Tag: Science

What a Surprise

Countries that May Manufacture or Buy Sputnik V

In a world* where Covid-19 ravages the world, and no one can see a way out beyond giving taxpayer funded research to rent-seeking pharmaceutical companies, one nuclear armed nation’s vaccing manages to turn in good numbers without looting by private actors.

By, “One nuclear armed nation,” I do not mean the United States.  The idea of creation and distribution of medications without government subsidies is completely beyond the pale in this country.

I am referring to Russia, where the Sputnik vaccine is not showing effectiveness in excess of 90%, at a lower cost and without the handling issues of the mRNA vaccines being rolled out in the United States.

There is a precedent, the widespread popularity of the AK-47, which occurred because anyone could make it without IP concerns:

President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in August that Russia had cleared the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine for use before it even completed safety trials sparked skepticism worldwide. Now he may reap diplomatic dividends as Russia basks in arguably its biggest scientific breakthrough since the Soviet era.

Countries are lining up for supplies of Sputnik V after peer-reviewed results published in The Lancet medical journal this week showed the Russian vaccine protects against the deadly virus about as well as U.S. and European shots, and far more effectively than Chinese rivals.

At least 20 countries have approved the inoculation for use, including European Union member-state Hungary, while key markets such as Brazil and India are close to authorizing it. Now Russia is setting its sights on the prized EU market as the bloc struggles with its vaccination program amid supply shortages.


Its decision to name Sputnik V after the world’s first satellite whose 1957 launch gave the Soviet Union a stunning triumph against the U.S. to start the space race only underlined the scale of the significance Moscow attached to the achievement. Results from the late-stage trials of 20,000 participants reviewed in The Lancet showed that the vaccine has a 91.6% success rate.


Sputnik V uses a platform based on the adenovirus, which causes the common cold, and has been studied in vaccine development for decades, though its effectiveness is yet to be proven. AstroZeneca’s is similar, while drugs developed by Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech rely on a new technology, which uses genetic instructions in a nucleic acid molecule called mRNA to program a person’s cells to make the viral protein itself, triggering an immune response.

Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Sputnik V can be stored in a fridge rather than a freezer, making it easier to transport and distribute in poorer and hotter countries. At around $20 for a two-shot vaccination, it’s also cheaper than most Western alternatives. While more expensive than AstraZeneca, the Russian inoculation has shown higher efficacy than the U.K. vaccine.

The take-away here is not that Russia is some sort of biotech super-power, it clearly is not.

The take-away here is, or at least should be, that the US model, taxpayer financed research leading to private profits through additional government subsidies (patents) is not necessarily the best model to develop medical treatments.

*To quote Don LaFontaine.

Called It

Not Life as We Know It

Last September, I noted that further examination of the detection of the chemical phosphine on Venus was likely not the result of the chemistry of life, and that further scientific scrutiny would show this.

Said scientific scrutiny has occurred, and while the original authors say that the presence of the chemical points to existence of life, they admit that they overstated the amounts of phosphine detected:

In September of last year, a paper announced a startling finding: evidence that a highly unstable chemical is present in the atmosphere of Venus. Since the chemical is expected to be destroyed rather quickly in the Venusian environment, its presence seems to imply that there was a steady source of the chemical, somehow feeding it into the atmosphere of the planet. Looking over the components of that atmosphere, the researchers concluded there’s no obvious way of producing it, which creates a mystery.

Since the chemical, called phosphine (PH3), had already been suggested as a possible sign of living things, speculation immediately began about the possibility of this being evidence of something alive in the clouds of Venus.


The original report had two key portions. One of them was a look at the possible chemical pathways that could be active under the conditions found in Venus’ atmosphere. This failed to come up with any ideas as to what, other than life, could be making phosphine. There still could be potential issues here, but none has surfaced so far. Instead, critiques of the original analysis have focused on the second portion of the September paper: the evidence that phosphine is in the atmosphere of Venus. This was obtained by using telescopes to look at a point in the electromagnetic spectrum where phosphine absorbs light, creating a signature of its presence.

Overall, this evidence seemed fairly robust. It was based on data from two telescopes, so hardware seemed unlikely to be a complication. The researchers processed the data using two independently developed software pipelines, suggesting the math behind the analysis was also likely to be solid. The big complication is the presence of another chemical, sulfur dioxide, that we know is in the atmosphere of Venus. Sulfur dioxide has a spectral signature line near the location of the signal created by phosphine.

But the researchers looked for other spectral signatures of sulfur dioxide, and they didn’t see any. So, they concluded it was rare or absent at the altitude where they were looking for phosphine (just above the planet’s clouds).


In this case, the calibration had some issues, and the data was reprocessed before being placed in a public archive. So, the researchers went back and redid their analysis using the updated ALMA data. While they say the signal’s still there, it’s not as prominent. Originally, the researchers had suggested that phosphine levels were in the neighborhood of 20 parts-per-billion. With the recalibrated data, this drops to somewhere between one and four parts-per-billion.

