form associations directly with plant roots. Drawing from their stored energy reserves, they begin fixing atmospheric nitrogen, thus fertilizing the plants. (Because the carbon in the bacteria remains sequestered in the soil even after the bacteria deplete their energy stores and die, the process has the added advantage of being atmospheric carbon-negative.) On test fields, Nocera reports “big increases in crop yields” with almost no run-off, an environmentally poisonous side effect of water-soluble chemical fertilizers….

(Re)New and Improved

[These excerpts are from an article by Sarah Nightingale in the Winter 2019 issue of USC Trojan Family.]

      …Their guide on this behind-the-scenes tour, a local restaurant owner, points to what they've been looking for: a grease-splattered metal container filled with used cooking oil….

      Trying not to draw unwanted attention—they’re not there to steal anything, and questions would just slow them down—he snaps a few pictures of the grease traps. He is careful to capture the contact information for the company that promises to empty them.

      You might ask why two USC researchers care where greasy spoons dump the contents of their deep-fat fryers. The simple answer lies in the power of chemistry. They’re finding ways to transform that waste product into a much-needed renewable fuel—and make the world a cleaner place.

      …These researchers are giving a second life to byproducts and discarded materials, employing recycling and upcycling to keep waste out of landfills. Oftentimes these processes reduce the need to manufacture materials from scratch, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. Ultimately, their work has a modest but increasingly important goal: to get the most out of resources with the minimum amount of waste.

      The world has a trash problem. People toss out more than 2 billion tons of garbage each year according to a World Bank report. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the U.S. share of that pile is 262 million tons per year. Paper makes up most of it, followed by food, yard trimmings and plastic.

      The recycling of discarded plastic—which can take 1,000 years to decompose—peaked at about 9% in 2018, with the rest diverted to landfills and incinerators or simply left on the ground. That unimpressive figure nose-dived a year ago when China, long the world’s biggest importer of recyclable waste, opted out of the plastics recycling business. It feared being overwhelmed by other countries’ trash. While scientists and policymakers have contemplated creative solutions to disposing of humanity’s garbage, including launching it into space, the down-to-earth solution likely involves creating fewer single-use products and reusing the materials in the goods we do make.

      …They knew of the potential of biofuels, which burn cleaner than their petroleum-based counterparts and may reduce our dependence on foreign oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. One problem is the cost of making biofuel—an issue that has thwarted the biodiesel industry for decades. While soybeans are the biggest source of oils for the industry, the combined energy needed to grow them, extract their oils and use the oils to make biodiesel is too expensive to compete with the petroleum industry. Starting with waste cooking oil reduces the cost, but not enough to make it profitable….

      As Williams explains, the most common way to turn vegetable oil into biodiesel is a chemical reaction that produces glycerol as a byproduct. But glycerol has little use, so it’s cheap. If they’re lucky, biofuel manufacturers can sell it for a few cents per pound to livestock producers, who spray it on the ground to keep dust down. In Southeast Asia, many producers dump it into rivers….

      At USC Loker, Lu discovered a way to convert glycerol into something valuable: sodium lactate. Used in the food processing industry, the market for this non-toxic, environmentally friendly chemical is $1.5 billion and growing….

      Increasingly used by commercial air-craft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus, carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites consist of long woven strands of carbon fibers combined with a matrix, or resin. The material’s structural marriage offers exceptional strength without substantial weight, making the composites popular for airplanes and other vehicles. Composites account for half of the weight of the world’s best-selling passenger plane, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, and the carbon composite chassis of BMW's popular i3 electric car is so light it can easily be lifted by two people. Compared with traditional manufacturing materials—even lightweight metals like aluminum—the weight savings offered by composites make a tangible difference in fuel efficiency.

      But there are downsides to composites: their cost, the wasteful manufacturing process and their resistance to traditional recycling….

      The process…involves cutting scraps of composite sheets into thin strips of various shapes and sizes, pressing them in molds and heating them to form new composite parts. It’s a concept he likens to the production of plywood or fiberboard.

      …While the new sheets won’t be used as major load-bearing structures in airplanes in the near future, the reclaimed composites can be crafted into structures in planes that bear less of a load, like dividers, seats and luggage compartments. They can be used for cars and buildings, too….

The Chicxulub Asteroid

[This excerpt is from chapter 9 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      What happened on that day—when the Cretaceous ended with a bang and the dinosaurs' death warrant was signed—was a catastrophe of unimaginable scale that, thankfully, humankind has never experienced. A comet or an asteroid—we aren’t sure which—collided with the Earth, hitting what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It was about six miles…wide, or about the size of Mount Everest. It was proba-bly moving at a speed of around 67,000 miles per hour…, more than a hundred times faster than a jet airliner. When it slammed into our planet, it hit with the force of over 100 trillion tons of TNT, somewhere in the vicinity of a billion nuclear bombs’ worth of energy. It plowed some twenty-five miles…through the crust and into the mantle, leaving a crater that was over 100 miles…wide.

      The impact made an atom bomb look like a Fourth of July cherry bomb. It was a bad time to be alive.

Tyrannosaurus rex

[This excerpt is from chapter 6 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      T. rex was able to gnash through most anything that it wanted to eat, whether it was splurging on a forty-foot-long Edmontosaurus or snacking on smaller contemporaries like the donkey-size ornithischian Thescelosaurus. But how did it capture its food?

      Not, as it turns out, with exceptional speed. T. rex was a special dinosaur in many ways, but one thing it could not do is move very fast. There’s a famous scene in Jurassic Park where the bloodthirsty T. rex, convulsed by its insatiable appetite for human flesh, chases down a jeep driving at highway speeds. Don’t believe the movie magic—the real T. rex likely would have been left in the dust once the jeep got up to third gear. It’s not that Rex was a plodding slouch that waddled through the forest. Far from it—T. rex was agile and energetic, and it moved with purpose, its head and tail balancing each other as it tiptoed through the trees, stalking its prey. But its maximum speed was probably in the ballpark of ten to twenty-five miles per hour. That’s faster than we can run, but it’s not as quick as a racehorse or, certainly, a car on the open road.

Explaining the Size of Sauropods

[This excerpt is from chapter 3 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      Our computer modeling study and more traditional studies based on limb-bone measurements come to the same conclusion: sauropod dinosaurs were really, really big. The primitive proto-sauropods like Plateosaurus began to experiment with relatively large sizes in the Triassic, as some of them got up to about two or three tons in weight. That's roughly equivalent to a giraffe or two. But after Pangea started to split, the volcanoes erupted, and the Triassic turned into the Jurassic, the true sauropods got much larger. The ones that left tracks in the Scottish lagoon weighed about ten to twenty tons, and later in the Jurassic, famous beasties like Brontosaurus and Brachiosaurus expanded to more than thirty tons. But that was nothing compared to some supersize Cretaceous species like Dreadnoughtus, Patagotitan, Argentinosaurus—members of an aptly named subgroup called the titanosaurs—which weighed in excess of fifty tons, more than a Boeing 737.

      The biggest and heaviest land animals today are elephants. Their sizes vary, depending on where they live and which species they belong to, but most weigh about five or six tons. Apparently the largest one ever recorded was around eleven tons. They have nothing on sauropods. Which circles back to the money question: how were these dinosaurs able to attain sizes so completely out of scale with anything else evolution has ever produced?

      The first thing to consider is what animals require to become really big. Perhaps most obvious, they need to eat a lot of food. Based on their sizes and the nutritional quality of the most common Jurassic foodstuffs, it's estimated that a big sauropod like Brontosaurus probably needed to eat around a hundred pounds of leaves, stems, and twigs every day, maybe more. So they needed a way to gather and digest such vast quantities of grub. Secondly, they need to grow fast. Growing bit by bit, year by year is all well and good, but if it takes you over a century to get big, that's many opportunities for a predator to eat you, or a tree to fall on you during a storm, or a disease to take you out long before you grow into your full-size adult body. Third, they must be able to breathe very efficiently, so they can take in enough oxygen to power all of the metabolic reactions in their immense bodies. Fourth, they need to be constructed in a way that their skeleton is strong and sturdy, but also not so bulky that it can’t move. Finally, they need to shed excess body heat, because in hot weather it is very easy for a big creature to overheat and die.

