Mothers acquiring cells from babies

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer:

In 1996, Lee Nelson proposed that microchimerism might make some mothers sick. With half their genetic material coming from their father, fetal cells might be a confusing mix of the foreign and the familiar. Nelson speculated that being exposed to fetal cells for years on end could lead a woman’s immune system to attack her own tissues. That confusion might be the reason that women are more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and scleroderma. To test this possibility, Nelson and Bianchi collaborated on an experiment. They picked out thrity-three mothers of sons, sixteen of whom were healthy and seventeen of whom suffered from scleroderma. Nelson and Bianchi found that the women with scleroderma had far more fetal cells from their sons than did the healthy women.

But maybe this can be good?

It’s also possible that being a chimera can be good for your health. Bianchi’s first clue that chimerism might have an upside came in the late 1990s, when she was searching for fetal cells in various organs. She discovered a mother’s thyroid gland packed with fetal cells carrying Y chromosomes. Her gland was badly damaged by goiter, and yet it still managed to secrete normal levels of thyroid hormones. The evidence pointed to a startling conclusion: A fetal cell from her son had wended its way through her body to her diseased thyroid gland. It had sensed the damage there and responded by multiplying into new thyroid cells, regenerating the gland.

What about getting genes from a baby that is not genetically one’s own?

As chimerism rises out of the freak category, it also raises unexpected ethical questions. Somewhere around a thousand children a year are born to surrogate mothers in the United States alone. As Ruth Fischbach and John Loike, two bioethicists at Columbia University, have observed, the rules for surrogacy are based on an old-fashioned notion of pregnancy. They treat people as bundles of genes. As a society, we are comfortable with a woman nourishing another couple’s embryo and then parting ways with it, because she does not share the hereditary bond that a biological mother would. If the pregnancy goes smoothly, the surrogate mother is supposed to leave the experience no different than before the procedure. But Fischbach and Loike observed that a surrogate mother and a baby may end up connected in the most profound way possible. Cells from the fetus may embed themselves throughout her body, perhaps for life. And she may bequeath some of her cells to the child. This is not merely a thought experiment. In 2009, researchers at Harvard did a study on eleven surrogate mothers who carried boys but who never had sons of their own. After the women gave birth, the scientists found Y chromosomes in the bloodstreams of five of them.

More: Read She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

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Human Chimeras

Some more interesting stuff from She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer… It turns out that Biology 101 contains a lot of simplifications (lies!).

Wikipedia: “A genetic chimerism or chimera … is a single organism composed of cells with distinct genotypes. In animals, this means an individual derived from two or more zygotes, …

How can this happen to a human and how does that interact with our “science is settled” attitude regarding DNA tests? Zimmer gives some examples:

In 2001, a thirty-year-old woman in Germany discovered she was a chimera while she was trying to get pregnant. For the previous five years, she and her husband had been trying to have a baby. They were fairly certain the problem didn’t lie with her biology, because she had gotten pregnant when she was seventeen and had had regular menstrual cycles ever since. A fertility test revealed that her husband had a low level of viable sperm, and so they made plans for IVF. As a routine check, the woman’s doctors took blood samples from her and her husband. They looked at the chromosomes in the couple’s cells, to make sure neither would-be parent had an abnormality that would torpedo the IVF procedure. The woman’s chromosomes looked normal—if she were a man. In every white blood cell they inspected, they found a Y chromosome. Given that she had given birth, this was a weird result. And a careful exam revealed that all her reproductive organs were normal. To get a broader picture of the woman’s cellular makeup, her doctors took samples of her muscle, ovaries, and skin. Unlike her immune cells, none of the cells from these other tissues had a Y chromosome in them. The researchers then carried out a DNA fingerprinting test on the different tissues, looking at the women’s microsatellites—the repeating sequences that can distinguish people from one another. They found that her immune cells belonged to a different person than her other tissues. It turned out that the woman had had a twin brother who died only four days after birth. Although he was unable to survive on his own, his cells took over his sister’s blood and lived on within her.

In 2003, a woman in Washington State named Lydia Fairchild had to get a DNA test. Fairchild, who was then twenty-seven, was pregnant with her fourth child, unemployed, and single. To get welfare benefits, state law required that she prove that her children were genetically related both to herself and to their father, Jamie. One day, Fairchild got a call from the Department of Social Services to come in immediately. A DNA test had confirmed that Jamie was the father of the three children. But Fairchild was not their mother.