The researchers still indicate that the detection is “reasonably secure,” but the reduced levels make it easier for other sources of noise to swamp.


As mentioned above, the researchers developed two different software pipelines to process the data to search for the spectral signal of phosphine. That makes it less likely that the detection was an artifact hidden in the details of the processing. But “less likely” is not the same as “impossible.”

Two manuscripts have been posted that use yet other approaches to process the same data and look for spectral signatures. The first of these finds that the method used by the original paper artificially suppresses background noise, thus enhancing the apparent significance of any signals. When the researchers redo the analysis to handle this issue, the find the phosphine signal is still there, but it drops below the usual standards for statistical significance, since there’s more noise around it.

The second document simply tries a variety of statistical fits to the data and finds that most of them don’t produce a significant phosphine signal. So, it also concludes there’s no significant signal there.


But at least two manuscripts have appeared at the arXiv that suggest the data comes not from the cloud tops but instead from a region of the upper atmosphere called the mesosphere. The first manuscript simply explores whether the signal might actually be sulfur dioxide after all. It concludes that sulfur dioxide in the mesosphere can produce a signal that’s indistinguishable from the ones seen in the original report. For good measure, the draft also performs its own recalibration of the ALMA data and sees the phosphine signal drop to below one part-per-billion.

In the second paper, the authors use a system that models what absorption spectra will look like given different atmospheric concentrations of sulfur dioxide and phosphine. They also find that having sulfur dioxide in the mesosphere produces a signal that’s indistinguishable from the one the original research assigns to phosphine. And the conditions in the mesosphere would also suppress the other signals of sulfur dioxide that the first report had used to argue it wasn’t present.

Phosphine in the mesosphere could produce a similar signal, but the researchers calculate that the different environment there means that a typical phosphine molecule would have a half-life of one second. To produce enough phosphine to keep the mesosphere supplied, it would have to be made at a rate higher than the production of oxygen by all the photosynthetic organisms on Earth. Given that’s just a tiny bit unlikely, the authors suggest we’re just looking at sulfur dioxide.


None of these actually eliminate the possibility that phosphine is present at some level, although that level would have to be lower than the one reported by the original research. What they do collectively accomplish is indicating that there are several possible explanations for the signal seen by the authors, and all of them involve the presence of a chemical that we already know is in Venus’ atmosphere. So that has to be considered the primary explanation for what we’ve observed so far.


So, overall, this seems like a case of science operating as it really should. Even if the end result turns out to be the death of an exciting result, seeing the process work properly helps provide more confidence in those results that do survive a careful reanalysis.

This is how science is supposed to work.

I would also note that this is how science journalism doesn’t work.

We Have Lost a Giant

Skeptic, magician, and exposer of frauds James Randi, aka “The Amazing Randi”, has died at age 92.

He was central to the skeptic community, which debunked phony claims about ghosts, ESP, and aliens.

One of his most important accomplishment was that he showed that the skill set of scientists was inadequate to exposing deliberate fraud, because the frauds use the techniques of stage magic:

James Randi, a famed magician known as “The Amazing Randi” and a scientific investigator who debunked sensational claims of paranormal and occult occurences — has died. He was 92.

The James Randi Foundation announced his passing in a tweet, saying he died of “age-related causes” on Tuesday.

Randi was remembered on Wednesday by magician Penn Jillette in a pair of tweets as an “inspiration, mentor and dear friend.”


By age 60, Randi had retired from magic and was one of the co-founders of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, or CSI. The committee responded to a rise of interest in the paranormal in the ’70s and promoted scientific inquiry and critical thinking in the investigation of extraordinary or controversial claims.

Among one of Randi’s more famous instances as a debunker — a word he said he disliked in favor of “investigator” — was of the religious televangelist Peter Popoff, who became famous in the mid-’80s for televised healing sermons in which he seemed to know intimate details of random attendees. Randi discovered that Popoff was using an electronic transmitter to get information about his subjects broadcast to him by his wife behind the scenes, and he then exposed the preacher on “The Tonight Show.”

In 1996 he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation, a non-profit group that encouraged and educated the public and media on vetting unverified and outlandish claims, later launching the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge for people who could demonstrate paranormal abilities under agreed-upon scientific testing conditions. While over 1000 people have applied, no one has proved their supernatural strength. The New York Times described the trials in detail in an article republished back in 2014.


Randi is survived by his husband, Deyvi Peña.

Re wad devastating, and very entertaining, when he exposed frauds.

Interesting Chemisty? Yes. Life? No.

Not Life as We Know It

The fact that the Royal Astronomical Society has announced that the atmosphere of Venus contains significant amounts of phosphine (PH3), a substance that, on earth at least, is only produced through the action of anaerobic life and complex industrial processes, where it is a precursor to a number of organophosphorus compounds.

It could be a sign of life, but with no free liquid water, and atmosphere that is largely CO2, Nitrogen, and Sulfuric Acid, I’m dubious.

On the other hand, it is clear that Venus has been the red-headed stepchild of planetary studies, with Mars getting most of the attention, so if we see a few more probes sent to Venus as a result of this finding, I’ll take it.

