Science

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Mass coral bleaching of Australia's Great Barrier Reef goes under the media radar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/04/2022 - 1:56am in

The devastating event threatens reef's long term survival

Originally published on Global Voices

Great Barrier Reef faces another severe bleaching event

A screenshot from an ABC News video “Great Barrier Reef faces another severe bleaching event”

The busy news cycle seems to have crowded out coverage of the fourth mass coral bleaching in six years at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority confirmed this in its Reef Health report on March 25, 2022:

It did not receive the attention such an event usually generates in mainstream or social media, either locally or internationally. The war in Ukraine, floods in eastern Australia, debates about Australia's Federal budget before a national election in May, the unexpected death of much-admired cricketer Shane Warne and other celebrity news took centre stage down under.

Coral reef scientist Professor Terry Hughes lamented:

NPR’s radio program “All things Considered” featured a brief report:

It included this comment from Emily Darling of the Wildlife Conservation Society:

What jumps out at me is the frequency of these events. There's just been no recovery window for the corals.

Not everyone on social media is convinced:

On the other side of the continent, Federal parliamentarian Josh Wilson is concerned that similar damage to the Ningaloo Reef in his State of Western Australia needs more publicity:

The Australian federal budget was brought down a week after the bleaching announcement. The speech by Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, mentioned climate change just once. Many condemned the lack of extra funding to combat climate change. The Climate Council lamented this failure of funding:

THE 2022 Federal Budget has failed to deliver any meaningful commitments to address escalating climate change in Australia.

Nicki Hutley, Climate Councillor, leading economist and former Partner at Deloitte Access Economics, who was in today’s Budget lockup, has calculated that just 0.3% of total expenditure for 2021-2024 has been committed to climate change initiatives, falling even lower, to just 0.2% in 2024-2026.

The pro-renewables Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) had a bleak take on the numbers:

They argued that: “Despite the Federal Government saying it’s committing funding to energy and emissions reduction measures in the 2022-23 Budget, the spending on climate is reducing over the next four years, and spending on LNG, gas, carbon capture and storage, and ‘clean’ but not necessarily ‘green’ hydrogen has increased.”

At “The Conversation”, scientists from north Queensland's James Cook University highlighted another unusual aspect of the bleaching:

This is the first time the reef has bleached under the cooling conditions of the natural La Niña weather pattern, which shows just how strong the long-term warming trend of climate change is.

Coincidentally, the United Nations World Heritage Centre's monitoring mission was visiting Australia to decide whether the reef should be listed as a World Heritage site in danger:

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) will undertake a mission to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from 21 to 30 March 2022 to assess its state of conservation and a long-term sustainability plan for its protection.

In July 2021, Environment Minister Sussan Ley managed to avert this potentially embarrassing outcome.

In a different part of eastern Australia, Sydney’s world-renowned Bondi beach was experiencing another climate-related event:

Meanwhile, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has warned that “limiting global warming to 1.5°C is beyond reach”.

Retired soccer star and human rights activist, Craig Foster, was just one of many to underline the urgency:

Is the Metaverse the Hero We Need to Rescue Us From Suffering and Enchant the World?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 8:26am in

After a few years hiding in the basements of techno-enthusiasts, virtual reality is back in...

Very Fast Sushi Train Will Deliver Salmon Roll From Melbourne To Sydney In Under Three Hours

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 7:45am in

Train

The government has commissioned a feasibility study to look into the construction of a Very Fast Sushi Train down the eastern seaboard, raising hopes that sushi aficionados in Brisbane will be able to sample a frilled scallop nigiri that has been prepared less than five hours earlier in a Melbourne kitchen.

“A whole new line would have to be constructed at a cost of $15 billion as sushi trains in Victoria run on a different gauge to those in New South Wales,” said chief engineer Brenda Hosomaki. “The biggest technological challenge is figuring out how to stop centripetal forces from wrenching the teriyaki chicken off the top of those little oblongs of sticky rice when the train is taking a curve at over 450 kilometers per hour.”