When Fairchild was rushed to a hospital to deliver her fourth child, a court officer was there to witness the birth. The officer also oversaw a blood draw for a DNA test. The results came back two weeks later. Once again, Fairchild’s DNA didn’t match her child’s. Even though the court officer had witnessed the child’s birth, the court still refused to consider any evidence beyond DNA.

In Boston, a woman named Karen Keegan had developed kidney disease and needed a transplant. To see if her husband or three sons were a match, her doctors drew blood from the whole family in order to examine a set of immune-system genes called HLA. A nurse called Keegan with the results. Not only were her sons not suitable as organ donors, but the HLA genes from two of them didn’t match hers at all. It was impossible for them to be her children. The hospital went so far as to raise the possibility she had stolen her two sons as babies. Since Keegan’s children were now grown men, she didn’t have to face the terrifying prospect of losing her children as Fairchild did. But Keegan’s doctors were determined to figure out what was going on. Tests on her husband confirmed he was the father of the boys. Her doctors took blood samples from Keegan’s mother and brothers, and collected samples from Keegan’s other tissues, including hair and skin. Years earlier, Keegan had had a nodule removed from her thyroid gland, and it turned out that the hospital had saved it ever since. Her doctors also got hold of a bladder biopsy. Examining all these tissues, Keegan’s doctors found that she was made up of two distinct groups of cells. They could trace her body’s origins along a pair of pedigrees—not to a single ancestral cell but to a pair. They realized Keegan was a tetragametic chimera, the product of two female fraternal twins. The cells of one twin gave rise to all her blood. They also helped give rise to other tissues, as well as to some of her eggs. One of her sons developed from an egg that belonged to the same cell lineage as her blood. Her other two children developed from eggs belonging to the lineage that arose from the other twin. When Lydia Fairchild’s lawyer heard about the Keegan case, he immediately demanded that his client get the same test. At first, it looked as if things were going to go against Fairchild yet again. The DNA in her skin, hair, and saliva failed to match her children’s. But then researchers looked at a sample taken from a cervical smear she had gotten years before. It matched, proving she was a chimera after all.

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Don’t bite tumors off other folks’ faces

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer:

Tough as they might be, though, Tasmanian devils were in trouble. A singular epidemic was sweeping across the island, not quite like anything veterinarians had seen before. A devil would develop a fleshy growth in or around its mouth. In a matter of weeks, the growth would balloon, and within a few months, the animal would starve or suffocate. These growths were first observed in 1996 in the northeast corner of Tasmania, and over the next few years they spread over most of the island, killing off tens of thousands of devils. By the early 2000s, the species looked like it might become extinct in a matter of decades, killed by a disease scientists didn’t understand. It would take them years to realize that these devils were chimeras, and that their cancers descended from the cells of a long-dead animal.

The DNA fingerprint from tumor cells didn’t match the healthy cells from the same devil’s body. Instead, they matched cancer cells from devils who died dozens of miles away. It was as if all the sick devils had gotten a cancer transplant from a single tumor.

At some point in the early 1990s, [Elizabeth] Murchison’s research showed, a single Tasmanian devil in the northeast corner of the island got cancer. The mutations may have initially arisen in a Schwann cell. The descendants of that original cancer cell grew into a tumor. During a fight, another devil bit off the tumor. The cancer cells did not end up digested in the attacker’s stomach. Instead, they likely lingered in the devil’s mouth, where they were able to burrow into the cheek lining and work their way metastatically into the other tissues in the devil’s head. The cancer cells continued dividing and mutating, until they broke through the skin of the second devil’s face. At some point, that new victim also got bit, and its own attacker took in the cells from the original cancer. A single carrier could pass the cancer on to several other devils if it was especially aggressive, and thus help accelerate its spread. Passing through host after host, the tumor cells gained about twenty thousand new mutations.


Consider this fair warning!

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On being mistaken for a lawyer

I was down in Washington, D.C. recently to catch the 88th Joseph Henry lecture run by the Philosophical Society of Washington. There was a dinner beforehand to honor Brian Keating, the speaker, and it was officially black tie. I put on a pinstripe suit and walked through the door of the Cosmos Club, which was apparently hosting some other events that night as well. Here’s the exchange:

  • Cosmos Club hostess: “You’re a lawyer here for the American Bar Association event?”
  • Me: “Now why would you say a thing like that to a person you just met?”