Their press release is after the break:

Hints of life on Venus

An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, today announced the discovery of a rare molecule – phosphine – in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.

Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes – floating free of the scorching surface, but still needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine molecules, which consist of hydrogen and phosphorus, could point to this extra-terrestrial ‘aerial’ life. The new discovery is described in a paper in Nature Astronomy.

The team first used the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii to detect the phosphine, and were then awarded time to follow up their discovery with 45 telescopes of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of about 1 millimetre, much longer than the human eye can see – only telescopes at high altitude can detect this wavelength effectively.

Professor Greaves says, “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity, really – taking advantage of JCMT’s powerful technology, and thinking about future instruments. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’ spectrum, it was a shock!”

Naturally cautious about the initial findings, Greaves and her team were delighted to get three hours of time with the more sensitive ALMA observatory. Bad weather added a frustrating delay, but after six months of data processing, the discovery was confirmed.

Team member Dr Anita Richards, of the UK ALMA Regional Centre and the University of Manchester, adds: “To our great relief, the conditions were good at ALMA for follow-up observations while Venus was at a suitable angle to Earth. Processing the data was tricky, though, as ALMA isn’t usually looking for very subtle effects in very bright objects like Venus.”

Greaves adds: “In the end, we found that both observatories had seen the same thing – faint absorption at the right wavelength to be phosphine gas, where the molecules are backlit by the warmer clouds below.”

Professor Hideo Sagawa of Kyoto Sangyo University then used his models for the Venusian atmosphere to interpret the data, finding that phosphine is present but scarce – only about twenty molecules in every billion.

The astronomers then ran calculations to see if the phosphine could come from natural processes on Venus. They caution that some information is lacking – in fact, the only other study of phosphorus on Venus came from one lander experiment, carried by the Soviet Vega 2 mission in 1985.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist Dr William Bains led the work on assessing natural ways to make phosphine. Some ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning, but none of these could make anywhere near enough of it. Natural sources were found to make at most one ten thousandth of the amount of phosphine that the telescopes saw.

To create the observed quantity of phosphine on Venus, terrestrial organisms would only need to work at about 10% of their maximum productivity, according to calculations by Dr Paul Rimmer of Cambridge University. Any microbes on Venus will likely be very different to their Earth cousins though, to survive in hyper-acidic conditions.

Earth bacteria can absorb phosphate minerals, add hydrogen, and ultimately expel phosphine gas. It costs them energy to do this, so why they do it is not clear. The phosphine could be just a waste product, but other scientists have suggested purposes like warding off rival bacteria.

Another MIT team-member, Dr Clara Sousa Silva, was also thinking about searching for phosphine as a ‘biosignature’ gas of non-oxygen-using life on planets around other stars, because normal chemistry makes so little of it.

She comments: “Finding phosphine on Venus was an unexpected bonus! The discovery raises many questions, such as how any organisms could survive. On Earth, some microbes can cope with up to about 5% of acid in their environment – but the clouds of Venus are almost entirely made of acid.”

Other possible biosignatures in the Solar System may exist, like methane on Mars and water venting from the icy moons Europa and Enceladus. On Venus, it has been suggested that dark streaks where ultraviolet light is absorbed could come from colonies of microbes. The Akatsuki spacecraft, launched by the Japanese space agency JAXA, is currently mapping these dark streaks to understand more about this “unknown ultraviolet absorber”.

The team believes their discovery is significant because they can rule out many alternative ways to make phosphine, but they acknowledge that confirming the presence of “life” needs a lot more work. Although the high clouds of Venus have temperatures up to a pleasant 30 degrees centigrade, they are incredibly acidic – around 90% sulphuric acid – posing major issues for microbes to survive there. Professor Sara Seager and Dr Janusz Petkowski, also both at MIT, are investigating how microbes could shield themselves inside droplets.

The team are now eagerly awaiting more telescope time, for example to establish whether the phosphine is in a relatively temperate part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. New space missions could also travel to our neighbouring planet, and sample the clouds in situ to further search for signs of life.

Professor Emma Bunce, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, congratulated the team on their work:

“A key question in science is whether life exists beyond Earth, and the discovery by Professor Jane Greaves and her team is a key step forward in that quest. I’m particularly delighted to see UK scientists leading such an important breakthrough – something that makes a strong case for a return space mission to Venus.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

“Venus has for decades captured the imagination of scientists and astronomers across the world.”

“This discovery is immensely exciting, helping us increase our understanding of the universe and even whether there could be life on Venus. I am incredibly proud that this fascinating detection was led by some of the UK’s leading scientists and engineers using state of the art facilities built on our own soil.”

We Are F%$#ed

It turns out that low relative humidity, of the sort that one would see as heating season starts in September, has a major impact on increasing the transmissivity of Covie-19.

This is common in Viruses (Viri?), and exactly the opposite of what one would see in bacteria.

