Table of Contents

Is Air Conditioning Going to Become Futile?

Air conditioning uses a lot of electrical energy. It is particularly significant on hot days in New York City. But it doesn’t contribute significantly to the heat of the city, compared to the effect of sunlight. Putting solar panels on the roofs of buildings would go part way to providing the city’s electrical needs.

The Greatest Innovations and Breakthroughs

A provocative list published in The Atlantic points to the 50 most important innovations and breakthroughs since the wheel.

The Death of Ponte Morandi

The Ponte Morandi in Genoa, Italy, collapsed on August 14, 2018, killing 43 people. The collapse has been blamed directly on corrosion of the reinforced concrete used in its construction. But poor design and management of the structural inspections has also been cited.

Three Cancer Myths

Three stories are often heard with respect to cancer. First, that cancer is at epidemic proportions; it isn’t. Second, that vitamin C at high doses helps cancer treatment. It doesn’t. Third, that having an abortion increases a woman’s chance of breast cancer later in life. It doesn’t.

What Should We Do About Garbage? A Burning Question

Incineration of municipal solid waste to produce electrical energy and heat has been shown to be beneficial to the environment. The latest versions of such incinerators destroy dangerous organic chemicals and remove heavy metals from the effluent.

We Need to Talk About Methane

Methane contributes to global warming, and its contribution is growing. Levels of atmospheric methane have gone up nearly 70% since 1950. There are many anthropogenic sources of methane, including industrial activities and agriculture, although the eructation and flatulation of cows makes only a modest contribution.

The Art of Scientific Discovery

There are several pathways to scientific discovery. Some discoveries are the result of a realized intention, some are due to mass screening, some are serendipitous, and some are the product of modern genetics and biological homology. Most are a combination.

The Curious Case of the Friendly Russian Foxes

Wild foxes avoid human contact. However, selection for “friendliness” in a Russia research lab has resulted in foxes that behave like friendly dogs. There is clearly a genetic component of this trait, but also an environmental one. This development is consistent with the Modern Synthesis abouit population genetics, which says that multiple versions of genes already exist in the population, and will emerge rapidly when properly selected for.

Blue-Green Algae: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can severely disrupt bodies of water when they undergo massive blooms. This is currently happening in Florida. But cyanobacteria have been important in other ways: they were probably responsible for creating an oxygen-rich atmosphere on earth, and they undergo a genetically well-understood type of circadian rhythm.

How Many Calories in Bacon?

Bacon does not contain a massive amount of caloric energy: properly prepared, only about 144 Calories per 100 grams of starting bacon, as determined experimentally. But it is not a health food, and poses other dietary concerns.

The Fading Memory of Water

The conventional scientific world was shocked in 1988 when a respectable and widely-admired French scientist claimed to have proof of a basic tenet of homeopathy. However, his evidence was debunked by further analysis, and he never recovered his reputation as a scientist. There is currently no evidence that he was right.

Using Numbers Instead of Adjectives to Evaluate an Economic Decision

The issue of whether to build a second pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta to Burnaby, BC, should be considered in terms of whether it will pay off for the governments and the people involved. The argument made here is that it has little economic advantage, while posing serious environmental risk.

The Science of Better Burgers

The effort to cook a better hamburger involves a struggle between safety (insuring that the meat is sterilized by cooking) and taste (avoiding overcooking, which kills the taste). A solution is provided by sous vide cooking at a moderate temperature, for a time long enough to make the burger safe.

Why There is so Much Talk About epigenetics

Transgenerational epigenetics is a controversial subject, because if it exists it suggests to some people that Lysenko, the evil Soviet geneticist, and Lamarck, the early French biologist, were right. Well, it may (exist), and they weren’t. Our genetic inheritance is Darwinian, but there may be temporary tweaks due to environmental effects.