A hi tech form of seaweed inlaid with fibres of a special edible Kevlar like that used on France’s Sushi Train a Grande Vitesse (STGV) will be used to keep the spicy mayo and tuna ships in one piece.

But not everybody is enthusiastic about the project. Wagga Wagga farmer Trevor Gumboot is sceptical that the train will ever become a reality.

“They promise us a Very Fast Sushi Train at every election but everyone knows this is just roast pork aburi barrelling,” said the disgruntled grazier. “The distances in Australia are simply too great to make it economically sustainable. It’s all good in Japan where it’s only fifteen minutes from Tokyo to Osaka, but no-one wants to eat a prawn that’s been sitting in 400C for five hours in the Aussie sun. I’ve seen a study that shows up to 70% of the product will be eaten by cockatoos before it reaches Albury.”

Consulting firm Deloites estimates that a standard selection on a little round plate with the yellow coloured rim will cost a whopping $128 without any form of public subsidy. Chef’s special black plates will cost $500 each.

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

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Australian Space Agency To Send Manned Holden Kingswood To Dubbo By 2035

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/03/2022 - 7:51am in

Australia will be getting its very own space agency with plans to mount a mission to put astronauts on the surface of Dubbo within two decades.

“Due to the high cost of petrol and the dodgy radiator we will have to find crew members willing to undertake a one way voyage,” said astronomer Millicent Tang. “As far as we know the reality series Yummy Mummies doesn’t get broadcast in Dubbo so that should be enough incentive for us to get millions of volunteers.”

Technicians working to overcome the problem of providing enough bags of chips to keep the crew fed during the five hour voyage are looking into rerouting the craft to stop at the Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath for a drink and that good hamburger shop in Orange for dinner.

“We learnt a lot from an earlier mission to Mittagong in the 1960s in a Datsun 180b,” said astronaut Paul Thomas. “Mainly we learnt that crew members must be supplied with more than one mix tape to listen to for the whole trip or else they’ll face severe psychological distress.”

An unmanned mission to Dubbo in the 1970s sent back several blurry images of the Western Plains Zoo and the old jail.

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter or like us on facebook.

 

Nationals Demand Minister For Science Be Replaced With A Minister For Do Your Own Research

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/03/2022 - 6:00am in

The Junior partner of Australia’s governing Coalition the National party have demanded that their colleagues the Liberals replace the Minister for Science with a Minister for Do Your Own Research.

”Look, why are we putting all our eggs in the basket of science,” said National’s leader Barnaby Joyce. ”I mean anyone can go out and buy themselves a lab coat and call themselves a scientist.”

”Heck, I even own a lab coat that I use in the bedroom, if you know what I mean.”

When asked why the Nationals seemingly supported every crack pot theory under the sun instead of actual science, the Member for New England said: ”My guys are some of the most prolific Googlers in parliament.”

”If there’s a video on the internet involving young girls and ping pong then trust me, George Christensen has seen it.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, George has called an urgent meeting. Apparently he’s found a vet whose willing to flog us some cheap Ivermectin.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

We’re also on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/theunoz

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Advancing high-energy physics in the United States

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 3:47am in

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Science


Here is an interesting and important scientific question: where is high-energy physics going? What future discoveries are possible in the field? And what strategies are most likely to bring these breakthroughs about? HEP is the field of physics that studies sub-atomic particles -- muons, quarks, neutrinos, bosons, as well as now-familiar larger particles like neutrons, protons, and electrons -- and their interactions. Research in this field involves producing collisions of sub-atomic particles at high energies (speeds) to create conditions permitting observation of new particles and properties. (The image above is a screenshot of the breakthrough results achieved at Europe's CERN particle accelerator documenting observation of the Higgs boson.) And the most striking feature of HEP is the fact that it requires multi-billion-dollar tools (particle accelerators) and scientific teams (armies of advanced experimental physicists) to have any hope of making progress in the state of the field. Progress in high-energy physics does not happen in a garage or a university laboratory; it requires massive public investments in research facilities and scientific teams, organized around specific research objectives. In the United States these are largely located in the national laboratories (link) and through collaboration with international research facilities (CERN).