We are in for a bumpy ride: (From the abstract)

There is growing evidence that climatic factors could influence the evolution of the current COVID‐19 pandemic. Here, we build on this evidence base, focusing on the southern hemisphere summer and autumn period. The relationship between climatic factors and COVID‐19 cases in New South Wales, Australia was investigated during both the exponential and declining phases of the epidemic in 2020, and in different regions. Increased relative humidity was associated with decreased cases in both epidemic phases, and a consistent negative relationship was found between relative humidity and cases. Overall, a decrease in relative humidity of 1% was associated with an increase in cases of 7–8%. Overall, we found no relationship with between cases and temperature, rainfall or wind speed. Information generated in this study confirms humidity as a driver of SARS‐CoV‐2 transmission.

This also explains why outdoor protests have not contributed in a significant way to the outbreak.

You don’t see the low humidities that you you do in at outdoor protests as you might, for example, in an indoor event facility like the Bank of Oklahoma Center where Trump held the rally that killed Herman Cain.

Clearly, We Must Open up Schools Immediately

For all those people demanding to open the schools, this is another indication that they are delusional as to the impact of this action:

In the heated debate over reopening schools, one burning question has been whether and how efficiently children can spread the virus to others.

A large new study from South Korea offers an answer: Children younger than 10 transmit to others much less often than adults do, but the risk is not zero. And those between the ages of 10 and 19 can spread the virus at least as well as adults do.

The findings suggest that as schools reopen, communities will see clusters of infection take root that include children of all ages, several experts cautioned.


Several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. But most of those studies were small and flawed, said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The new study “is very carefully done, it’s systematic and looks at a very large population,” Dr. Jha said. “It’s one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

In the places pushing hardest to open schools, areas where infections are exploding, opening schools will be a complete disaster.


Is the Staggeringly Profitable Business of Scientific Publishing Bad for Science?

This has been another episode of simple answers to simple questions.

The story is, of course, about ferociously corrupt scientific journal publisher Elsevier, which interestingly enough was founded by the ferociously corrupt media baron Robert Maxwell, who is ironically enough the father of Ghislane Maxwell, who is alleged to have some serious ethical issues as well.

The reveal here is that monster that is Elsevier was nurtured by British intelligence.

Today in Wicked Bad Ideas

Congress is looking to staple the National Science Foundation (NSF) to commercial interests, because it is so blazingly obvious that the problem with science in the United States is clearly that there are not profit incentives, said no one ever:

A bipartisan group of US senators and representatives has introduced legislation in Congress that would significantly change the operation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Proponents of the bill say that the proposal aims “to solidify the United States’ leadership in scientific and technological innovation through increased investments in the discovery, creation, and commercialization of technology fields of the future”. To do so, the so-called Endless Frontier Act would expand the NSF’s remit, rename the organization and provide more than $100bn in support. The proposal has gained approval from many, but some have objected that it may undercut the NSF’s main objective, which is to fund basic scientific research.

Those behind the bill – four prominent US congresspeople – say that its introduction stems from the perception that international competitors, and particularly China, threaten to overtake the US technologically. “To win the 21st century, we need to invest in technologies of the future,” says Ro Kahana, a Democratic congressperson from California. “That means increasing public funding into those sectors of our economy that will drive innovation and create new jobs.”

Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker who leads the Democratic minority in the Senate, says that the US “cannot afford” to continue to underinvest in science while still “lead[ing] the world” in advanced research. That view is backed by Republican senator Todd Young of Indiana. “By virtue of being the first to emerge on the other side of this pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party is working hard to use the crisis to its advantage by extending influence over the global economy,” he claims. The new act, adds Republican representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who is the fourth member of the group introducing the legislation, “is a down payment for future generations of American technological leadership”.


Yet the proposal has drawn some criticism. Former NSF director Arden Bement told Science of his concern that the bill could indicate to Congress – which appropriates agencies’ funds – that investments in the bill’s innovative technologies override the importance of the NSF’s core mission of funding fundamental, curiosity-driven research. But Bement’s successor France Córdova, who completed her six-year term as NSF director in March, argues that current-day science involves more seamless integration between fundamental and applied research.

Gee, ya think?

One of the causes of inequality in our society are the extensive and intrusive subsidies provided by the government to private industry,  things like this initiative, and the expansion of IP provisions.

This is bad for science and bad for the economy.


We now have an early start to the named storm seasion, with Arthur reaching tropical storm status, which makes a named storm before the normalstart of hurricane season for the 6th time in 6 years.

Nope.  No anthropogenic climate change driven weirdness here:

The Atlantic hurricane season’s first named storm formed late Saturday night off the eastern coast of Florida, when its sustained winds reached 40mph.

Named Tropical Storm Arthur, the system should move north-northeast for the next couple of days. Although there is a fair amount of uncertainty about this motion, Arthur should come near, or just over, coastal North Carolina, where tropical storm warnings have been raised. After this Arthur is likely to bend due eastward, away from the mainland United States and out to sea.