Fastball: Movement and Speed

The fastball pitch in baseball is subject to various forces, including the Magnus Force, which works against gravity. The amount, and direction of spin imparted to the four-seam fastball dictates how far it will “fall” on its 450 millisecond trip. Because of the limits of human reaction times, the batter has to make an estimate on where to expect the pitch to be when it crosses the plate. However, the fastball cannot rise. And the knuckleball has a lot in common with round cannonballs.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Molecular Diagnosis

A surprising observation in the 1950s, that the cells of the cancer Chronic Myeloid Leukemia always bore the same chromosomal abnormality, led to the discovery of the mechanism of this rare, but previously deadly, cancer. The genetic abnormality was due to a chromosomal translocation that activated a particular cellular enzyme, a protein kinase, and this led to uncontrolled growth.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia: A Molecular Solution

Chronic myeloid leukemia is one of those rare cases where a chance discovery of a molecular inhibitor of a known enzyme can completely stop the disease. The discovery hinged on the fact that CML cells have a characteristic genetic translocation, which was found to activate a potent cellular protein kinase. Chemists found an inhibitor for this kinase, and it turned out to effectively treat the disease. This drug is called Gleevec.

Calories In Equals Calories Out?

Most of the calories we consume are consumed by the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the energy it takes to drive all of our bodily functions. Additional calories are used for other activities. The idea that we are what we eat (or as much as we eat) is supported by the idea that in the past 50 years Americans have increased their food intake by a large percentage, and correspondingly their Body Mass Indexes.

The Gila River People, Victims of Modernity

The Gila River people of Arizona have the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes (T2DM), and obesity, in the world. Yet for thousands of years they were successful agrarians, growing foods in the desert while benefitting from the river that sustained them. And they were lean and fit. In the early twentieth century they were deprived of their water and their independence, and subsequently became indigent, obese, and subject to T2DM. Their genetic cousins in Mexico, who are still subsistence farmers, retain the old fit physiotype, and remain relatively free of T2DM. Nature, and nurture, both matter.

The Trouble With Roundup

The much-talked-about chemical herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) is blamed for numerous environmental problems, including the loss of migrating Monarch butterflies. It is thought to cause cancer by many people. However, both of these conclusions may or may not be correct, or may be partially correct. But an existential problem exists for Roundup, and will doom its future: the spontaneous occurrence of weeds resistant to it. Over 125 million acres of farmland in the USA are already infested.

Speed Limits

The speed that a human can run is dictated by various factors, including the source of energy that is being used for the race. Short races are fueled by anaerobic energy sources, and longer ones by oxygen-dependent metabolism. These energy sources are smaller/quicker and larger/slower, respectively. The question of why East Africans are such superb marathoners is considered.

A Great New Book

I’ve written a book about Vitamin A, one of the most important, and frequently deficient, micronutrients in the developing world.

GMO

It’s important to evaluate any new and powerful technology for risks as well as benefits, and Genetically Modified Organisms are no exception. However, some stories about damaging effects of GMO are clearly unfounded. In particular, the case of the large scale mass suicide of farmers in India as a result of the introduction of the Bt gene into cotton is demonstrably bogus.

Malaria: No Simple Solutions

The Inefficiency of Humans

Your Travels Are Written in Your Body

Mice and Men

Circadian Rhythm I — The Plant World

Circadian Rhythm II — Us

 

You Can Eat Fat, But Don’t Get Fat

The Big Fat Myth

The idea that dietary fat increases heart disease has been embedded in our culture for a long time, and no amount of evidence that refutes this idea is able to dislodge it from our food guides and thinking. On the other hand, replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats does appear to have a beneficial effect; replacing fat with carbohydrate does not.

Life Expectancy I: How Far We’ve Come

Life Expectancy II: It’s in the Genes

The Great Comon Sense of SEWTHA

Save the Environment — Don’t Walk, Drive a Car

Saving Vision and Lives, One Sweet Potato at a Time

 

The Unexpected Link Between Cheese Consumption and Lung Cancer