The question I want to address here is this: Who should be interested in a serious way in the topic of where research in high-energy physics is going? It should be emphasized that in this context I mean "interest" in a specific way: "materially, politically, or professionally concerned about the choices that are made". Who are the actors who contribute to setting the agenda for future scientific work in high-energy physics? To what extent do the scientists themselves determine the future of their scientific field? Is this primarily an academic and scientific question, a question of public policy, a question of national prestige, or possibly a question of economic growth and development?

One answer to "who should be interested" is straightforward and obvious: the small network of world-class experimental and theoretical physicists in the country whose scientific careers are devoted to progress and discovery in the field of high-energy physics. Every physicist who teaches physics in a university in a sense has an interest in the future of the field, and a small number of highly trained physicists have strong scientific intuitions about where future advances are most likely to be found. Moreover, there is only a relatively small number of expert physicists whose own abilities and the capacities of their laboratories have a realistic opportunity to contribute to progress in the field. So the expert scientific community, including experimental and theoretical physicists, computational experts, and instrumentation specialists, have highly informed ideas about where meaningful progress in physics is possible.

An institution with definite interest in the question is the formal organization that represents the collective scientific practice of American physics -- the American Physical Society (APS) (link). The APS is a prestigious organization which contributes specialized advice to government and the public on a range of questions, from the feasibility of anti-missile defense to the level of risk associated with global climate change (link).

An important practice involved directly in surveying the horizon for future physics advances is the Snowmass conference (link) (or more formally, the Particle Physics Community Planning Exercise). Snowmass is organized and managed by APS, and it has formal independence from the Department of Energy. Here is a thumbnail description of Snowmass:

The Particle Physics Community Planning Exercise (a.k.a. “Snowmass”) is organized by the Division of Particles and Fields (DPF) of the American Physical Society. Snowmass is a scientific study. It provides an opportunity for the entire particle physics community to come together to identify and document a scientific vision for the future of particle physics in the U.S. and its international partners. Snowmass will define the most important questions for the field of particle physics and identify promising opportunities to address them. (Learn more about the history and spirit of Snowmass here "How to Snowmass" written by Chris Quigg). The P5, Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel, will take the scientific input from Snowmass and develop a strategic plan for U.S. particle physics that can be executed over a 10 year timescale, in the context of a 20-year global vision for the field. (link)

As noted, Snowmass is an arm of APS, with close informal ties to the Department of Energy and its advisory committee HEPAC. For this reason we would like to infer that it is a reasonably independent process, developing its assessments and recommendations based on the best scientific expertise and judgment available. But we can also ask whether it succeeds in the task of formulating a clear set of visions and priorities for the future of high-energy physics research, or instead presents a grab-bag of the particular views of its participating scientists. If the latter, does the Snowmass process succeed in influencing or guiding the decision-making that others will follow in setting priorities and budgets for future investments in physics research? So there is an important question for policy-institution analysis even at this early stage of our consideration: how "rational" is the Snowmass process, and how effective is it at distilling a credible scientific consensus about the future direction of high energy physics research? This is a question for policy studies in organizational sociology, similar to many studies in the field of science, technology, and society (STS).

Snowmass in turn plays into a more formal part of DoE's decision-making process, the P5 process (Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel), which prepares a decennial report and strategic vision for the future of high-energy physics for the coming decade. This report is then conveyed to the DoE advisory committee and to DoE's director. (Here is a summary of the 2007-08 P5 report (link), and here is a link to the 2014 P5 report (link). In 2020 HEPAC conducted a review of the recommendations of the 2014 report and progress made towards those priorities (link).) Here too we can ask the organizational question: how effective is the P5 process at defining the best possible scientific consensus on priorities for the field of high energy physics research?

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (link) is another organization that has an interest and capability in developing specific assessments and recommendations about the future of high-energy physics, and the research investments most likely to lead to important advances and discoveries. Here is a "consensus report" prepared by a group of leading physicists and commissioned by the NASEM Committee on Elementary Particle Physics in the 21st Century in 2006 (link).