      Sauropods must have been able to do all of these things. But how? Many scientists who started to ponder this riddle decades ago went for the easiest answer: maybe there was something different in the physical environment back in the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Perhaps gravity was weaker, so heftier animals could move and grow more easily back then. Or maybe there was more oxygen in the atmosphere, so the hulking sauropods could breathe, and therefore grow and metabolize, more efficiently. These speculations might sound convincing, but on closer scrutiny they don’t check out. There is no evidence gravity was substantially different during the Age of Dinosaurs, and oxygen levels back then were about the same as today, or maybe even slightly lower.

      That leaves only one plausible explanation: there was something intrinsic about sauropods that allowed them to break the shackles that constrained all other land animals—mammals, reptiles, amphibians, even other dinosaurs—to much smaller sizes. The key seems to be their unique body plan, which is a mixture of features that evolved piecemeal during the Triassic and earliest Jurassic, culminating in an animal perfectly adapted for thriving at large size.

      It all starts, with the neck. The long, spindly, slinky-shaped neck is probably the single most distinctive feature of sauropods. A longer-than-normal neck started to evolve in the very oldest Triassic proto-sauropods, and it got proportionally longer over time, as sauropods both added more vertebrae—the individual bones in the neck—and stretched each individual vertebra ever further. Like Iron Man’s armor, the long necks conferred a kind of superpower: they allowed sauropods to reach higher in the trees than other plant-eating animals, giving them access to a whole new source of food. They could also park themselves in one area for several hours and extend their necks up and down and all around like a cherry picker, gobbling up plants while expending very little energy. That meant they were able to eat more food, and thus take in energy more efficiently, than their competitors. That’s adaptive advantage number one: their necks permitted them to eat the huge meals necessary to put on excessive weight.

      Then there’s the way that they grew. Recall that the dinosauromorph ancestors of dinosaurs developed higher metabolisms, faster growth rates, and a more active lifestyle than many of the amphibians and reptiles that were also diversifying in the earliest Triassic. They weren't lethargic, and it didn’t take them aeons to grow into adults like an iguana or a crocodile. This was also true of all of their dinosaur descendants. Studies of bone growth indicate that most sauropods matured from guinea-pig-size hatchlings to airplane-size adults in only about thirty or forty years, an incredibly short period of time for such a remarkable metamorphosis. That’s advantage two: sauropods obtained the fast growth essential to reach large size from their distant, cat-size ancestors.

      Sauropods also retained something else from their Triassic ancestors: a highly efficient lung. The lungs of sauropods were very similar to those of birds and very different from ours. While mammals have a simple lung that breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide in a cycle, birds have what is called a unidirectional lung: air flows across it in one direction only, and oxygen is extracted during both inhalation and exhalation. The bird-style lung is extra efficient, sucking up oxygen with each breath in and each exhalation. It's an astounding feature of biological engineering, made possible by a series of balloonlike air sacs connected to the lung, which store some of the oxygen-rich air taken in during inhalation, so that it can be passed across the lung during exhalation. Don’t worry if it sounds confusing: it is such a strange lung that it took biologists many decades to figure out how it works.

      We know that sauropods had such a birdlike lung because many bones of the chest cavity have big openings, called pneumatic fenestrae, where the air sacs extended deep inside. They are exactly the same structures in modern birds, and they can only be made by air sacs. So that’s adaptation three: sauropods had ultra-efficient lungs that could take in enough oxygen to stoke their metabolism at huge size. Theropod dinosaurs had the same bird-style lungs, which could have been one factor that allowed tyrannosaurs and other giant hunters to get so large, but the ornithischian dinosaurs did not. This is why duck-billed dinosaurs, stegosaurs, horned species, and armored dinosaurs were never able to grow as huge as sauropods.

      It turns out that air sacs also have another function. Aside from storing air in the breathing cycle, they also lighten the skeleton when they invade bone. In effect, they hollow out the bone, so that it still has a strong outer shell but is much more light-weight, the way an air-filled basketball is lighter than a rock of similar size. Want to know how sauropods could hold up their long necks without toppling over like an unbalanced seesaw? It’s because all of the vertebrae were so engulfed by air sacs that they were little more than honeycombs, featherweight but still strong. And that's advantage four: the air sacs allowed sauropods to have a skeleton that was both sturdy and light enough to move around. Without air sacs, mammals, lizards, and ornithischian dinosaurs had no such luck.

      And what about the fifth special adaptation, being able to expel excess body heat? The lungs and air sacs helped with this too. There were so many air sacs, and they extended throughout so much of the body, snaking their way into bones and between internal organs, that they provided a large surface area for dissipating heat. Each hot breath would be cooled by this central air conditioning system.

      Putting it all together, that’s how you can build a supergiant dinosaur. If sauropods had lacked any one of these features—the long neck, the fast growth rates, the efficient lung, the system of skeleton-lightening and body-cooling air sacs—then they probably would not have been capable of becoming such behemoths. It wouldn’t have been biologically possible. But evolution assembled all of the pieces, put them together in the right order, and when the kit was finally assembled in the post-volcanic world of the Jurassic, sauropods suddenly found themselves able to do something no other animals, before or since, have been able to do. They became biblically huge and swept around the world; they became dominant in the most magnificent way—and they would remain so for another hundred million years.

The Size of Sauropods

[This excerpt is from chapter 3 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      This raises a question that has fascinated paleontologists for over a century: how did sauropods become so large?

      It’s one of the great puzzles of paleontology. But before trying to solve it, we first need to come to grips with a more fundamental issue: how big did sauropods get? How long were they, how high could they stretch their necks, and most important, how much did they weigh? These turn out to be difficult questions to answer, particularly when it comes to weight, because you can't just stick a dinosaur on a scale and weigh it. A trade secret among paleontologists is that many of the fantastical numbers you see in books and museum exhibits—Brontosaurus weighed a hundred tons and was bigger than a plane!—are pretty much just made up. Educated guesses or, in some cases, barely that. Recently, however, paleontologists have come up with two different approaches to more accurately predict the weight of a dinosaur based on its fossil bones.

      The first is really quite simple arid relies on basic physics: heavier animals require stronger limb bones to support their weight. This logical principle is reflected in how animals are built. Scientists have measured the limb bones of many living animals, and it turns out that the thickness of the main bone in each limb that supports the animal—the femur (thighbone) for those that walk on two legs only or the femur plus the humerus (upper arm bone) for those that stand on all fours—is strongly statistically correlated with the weight of the animal. In other words, there is a basic equation that works for almost all living animals: if you can measure limb-bone thickness, you can then calculate body weight with a small but recognized margin of error—simple algebra you can do with a basic calculator.

      The second method is more intensive but a lot more interesting. Scientists are starting to build three-dimensional digital models of dinosaur skeletons, add on the skin and muscles and internal organs in animation software, and use computer programs to calculate body weight….

The End of the Triassic Period

[This excerpt is from chapter 3 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      …And then, when Pangea had been stretched to its limit, the crust burst and volcanoes started to erupt, burying the basins and the creatures that lived within them.

      The first eruptions didn't occur in the Newark Basin area. They happened in what is now Morocco, which at that time was nudged up against what would become eastern North America, just a few hundred miles or so from modern New York City. Then lava began pouring out in other places where Pangea was splitting: in the Newark Basin, in what is now Brazil, in those same lake environments where we found the supersalamander graveyard in Portugal—all along that zipper line, which, many millions of years later, would transform into the Atlantic Ocean. The lava came in four waves, each scorching the once verdant rift basins, each spreading toxic fumes all over the planet, each making a bad situation worse and worse. In only about half a million years—a blink of an eye in geological terms— the eruptions stopped, but they transformed the Earth forever.

      The dinosaurs, pseudosuchian crocodile-line archosaurs, big amphibians, and early mammal relatives living in the rift basins were blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. Things went sour quickly.

      The initial eruptions in Morocco released clouds of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, which rapidly warmed the planet. It got so hot that strange ice formations buried within the seafloor, called clathrates, melted in unison all throughout the world’s oceans. Clathrates are unlike the solid blocks of ice we're used to, the ones we put in our drinks or carve into fancy sculptures at parties. They are a more porous substance, a latticework of frozen water molecules that can trap other substances inside it. One of those substances is methane, a gas that seeps up constantly from the deep Earth and infiltrates the oceans but is caged in the clathrates before it can leak into the atmosphere. Methane is nasty: it’s an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, packing an earth-warming punch over thirty-five times as great. So when that first torrent of volcanic carbon dioxide increased global temperatures and melted the clathrates, all of that once-trapped methane was suddenly released. This initiated a runaway train of global warming. The amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere approximately tripled within a few tens of thousands of years, and temperatures increased by 3 or 4 degrees Celsius.