Because of low wind shear and moderately warm waters, Arthur may remain a tropical storm and even strengthen a little before succumbing to cooler waters later this week. The National Hurricane Center forecasts the system to reach maximum sustained winds of 50mph on Monday.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins two weeks from now, on June 1, and runs through November 30. Historically, it is not all that unusual for a tropical or subtropical storm to form before June 1 and become named after reaching sustained winds of 40mph. This happens, on average, about every two to three years.

However, this is now the sixth year in a row that a named storm has developed prior to the June 1 date. And according to data compiled by University of Miami hurricane scientist Brian McNoldy, the average date of the first named storm is steadily moving earlier. In 1970, it typically came in early July, but now the average date of the first storm is about one month earlier. There has been some discussion in the hurricane community about moving the start of the Atlantic season up to May 15 to match the beginning of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season.

We are in a world of hurt if we do not act.

How Convenient

Remember that Stanford study that showed that the Covid-19 rate infection levels were much higher than previously noted, and so the mortality rate was much lower?

In addition to it being bad science, the antibody test that they used was grossly inaccurate, it turns out that their study was founded almost entirely by the founder of JetBlue, who had an interest in getting the shutdown relaxed as quickly as possible.

The big take-away here is that when ordinary people distrust “experts” and “scientists” they are not rejecting science or expertise, it is that they believe that the “Technocrats” are just as corrupt as every institution in our society:

A highly influential coronavirus antibody study was funded in part by David Neeleman, the JetBlue Airways founder and a vocal proponent of the idea that the pandemic isn’t deadly enough to justify continued lockdowns.

That’s according to a complaint from an anonymous whistleblower, filed with Stanford University last week and obtained by BuzzFeed News, about the study conducted by the famous scientist John Ioannidis and others. The complaint cites dozens of emails, including exchanges with the airline executive while the study was being conducted.

The study — released as a non-peer-reviewed paper, or preprint, on April 17 — made headlines around the world with a dramatic finding: Based on antibodies in thousands of Silicon Valley residents’ blood samples, the number of coronavirus infections was up to 85 times higher than believed. This true infection count was so high that it would drive down the virus’s local fatality rate to 0.12%–0.2% — far closer to the known death rate for the flu.

Almost immediately, the study became a flashpoint in the increasingly politicized debate over whether and how to reopen the economy. Although many scientists assailed its methods, leading the authors to post a revision nearly two weeks later, it was trumpeted by conservative media to support a growing theory: that fears of the coronavirus are overblown.

“Most of the population has minimal risk, in the range of dying while you’re driving from home to work and back,” Ioannidis said on the Fox News show Life, Liberty & Levin, a few days after the study’s release.


And emails cited within the complaint also suggest that the study’s authors disregarded warnings raised by two Stanford professors who tried to verify the accuracy of the antibody test used. The pair of scientists ultimately refused to put their names on the study because, they told the lead researchers, they could not stand by the test results. The complaint suggests that Neeleman “potentially used financial incentives to secure cooperation from” one of these scientists, who told colleagues by email that she was “alarmed” by aspects of the antibody test’s performance.

Asked if Neeleman donated to the study, Ioannidis said he was “not personally aware” he did. “David Neeleman has a particular perspective and some ideas and some thoughts,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I don’t know exactly who were the people who funded the study eventually. But whoever they were, none of them really told us it should be designed in a given way or done in a given way or find a particular type of result or report a particular type of result.”


But according to Neeleman, the authors did know he’d given money to fund the study. Neeleman confirmed that he made a $5,000 donation to Stanford to be given to these researchers and that he was in communication with them while they were conducting their research. He denied, however, that he influenced their process or results in any way, saying they had “tremendous integrity,” and said that he was not shown the results prior to release. He also rejected the accusation that he put financial pressure on the researcher who expressed misgivings about the test.


In response to a detailed set of questions about the whistleblower complaint, Stanford Medicine spokesperson Julie Greicius said: “Stanford Medicine is aware of serious concerns related to the Santa Clara County seroprevalence study. The integrity of Stanford Medicine’s research is core to our mission. When we receive concerns such as this, they are taken extremely seriously. This matter is being reviewed by the appropriate oversight mechanisms at Stanford.”

As one of the world’s most-cited researchers and a “godfather to the science reform crowd,” Ioannidis helped elevate the study to national news. In a landmark 2005 paper titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” he called out the factors that incentivize shoddy scientific work, from personal bias to tenure systems that reward quantity over quality. In doing so, he spurred a movement to root out bad science.

The whistleblower complaint alleges, however, that the coronavirus study was rife with some of the pitfalls Ioannidis has famously lambasted, from a sloppy statistical analysis to an apparent conflict of interest. In the COVID-19 era, as science and politics become increasingly intertwined, the Stanford study is perhaps the highest-profile instance of a hotly contested scientific finding fueling arguments for policies with life-and-death stakes.


And as for Neeleman, Lipsitch added, “This has nothing to do with science. This is wanting his airlines to thrive.”