Scientists are actors in the process of priority setting for the future of physics research, then. But it is clear that scientists do not ultimately make these decisions. Given that programs of research in high energy physics require multi-billion dollar investments, the Federal government is a major decision-maker in priority-setting for the future of physics. There are several Federal agencies that have a primary interest in setting the direction of future research in high-energy physics. The Department of Energy is the largest source of funding -- and therefore priorities -- for future investments in research in high-energy physics, including the neutrino detector DUNE project centered in Chicago at Fermilab and the now-defunct plan for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas in the 1980s, terminated in 1993. The Office of High Energy Physics (link) is ultimately responsible for decisions about major capital investments in this field, with budget oversight from Congressional committees. The Office of National Laboratories has oversight over the national laboratories (Fermilab, Argonne, Ames, Brookhaven, and several others). The DoE process is inherently agency-driven, given that it is concerned with a small number of highly impactful investment decisions. One such decision was the plan to implement the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) at Fermilab in metro Chicago in around 2010 for several billion dollars. So here again we have an organizational problem for research: how are decisions made within the Office of High Energy Physics? Are the director and staff simply a transparent transmission belt from the physics community to DoE priorities? Or do agency officials have agendas of their own?

The Office of High Energy Physics is supported by an advisory committee of senior scientists, the High Energy Physics Advisory Committee (HEPAP). This committee exists to provide expert scientific advice to OHEP about priorities, goals, and scientific strategies. It is unclear whether HEPAP is enabled to fulfill this role given its current functioning and administration. Do members of HEPAP have the opportunity for free and open discussion of priorities and projects, or is the agenda of the committee effectively driven by OHEP director and staff?

Congress is an important actor in the formulation of science policy in general, and policy in the field of high-energy physics in particular, through its control of the Federal budget. Some elected officials also have an interest in the question in the future of physics, for a different reason. They believe that there are national interests at stake in the future developments of physics; and they believe that world-class scientific discovery and progress are important components of global prestige. Perhaps the US will be thought to be less of a scientific superpower than Japan or Europe in twenty years because the major advances in particle physics have taken place at CERN and advanced research installations in Japan. To maintain the edge, the elected official may have an interest in supporting budget decisions that boost the strength and effectiveness of US science -- including high-energy physics. Small investments guarantee minimal progress, whereas large investments make the possibility of significant breakthroughs much greater than would otherwise be the case.

There are still two constituencies to be considered: citizens and businesses. Do ordinary citizens have an interest in the future of high-energy physics? Probably not. No one has made the case for HEP that has been made for the planetary space program -- that research dollars spent on planetary space vehicles and exploration will lead to currently unpredictable but valuable technology breakthroughs that will "change daily life as we know it". No "teflon story" is likely to emerge from the DUNE project. HEP, neutrinos, hadron particles, and their like, as well as the accelerators, detectors, and computational equipment needed to evaluate their behavior, have little likelihood of leading to practical spin-off technologies. As a first approximation, then, ordinary citizens have little interest -- in either the economist's sense or the psychologist's sense -- in what strategies are likely to be most fruitful for the progress of high-energy physics.

The business community is different from the citizen and consumer segment for a familiar reason. Like citizens and consumers, business leaders have no inherent interest in the progress or future of high-energy physics. But as manufacturers of high-performance cryogenic electromagnet systems or instrumentation systems, they have a very distinct interest in supporting (and lobbying for) the establishment of major new technology-intensive infrastructure projects. This is similar to the defense industry; it is not that aircraft manufacturers want military conflict, but they recognize that building military aircraft is a profitable business strategy. So more military spending on high-tech weapons is better than less, from the point of view of defense contractors. The large cryogenic electromagnet producer has a very specific business interest in seeing an investment in a largescale neutrino experiment, because it will lead to expenditures in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars on electromagnets once construction begins.