      Ecosystems on land and in the oceans couldn’t cope with such rapid change. The much hotter temperatures made it impossible for many plants to grow, and indeed upwards of 95 percent of them went extinct. Animals that fed on the plants found themselves without food, and many reptiles, amphibians, and early mammal relatives died out, like dominoes falling up the food chain. Chemical chain reactions made the ocean more acidic, decimating the shelly organisms and collapsing food webs. Climate became dangerously variable, with episodes of intense heat followed by cooler periods. This enhanced the temperature differences between northern and southern Pangea, causing the megamonsoons to become more severe, the coastal regions to become even wetter, and the continental interiors to grow much drier. Pangea had never been a particularly hospitable place, but those early dinosaurs that already were constrained by the monsoons, the deserts, and their pseudosuchian rivals were now in even worse shape.

The End of the Permian Period

[This excerpt is from chapter 1 of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, written by Steve Brusatte in 2018.]

      Imagine a continent scorched with lava. It’s the apocalyptic disaster of a bad B movie. Suffice it to say, all of the pareiasaurs, dicynodonts, and gorgonopsians living anywhere near the Siberian area code were finished. But it was worse than that. When volcanoes erupt, they don’t expel only lava, but also heat, dust, and noxious gases. Unlike lava, these can affect the entire planet. At the end of the Permian, these were the real agents of doom, and they started a cascade of destruction that would last for millions of years and irrevocably change the world in the process.

      Dust shot into the atmosphere, contaminating the high-altitude air currents and spreading around the world, blocking out the sun and preventing plants from photosynthesizing. The once lush conifer forests died out; then the pareiasaurs and dicynodonts had no plants to eat, and then the gorgonopsians had no meat. Food chains started to collapse. Some of the dust fell back through the atmosphere and combined with water droplets to form acid rain, which exacerbated the worsening situation on the ground. As more plants died, the landscape became barren and unstable, leading to massive erosion as mudslides wiped out entire tracts of rotting forest. This is why the fine mudstones in the Zachelmie quarry, a rock type indicative of calm and peaceful environments, suddenly gave way to the coarser boulder-strewn rocks so characteristic of fast-moving currents and corrosive storms. Wildfires raged across the scarred land, making it even more difficult for plants and animals to survive.

      But those were just the short-term effects, the things that happened within the days, weeks, and months after a particularly large burst of lava spilled through the Siberian fissures. The longer-term effects were even more deadly. Stifling clouds of carbon dioxide were released with the lava. As we know all too well today, carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, which absorbs radiation in the atmosphere and beams it back down to the surface, warming up the Earth. The CO2 spewed out by the Siberian eruptions didn’t raise the thermostat by just a few degrees; it caused a runaway greenhouse effect that boiled the planet. But there were other consequences as well. Although a lot of the carbon dioxide went into the atmosphere, much of it also dissolved into the ocean. This causes a chain of chemical reactions that makes the ocean water more acidic, a bad thing, particularly for those sea creatures with easily dissolvable shells. It’s why we don’t bathe in vinegar. This chain reaction also draws much of the oxygen out of the oceans, another serious problem for anything living in or around water.

      Descriptions of the doom and gloom could go on for pages, but the point is, the end of the Permian was a very bad time to be alive. It was the biggest episode of mass death in the history of our planet. Somewhere around 90 percent of all species disappeared. Paleontologists have a special term for an event like this, when huge numbers of plants and animals die out all around the world in a short time: a mass extinction. There have been five particularly severe mass extinctions over the past 500 million years. The one 66 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, which wiped out the dinosaurs, is surely the most famous. We’ll get to that one later. As horrible as the end-Cretaceous extinction was, it had nothing on the one at the end of the Permian. That moment of time 252 million years ago, chronicled in the swift change from mudstone to pebbly rock in the Polish quarry, was the closest that life ever came to being completely obliterated.

      Then things got better. They always do. Life is resilient, and some species are always able to make it through even the worst catastrophes. The volcanoes erupted for a few million years, and then they stopped as the hot spot lost steam. No longer blighted by lava, dust, and carbon dioxide, ecosystems were gradually able to stabilize. Plants began to grow again, and they diversified. They provided new food for herbivores, which provided meat for carnivores. Food webs reestablished themselves. It took at least five million years for this recovery to unfold, and when it did, things were better but now very different. The previously dominant gorgonopsians, pareiasaurs, and their kin were never to stalk the lakesides of Poland or anywhere else while the plucky survivors had the whole Earth to themselves. A largely empty world, an uncolonized frontier. The Permian had transitioned into the next interval of geological time, the Triassic, and things would never be the same. Dinosaurs were about to make their entrance.

Learning to Teach

[These excerpts are from an article by Firdous A. Khan in the 20 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      While preparing to teach my first lecture as a new faculty member, I told myself: “You have many research presentations under your belt; you’ll nail this!” It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was way off base. A few minutes in, the students looked tired, distracted, and in no mood to listen—a stark contrast to my research talk audiences, which seemed attentive at least….

      I started to reflect on my own experiences as a student and tried to recall the things that helped me learn, as well as the things that didn’t. The researcher in me also began to search for scientific evidence to guide me. I sought help from experts in pedagogy, as well as colleagues who had more teaching experience than I did. They told me about tools that they used during lectures and resources on campus for new teachers.

      Within 1 year, there was a marked change in my teaching. I began to use new skills and tools that kept my students engaged. One student wrote in a teaching evaluation that my approach to teaching “made the information exciting” and “challenged students to pay attention.” Teaching gradually became a source of satisfaction rather than anxiety.

      Here are some of the lessons that have helped me become a more effective teacher.

      SEEK HELP. Teaching is a skill and as such needs to be learned. Many scientists assume that their graduate degree or post-doctoral experience qualifies them to be a teacher. The reality is far from that….

      KEEP IT INTERACTIVE. Actively engaging students is essential for holding their attention and nurturing critical thought….

      BE COMPASSIONATE. Students are more likely to learn if they feel the teacher genuinely cares about them and respects them. So treat every student with understanding and compassion, and make it clear to them that they can come to you for help. It is also important to be mindful of the diversity in student backgrounds and approaches to learning….

      Teaching isn’t always easy or intuitive, but it’s your responsibility to help your students learn. Put in the time to create an environment that maximizes learning for everyone.

A ‘Missing Link’ Microbe Emerges

[These excerpts are from an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in the 20 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      This year, microbiologists took a major step toward resolving a controversy over the origin of eukaryotes, the group that encompasses all plants and animals—including humans. After 12 years of trying, a team in Japan succeeded in growing a mysterious microbe from deep-sea sediments and sequenced its genome. It could shed light on the ultimate ancestry of us all.

      The organism, Prometheoarchaeum syntrophicum strain MK-D1, is a member of the recently recognized Asgard group of microbes, which are not bacteria but a completely separate branch of life called archaea. The Asgards were known only from DNA fragments isolated from deep-sea sediments and other extreme environments. Surprisingly, those fragments contain genes formerly thought to be found only in eukaryotes—organisms with cells that have nuclei and organelles such as mitochondria. Comparative DNA analyses indicated the Asgards, or an ancient relative, may have even given rise to eukaryotes. That radical idea would shrink the domains of life from three—archaea, eukaryotes, and bacteria—to two: bacteria and archaea, with eukaryotes reduced to a subset of archaea. But given the scant evidence, many researchers were skeptical.

      By growing an Asgard in culture, the team in Japan could sequence its full genome and confirm that it carries eukaryotic genes. The researchers also found that it seems to grow best in association with certain bacteria, and that it forms short tentacles that might engulf bacterial companions. If so, that could explain how an Asgard acquired the microbial guests that became mitochondria….

      Other studies this year have identified more eukaryotic genes in DNA fragments from other members of the Asgard group. And information derived from DNA about Asgard metabolism also bolsters the two-domain over the three-domain hypothesis. Proponents of both ideas agree, however, that events that happened almost 3 billion years ago will be hard to reconstruct, and that new ideas may emerge as more Asgards are studied—and, perhaps, cultured. But with one now in hand, researchers have a clearer window into that distant past.

Face to Face with the Denisovans

[This article by Elizabeth Culotta is in the 20 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      Almost 40 years ago, a Buddhist monk found an odd human jaw bone in Baishiya Karst Cave, high on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Recognizing that the jaw, with its giant molars, was something special, he gave it to another monk, who donated it to scholars. But no one knew what to make of it. Then in May, scientists applied a new method of analyzing ancient proteins and identified the strange jaw as that of a Denisovan, a mysterious human ancestor who ranged across Asia until some 50,000 years ago, about the same time as the Neanderthals. The work brings these enigmatic ancient people into focus, and heralds a potential protein-based revolution in understanding ancient life.