It was the highlight of my evening! (For everyone else, though, it was “The Big Bang and Inflation; Glimpsing the Beginning of Time from the Ends of the Earth” (YouTube))

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History of paternity adjudication

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer contains some interesting stuff on the history of paternity adjudication:

When faced with paternity disputes, Roman courts relied on the principle of pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant: The father is the one whom marriage points out. A married woman’s children should always be treated as her husband’s children, even if she gave birth a year after his death. In later centuries, judges sometimes followed this principle far beyond what nature could allow. In 1304, a husband who had been away from England for three years came home to find a new child in his house. He went to court to deny being the father. But the judge rejected his case, declaring “the privity between a man and his wife cannot be known.”

Judges were still deciding if children looked like their fathers well into the twentieth century. But the rise of genetics and molecular biology prompted some scientists to wonder if it might be possible to categorically establish kinship, to see the very atoms of heredity that tie families together. One of the first attempts to bring this science to court was made by the actor Charlie Chaplin. In 1942, Chaplin began an affair with an aspiring young actress from Brooklyn named Joan Barry. Chaplin treated her like a toy to be discarded. But when he eventually abandoned Barry, she did not go away quietly. Instead, she smashed the windows of his mansion and broke in one night, armed with a gun, demanding he take her back. By then, Chaplin had already moved on to another affair, this time with a teenager named Oona O’Neill. Barry responded by telling a Hollywood gossip columnist that Chaplin had seduced her and left her pregnant. In June 1943, well into Barry’s pregnancy, her mother filed a civil paternity suit against Chaplin on behalf of her unborn grandchild. She demanded $2,500 a month, plus $10,000 in prenatal costs. Soon, Chaplin was facing not just a civil suit but a criminal one as well. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, had always found Chaplin a suspicious character; his anti-Nazism seemed to Hoover no different than Communism. Now he relished the opportunity to find some dirt on the actor. In February 1944, Chaplin was charged with violating the Mann Act by transporting Barry across state lines for immoral purposes while she was still a minor. He was also charged with conspiring with Los Angeles police to put Barry in jail for vagrancy. Gawkers and reporters packed a Los Angeles courthouse for the criminal trial, which dredged up lurid details about Chaplin and Barry’s affair. While Chaplin admitted to sleeping with Barry, other men testified that they had been with her during the same period. The jury acquitted Chaplin of all the charges, prompting cheers from around the courthouse. Next came the civil case over Chaplin’s paternity. Between the two trials, Barry had given birth to a girl she named Carol Ann. Chaplin’s lawyers came into court ready to raise the prospect that Carol Ann was the daughter of one of Barry’s lovers who had testified in the criminal case. And then they would present evidence that Carol Ann could not be Chaplin’s daughter, because she had not inherited his genes.

In the months leading up to Chaplin’s civil trial, his lawyers negotiated a deal with Barry’s team. In exchange for $25,000, Barry would agree to have herself and her baby tested for their blood types. If the rules of heredity eliminated Chaplin, she would drop her suit. The tests turned out exactly as Chaplin had hoped. Barry had type A and Carol Ann had type B. Those findings pointed to an inescapable conclusion: Carol Ann’s father, whoever he might be, had to have type B blood. Chaplin was type O. Carol Ann had thus inherited nothing from Chaplin. Yet Barry refused to drop the case. She had gotten a new lawyer, who would not abide by the deal made by her previous ones. Chaplin’s lawyers brought the blood test results to the judge to get the case thrown out of court. But blood type tests were still such a novelty in California that the state offered no legal guidance about their reliability. The judge allowed the case to proceed, and in January 1945, Chaplin was back in court. Throughout the trial, fifteen-month-old Carol Ann sat on her mother’s lap. Barry turned her daughter’s face toward the jury to allow them to gather bald eagle evidence, judging whether she looked like Chaplin or not. “Showing none of the temperament of her mother, Plaintiff Joan Berry [sic], who sobbed on her attorney’s shoulder, or Defendant Chaplin, who shouted his denials, she quietly amused herself by napping, yawning and gurgling,” a reporter for Life wrote. Chaplin’s lawyers countered the bald eagle with blood. They called a doctor to the stand to explain the blood-type results “with charts, diagrams, and elaborate explanations,” as the Associated Press reported. They introduced a report into evidence that included tests from two other doctors, one appointed by Barry’s lawyers and a neutral one. “In accordance with the well accepted laws of heredity,” the doctors declared, “the man, Charles Chaplin, cannot be the father of the child.”

