Icebound: a book about the original polar explorer

If you were a school boy/girl/other in the Netherlands you would have learned about Willem Barentsz, who made three voyages to the Russian Arctic while Shakespeare was scribbling out The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice (1594-1597). If you weren’t, there’s a great new book: Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Andrea Pitzer.

What was known?

The Greeks later determined that the farthest places from the equator where the sun is directly overhead at some point during the year sit at predictable distances north and south of the equator. As a result, along with the equator circling the Earth, they had added one line above and one below, both parallel to it. The northernmost extreme of the sun’s travels was christened the Tropic of Cancer, and the southernmost band the Tropic of Capricorn. And the ancients realized that because of the changes in the sun’s position, there should be another line of latitude closer to each pole, beyond which it would be possible to see the sun at midnight during the summer, and for sunlight to vanish entirely during part of the winter. The Greeks named the Arctic Circle for the polar constellation that should always be visible inside it—Ursa Minor, or Little Bear. The “Arctic” in Arctic Circle comes from arktikos kyklos, or “circle of the bear”—not creatures on the ground but the stars in the sky.

What was conjectured? That there would be an open warm-ish sea once you pushed through the initial ring of icebergs. Thus, it made sense to consider going over the top of Russia to trade with China, the world’s manufacturing superpower in the 16th century.

It is unclear how this idea persisted given that this area was moderately active with humans during the summer months, mostly Russians and Sami people engaged in fishing. Kildin Island was a meeting point and trading post and roughly the limit of non-Russian knowledge.

Any time that it is warm enough for a human to be outside trying to do anything, the polar bears are in the region and hungry. One thing that the Dutch guys never do on any of the three expeditions is run out of ammo:

Slaughter emerged as the instinctive Dutch response to the Arctic landscape, a new theater that would see the same performance again and again with every European wave of arrivals. As historical archaeologist P. J. Capelotti observed about the killing of animals in the high Arctic that accompanied modern exploration, “It’s amazing there’s anything left alive.”

I wonder if polar bears have evolved during the intervening centuries to be wary of humans. Modern tourists on pre-coronapanic visits to the Arctic don’t have nearly the same number of interactions with bear. But perhaps it is just because the polar bear population has been so severely reduced. I couldn’t find any estimate for polar bear population in the 16th century. Even today, people are just guessing at what the numbers might be (unlike coronascientists, though, the wildlife biologists admit that they’re guessing!).

Fighting with the ice pack and the bears at the same time near Nova Zembla, which they’d hoped would be the gateway to the open route to China:

The animal rose up and came for them. They had to abandon the work of turning the ship in order to fight the bear. But before they could kill it, they had to chase it into the water and onto the ice then back onto land again to catch it. After dispatching it, they returned to saving the ship. Whenever things looked bad, there was always something worse waiting to happen.

That last sentence describes the attitude of most of my Facebook friends regarding COVID-19!

Popping vitamin pills in hopes of warding off coronaplague? Maybe think twice…

They hadn’t enjoyed eating the meat from the first bear they’d killed on the voyage, almost a year before. But dwindling rations and the passage of time combined to make them look more keenly at this bear and reconsider. After gutting the animal, they dressed and cooked its liver, which had a much better flavor than the meat they’d eaten before. They were pleased with their meal, but the bear had its revenge when the men started to feel ill. Everyone fell sick, and the cause was clear. Barents and his men had poisoned themselves. Polar bear liver contains enough vitamin A to be lethal to humans. Though the crew had no more idea of the effects of too much vitamin A than they did the lack of vitamin C that caused their scurvy, both wreaked havoc on the castaways’ bodies just the same. Symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, liver damage, altered consciousness, and vomiting. The next morning, van Heemskerck picked up the pot of liver still sitting on the fire and threw its contents out in the snow. Three men soon lay near death. … By June 4—four days after they’d eaten the polar bear liver—most of the crew had recovered, but the skin of the three men who had fallen most violently ill peeled off in layers from head to toe.