Days prior to the op-ed, those scientists had overseen their massive antibody, or serological, survey in Santa Clara County. On April 3 and 4 in sunny Northern California, more than 3,300 people drove through pop-up testing sites at two parks and a church and stuck out their fingers to be pricked. If their blood turned out to have antibodies to the virus, that could indicate they’d recovered from an infection.

Many participants had learned about the test from Facebook. Others had received an email from Bhattacharya’s wife, falsely claiming that an “FDA approved” test would definitively reveal if they could “return to work without fear,” as BuzzFeed News has reported.


But so far, the coronavirus appears to be much more lethal than the flu. According to a preliminary analysis of more than a dozen recent studies, including Stanford’s, the infection fatality rate worldwide ranges from 0.49% to 1.01%. That would be 5 t0 10 times higher than the flu’s death rate from confirmed cases, at about 0.1%. (And the flu’s infection fatality rate is likely even lower, given the unknown number of people who don’t report having it.)


The whistleblower complaint alleges that Neeleman “sought out the study authors for their congruent policy views” on the pandemic and funded their work. The complaint is based on a series of screenshotted emails — some timestamped around early April, others with truncated dates and email addresses — and does not specify the value or nature of Neeleman’s funding.

Screenshots of two such emails came into the complainant’s possession by April 11, the complaint states. One undated screenshot shows the email addresses of Bogan, the investor and coauthor, and of David Neeleman. In another, undated message, “Andrew” expressed gratitude to “David”: “Thanks again for your willingness to help me and my friends in Silicon Valley support this groundbreaking and timely research work financially.”

The email adds, “I think we all agree how critically important that is to better informing public health and policy leadership’s decision making across the nation.”

Neeleman confirmed receiving the email. Bogan did not respond to a request for comment.

These folks were corrupt as hell; bought and paid for, or specifically selected by those who were bought and paid for for their preexisting bias.

OK, This Is Real End of the World Stuff

Changes in ocean circulation may have caused a shift in Atlantic Ocean ecosystems not seen for the past 10,000 years, new analysis of deep-sea fossils has revealed.

This is the striking finding of a new study led by a research group I am part of at UCL, funded by the ATLAS project and published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The shift has likely already led to political tensions as fish migrate to colder waters.


To challenge this point of view, we had to look for places where seabed fossils not only covered the industrial era in detail, but also stretched back many thousands of years. And we found the right patch of seabed just south of Iceland, where a major deep sea current causes sediment to pile up in huge quantities.


One of the simplest ways of working out what the ocean was like in the past is to count the different species of tiny fossil plankton that can be found in such sediments. Different species like to live in different conditions.

We looked at a type called foraminifera, which have shells of calcium carbonate. Identifying them is easy to do using a microscope and small paintbrush, which we use when handling the fossils so they don’t get crushed.


The effects of the unusual circulation can be found across the North Atlantic. Just south of Iceland, a reduction in the numbers of cold-water plankton species and an increase in the numbers of warm-water species shows that warm waters have replaced cold, nutrient-rich waters.

If the Atlantic Conveyor current shuts down abruptly, we are going to see sh%$# going down that is going to make the 10 Plagues of Egypt look like a an episode of The Partridge Family.

OK, I Get Why Some People are Saying, “End of Times”

So in addition to a global pandemic with a virus that may not be amenable to a vaccine, we are now seeing an influx of giant killer hornets.

This is firmly in the area of things that give me the SERIOUS heebie jeebies:

Researchers and citizens in Washington state are on a careful hunt for invasive “murder hornets”, after the insect made its first appearance in the US.

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest and can kill humans. But it is most dangerous for the European honeybee, which is defenseless in the face of the hornet’s spiky mandibles, long stinger and potent venom.

Washington state verified four reports of Asian giant hornets in two north-western cities in December. The species becomes more active in April, prompting local officials to invite the public to help beekeepers by creating their own hornet traps.

“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” Todd Murray, Washington State University Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist, said in a statement. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees.”

Excuse me while I try to stop shaking like a leaf.

Frack You

It also gives the lie to the claim that fracked gas is going to release greenhouse gas emissions:

Findings published today in the journal Science Advances show that oil and gas operations in America’s sprawling Permian Basin are releasing methane at twice the average rate found in previous studies of 11 other major U.S. oil and gas regions. The new study was authored by scientists from Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, Georgia Tech and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

“These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin. There’s so much methane escaping from Permian oil and gas operations that it nearly triples the 20-year climate impact of burning the gas they’re producing,” said co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at EDF. “These findings demonstrate the rapidly growing ability of satellite technology to track emissions like these and to provide the data needed by both companies and regulators to know where emissions reductions are needed.”

Based on 11 months of satellite data encompassing 200,000 individual readings taken across the 160,000 square-kilometer basin by the European Space Agency’s TROPOMI instrument from May 2018 to March 2019, Permian oil and gas operations are losing methane at a rate equal to 3.7% of their gas production. The wasted methane—which is the main component in natural gas—is enough to supply 2 million U.S. households.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, anthropogenic emissions of which cause over a quarter of today’s warming. Reducing methane from oil and gas operations is the fastest, most cost-effective way to slow the rate of warming, even as the necessary transition to a net-zero carbon economy continues.