To the jury, Mendel’s Law could apparently be stretched like taffy. They told the judge they were deadlocked, with seven jurors convinced that Chaplin was not the father, and five that he was. Barry’s lawyers filed a second suit. This time, they won, the jury deciding Chaplin was indeed Carol Ann’s father. The decision set off an uproar. “Unless the verdict is upset,” the Boston Herald declared, “California has in effect decided that black is white, two and two are five and up is down.” Nevertheless, Chaplin was ordered to pay $75 a week to support Carol Ann. All told, he would go on to pay her $82,000. The toll that the case took on his reputation was even greater. No one in Hollywood wanted to work with the little tramp anymore. Chaplin left Hollywood for good.

Adjusting for inflation, $82,000 in 1945 is about $1.2 million today (i.e., today’s plaintiffs can do a letter better under current California family law).

Looking at heredity across multiple generations there are some surprising results:

The geometry of this heredity has long fascinated mathematicians, and in 1999 a Yale mathematician named Joseph Chang created the first statistical model of it. He found that it has an astonishing property. If you go back far enough in the history of a human population, you reach a point in time when all the individuals who have any descendants among living people are ancestors of all living people.

When Chang developed his model in 1999, geneticists couldn’t compare it to reality. They didn’t know enough about the human genome to even guess. By 2013, they had gained the technology they needed. [Graham] Coop and his colleague Peter Ralph, a statistician at the University of Southern California, set out to estimate how living Europeans are related to people who lived on the continent hundreds or thousands of years ago. They looked at a database of genetic variants collected across Europe from 2,257 living people. They were able to match identical stretches of DNA in different people’s genomes, which they inherited from a common ancestor. Ralph and Coop identified 1.9 million chunks shared by at least two of the 2,257 people. Some of the chunks were long, meaning they came from recent common ancestors. Others were short, coming from deeper in the past. By analyzing the chunks, Coop and Ralph confirmed Chang’s study, but they also enriched it. They found, for example, that people in Turkey and England shared many fairly big chunks of DNA that they must have inherited from a common ancestor who lived less than a thousand years ago. It was statistically impossible for a single ancestor to have provided them all with all those chunks. Instead, living Europeans must have gotten them from many ancestors. In fact, the only way to account for all the shared chunks Coop and Ralph found was with Chang’s model. Everyone alive a thousand years ago who has any descendants today is an ancestor of every living person of European descent. Even further back in time, Chang and his colleagues have found, the bigger the ancestral circle becomes. Everyone who was alive five thousand years ago who has any living descendants is an ancestor of everyone alive today.

Presumably the rulers of 5,000 years ago were the ones who had the most children and therefore are most likely to have living descendants in 2019. We can thus all claim to have royal blood?

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Scientists identifying as women are held back by men, but won’t gather in their own institute

“‘I Want What My Male Colleague Has, and That Will Cost a Few Million Dollars’; Women at the Salk Institute say they faced a culture of marginalization and hostility. The numbers from other elite scientific institutions suggest they’re not alone.” (New York Times) is about three elderly biologists who are suing their employer for gender discrimination after they were replaced with younger employees, purportedly due to their failure to raise sufficient grant money.

Life is great if you’re a scientist identifying as a man:

Some current and former Salk employees identified Wylie Vale, Ron Evans, Stephen Heinemann and Rusty Gage as the men who, along with Verma, seemed to enjoy extraordinary resources and status (though only Verma was mentioned in the lawsuits). These men, titans in their fields, spoke often at faculty retreats, and on milestone birthdays would reign over symposia in their honor.

If anyone typified the male “rock star” scientists said to have held sway over the Salk, it was Verma. As of 2015, he was the Institute’s highest-paid scientist

The Institute’s 2015 Form 990 shows that the purported superstar male scientist, Inder Verma, raked in total comp of about $437,000, i.e., about half of what a dermatologist running a cosmetic laser clinic in the neighborhood might earn. (The article also shows that Verma’s career was ended by accusations of sexual harassment, something that would have required a lot more work to achieve to inflict on a dermatologist running his or her own clinic.)