      The Denisovans have haunted human evolution researchers for 10 years. Back in 2010, researchers identified them by sequencing DNA from a fossilized pinkie bone found in Denisova Cave in Siberia. The DNA, which came from a girl, differed from that of Neanderthals and modern humans. Today, ghostly traces of Denisovans linger in the DNA of living people across Asia, suggesting the group was once widespread and mingled with both Neanderthals and modern humans. But until this year, only a few scraps of additional Denisovan fossils had been identified, all from Denisova Cave. Scientists were left guessing what the Denisovans looked like.

      The 160,000-year-old Baishiya jaw yielded no DNA. But a Chinese and European team managed to extract collagen, a common protein, from the bone, and match it with collagen from the Denisova Cave girl. That suggested the jaw was Denisovan and that these mystery humans had robust jaws, big molars, and teeth with three roots.

      In September, another team refined that picture by applying a new technique to the Denisova Cave girl’s genome. They traced chemical modifications of the DNA called methylation, which can silence genes, then combined that information with a data-base that describes how missing or defective genes influence anatomy in living people. The results suggested how the methylation pattern of the girl's DNA might have shaped her body. The team concluded that she would have looked a lot like a Neander-thal, with a wide pelvis, sloping forehead, and protruding lower jaw. But she also had a wider face than modern humans or Neanderthals, and a longer arch of teeth along her jaw bone. When the researchers tested their view of the Denisovan smile against the newly identified Baishiya jaw bone, it fit almost perfectly.

The Rhetorical Secretary

[These excerpts are from an article by Mark Hlavacik in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.]

      …Founded in 1979, the Department of Education was meant to institutionalize the government’s role in leading civic discussion about education. As he signed the legislation creating the new federal agency, Jimmy Carter explained that he considered its rhetorical mission the equal of its regulatory mission:

        I came to the office of the Presidency determined that the American people should receive a better return on their investment in education. I came equally determined that our Nation’s formidable educational challenges should be brought to the forefront of national discussion where they belong.

      For Carter, the secretary of education would be integral to the success of the new department because the secretary would be the driving force behind its rhetorical leadership. “For the first time,” he declared, “there will be a Cabinet-level leader in education, someone with the status and the resources to stir national discussion of critical educational concerns.” By “stimulating needed debate of educational issues,” the secretary was to be, in effect, a national storyteller for the schools.

      Forty years later, it is safe to say that Carter’s vision has been fulfilled. The secretaries of education — 13 of them to date — have been integral to every major civic discussion of education from the 1980s to the present. Indeed, it has become difficult to imagine what a national discussion of education policy would sound like without their leadership.

      And yet, that is exactly what Secretary Betsy DeVos has challenged us to do. Portraying the very existence of the Department of Education as a “giant nod to union bosses,” DeVos counts its creation among a series of failed reforms. To correct this misstep, she urges her fellow Americans to cut government out of the loop, insisting that “federal mandates distort what education ought to be: a trusting relationship between teacher, parent, and student.”

      …Just as Carter hoped, education has become a national political issue, featuring arguments over accountability, choice, and equity that rely on comparisons between schools that are most meaningful when made at scale….So, although Carter declared the regulatory and rhetorical functions of the Department of Education equal, the reality is that most secretaries of education have relied on the bully pulpit as their main source of influence….

      Whenever the secretary points to a specific student, teacher, administrator, school, district, or state, and whenever she releases a report or changes a policy, the content of the story she tells is met with scrutiny, discussion, and further research, as it should be. In this way, secretaries of education are held accountable by journalists, academics, teachers, and the public for the veracity, consistency, and fairness of what they say….

      However, among those who’ve had the most lasting impact on the politics of education, we can make one generalization: While they've differed widely in their policy preferences, they’ve shared a basic commitment to encouraging the American people to take collective responsibility for the nation’s educational future….

Planning for a Warmer World

[These excerpts are from an article by Daniel A. Reifsnyder in the 13 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      …the authors point to “no more” moments that can bring about large-scale, decisive action, but they acknowledge that “the rest of the time we largely fail to learn from our experience.” Take, for example, their stunning observation that 8 of the 18 most hurricane-prone states in the union have no mandatory, statewide building code.

      Why does this happen? In their view, the reasons are many and include prohibitive construction costs, the potential for lost tax revenue, a fear of litigation, optimism bias (our tendency to believe that situations will resolve favorably), and inertia.

      …human biases that I make us reluctant to act. Here, they describe the staggering costs borne by the federal government for disaster relief ($130 billion between 2005 and 2008, for example, spent mostly in response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma). The authors cite former l'reasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s argument that if Republicans really care about limited government, they should care about controlling climate change before it results in never-ending climate bailouts.

      …For years, the issue of displacement and relocation was something of a taboo subject in international climate debates, both because it is so sensitive and because solutions are not readily apparent….

      …even the Obama White House dropped “managed retreat” for more politically palatable alternatives. “Our political leaders will need to begin a national conversation on this sensitive topic, and the sooner the better….The earlier we start, the easier, and less costly, and less traumatic building resilience will be….”

DNA from Arctic Lakes Traces Past Climate Impacts

[These excerpts are from an article by Paul Voosen in the 13 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      High in the Canadian Arctic on Baffin Island, beneath 10 meters of water and many more of mud, sits a refrigerated archive of Earth’s past life. The deep sediments in a small lake called CF8 hold ancient pollen and plant fossils. But it now appears that the mud harbors something else: ancient DNA from as far back as the Eemian, a period 125,000 years ago when the Arctic was warmer than today, left by vegetation that otherwise would have vanished without a trace….

      Lately, Arctic lakes have emerged as the premier archive for sedimentary ancient DNA, because they collect clues to entire ecosystems. Leaves, flowers, dung—some part of every organism that lives around a lake ends up in the water….DNA is sprung from its cells by decay, then attaches to mineral grains or organic compounds, which provide protection from ultraviolet radiation and oxidation. Temperatures at the lake bottom hover just above freezing, keeping the DNA stable. And year after year, the sediment keeps accumulating, its layers allowing clear dating of the DNA’s deposition.

      Traditionally scientists have used pollen grains from lakebed cores to study past plant communities. But most plants in the Arctic are pollinated by insects, not by wind, so that little pollen ends up in the soil—and what’s there could have blown in from a distance. DNA in lake sediments more accurately reflects the plants and wildlife found nearby….

      It’s not easy to extract the DNA. Scientists must be careful to collect a sample—typically 1 gram of mud—without contaminating it with modern DNA. Then, in a clean lab, the DNA must be extracted in a painstaking process of trial and error….Organic-rich soils seem to be particularly problematic; they are ripe with molecules like humic acid, which behaves like DNA and can foul later 14equencing efforts….

      Early results challenge the simple notion that climate change triggers a wholesale turnover of plant species….certain larch species did not shift northward as the planet warmed after the last ice age, despite preferring a colder climate. Instead …warming allowed the forest to grow denser, which favored a cold-loving larch….The DNA suggests taller plants invaded as the region warmed: first shrubs, then trees. But Arctic flowers persisted, perhaps by retreating uphill.

      Future climate warming, however, may dislodge—or extirpate—these holdouts. For clues to the fate of ecosystems in an even warmer world, researchers want to find other ancient DNA records that stretch back to the Eemian….

      And as the lakes yield even older records, the field is inching toward studying not only the changes in plant diversity and abundance, but also how individual species adapted to climate change….

Donkeys Face Worldwide Existential Threat

[These excerpts are from an article by Crista Leste-Lasserre in the 13 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      …Over the past 6 years, Chinese traders have been buying the hides of millions of butchered donkeys (Equus asinus) from develop-ing countries and shipping them to China, where they’re used to manufacture ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine. The trade has led to an animal welfare nightmare, along with a threat to donkey populations, the severity of which is only now emerging. Without drastic measures, the number of donkeys worldwide will drop by half within 5 years….The crisis threatens many of the world's rarer donkey breeds and a vital means of transport for the poor. But it is also spurring new studies of donkey biology—including how to speed their reproduction.