Fracking is not the future, or even a transition path, it’s a clear and present danger to the world.

Reality Has a Well Known Liberal Bias

Someone finally did a comprehensive catalogue of the sparse research on gun safety, so now, despite the best efforts of the NRA and Congressional Republicans to shut down testing, we have the the beginnings of a knowledge base on fun safety:

Gun control discussions often get mired in competing academic claims regarding the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of various policy options.

Do concealed carry laws increase violent crime or make communities safer? Do assault weapon bans reduce mass shootings or do they have no effect? Do background checks reduce homicides and suicides or are they ineffective?

With so many disparate findings swirling about, it can be difficult to determine where the balance of evidence lies. But a report from Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, has distilled reams of gun policy research published since 1995 to tease out the scholarly consensus.


Not all academic studies are created equal. Many simply show correlations between various phenomena — links between assault weapon bans and mass shootings, for instance, or between suicide rates and gun purchasing habits. Such research can be useful when higher-quality data isn’t available.

But policymaking requires higher-caliber evidence, from studies that go beyond simple correlations to demonstrate a causal effect. Distinguishing those studies from less-powerful ones was one of the chief objectives of the Rand report.


They narrowed down thousands of studies to those that met high standards for causal evidence — just 123 of them since 1995. Taken together, this research yielded a number of conclusions.

First, there was a clear consensus (indicated by three or more high-quality studies in agreement) that stand-your-ground laws, which allow people to use guns to defend themselves in public even if retreating is an option, result in higher overall rates of gun homicide. The higher rates aren’t simply from “bad guys” getting shot; the research shows the additional deaths created by stand-your-ground laws far surpass the documented cases of defensive gun use in the United States.

There was also a broad consensus that child access prevention laws, which set requirements for how guns must be stored at home, are effective in reducing self-inflicted gun injuries among children and adults.

No other policy realm showed the clear scholarly consensus as did stand-your-ground and child access prevention, although there were a number of cases in which the research yielded more moderate evidence of a policy’s effect, by way of two or more high-quality studies in agreement.

This could be a basis for common sense gun laws, which is why the NRA has strenuously opposed any funding for studies for decades.

It’s the Little Things

I would not have thought that a minor change to KC-135 wiper blades can improve fuel efficiency by over 1%:

The U.S. Air Force has discovered that vertically mounted wiper blades on the KC-135 Stratotanker reduce aircraft drag by about 1% during cruise conditions, potentially saving the service $7 million annually in fuel costs.

The wiper blades on the Boeing KC-135 traditionally are positioned horizontally on the windshield as part of the original 1950s-era design. As aviation aerodynamics research later indicated, placing wipers vertically when not in use could improve aerodynamic efficiency.


The team used a KC-135 from Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Ohio for comprehensive airframe ground testing. A computational fluid dynamics model revealed a reduction in drag of 0.8% for repositioning the blade vertically and 0.2% for a slimmer wiper design. After collecting sufficient data, the team is ready to begin airworthiness testing and certify the updated design with the FAA.

First, I find this intensely amusing, and second, why did it take until 75 years into the jet age to discover this?

Serendipitous Physics Discovery

A group of physicists attempted to use a magnetic field to influence the spin of an atomic nucleus.

Fortunately, they screwed, up, and blew up the antenna generating the magnetic field for the experiment.

In so doing, they subjected the nucleus to an electrical field, rather than a magnetic one, and when they saw the results, they realized that they had accidentally confirmed Bloembergen’s theorem, which had remained unproven for over 50 years:

A group of scientists have accidentally proven a near 60-year old theory correct, thanks to a botched lab experiment.

Nicolaas Bloembergen, the late Dutch-American physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his contributions to laser spectroscopy, previously predicted that it was possible to control the nucleus of a single atom with electric fields in 1961. His idea, however, was never experimentally proven and was left largely forgotten until now.


Asaad and his colleagues set about probing a single atom of antimony, a metalloid element, fabricated on a silicon wafer with nuclear magnetic resonance. To do this, the team had to place the device in a strong magnetic field. They generated the magnetic field by applying an electric current to a superconducting magnet and directed it towards the atom’s nucleus using a specialised antenna.

“However, once we started the experiment, we realised that something was wrong. The nucleus behaved very strangely, refusing to respond at certain frequencies, but showing a strong response at others,” said co-author Vincent Mourik, another postdoctoral researcher at the USNW Sydney, working in the same department.

Eventually they realised they had accidentally destroyed the antenna by cranking up the strength of the magnetic field. “What happened is that we fabricated a device containing an antimony atom and a special antenna, optimized to create a high-frequency magnetic field to control the nucleus of the atom. Our experiment demands this magnetic field to be quite strong, so we applied a lot of power to the antenna, and we blew it up!” Asaad said.

With the antenna borked, all that was being transmitted was an electric field instead. The researchers may have failed to induce nuclear magnetic resonance in the antimony nucleus but they had managed to get it to interact with just an electric field instead, proving Bloembergen’s theory. Results from the “failed” experiment have been published in research paper in Nature.