The article definitely shows the superiority of medicine as a career to science (see “Women in Science” for more on this topic), for humans of all gender IDs. By getting their jobs at Salk Institute, these women were among the most successful scientists of their generation. Yet their earnings were much lower than what a medical specialist could obtain, their years of earning were cut short involuntarily, and they had limited choices regarding where in the U.S. to live and work.

From my comment on the article:

There are great biology research institutions all around the world, at least some of which are run by people who currently identify as women. If there are great scientists who identify as women who are being held back at male-run places, why wouldn’t they simply move to the female-run places and accomplish their world-changing research there? The NYT informs us that women can be hired for 70 percent of the cost of equally qualified men. So the female-run and female-staffed science labs should have a huge edge over competitors. (One part of the article that rings true is that success in academic science is all about the Benjamins!)

[Response from a virtuous reader: “Sigh. I am weary. … Some humans who identify as men will never get it.” Yet if men are so generally clueless, how is it that at least a few have been credited with some scientific discoveries? Nearly all of those who “get it” are women, but a handful of outlier males “got it” and were sufficiently observant to function in science? Or behind every credited man there is the woman from whom he stole everything? (see Katherine Clerk Maxwell, for example, the likely true developer of Maxwell’s Equations, or Rosalind Franklin, to whom all credit for DNA structure should go)]

There should be no shortage of female-identifying labor. The article says “the biological sciences are one of the only scientific fields in which women earn more than half the doctoral degrees.” (but maybe a lot of them change their gender ID to male after graduation in order to soak up the privileges that are reserved to male scientists?)

Readers: In a world that funds science more lavishly than at any time in history and in which changing institutions is as easy as getting on an Airbus, why wouldn’t the brilliant female scientists gather in their own institute and crank out the Nobel prizes?

[Top-rated comment by NYT readers:

How many diseases have gone uncured, how many scientific discoveries not made, because men’s priority is their own power, and do anything and everything to hold on to that power and keep women down? They will never give us equality voluntarily.

Isn’t this a great argument for a women-only research?]

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No statute of limitations for accused academics

David Marchant, still a geologist, but no longer a Boston University employee, has learned what my friend who teaches at University of California explained: “I can be fired for any reason… except incompetence.” (Science Mag)

The alleged unkind words and actions toward three people occurred in the late 1990s (2017 Science Mag article), but no complaints were made until October 2016 (at least 17 years after the alleged facts).

Had these aggrieved individuals wanted to sue former Professor Marchant, they would generally have had to do so within three years (Massachusetts law) of the events.

(Separately, the accused geologist seems to be a bit of a skeptic regarding climate change catastrophe. He is co-author of a paper telling people not to worry about the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melting and leading to a 60 meter rise in sea level. The Ice Sheet has been around for 14 million years, the paper says, and thus has survived some very warm periods indeed.)

Even if we assume that we can establish 20-year-old facts to perfect accuracy, should there be a statute of limitations for this kind of situation? We could say that what Dr. Marchant (his Ph.D. hasn’t been rescinded yet!) allegedly did was like murder and it can’t be forgiven so we need to punish him even though he might have changed completely during the intervening years. Or we could say that people do evolve over a period of two decades so we want to consider only accusations regarding reasonably recent behavior.

What if, for example, Dr. Marchant had changed gender ID between 1999 and 2019? Would it still make sense to get rid of her on the theory that her presence made it difficult for women?

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Black hole photo: Back to the lone genius in science?

From one of our most intelligent citizens, a salute to the scientific genius working alone:

Brian Keating’s Losing the Nobel Prize, published just last year, said that the age of a Katherine Clerk Maxwell discovering Maxwell’s Equations mostly on her own was over. The book describes a paper regarding Higgs boson discovery with 6,225 co-authors.

Readers: What is the significance of this “photo” (it is all false or pseudo color since the emissions were not in the visible portion of the E-M spectrum)? What is the actual “advancement of science”? (Rare break from Trump hatred from the NY Times: article on how the experiment worked. The core article on the announcement doesn’t suggest that any in-question hypotheses were confirmed or rejected. I asked a physicist friend: “it’s not exactly the event horizon. It’s the photosphere seen on edge. With limb darkening, it appears as a torus. … eventually you might use images like this to see how general relativity plays out over time. In other words, make a movie called Event Horizon (after they see the actual horizon that is). … It confirmed part of a theoretical prediction. One that was made by a scientist other than Einstein.”)