      Ejiao, in use for thousands of years, purportedly treats or prevents many problems, including miscarriage, circulatory issues, and premature aging, although no rigorous clinical trials support those claims. The preparation combines mineral-rich water from China’s Shandong province and collagen extracted from donkey hides, traditionally produced by boiling the skins in a 99-step process. Once reserved for China’s elites, ejiao is now marketed to the country’s booming middle class, causing demand to surge….

      Despite government incentives for new donkey farmers, farms in China can’t keep up with the exploding demand, which the Donkey Sanctuary currently estimates at 4.8 million hides per year. Donkeys’ gestation period is one full year, and they only reach their adult size after 2 years. So the industry has embarked on a frenzied hunt for donkeys elsewhere. This has triggered steep population declines. In Brazil, the population dropped by 28% between 2007 and 2017, according to the new report….

What’s the Deal with Rich Men and Space?

[These excerpts are from an article by Zeynep Tufekci in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American.]

      …what’s wrong with dreaming, right? In one sense, nothing. But in another, it matters how people with a lot of money dream. Bezos, Allen and Musk all have talked about their love of science fiction as part of their inspiration for investing in space. Bezos spent his summers reading authors such as Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein….

      As a former science-fiction geek myself, I can only sympathize. At its best, though, science fiction is a brilliant vehicle for exploring not the far future or the scientifically implausible but the interactions among science, technology and society. The what-if scenarios it poses can allow us to understand our own societies better, and sometimes that's best done by dispensing with scientific plausibility. For example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s brilliant book The Left Hand of Darkness imagines an envoy from Terra (our Earth) to Gethen, a planet without fixed boundaries between genders. Through the hero's encounter with an “ambisexual” species, we end up interrogating our own cultural norms around masculinity and femininity—groundbreaking for a book published in 1969.

      Science fiction is sometimes denigrated as escapist literature, but the best examples of it are exactly the opposite. For me, it’s not the scientifically implausible part of science fiction that is most interesting. It's what the expanded imagination allows us to discover about ourselves and our societies—and then to make them better.

      Science and art have always been somewhat funded through the eccentric interests of the wealthy, and the combination has always been a mixed bag. One thing about being a billionaire is that it’s probably not hard to find people who will encourage you to spend money chasing space operas that either will not happen because of scientific constraints or will end up in disaster.

      But more important, tech billionaires can shape our lives today, through how their companies operate, by repaying their obligations to society through taxes on their enormous wealth (at the moment, fairly little), and through their investments in solving the problems that threaten us. Doing that requires imagination. It’s just not the kind depicted on the covers of science-fiction books I, too, read as a child; it's the kind that takes us to expanded universes only to have us think harder about how to understand the one inhabitable place for us in this vast universe—our fragile, pale blue dot—and make it a better place to live.

Utility-Scale Storage of Renewable Energy

[These excerpts are from an article by Andrea Thompson in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American.]

      The way the world gets its electricity is undergoing a rapid transition, driven by both the increased urgency of decarbonizing energy systems and the plummeting costs of wind and solar technology. In the past decade electricity generated by renewables in the U.S. has doubled, primarily from wind and solar installations, according to the Energy Information Administration. In January 2019 the EIA forecast that wind, solar and other nonhydroelectric renewables would be the fastest-growing slice of the electricity portfolio for the next two years. But the intermittent nature of those sources means that electric utilities need a way to keep energy in their back pocket for when the sun is not shining and the winds are calm. That need is increasing interest in energy-storage technology—in particular, lithium-ion batteries, which are finally poised to be more than just a bit player in the grid.

      For decades pumped-storage hydropower, a simple process that features reservoirs at different elevations, has been the dominant large-scale energy-storage method in the U.S. To store energy, water is pumped into the higher reservoir; when that energy is needed, the water is released into the lower reservoir, flowing through a turbine along the way. Pumped-storage hydropower currently accounts for 95 percent of U.S. utility-scale energy storage, according to the Department of Energy. But as efficiency and reliability have improved, and manufacturing costs have tumbled, lithium-ion batteries have surged. They account for more than 80 percent of the U.S.'s utility-scale battery-storage power capacity, which jumped from just a few megawatts a decade ago to 866 mega-watts by February 2019, the EIA says. A March 2019 analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that the cost of electricity from such batteries has dropped by 76 percent since 2012, making them close to competitive with the plants, typically powered by natural gas, that are switched on during times of high electricity demand. To date, whereas batteries have largely been used to make brief, quick adjustments to maintain power levels, utilities in several states, including Florida and California, are adding lithium-ion batteries that will be able to last for two to four hours. Earlier energy research firm Wood Mackenzie estimated that the market for energy storage would double from 2018 to 2019 and triple from 2019 to 2020.

      Lithium-ion batteries will likely be the dominant technology for the next five to 10 years, according to experts, and continuing improvements will result in batteries that can store four to eight hours of energy—long enough, for example, to shift solar-generated power to the evening peak in demand.

      But getting to the point where renewables and energy storage can handle the baseline load of electricity generation will take energy storage at longer timescales, which will mean moving beyond lithium-ion batteries. Potential candidates range from other high-tech options, such as flow batteries, which pump liquid electrolytes, and hydrogen fuel cells, to simpler concepts, such as pumped-storage hydropower and what is called gravity storage. Pumped-storage hydropower is cheap once it is installed, but it is expensive to build and can be used only in certain terrain. Similarly simple is the concept of gravity storage, which purports to use spare electricity to raise a heavy block that can later be lowered to drive a turbine to generate electricity….

      The oldest animal remains that almost everyone can agree on are fossils from Newfoundland that date to about 571 million years ago, shortly after the last regional “Snowball Earth” glaciation that encased much of the planet in thick ice. These earliest known representatives of the Ediacaran biota were dominated by soft-bodied creatures up to a meter in height or width. Some took the form of large, featherlike fronds with vertical stalks that rooted them to the seafloor; others sprawled across the ocean bottom, their flat bodies exhibiting a fractal architecture, with branching units that showed the same patterns at all scales. All these body plans maximize surface area, suggesting that these animals absorbed nutrients directly from the surrounding water.

Bioplastics for a Circular Economy

[These excerpts are from an article by Javier Garcia Martinez in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American.]

      Our civilization is built on plastics. In 2014 alone, industry generated 311 million metric tons, an amount expected to triple by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum. Yet less than 15 percent of it gets recycled. Much of the rest is incinerated, sits in landfills or is abandoned in the environment—where, being resistant to microbial digestion, it can persist for hundreds of years. Plastic debris accumulating in the ocean causes all kinds of problems, from killing wildlife when mistakenly ingested to releasing toxic compounds. It can even enter our bodies via contaminated fish.

      Biodegradable plastics can ease these problems, contributing to the goal of a “circular” plastic economy in which plastics derive from and are converted back to biomass. Like standard plastics derived from petrochemicals, biodegradable versions consist of polymers (long-chain molecules) that can be molded while in their fluid state into a variety of forms. The options currently available—mostly made from corn, sugarcane, or waste fats and oils—generally lack the mechanical strength and visual characteristics of the standard kinds, however. Recent breakthroughs in producing plastics from cellulose or lignin (the dry matter in plants) promise to overcome those drawbacks. In an added boon for the environment, cellulose and lignin can be obtained from nonfood plants, such as giant reed, grown on marginal land not suitable for food crops or from waste wood and agricultural by-products that would otherwise serve no function.

      Cellulose, the most abundant organic polymer on earth, is a major component of plant cell walls; lignin fills the spaces in those walls, providing strength and rigidity. To make plastics from those substances, manufacturers must first break them into their building blocks, or monomers. Investigators have recently found ways to do so for both substances. The lignin work is particularly important because lignin’s monomers are composed of aromatic rings—the chemical structures that give some standard plastics their mechanical strength and other desirable features. Lignin does not dissolve in most solvents, but investigators have shown that certain environ-mentally friendly ionic liquids (which are composed largely of ions) can selectively separate it from wood and woody plants. Genetically engineered enzymes similar to those in fungi and bacteria can then break the dissolved lignin into its components….

      Many hurdles must be overcome before the new plastics can be widely used. One is cost. Another is minimizing the amount of land and water used to produce them—even if the lignin comes only from waste, water is needed to convert it into plastic. As with any major challenge, the solutions will require a combination of measures, from regulations to voluntary changes in the ways society uses and disposes of plastics. Still, the emerging methods for producing biodegradable plastic offer a perfect example of how greener solvents and more effective biocatalysts can contribute to generating a circular econmy in a major industry.

Smarter Fertilizers Can Reduce Environmental Contamination

[These excerpts are from an article by Jeff Carbeck in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American.]

