Happy February! On a related note, how the hell is it February already?
If you haven't listened to Episode 1 of our podcast, do it now! Episode 2 drops NEXT WEEK, with new conversations coming every week thereafter until this baby goes nuclear or I need a vacation -- so subscribe today and get all of those straight to your device!
The alternative: Brian comes to your house, probably when you're having dinner or something else inconvenient, asks for your phone, fails at your Face ID, awkwardly asks you to stare into the red dot thing, then fumbles through your apps until he finds your podcasts and then subscribes for you.
Just...do the right thing.
On to the news!
Space: The Final Frontier/Escape Hatch 🚀👩🚀👽
The search for life on other planets could get a boost from biosignatures
"By studying the atmospheric contents of ancient and present-day Earth, scientists say they've discovered specific chemical combinations that could reveal the presence of biological activity on other planets.
These biosignatures, described in the journal Science Advances, could offer a key tool in the search for extraterrestrial life.
"There's a direct path from the conclusions of our work to the possible discovery, which would be an historic one, of life elsewhere," said senior author David Catling, a planetary scientist and astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Thousands of planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets, have been discovered in the last several years, a small number of which appear to be rocky, Earth-sized planets at the right distance from their star to hold liquid water. Studying the ones with detectable atmospheres could provide crucial clues as to whether they host life."
Biology 401 💉👾💊
After a Debacle, How California Became a Role Model on Measles
"The leading theory is that measles was introduced in Disneyland by a foreign tourist. That could happen anywhere. Medical experts generally agree that the fact that it took off was probably a result of California’s low vaccination rates, which in turn was a result of an inability to persuade a significant share of Californians that vaccines were important.
The episode made national news, but in the next few years, another development was striking but attracted less national attention: Because of a policy change, California was able to turn it around. Data from a county-by county analysis shows that in many schools with the lowest vaccination rates, there was an increase of 20 to 30 percentage points in the share of kindergartners vaccinated between 2014 and 2016. One law changed the behavior of impassioned resisters more effectively than a thousand public service announcements might have."
+ Disease fights back. "Berserk leprosy bacteria are wildly mutating to become extremely drug resistant" and "Drug-resistant malaria will spread without urgent action, experts warn"
+ Want to know what horrific disease is coming your way? Here's a map.
Climate Change 🔥🌊💨
White House seeks 72 percent cut to clean energy research
"The Trump administration is poised to ask Congress for deep budget cuts to the Energy Department’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, slashing them by 72 percent overall in fiscal 2019, according to draft budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Many of the sharp cuts would probably be restored by Congress, but President Trump’s budget, due out in February, will mark a starting point for negotiations and offer a statement of intent and policy priorities.
The document underscores the administration’s continued focus on the exploitation of fossil fuel resources — or, as Trump put it in his State of the Union address, “beautiful clean coal” — over newer renewable technologies seen as a central solution to the problem of climate change."
+ This is your friendly reminder that these people are short-sighted idiots, and that a president's budget is not law. It is merely a starting point for negotiations with Congress. And that last year, they asked for similar measures, and got none of them.
+ But to be sure, Trump's assault on clean energy isn't just all talk. Here's the state of solar installers after the tariffs.
+ And here's how he's going after the transportation sector.
+ But...BUT...momentum is a motherfucker, isn't it, Donald? And that's where we find ourselves:
"On a Q4 earnings conference call on Friday, Jim Robo, CEO of NextEra Energy -- a giant energy company with subsidiariesthat include Florida Power & Light (America’s third-largest utility, with 4.8 million customers) and NextEra Energy Resources, which boasts of being “the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun" -- predicted that by the early 2020s, it will be cheaper to build new renewables than to continue running existing coal and nuclear plants."
Incentives are helpful, but one day soon, they won't even be necessary.
+ Here's the New York Times' excellent updated list of Trump's attack on environmental rules.
Climate updates from around the globe:
The Ghost of Christmas Future: Warming, Water Crisis, Then Unrest: How Iran Fits an Alarming Pattern
South Africa in the spotlight again: How to Wreck the World’s Fastest-Growing Renewables Program
Climate change could ravage Indian farmers
And close to home, another story about the evacuation of Louisiana.
Fuck Cancer, Volume LXXX 🖕
Chemotherapy, a Trusty Weapon Against Cancer, Falls Out of Favor
"Doctors are at odds over whether some women with breast cancer should have chemotherapy—one treatment among the arsenal long seen as crucial to fighting the disease, along with surgery and radiation.
Many oncologists are shunning chemo as risky and ineffective at combating some early-stage breast tumors. Traditionally, the majority of women with invasive breast cancer were treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
A shift to less chemotherapy or none at all, called “de-escalation,” is being hailed by some as revolutionary, following what some doctors see as years of overtreatment with drugs that may have harmed more than helped. Proponents of de-escalation say chemotherapy—the use of chemical agents to treat the disease—should be used only when it appears likely to reduce the chances of the cancer spreading."
AI & Robots 🧠⚡️🤖
Counterpoint: Why AI will not replace radiologists
"In late 2016 Prof Geoffrey Hinton, the godfather of neural networks, said that it’s “quite obvious that we should stop training radiologists” as image perception algorithms are very soon going to be demonstrably better than humans. Radiologists are, he said, “the coyote already over the edge of the cliff who hasn’t yet looked down”.
This kick-started a hype-wave of biblical proportions that is still rolling to this day, and shows no signs of breaking just yet. In my opinion, although this wave of enthusiasm and optimism has successfully brought radiology artificial intelligence to the forefront of people’s imaginations, and immense amounts of funding with it, it has also done untold harm by over-inflating the expectations of policy and decision makers, and is having tangible knock-on effects on recruitment as disillusioned junior doctors start believing that machines are indeed replacing humans and so they shouldn’t bother applying to become radiologists. It is hard to imagine a more damaging statement occurring at a time when the crisis in radiology staffing, especially acute in the UK, is threatening to destabilise entire hospital systems."
The Highlight Reel
- Here's the always excellent Axios Science newsletter with a special ocean-themed edition. Ever seen an underwater snow storm? Well, they're keeping carbon levels 25% below where they would be otherwise. Dig in.
How to Design Beacons for Humanity's Afterlife
Hey, so, fracking causes earthquakes.
A CRISPR Future: Five Ways Gene Editing Will Transform Our World
The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower
Physicists are planning to build lasers so powerful they could rip apart empty space
Scientists Discover a Bone-Deep Risk for Heart Disease
The Next Big Volcano Could Briefly Cool Earth. NASA Wants to Be Ready.
It wasn't an accidental click, after all. FCC: Officer behind Hawaii false missile alert thought it was real.