(Separately, my Facebook friends who were energized by this example of female nerddom (a postdoc identifying as a “woman” writing software! And earning 1/8th the income of a same-age dermatologist (postdoc salary provides less after-tax spending power than obtainable by having sex with a primary care doctor in Massachusetts)) decided that they needed to add a photo of another successful female-identifying programmer. They had to reach back only half a century to find one:

In 1969 Margaret Hamilton wrote the onboard software code for Apollo 11 and coined the term “software engineering.” Now 50 years later, Dr. Katie Bouman’s algorithm enabled the connecting of telescopes around the world to take the first photo ever of a black hole. Here is a photo of Margaret Hamilton with the reams of code, and one of Dr. Bouman with the hard drives containing the 5 petabytes of data generated. Cheers to #WomeninSTEM – now imagine what we could do if they let women run the world! (Photo credit @floragraham). #blackhole #bigdata #IoT

The folks who were excited to see someone identify as female sitting at a desk typing code took their last science class in high school, would consider attending a computer science course to be a physical assault, and would flee if offered the opportunity to spend 45 minutes learning about how their smartphones work.

(There seems to be some question regarding whether Margaret Hamilton was the sole author of the big stack of assembly language code next to which she stands. In 2014, for example, the Boston Globe ran an obituary on Richard H. Battin:

Dr. Battin, who developed and led the design of the guidance, navigation, and control systems for the Apollo flights … As astronauts Neil Armstrong and Aldrin were approaching the Sea of Tranquility on that historic July 20, 1969, flight, Dr. Battin was at Mission Control in Houston with MIT Instrumentation Lab founder Charles Stark “Doc” Draper.

See also a 2016 discussion on Hacker News on the question of whether this Battin guy contributed anything significant.))

Is it safe to say that the 19th century lone genius of science is back?

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Minimal number of approved drugs; fewer approved each year

Some numbers that I heard at Harvard Medical School:

  • About 1500 compounds that are currently approved as patented or generic drugs.
  • About 500 in clinical trials.
  • About 10 approved every year and declining.

Declining? With half of the new glass towers in Boston and Cambridge packed with biologists and chemists? “It’s getting tougher to approve new drugs because they have to be safe, be effective, and be somehow better for an average population of patients than current drugs,” said my source. “Don’t get me started on the FDA. These criteria are probably too strict. A compound that has bad side effects for one person might affect another person very differently. So it would be good to have more options, especially for those with unusual genetics.”

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Party of Science scores lower than Party of Stupid

“What Americans Know About Science” (Pew Research) is subtitled “Science knowledge levels remain strongly tied to education; Republicans and Democrats are about equally knowledgeable,” but it turns out that “equal” translates to “Republicans know more”:

Republicans and independents who lean to the Republican Party average seven correct answers, while Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party average 6.6.

A difference of 0.4 doesn’t sound huge, right? But the difference between Americans with postgraduate degrees and bachelor’s degrees was only 0.6. Being a Republican was worth about the same as two years of graduate school.

Considering that Democrats have branded themselves the “Party of Science” while decrying the purported anti-science idiocy of Republicans, these data are interesting.

Even more interesting is why we continue to have faith in our unique capacity to solve the world’s science and engineering problems. When a politician proposes a reduction in the growth of government spending on grants to science labs (not an actual cut, of course, though a lower growth rate will be characterized by “scientists” as a “cut”), the reaction includes statements that this will mean the end of scientific progress. This necessarily assumes that scientific discoveries can be made only in the U.S.

Global warming? Only Americans can help! This has the same logical basis as Tom Cruise explaining that a car accident calls for a Scientologist. It won’t be Chinese and German engineers who come up with improved solar cells, wind turbines, batteries, and CO2 vacuums. (After all, the fundamentals were all developed in the U.S. It was American Edmond Becquerel, working in a Paris, Texas lab, who discovered the photovoltaic effect; American Albert Einstein later explained the photoelectric effect while working in Zurich, Kansas.)

Who are these Americans ready to help solve the world’s toughest problems? Fully 39 percent of us know that a “base” is the opposite of an “acid”. Plainly we are going to be experts on the carbon cycle and atmospheric CO2 washing out into carbonic acid. Americans can do even better when adjusting for the sun’s influence on climate, since 63 percent of us know that the tilt of the Earth is responsible for the seasons (survey methodology).

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