      To feed the world's growing population, farmers need to increase crop yields. Applying more fertilizer could help. But standard versions work inefficiently and often harm the environment. Fortunately, products that are more ecologically sound—controlled-release fertilizers—are available and becoming increasingly smart.

      Farmers typically fertilize crops in two ways. They spray fields with ammonia, urea or other substances that generate the nutrient nitrogen when they react with water. And they apply granules of potash or other minerals to produce phosphorus, also in reaction to water. But relatively little of those nutrients makes its way into the plants. Instead much of the nitrogen goes into the atmosphere in greenhouse gases, and phosphorus ends up in watersheds, frequently triggering excessive growth of algae and other organisms. Controlled-release formulations, in contrast, can ensure that significantly higher levels of nutrients reach the crops, leading to higheryields with less fertilizer.

      A class known as slow-release fertilizers has been sold for some time. These formulations typically consist of tiny capsules filled with substances that contain nitrogen, phosphorus and other desired nutrients. The outer shell slows both the rate at which water can access the inner contents to liberate the nutrients and the rate at which the end products escape from the capsule. As a result, nutrients are meted out gradually, instead of in a wasteful, rapid burst that cannot be absorbed efficiently. Newer formulations include substances that slow nutrient delivery still further, by retarding the conversion of starting materials, such as urea, to nutrients.

      Recently fertilizers that more fully fit the description “controlled release” have been developed—made possible by sophisticated materials and manufacturing techniques that can tune the shells so that they alter nutrient-release rates in desired ways as the soil’s temperature, acidity or moisture changes. By combining different types of tuned capsules, manufacturers can make fertilizers that have profiles tailored to the needs of specific crops or growing conditions….

      Although controlled-release technologies make fertilizers more efficient, they do not eliminate all drawbacks of fertilizer use. The products still include ammonia, urea and potash, for example; producing these substances is energy-intensive, which means that their manufacture can contribute to greenhouse gas production and climate change. This effect could be mitigated, however, by using environmentally friendlier sources of nitrogen and incorporating microorganisms that improve the efficiency of nitrogen and phosphorus uptake by plants. There is no evidence that the materials composing the shells hurt the environment, but this risk must be monitored whenever any new substances are introduced in high volumes.

      Controlled-release fertilizers are part of a sustainable approach to agriculture known as precision farming. This approach improves crop yield and minimizes excessive nutrient release by combining data analytics, artificial intelligence and various sensor systems to determine exactly how much fertilizer and water plants need at any given time and by deploying autonomous vehicles to deliver nutrients in prescribed amounts and locations. Installing precision systems is costly, though, so only large-scale operations tend to have them. In comparison, advanced controlled-release fertilizers are relatively inexpensive and could be a front-line technology that would help farmers to sustainably increase crop production.

Teaching the Human Dimensions of Climate Change for 30 Years

[These excerpts are from an article by Pamela Wasserman in the December 2019 issue of Population Connection.]

      There are many excellent teacher resources available to explain climate science, but fewer that address the role that population growth has played in greenhouse gas emissions, or that delve into how vulnerable communities are being impacted by a rapidly changing climate….

      Despite polling that shows 8 in 10 Americans now acknowledge that human activity is fueling climate change, some teachers are still reticent to address the topic, fearing a backlash from parents, especially in politically conservative areas….the emphasis on presenting scientific data and allowing students to draw their own conclusions makes it easier to teach a “controversial” subject….

Climate Change and Contraception

[These excerpts are from an article by John Bongaarts and Regine Sitruk-Ware in the December 2019 issue of Population Connection.]

      Global climate change represents a grave threat to the future of human welfare and our natural environment. The contentious ongoing policy debate about potential interventions focuses on switching to renewable energy sources and increasing energy use efficiency. But given the urgency of the problem and the lack of political will, other approaches to limit greenhouse gas emissions should be given higher priority. Improving access to effective contraception is one such policy that has thus far been largely ignored by the international climate community….

      In 2100, our planet is expected to be home to 10.9 billion people, up from today’s 7.7 billion. This expansion of humanity will take place mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Rapid population growth has pervasive adverse effects on societies, economies, and the natural environment. In particular, with an additional 3 billion people producing greenhouse gases, the global warming problem will become even more intractable in the coming decades.

      …Lack of access to services and the relatively high cost of modern contraceptives are obvious obstacles for poor women, in particular in rural areas of the developing world. Addressing these issues is a key objective of family planning programs which bring services to local communities and provide methods for free or at low cost. However, there are other, often more important, obstacles such as myths about hormones, traditional social norms, and disapproval of husbands. In fact, fear of side effects and dissatisfaction with available methods are often the dominant reasons women are reluctant to use (or continue to use) contraception.

      Social norms dictate how people ought to behave, particularly in traditional societies where patriarchy is dominant; women are expected to follow the decisions of their husbands and community elders. These customs constrain the introduction of new behaviors such as fertility regulation in societies where it has been absent….

Global #ClimateStrike Demands Real Action to Mitigate Climate Crisis

[This excerpt is from an article by Lindsay Apperson in the December 2019 issue of Population Connection.]

      …We’ve already seen the impacts of climate change. Humanity has killed off 60 percent of the global wildlife population since 1970, with human-induced climate change being one of the leading causes. Sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk every decade since 1979. Sea levels are rising, inundating coastal communities, wildfires are ravaging old-growth forests, hurricanes are getting stronger and destroying everything in their paths, and droughts are plaguing farmers and thirsty people around the world.

      Marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by unfair environmental and climate practices. The Inuit in the Arctic, the Yanomami in the Amazon, the Sioux in Standing Rock, and other indigenous groups across the world are losing their lands and facing negative health implications as a direct result of climate change. In the United States, low-income people and people of color have elevated exposure to pollution from extrac-tive industries (e.g. living near toxic coal plants, causing increased rates of asthma). They are more likely to lack access to clean water (Flint), and they die at higher rates during natural disasters and severe weather events.

      Yet even in the face of the most pressing crisis facing humanity, world leaders are rolling back the few regulations that exist to seriously address climate change. In the United States, Donald Trump reversed environmental regulations, causing a 3.4-percent rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018—the largest increase since 2010, and the second largest increase since 1996. In Brazil, fires devastated the earth’s largest rainforest—which absorbs nearly one-third of CO2 emissions—largely due to President Jair Bolsonaro's policies that ignored environmental regulations in favor of boosting Brazil's beef industry. Despite demands from climate activists across the world, leaders still have not done enough to address climate change….

Nitrogen Crisis Threatens Dutch Environment—and Economy

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 6 December 2019 issue of Science.]

      …They are protesting a Dutch high court decision that in May suspended permits for construction projects that pollute the atmosphere with nitrogen compounds and harm nature reserves. The freeze has stalled the expansion of dairy, pig, and poultry farms—major sources of nitrogen in the form of ammonia from animal waste. Also blocked are plans for new homes, roads, and airport runways, because construction machinery emits nitrogen oxides….

      The government is preparing to enact short-term measures, including lowering a highway speed limit, which could reduce nitrogen emissions a sliver. To make a significant dent, many experts say the country’s farm animal sector—the densest in the world—must shrink and recycle more of its nitrogen. Last month, farmers asked for nearly €3 billion over 5 years to help pay for more environmentally friendly ways to deal with manure. Although agriculture is a large source of nitrogen emissions, other sectors will have to rein in their pollution, too….

      Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plants, is also an insidious pollutant. Fertilizer washing off fields ends up in lakes and coastal areas, causing algal blooms that kill marine life. Airborne nitrogen can also harm ecosystems. One source is nitrogen oxides, mostly from power plants and engine exhaust. In the Netherlands, even more comes from the ammonia vapors from livestock urine and manure. Both kinds of nitrogen react to form aerosols that cause smog, damage foliage, and acidify the soil, hindering roots’ absorption of nutrients. (Dutch farmers must add lime to their fields to fight acidity.)

      The Netherlands is a nitrogen hot spot partly because it is a dense, urbanized nation, although controls on power plants and catalytic converters in autos have helped curb nitrogen oxide emissions. The bigger problem is ammonia emissions from concentrated livestock operations….Dutch agriculture is responsible for nearly half of nitrogen pollution that falls in the country….

      Some scientists and environmental groups say the Netherlands should move to circular agriculture: Farms should only produce as much manure as they can use to fertilize nearby fields; cows should graze rather than be fed nitrogen-rich, imported soy; and pigs and poultry should eat food waste. That would mean 50% fewer animals….

