Excellent Read: “The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars”

James Gorman, in the NYTimes:

Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million.

But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don’t have flea collars. And they certainly don’t have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world.

In their new book, “What Is a Dog?,” Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers — the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago…

In 2001, their book “Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution” challenged the way scientists thought about the beginnings of dogs.

They argued against the widely held view that one day a hunter-gatherer grabbed a wolf pup from a den and started a breeding program. Instead, they argued, dogs domesticated themselves.

Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.

During their travels over the years — to look for sheepdogs, to introduce them to sheep farmers who hadn’t used dogs, to attend conferences — they noticed dogs in the street wherever they went, and after a while they began to think about the dogs’ lives…
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It’s Not A Miracle, We Just Decided To Go

My favorite time of the year, President Obama being wowed by smart young kids and their science projects. I’m gonna miss this…

Your mid-morning open thread.

ETA: In case you missed it, a compilation of previous WH Science Fairs:



Sort of Maybe a Bit Like Friday Recipe Exchange on Monday: Do NOT Try This at Home Edition!!!!!

Alton Brown has been tinkering again. He’s invented a way to make ice cream in under 10 seconds. The video is below. Whatever you do, do not try this at home!

Bon appetit! And open thread.



Horror Movie Open Thread: Teach Screen the Controversy!

Zombie lies, they’re not just for economics any more! Per the NYTimes:

In a decision that has dredged up the widely debunked link between vaccines and autism, the Tribeca Film Festival plans to screen a film by a discredited former doctor whose research caused widespread alarm about the issue.

The film, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” is directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, an anti-vaccination activist and an author of a study — published in the British medical journal The Lancet, in 1998 — that was retracted in 2010. In addition to the retraction of the study, which involved 12 children, Britain’s General Medical Council, citing ethical violations and a failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest, revoked Mr. Wakefield’s medical license…

On Friday, Robert De Niro, one of the festival’s founders, said in a statement issued through the festival’s publicists that he supported the plan to show the movie next month, although he said he was “not personally endorsing the film,” nor was he against vaccination.

Mr. De Niro’s statement seemed to suggest that this was the first time he has expressed a preference that a particular film be shown at the festival.

“Grace and I have a child with autism,” he wrote, referring to his wife, Grace Hightower De Niro, “and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.”…

The plan to show the film has unnerved and angered doctors, infectious disease experts and even other filmmakers…

According to the festival’s website, “Vaxxed” will be screened only once, on April 24, the festival’s closing day. A talk with the director and the film’s subjects will follow.

An earlier version of this article suggested that perhaps Mr. de Niro intended to rebut the film during his talk, but that doesn’t seem to be what he’s planning, per Deadline:

[T]he TFF promotional material could easily be taken to endorse Wakefield’s cause. “Digging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe features revealing and emotional interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, parents, and one whistleblower to understand what’s behind the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today.” Also this: “The most vitriolic debate in medical history takes a dramatic turn when senior-scientist-turned-whistleblower Dr. William Thompson of the Centers for Disease Control turns over secret documents, data and internal emails confirming what millions of devastated parents and ‘discredited’ doctors have long-suspected.”…

One happy effect of De Niro’s statement, according to the LA Times: “The De Niro news does quell reports that actor Leonardo DiCaprio was involved in backing the film — as Wakefield apparently told reporters on a promotional cruise — and even may have been orchestrating its Tribeca screening.”



Food Open Thread: Chocolate Is Magic! (Maple Syrup Might Be, Too)

Happy dietary news, for once. The Washington Post reports on “The magical thing eating chocolate does to your brain”:

In the mid 1970s, psychologist Merrill Elias began tracking the cognitive abilities of more than a thousand people in the state of New York. The goal was fairly specific: to observe the relationship between people’s blood pressure and brain performance. And for decades he did just that, eventually expanding the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) to observe other cardiovascular risk factors, including diabetes, obesity, and smoking…

“We found that people who eat chocolate at least once a week tend to perform better cognitively,” said Elias. “It’s significant—it touches a number of cognitive domains.”

The findings, chronicled in a new study published last month, come largely thanks to the interest of Georgina Crichton, a nutrition researcher at the University of South Australia, who led the analysis. Others had previously shown that eating chocolate correlated with various positive health outcomes, but few had explored the treat’s effect on the brain and behavior, and even fewer had observed the effect of habitual chocolate consumption. This, Crichton knew, was a unique opportunity…

In the first of two analyses, Crichton, along with Elias and Ala’a Alkerwi, an epidemiologist at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, compared the mean scores on various cognitive tests of participants who reported eating chocolate less than once a week and those who reported eating it at least once a week. They found “significant positive associations” between chocolate intake and cognitive performance, associations which held even after adjusting for various variables that might have skewed the results, including age, education, cardiovascular risk factors, and dietary habits.