Now that we've surveyed the players, what should we expect when it comes to science policy and strategy? Should we expect a highly rational process in which "scientific aims and goals" are debated and finalized by the scientific experts solicited by the American Physical Society and Snowmass; a report is received from the P5 process by the quasi-public body HEPAP that advises DoE on its strategies, and evaluated in a clear and rational basis; recommendations are conveyed to DoE officials, who introduce a note of budget realism but strive to craft a set of strategic goals for the coming decade that largely incorporate the wisdom of the APS/Snowmass report; DoE executives are able to make a compelling case for the public good to key legislators; and budget commitments are made to accomplish the top 5 out of 8 recommendations of the Snowmass report? Do we get a reasonably coherent and scientifically defensible set of strategies and investments out of this process?

The answer is likely to be clear to any social scientist. The clean lines of "recommendation, collection of expert scientific opinion, rational assessment, disinterested selection of priorities" will quickly be blurred by facts having to do with very well known organizational and political dysfunctions: conflicts of interest and agenda within agencies; industry and agency capture of the big-science agenda; conflicting interests among stakeholders; confusion within policy debates between longterm and medium-term objectives; imperfect communication within and across organizational lines; and a powerful interest expressed by local stakeholders to gain part of the benefits of the project as private incomes. It is illogical that parochial business interests in Chicago or Japan would influence the decision whether to fund the International Linear Collider (link); but this appears in fact to be the case. In other words, the clean and rational decision-making process we would like to see is broken apart by conflicts of interest and priority from various powerful actors. And the result may bear only a faint resemblance to the best judgments about "good science" that were offered by the scientific advisors in early stages of the process. March and Simon's "garbage can model" of organizational decision-making seems relevant here (link); or, as Charles Perrow describes the process in Complex Organizations (2014):

Goals may thus emerge in a rather fortuitous fashion, as when the organization seems to back into a new line of activity or into an external alliance in a fit of absentmindedness. (135)

No coherent, stable goal guided the total process, but after the fact a coherent stable goal was presumed to have been present. It would be unsettling to see it otherwise. (135)

One Hundred Years of Anti-Evolution Legislation Are More Than Enough

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 05/03/2022 - 4:52am in

In a famous 1958 address commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s...

‘Girls in Afghanistan Have Power’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/03/2022 - 8:54pm in

‘Girls in Afghanistan HAVE POWER’

In an exclusive interview with a member of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team who fled the country in the summer, Byline Times can reveal how an inspiring new project that will help Afghan girls achieve their dreams

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“My dream is to take the hands of girls still in Afghanistan and help them access that most basic of rights – education,” says Saghar. “If we can help even one girl, then we need to go for it”.

When the Taliban started to advance across Afghanistan in 2021, 17-year-old Saghar knew she would soon have to leave her country. The teenager was part of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team – an international sensation that attended the World Summit AI in Amsterdam and competed in AI contests around the world, flying the flag for girls’ education and girls in STEM. 

But for the incoming regime, Saghar’s incredible success was not something to celebrate. The Taliban believes that girls should be denied the right to education. Since they took over Afghanistan in August, they have banned girls from attending secondary school. Families of girls like Saghar – families who encouraged their daughters to go after their dreams – face threats, intimidation and even real life violence. 

“The situation is catastrophic for women and girls,” said Sarah Porter, CEO and Founder of InspiredMinds – a global community of 200,000 of the world’s leading scientists, technologists and academics – and the InspiredMinds Foundation to support girls in STEM in emerging democracies. “Girls like Saghar grew up going to high school in Afghanistan. To have that right taken away is such a cruel blow”.

With the help of the InspiredMinds Foundation, Saghar and her fellow Girls Robotic teammates fled Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover was complete – travelling first to Pakistan, then to Mexico City and finally to Europe. She is separated from her family, although they were thankfully able to leave Kabul during the evacuation in August with the help of the InspiredMinds community.

The Afghan girls Robotics Team arrive to safety. Photo: InspiredMinds

It’s not easy being a teenage girl alone in a new country. But Saghar’s determination and vision to build a better future for Afghan girls is unshakeable. 