The Pursuit of Earth’s Waters

[These excerpts are from an article by Lydia Barnett in the 29 November 2019 issue of Science.]

      How did climatology become climate science? More fundamentally, how did the idea of Earth as an interconnected natural system—one of the conceptual foundations of climate science—emerge from a welter of different disciplines? In clear and engaging prose, historian Sarah Dry narrates the life stories of six individuals….

      Waters of the World takes readers from the lab to the study to the field and back again….

      The main thread linking these biographies is, as the book’s title suggests, water. Tvndall’s studies of glaciers and experiments with water vapor led him to develop the theory of greenhouse gases. Walker’s failed attempts to develop a science of monsoon prediction fostered instead a dawning realization that interlocking systems of high and low pressure conspired to produce what he called “world weather.” Simpson’s lifelong pursuit of tropical clouds and storms generated novel understandings of atmospheric circulation on a global scale, just as her contemporary Stommel’s work on the Gulf Stream revealed the interconnectedness of the world's oceans. Dansgaard’s fascination with snow and rainwater led him to engineer the method of ice core sampling that proved foundational to the birth of paleoclimatology.

      Dry shows how disappointments and dead ends, creative workarounds, and the contingencies of funding, training, family relationships, scholarly networks, health and mental illness, and access to instruments, institutions, and other people’s labor all shaped scientific inquiry into the planet's oceans, atmosphere, and ice sheets….

      …Waters of the World is a history that functions as a plea for interdisciplinary work on the problem of climate. The book ends with a call to climate scientists to embrace their interdisciplinary roots and to recognize and celebrate that there are “multiple ways of knowing the planet.”

An Even Bigger Climate Problem

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Carolina Schmidt in the 29 November 2019 issue of Science.]

      Holding a major international summit on climate change against a backdrop of civil discontent like the kind that has rocked Chile might have given the world the impression that issues like clean energy can be addressed without also confronting problems of social justice….

      This year, Chile made bold moves to limit climate change. In September, it launched a broad alliance that encourages nations, regions, cities, businesses, and investors to accelerate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce vulnerability to the effects of climate change. And although Chile contributes a mere 0.25% to global carbon emissions, its proposed nationally determined contribution (NDC)—the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are at the heart of the international Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise—was formulated with Chile’s own national agenda of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

      Achieving a net zero carbon footprint will require one of the fastest coal shutdowns of any country because the fuel accounts for about 40% of Chile’s electricity generation. The Mitigation Plan for the Energy Sector is aligned with goals set in Chile’s 2050 energy strategy, which has a renewable energy generation target of at least 60% by 2035. Thanks to an Electromobility Strategy, Chile operates the largest electric urban public bus fleet in Latin America, with plans to achieve 100% electric public transport by 2050. These are examples of necessary short-term actions to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C. In the meantime, a Climate Change Law proposal is under discussion. It is the first Latin American law that formulated a carbon neutrality goal in conjunction with the scientific community. It also proposes a Scientific Council and a Civil Society Council to expand input into policies and a Regional Committee on Climate Change to develop local climate action plans.

      But dealing with climate change will require not only technical and practical transformations in sectors like energy and transportation, but also social transformations. Climate change amplifies social inequities. Sea level rise, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires, among other hazards, affect food, water, air, land, energy, and other securities. Some groups are affected more than others, depending on where they live and their ability to cope. What is needed are “green transitions” that support people who live in poverty and in indigenous communities with limited resources, as well as those in urban communities struck by higher energy costs and air and water pollution.

      How can climate action advance a more sustainable, fairer, and united Chile? Goals, technologies, and policies surrounding climate must be discussed in the context of their impacts across the income distribution. For example, in Chile’s updated NDC, a new aggressive goal to reduce up to 30% of carbon emissions by 2030 was created to address the huge pollution problem associated with cities mainly in the south. The complete coal phase-out program was agreed upon in a roundtable where the government, private sector, local authorities, and civil representatives discussed a transition process that is sensitive to the health and employment of those affected most. And the inclusion of the water security was given priority to address a 10-year drought that has afflicted 70% of the population.

      …Nations cannot address development and prosperity without addressing climate change, and vice versa….

Sidestepping Politics to Teach Climate

[These excerpts are from an article by Ragupathy Kannan in the 22 November 2019 issue of Science.]

      …I teach climate science in my biology classes because I think it’s important to lay out how the climate is changing before I talk about how those changes may impact plants and animals. Some of my students aren’t science majors, so it may be the only time they hear about climate science in a university lecture.

      Recognizing that science doesn’t exist in a vacuum, I also try to make connections between the topics I’m teaching and the wider world. To do that, I set aside a few minutes at the beginning of lectures to talk about science in the news….

      A turning point came the following semester when I received a message from my dean, who regularly reads student evaluations. He had circled a comment from one of my students, writing, “Be careful here.” After thinking it through more carefully, I came to realize that in a polarized political landscape, talking about politicians and the decisions they make is counterproductive. Students may put their guard up, thinking that I’m partisan, and tune me out when I'm lecturing about other things, such as climate modeling. So, I made a conscious decision to change my approach to teaching the subject.

      As part of my modified strategy, I joined a local bipartisan group that aims to bring people together by emphasizing the potential consequences, rather than causes, of climate change. The group taught me about tactful, nonconfrontational ways to discuss climate science.

      Over the past year, I have experimented with my teaching methods, and I have learned that to open my students' minds to the science, I need to find common ground with them. Now, when I discuss climate science news, I focus on things that all of us care about and choose examples that illustrate how climate change might affect their lives. For instance, this summer Arkansas and neighboring states were devastated by catastrophic flooding. It was a topic that hit close to home for all of us, and it gave me the chance to tell my students that major floods are now happening more often than they did in the past.

      Since I altered my teaching strategy, I’ve noticed a shift in my student evaluations. I still get the occasional comment that I’m a “climate doomsdayer,” but overall the evaluations have been much more positive.

      As teachers, we strive to make connections with our students. I’ve learned that delving into the quagmire of politics hinders those connections. But when I instead highlight the ways in which climate change may affect our shared experience on this planet, it’s easier to communicate and connect with all of my students, regardless of their political affiliation.

After 20 Years, Golden Rice Nears Approval

[These excerpts are from an article by Erik Stokstad in the 22 November 2019 issue of Science.]

      Soon. That has long been scientists’ answer when asked about the approval of golden rice, a genetically modified (GM) crop that could help prevent childhood blindness and deaths in the developing world. Ever since golden rice first made headlines nearly 20 years ago, it has been a flashpoint in debates over GM crops. Advocates touted it as an example of their potential benefit to humanity, while opponents of transgenic crops criticized it as a risky and unnecessary approach to improve health in the developing world.

      Now, Bangladesh appears about to be come the first country to approve golden rice for planting….Still, environmental groups haven’t dropped their opposition….And more research will be needed to show the extent of real-world benefits from golden rice.

      Golden rice was developed in the late 1990s…to combat vitamin A deficiency, the leading cause of childhood blindness. Low levels of vitamin A also contribute to deaths from infectious diseases such as measles. Spinach, sweet potato, and other vegetables supply ample amounts of the vitamin, but in some countries, particularly those where rice is a major part of the diet, vitamin A deficiency is still widespread; in Bangladesh it affects about 21% of children….

      Over the past 2 years, regulators in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia approved golden rice for consumption. There are no plans to grow the crop in these countries, but approval will prevent problems if golden rice somehow accidentally turns up in food supplies….

The Context of Diversity

[These excerpts are from an editorial by Cato T. Laurencin in the 22 November 2019 issue of Science.]

      The term “diversity,” which came about in connection with the passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, has been expanding to include an ever-growing list of identities—from race, gender, and sexual orientation to physical appearance, belief systems, thought styles, socioeconomic status, and rural/urban geographic location, among others. This is a welcome extension of representation, but this added texture has a downside—it threatens to muddle targets and obscure actions when achieving diversity is the goal. This consequence is particularly serious in the context of addressing equity for specific underrepresented racial and ethnic groups….Forging systemic changes that bring Black diversity at all education and career levels will hopefully bring racial equity to practices in these fields and in doing so, expand the benefits of science, engineering, and medicine to society.