In scientific terms, eating chocolate was significantly associated with superior “visual-spatial memory and [organization], working memory, scanning and tracking, abstract reasoning, and the mini-mental state examination.”…

And Canadians are thrilled to announce another ‘miracle food’, per the Global News:

In preliminary laboratory-based Alzheimer’s disease studies…extracts of maple syrup from Canada showed neuroprotective effects, similar to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine,” Dr. Navindra Seeram said…

Seeram, along with Toronto’s Dr. Donald Weaver, were among about two dozen scientists who presented findings on natural products and how they could fight neurodegenerative diseases at an annual American Chemical Society meeting this week.

In Weaver’s research, he found that an extract in maple syrup could stop the clumping of proteins in brain cells, specifically tau peptides. A buildup of tau proteins has been tied to brain disease in athletes in the past few years.

In other studies presented at the symposium, doctors found that an extract in pure maple syrup stopped the tangling of other proteins in the brains of rats. The same compound also helped with protecting the brain….

Of course, further studies, yadda yadda yadda. When the red wine drinkers raise your glasses, I shall return your toast with a generous chunk of dark chocolate-dipped maple candy!



Significant Read: “She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’”

A lot of white people were stunned by the sheer viciousness of the racist revanchist assaults on President Obama. I believe a lot of men are going to be equally stunned by the crudity and volume of the assaults on future President Hillary. A. Hope Jahren, in the NYTimes:

OVER the past two decades as a professor, I’ve grown thousands of plants, studying how their biology shifts in response to our changing environment. Soon I’ll begin to design and build my fourth laboratory; I’ll teach classes and take on more staff members, as I do every year. Like all professors, I also do a lot of extra jobs for which I was never trained, such as advising former students as they navigate the wider world. Last year, after one of my most talented students left to start her next adventure, she would text me now and then: “This is such a great place,” “I am learning so much here” and “I know his is where I am supposed to be.”

Then, a month ago, she wrote and asked me what to do. She forwarded an email she had received from a senior colleague that opened, “Can I share something deeply personal with you?” Within the email, he detonates what he described as a “truth bomb”: “All I know is that from the first day I talked to you, there hadn’t been a single day or hour when you weren’t on my mind.” He tells her she is “incredibly attractive” and “adorably dorky.” He reminds her, in detail, of how he has helped her professionally: “I couldn’t believe the things I was compelled to do for you.” He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result. He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”

Women are no longer a minority within higher education. According to the most recent statistics released by Unesco, women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years; as of 2012, there were 13 women enrolled for every 10 men. Yet, every school year, science, technology, engineering and math programs — known as the STEM fields — shed women the way the trees on campus lose their leaves in the fall…

In the rare case when a female scientist becomes a faculty member, she finds herself invested in the very system that is doing the weeding, and soon recognizes that sexual harassment is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. My own experiences as a student, scientist and mentor lead me to believe that such harassment is widespread. Few studies exist, but in a survey of 191 female fellowship recipients published in 1995, 12 percent indicated that they had been sexually harassed as a student or early professional. My experiences have also convinced me that sexual harassment is very rarely publicly punished after it is reported, and then only after a pattern of relatively egregious offenses.

The evasion of justice within academia is all the more infuriating because the course of sexual harassment is so predictable. Since I started writing about women and science, my female colleagues have been moved to share their stories with me; my inbox is an inadvertent clearinghouse for unsolicited love notes. Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: “I need to tell you,” or “my feelings.” The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: “It’s late and I can’t sleep” is a favorite, though “Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac” is popular as well…

The comments over there, of course, are a thesis on Margaret Atwood’s quote: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

And keep in mind — these male scientists are obviously not “stupid” or “ignorant” individuals — they’re just as unconscious of their own sexism as a fish is of the water through which it swims.



Another Big Security Story

The Apple iPhone unlock story is getting all the press , overshadowing another important story:

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, a hospital in Los Angeles, is the victim of what officials describe as an ongoing cyberattack. A hospital spokesperson told Ars in a prepared statement that “patient care has not been affected” by the intrusion. And an executive of the hospital told reporters that the attack was “random” and not targeted at patient records.

However, local news organizations have reported that some emergency patients were diverted to other hospitals—and that some of the hospital’s systems have been locked down by ransomware. The hospital has reverted to paper patient registration and medical records, according to NBC 4 in Los Angeles, and the hospital’s network has been shut down for over a week.

Ransomware is an attack where hackers who have infiltrated computer systems and encrypted files provide the decryption key for a price.  In the case of Hollywood Presbyterian, the price was 40 bitcoin, which is about $17K.

The scary thing about these kinds of attacks is that hospitals, the power grid, and other high-value, high-impact targets can be attached by offshore hackers whether or not our border security is airtight.  But instead of talking about this, the current yahoos in the Republican race focus on physical attacks, which are both difficult to launch and pretty rare.

By the way, the latest Apple news is that there was a way to get data off the phone, but the FBI or someone else on the case screwed up.