That determination is helping her to launch a project with the InspiredMinds Foundation that will offer scholarships to Afghan girls to study a foundation course in STEM subjects. “We want to give girls the opportunity to study and have the basic right that everyone should have, the right to education,” she explained. “The situation right now is not good for every girl in Afghanistan who is dreaming of their future. I am dreaming to do this – to have this ability to help other girls in Afghanistan”.

To get the project – the details of which Saghar has exclusively shared with Byline Times – off the ground, she and InspiredMinds are hoping that elite educational institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Yale and many more will support her ambition by reserving places for Afghan girls to come and study STEM at their campuses. “We need the international community to hold out a helping hand, too,” she says. 

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‘We Need Help To Achieve What We Always Dreamed’

Robotics and AI have fascinated Saghar since she was a little girl, playing on her brother’s computer. She first discovered her love of computer science when she realised she could draw and paint pictures on a desktop programme much more easily than with pen and paper. 

“I was always really curious about how technology works,” Saghar told Byline Times. Her interest was encouraged by her family and her teachers, and she joined up with other girls who demonstrated a talent for computers and maths to form the Afghan Girls Robotics Team. 

“My family has always been very supportive,” Saghar explained. “I am so proud of them and I am so happy they have given me this chance even when it caused trouble from the regime”.

Because of the girls’ high profile, it quickly became apparent that it was too dangerous for them to remain in Afghanistan once it was controlled by an oppressive regime. “They do not have a good perspective of girls travelling, or going to school,” said Saghar. “Our families were worried for us.”


‘It is Dangerous for Us to Remain in Afghanistan’
Sian Norris

The journey to safety was not easy. Saghar had to leave her family, her friends and her country behind. “Because of the high profile we had in Afghanistan, our families were in danger as well,” she explained. “The perspective is that if you are a woman doing something that is against the regime’s laws, then they will punish the father or the brother. 

Chaotic scenes as families fled Afghanistan in summer 2021. Photo: InspiredMinds

“Leaving my home, my family, my friends and all my loved ones was a very hard experience, being only 17-years-old,” Saghar told Byline Times. “But that is why I want to stand for our friends, for the thousands of other girls in Afghanistan who have been through this situation, to help them do the things they dream of doing. That is the thing that is healing my heart”.

Saghar also takes strength from those like InspiredMinds Foundation which are supporting her ambition to set up a fund that will provide scholarships to Afghan girls to study. “The kindness that people bring to you can heal your heart too,” she said. “When you see people supporting you with what you dream of doing, that can heal the challenges you have been through”.

An Ongoing Crisis

Today, Saghar is doing an internship at an artificial intelligence firm, and hopes to secure a place to study computer science at an elite university. She told Byline Times how when people realise she is from Afghanistan, they can be surprised she is studying robotics. 

“But it’s not a surprise,” she insists. “Every girl in Afghanistan has dreams and talent. Girls in Afghanistan have power. The difference is whether opportunities are given to every girl in Afghanistan”. Her scholarship fund, she hopes, will deliver those opportunities.

“Afghanistan is now facing a grave humanitarian crisis with economic collapse, famine and Taliban violence against women and girls, their families, religious minorities and LGBTIQ people,” Porter told Byline Times. 

The UK Government evacuated 15,000 people – including British citizens – during Operation Pitting in August, and has pledged to resettle 20,000 more Afghan refugees in the coming years. 

Porter is concerned however, that these efforts don’t go far enough. “We need to see more international coordination,” she explained. “An international refugee coalition could mean more people are able to reach safety. We obviously want to see more girls in educational institutions, but the first thing that needs to happen is coordination and safeguarding on resettlement programmes”.

“I have bore witness to both the very best and the very worst of human nature throughout this process,” Porter added. The InspiredMinds community has acted towards the girls with “collaboration and goodwill,” she explained. But unfortunately, some individuals have chosen instead to show “an immoral and repugnant streak of exploitation surrounding these girls”.