      There are unintended negative consequences of the expanded definition of diversity. With so many groups, success in achieving diversity is increasingly measured in a pick-and-choose manner, where progress is defined through any lens that shows success. Also, with so many groups, diversity is often described through the lens of gender, leaving other groups as seemingly less important, or unimportant. And with so many groups, it has become easier for diversity efforts to disregard the historical and present drivers of discrimination that concepts of diversity began with. In other words, the greater context of inclusion and equity can get lost, making strides to diversify meaningless. The latter point is particularly relevant to Blacks in the United States who have experienced slavery, legally enforced segregation and discrimination, and now battle conscious and unconscious racism, and mass incarceration. Institutionalized racism, past and present, has resulted in the disregard, disrespect, and dismissal of Black people from all walks of life, and this is true in science, engineering, and medicine.

      …For example, the number of Black males entering medical school between 2013 and 2014 in the United States was only 500, a historic low. Black men represented only 37.7% of Blacks entering medical school, which represented only 2.5% of all students entering medical school. This occurred during a historic increase in the number of medical schools in the nation….

      In response to this downward trend of Blacks in science and medicine, a number of individuals, including me, convened a U.S. National Academies workshop in 2017 that focused specifically on the growing absence of Black men in medicine in the United States. The ideas became a blueprint for actions that address not only Black men in medicine, but also the trajectory for Black women, and issues in engineering and science overall.

      Embracing the expanding definition of diversity is easy, but using the word with focus so as not to weaken the paths for achieving diversity will take great attention….

Learning to Love Plastic

[These excerpts are from an article by Wade Roush in the December 2019 issue of Scientific American.]

      “Biodegradable” plastic doesn’t do what you think it does. Your paper or metal straw takes only a tiny sip at the problem of plastic pollution. And your supposedly eco-conscious cloth grocery bag is more damaging to the environment than conventional plastic bags—unless you reuse it literally thousands of times. In other words, many of our ideas about plastic and the environment are confused. And that may be getting in the way of the fight against global warming.

      Take the ruckus over single-use plastic bags and straws….The hullabaloo has spurred restaurateurs to roll out cups and utensils made from biodegradable materials such as polylactic acid (PLA), a polyester derived from starchy plants, including corn and sugarcane. The popular myth is that you can safely toss such items onto the forest floor or into the ocean, and microbes will break them down into raw materials that will magically be reborn as daisies or seahorses.

      Not so much. In America and Europe, the technical standards for biodegradability are mostly about industrial composting. Put a plastic bag or bottle into a composting vessel, throw in some microorganisms and turn up the temperature to between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius (122 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit). If 90 percent of the material is released as carbon dioxide within 180 days, then you get to call the item “biodegradable” or “compostable.”

      In other words, a biodegradable material is one deliberately designed to dump its carbon into the atmosphere at the end of its life cycle. Even worse, if biodegradable plastic ends up in an oxygen-deprived landfill rather than a composting facility, anaerobic decomposition will turn it into methane, a gas that warms the planet from 34 to 86 times as much as carbon dioxide. And if you dump biodegradables into the ocean, they break up into tiny bits that choke marine animals long before they degrade appreciably.

      Globally, we produce an eye-popping amount of plastic—some 380 million tons a year, virtually all of it from fossil-fuel feedstocks. So it's understandable why consumers would cling to the comforting 1980s-era idea that plastic can be engineered to disappear back into the environment. But the reality is that 60 percent of all the plastic ever produced is accumulating in landfills or as litter.

      And from a climate scientist’s point of view, that may actually be a good thing. Of course, it’s a crime that so much plastic waste gets into terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. But we won’t outgrow our need for plastic anytime soon: for one thing, it substitutes for heavier materials in cars and planes, which saves fuel. On top of that—and this is my main point—plastic can function as an artificial carbon sink. If we’re going to extract carbon from the ground at all, far better that it ends up in a soda bottle that will last 400 years than in the combustion chamber of your car.

      If we want to save Earth, we should stop obsessing over biodegradability and invest instead in plastics that are bio-based. Plants use photosynthesis to convert water and CO2 from the atmosphere into sugars, starch and cellulose, all of which can be processed to make plastics. PLA is one of those, but it's designed to be composted, which makes it carbon-neutral at best. The most exciting work in this area focuses on nonbiodegradable plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which Coca-Cola uses in its PlantBottle. The current version, introduced in 2009, uses PET that is 30 percent plant-based. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi have announced bottles made from 100 percent plant-derived PET, although neither has a market-ready version yet.

      The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels, we may need to remove tens to hundreds of gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, ideally by 2050. If the world fully converted to nonbiodegradable bioplastics starting in 2020, the carbon sequestered over the next 30 years could amount to more than 10 gigatons—which would be a good start. When it comes to plastic, it's time to think more flexibly.

The Great Molasses Flood

[These excerpts are from an article by Brian Rohrig in the December 2019 issue of ChemMatters.]

      It was a beautiful day in Boston. Even though it was mid-January, the temperature had risen above 4.4 oC (40 oF) by lunchtime, a welcome respite from recent bone-chilling cold. Spirits were high for other reasons, too. World War I had just ended. Bostonians' beloved Red Sox were fresh off a World Series win.

      But on that fateful clay in 1919, the good spirits shattered abruptly when the ground began to shake, and a deafening roar was punctuated by what sounded like machine-gun fire. In short order, anyone within earshot of the blast ran for their lives, if they were able.

      A tank of molasses five stories high had burst, releasing more than 7.6 million liters (2 million gallons) of molasses in a sticky avalanche that enveloped everything in its wake. Buildings crumbled. A fire station near ground zero was destroyed. Steel girders supporting an elevated train bent and twisted. The 1-kilometer (0.62-mile) swath surrounding the tank looked like a war zone.

      At one point, the sticky wave was more than two-stories high, radiating in all directions. It reached a speed of 56 km/h (35 mph), carrying with it shards of jagged metal from the ruptured tank, as well as other debris caught in the flow.

      Unable to outrun the surge of molasses, 21 people died, and more than 100 were injured. Many died from asphyxiation as the thick, sticky fluid filled their lungs. Others were killed by fast-moving debris. Animals also died in the flood—nearly a dozen horses mired in the sweet goo had to be put down, as no amount of effort could free them….

      If you’ve ever tried to pour molasses, you know how slow it is. Molasses is about 5,000 to 10,000 times more viscous than water. Viscosity is defined as resistance to flow—the more viscous the liquid, the slower it flows. Viscosity is highly temperature dependent. A 10 °C drop in temperature can create a threefold increase in viscosity.

      Viscosity comes from the intermolecular forces of attraction acting between adjacent molecules within a substance. Strong intermolecular forces contribute to greater viscosity. If molecules are strongly attracted to one another, they are less likely to flow past each other.

      At colder temperatures, molecules move more slowly and have less energy to overcome intermolecur attractions. This leads to greater viscosity. Think of it this way: Suppose you want to grasp the hands of a person in passing. Running would make this hard to do. But if you are ambling slowly by, it would be easy to join hands, and harder to lose your grip.

      This phenomenon turned a normally useful substance into a deadly one. At first, the distilling company’s molasses flowed out quickly due to warmer temperatures inside the tank, which had been recently filled. But the syrup cooled as it met the wintry air. Its viscosity increased, creating a gooey quagmire.

      The stickiness of the molasses also contributed to the morass. Molasses, being primarily a concentrated sugar solution, clings to just about any surface it encounters. This stickiness is the result of adhesive forces—adhesion is the attraction of unlike surfaces to one another, and is also the result of intermolecular forces. Viscous substances tend to be clingy but not always, since stickiness is dependent on the nature of both surfaces that come into contact. Molasses won’t stick to Teflon, for example.

      Molasses is mostly sugar, and sugar gets sticky when wet. Dry sugar poured from a bag doesn’t stick, but add a little water, and it sticks like glue.

      Sugar molecules’ stickiness is due to polarity. The molecules' protruding hydroxyl groups (-OH) create distinct regions of positive and negative charge. The H side of the -OH group has a partial positive charge, while the O side has a partial negative charge. Sugar readily dissolves in water because the partial positive and negative sides of a polar water molecule will be attracted to the opposite partial charges on a sugar molecule, forming hydrogen bonds.

      When a polar molecule contacts a neutral surface, polarity is induced in the neutral surface as its negative charges are slightly repelled, leaving positive charges at the surface. The negative side of the polar molecule is thus attracted to the now-positive side of the formerly neutral surface.

      To clean up the molasses spill, the affected areas were flushed with salt water from nearby Boston Harbor….

  Website by Avi Ornstein, "The Blue Dragon" – 2016 All Rights Reserved