“I have worked on spin resonance for 20 years of my life, but honestly, I had never heard of this idea of nuclear electric resonance,” said Andrea Morello, a professor of quantum physics at the USNW Sydney. “We ‘rediscovered’ this effect by complete accident – it would never have occurred to me to look for it. The whole field of nuclear electric resonance has been almost dormant for more than half a century, after the first attempts to demonstrate it proved too challenging.”

I believe that Isaac Asimov once said that, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny.”

I agree.

Whatever This Says about Our Society, It’s Profoundly Depressing

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has accumulated an exhaustive database of academic citations, and found what appears to be a whole lot of self dealing and corruption:

The world’s most-cited researchers, according to newly released data, are a curiously eclectic bunch. Nobel laureates and eminent polymaths rub shoulders with less familiar names, such as Sundarapandian Vaidyanathan from Chennai in India. What leaps out about Vaidyanathan and hundreds of other researchers is that many of the citations to their work come from their own papers, or from those of their co-authors.

Vaidyanathan, a computer scientist at the Vel Tech R&D Institute of Technology, a privately run institute, is an extreme example: he has received 94% of his citations from himself or his co-authors up to 2017, according to a study in PLoS Biology this month1. He is not alone. The data set, which lists around 100,000 researchers, shows that at least 250 scientists have amassed more than 50% of their citations from themselves or their co-authors, while the median self-citation rate is 12.7%.

The study could help to flag potential extreme self-promoters, and possibly ‘citation farms’, in which clusters of scientists massively cite each other, say the researchers. “I think that self-citation farms are far more common than we believe,” says John Ioannidis, a physician at Stanford University in California who specializes in meta-science — the study of how science is done — and who led the work. “Those with greater than 25% self-citation are not necessarily engaging in unethical behaviour, but closer scrutiny may be needed,” he says.

The data are by far the largest collection of self-citation metrics ever published. And they arrive at a time when funding agencies, journals and others are focusing more on the potential problems caused by excessive self-citation. In July, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), a publisher-advisory body in London, highlighted extreme self-citation as one of the main forms of citation manipulation. This issue fits into broader concerns about an over-reliance on citation metrics for making decisions about hiring, promotions and research funding.

This is not a surprise.

If fraud can occur, fraud will occur.

We Are Unbelievably Screwed

It looks like updated models are showing that anthropogenic climate change will be even more disastrous than previously predicted:

Our planet’s climate may be more sensitive to increases in greenhouse gas than we realized, according to a new generation of global climate models being used for the next major assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The findings—which run counter to a 40-year consensus—are a troubling sign that future warming and related impacts could be even worse than expected.

One of the new models, the second version of the Community Earth System Model (CESM2) from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), saw a 35% increase in its equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), the rise in global temperature one might expect as the atmosphere adjusts to an instantaneous doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Instead of the model’s previous ECS of 4°C (7.2°F), the CESM2 now shows an ECS of 5.3°C (9.5°F).

“It is imperative that the community work in a multi-model context to understand how plausible such a high ECS is,” said NCAR’s Andrew Gettelman and coauthors in a paper published last month in Geophysical Research Letters. They added: “What scares us is not that the CESM2 ECS is wrong…but that it might be right.”

At least eight of the global-scale models used by IPCC are showing upward trends in climate sensitivity, according to climate researcher Joëlle Gergis, an IPCC lead author and a scientific advisor to Australia’s Climate Council. Gergis wrote about the disconcerting trends in an August column for the Australian website The Monthly.

Researchers are now evaluating the models to see whether the higher ECS values are model artifacts or correctly depict a more dire prognosis.

I would note that every time that researchers update their models as a result of real world data, the predictions get more and more dire.

We are in for a huge world of hurt.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whey*

A UK dairy in Yorkshire has signed an agreement with a local biogas plant to supply it with a by-product of cheese-making that would be turned into thermal power to heat homes in the area.

The Wensleydale Creamery, which produces the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, makes 4,000 tons of cheese every year at its dairy in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

The company has struck a deal with specialist environment fund manager Iona Capital, under which an Iona biogas plant will produce more than 10,000 MWh of energy per year from whey—a by-product of cheese making, Wensleydale Creamery said on Monday.

Under the deal, Wensleydale Creamery will provide Iona Capital’s Leeming Biogas plant in North Yorkshire with leftover whey from the process of cheese making. The plant will process and turn the whey into “green gas” via anaerobic digestion that will produce thermal power sufficient to heat 800 homes a year.


“Once we have converted the cheese by-product supplied by Wensleydale into sustainable green gas, we can feed what’s left at the end of the process onto neighbouring farmland to improve local topsoil quality. This shows the real impact of the circular economy and the part intelligent investment can play in reducing our CO2 emissions,” Mike Dunn, co-founder of Iona, said in a statement.

This is the right thing to do, but mostly, I’m here for the puns.

*Yes, I am posting this just for that pun.