Saghar doesn’t know when she will be reunited with her family. She misses her home. “I have spent my whole life in Afghanistan, 17 years of my life,” she told Byline Times. “I can never forget the memories, the friends, and every single day I spent in my country”. 

The threats she and her family endured when in Afghanistan have followed them across borders, but her strength and determination remain undiminished. So does her hope for Afghanistan. “I believe every person has hope for their country,” she explained. “The only difference for us is this situation that is currently in Afghanistan”.

Her hope also lies in her dream of funding scholarships and her aim to hold out her hand to girls across the world and support them to follow their dreams of an education. “I, as a girl in Afghanistan, was doing robotics and going for what I was dreaming,” she said. “That was my goal and I faced many challenges. I hope that the future generations in Afghanistan don’t face these challenges, and that education becomes a very basic right for people in Afghanistan, as it is for any other person around the world”.

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Turn on the News: Some Abortion Opponents May Opt For a New Vaccine, But Behind Their Skepticism it’s Often a Different Story — of Disinformation, Conspiratorial Thinking, and White Nationalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/02/2022 - 9:52am in

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Archive, Science

In my younger, snottier days, I would have made short work of this piece by...

Vaccines Were a Mysterious Lifesaver Long Before We Understood Them

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/02/2022 - 2:32am in

Back in the 18th century, it was a wonder how anyone ever survived a trip to the doctor. Many didn’t. England’s drug stores were stocked with bulls’ penises, frogs’ lungs, and powdered Egyptian mummy, which was evidently used against tuberculosis. Syphilis, known as the “Great Pox,” was treated with mercury. Never mind that it made you slobber and eventually go mad. The Scottish physician John Brown, the author of “Elementa Medicinae,” simply gave his patients roast beef, opium, and booze. Many people thought he was pretty much a genius.

Vaccination, too, arose during this frenzied period of trial and error, which, if you squint a little, looks a lot like the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, when desperate doctors were willing to prescribe just about anything to save their patients. What makes vaccines different? For one, they actually work. The story of the Covid-19 vaccines, more than anything, is about how medicine has evolved from a spooky art to a rigorous science.

In the 18th century, one of the major diseases doctors were contending with was smallpox. A periodic scourge of humanity, it caused disfiguring pustules on all those unlucky enough to suffer from it. The most common form killed around one in three people it infected, and those who survived sometimes ended up blind. It was caused by a virus, but people back then didn’t even know what viruses were. Around the world, the longstanding method to prevent it involved grinding up the scabs of a person who had a mild case and then inhaling it like snuff or else rubbing into a cut on the skin, called variolation. Variolation caused high fevers, rashes and sometimes death. Sure, it could protect a person from smallpox, but it was not something anyone wanted to voluntarily subject themselves to if they didn’t have to.

vaccines“La Vaccination,” a 1923 oil painting by Victor Tardieu

Over in England in 1774, the village of Yetminster was facing a growing smallpox epidemic and variolation was their only option. A farmer by the name of Benjamin Jesty was living in a stone house in the village center with his wife, two boys, and a baby girl. Like many people of that era, he was aware that dairymaids often emerged unscathed from smallpox epidemics. Jesty himself had two dairymaids, who failed to contract the disease even when they had taken care of stricken relatives. Previously, however, the women had reported developing pustules on their hands from the cows they were milking.

Jesty himself had suffered from this mild infection, known as cowpox, which was caused by a virus closely related to smallpox, but his family hadn’t. He grabbed a stocking needle — used for knitting — and headed out on a mission to find a herd of cattle with cowpox. He found them about two miles away at the pasture of a man named Mr. Elford. He bent down underneath one of the docile creatures and poked at a lesion on its udder. Then, he turned to his wife and inserted the needle just below her elbow. Her arm swelled up and she developed a fever that lasted a week before recovering. He repeated the procedure on the two young boys, ages two and three, who fared better. Jesty’s family never suffered from the disease, despite multiple epidemics passing through their village. And when a local surgeon variolated the boys with actual smallpox 15 years later, they showed none of the typical symptoms.

Jesty’s tale was just another bit of folklore until another man, Edward Jenner, would end up rallying the medical community around this concept a few years later. Like Jesty, he had heard stories of milkmaids avoiding smallpox, but he was a physician learning the ropes of the scientific method. “Don’t think, but try,” his mentor told him. “Be patient, be accurate.” In 1796, he started testing out the method on several subjects, including the eight-year-old son of a local worker. Rather than obtaining the pus from a cow udder, he first took it from the hand of a young woman with cowpox lesions. All of them proved to be protected by the pus.

Jenner didn’t know exactly how or why it worked, but he saw its potential as “becoming essentially beneficial to mankind.” For a while, children were just vaccinated arm-to-arm. Jenner would stick the cowpox pus under the skin of one volunteer, and, a week later, when a new blister erupted, he would retrieve it for the next person. Not the most sanitary method, it would later lead to outbreaks of syphilis and hepatitis. When Jenner wrote about his successes, he called the method variolae vaccinae, which is just Latin for cowpox. But eventually, the term evolved to refer to all vaccines.

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For the next two centuries, vaccinology had a reputation for being somewhat unscientific. While the buttoned-up chemists working in the pharmaceutical world in the middle of the 20th century were churning out easy-to-synthesize drugs like ibuprofen, vaccinologists were an odd breed, brewing up strange concoctions that relied on wild hunches. The basic idea of vaccination was to subject the body to a simulation of the wild pathogen, something that our immune system would learn to recognize, but that was not dangerous in itself. The measles and mumps vaccines were cultured in chicken eggs; some flu vaccines were made by growing viruses at cold temperatures; the first hepatitis B vaccine was made by purifying and sterilizing the blood of people who inject drugs and gay men who had the illness.

But that hepatitis vaccine, Heptavax-B, introduced in the 1980s, was actually a huge step forward because it delivered to the body just a piece of the virus, a virus protein. This more targeted approach eliminated many of the risks and downsides that came from giving people a whole virus, even one that had been weakened, split in two, or otherwise mangled. It also had the benefit of stimulating the body to produce higher numbers of the antibodies that could neutralize the real virus and fewer of the immune system misfires that could lead to a dangerous reaction.

A few years after the introduction of Heptavax-B, the key protein would no longer be isolated from human blood but would be manufactured in genetically engineered yeast — a scientific first for vaccines. Indeed, it was the advancement of gene sequencing and splicing techniques throughout the 1970s and 1980s that would finally bring vaccinology into the modern era. This revolution is part of what allowed scientists to safely develop the Covid-19 vaccines in record time. The mRNA and adenovirus-vector vaccines currently approved in the United States contain the genetic instructions to make just the telltale spike protein of the coronavirus.

vaccineA polio vaccine being administered in Ethiopia in 2008. Credit: UNICEF

That brings us to one last strange innovation, which is what allows those genetic instructions, at least when they come in the form of mRNA, to sneak across our cell membranes. Katalin Karikó, the Hungarian biochemist credited with one of the key mRNA innovations, began her scientific career behind the Iron Curtain when reagents were scarce. She once had to follow a step-by-step recipe from the 1950s to extract a key ingredient from cow brains in order to make tiny bubbles of fat known as liposomes, which could shuttle drugs across cell membranes. Scientists dreamed of doing the same with RNA, but that molecule has a negative charge to it, and the lipid couldn’t have a permanently positive charge or it would destroy the cell membrane. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, they began to find tricks to coax the RNA and lipids to combine to form tiny, solid spheres, known as lipid nanoparticles, which the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer depend on.

We’ve certainly come a long way since Benjamin Jesty’s days. Unlike ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, or whatever unproven therapies your uncle is touting on Facebook, the Covid-19 vaccines have now, in all likelihood, prevented hospitalization or death in millions of people. They represent the culmination of decades of research and scientists know how and why they work better than many widely used drugs. There’s no longer any reason to keep living in the dark ages. You can just get vaccinated.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

The post Vaccines Were a Mysterious Lifesaver Long Before We Understood Them appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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