I don’t want to spoil the story. Suffice it to say that an unplanned overwintering in the high Arctic will test a group’s resourcefulness. Scurvy turned out to be an even worse enemy than the climate.

Should we hoist a Stroopwafel in Barents’s memory?

Even during his life, Barents had lived a larger life than most humans. He’d been the first to publish an atlas of the Mediterranean, a survivor of nearly ten months in some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, a three-time explorer into the unknown, mapping places no European—and in some cases, perhaps no human—had ever seen. In Barents’s day, the Russians called the sea between Scandinavia and Nova Zembla the sea of Murmans, referring to the Norwegians they encountered there. But in 1853, Barents’s name would come to replace the earlier one, and the waters he sailed three times on his way east would come to be known worldwide as the Barents Sea. Four hundred years later its treacherous conditions would lead some to call it the devil’s dance floor.1

Along with making Zembla legendary, Barents and his men would themselves become famous. By 1600, less than four years after their frozen Twelfth Night feast on Nova Zembla, William Shakespeare would write his own play about the same holiday. Twelfth Night likewise tells the story of a world turned upside down on this strangest of holidays, in which the high are brought low and everything spins topsy-turvy. A not-quite-dead dead twin, cross-dressing, and a plot nested around switched identities lead to a comedy of errors with its own holiday feast at the center—and a reference to Barents. When one character earns another’s disdain, he’s told, “[Y]ou are now sailed into the north of my lady’s opinion; where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.” In the space of a handful of years, the tale of Dutchmen covered in ice at the northern edge of the world would cross borders to become an international cultural touchstone.

William Barents would become less and less real over time. The gaps left by his biography, and his death, create an emptiness that makes it possible to project or reflect whatever the viewer wants to see. Yet every famous Arctic explorer who endured horrifying ordeals, every adventurer to the North whose story became a bestselling book, every voyager vowing to fill in the map for national glory, every polar adventurer whose exploits were recorded with the newest technologies—from books to telegrams to photos to radio broadcasts to phones to satellite links—has walked in the path first blazed by William Barents. In later centuries, the failure to establish habitable colonies or make successful trade missions wouldn’t count against intrepid explorers. From a monetary perspective in Barents’s era, however, his final voyage was a disaster, so much so that when his wife applied for a widow’s pension from the council of Holland, asking for support for herself and the five children her husband had left behind, she was refused.

A less-known hero from the voyage is the captain, Jacob van Heemskerck (Barents was the navigator).

Van Heemskerck later sailed to [the East Indies] as commander of the fleet and helped shepherd the new Dutch nation as it supernovaed into a vast empire. In less than a century, the goods shipped by Dutch traders would eclipse the combined total of Spain, France, England, and Portugal, with several other European powers thrown in for good measure. Just as he’d outlasted his time in the Arctic, van Heemskerck would survive his southern voyages and return home to take part in the war against Spain that would continue, at greater or lesser intensity, for another four decades. As admiral, he’d lead the Dutch navies against the Spanish fleet near Gibraltar in 1607, dying in battle after losing a leg to a cannonball.

The author closes with a testable hypothesis:

Yet, strangely enough, he was perfectly correct in his assumption. The world to which he belonged set machinery in motion that can now be slowed but not reversed. With some consistency, snow and ice surveys project that by 2040—perhaps as early as 2030—there will be no ice left at the North Pole in summer. By August 2017, the planet had changed so much that a Russian gas tanker equipped for Arctic voyages could travel for the first time without an icebreaker escort, sailing a northern route from Norway to South Korea in two-thirds the time required for the traditional route through the Suez Canal. The open polar sea Barents had forecast will soon exist every year during the hottest months. And the planet will continue to warm. This stupendous change will be the end result of a process in which Barents and his Arctic expeditions were in some ways the opening salvo. Though they returned with a dramatic tale of uninhabited lands and scientific insights, their ships still rode the wave of a tide that would unleash destruction as powerful and enduring as any force in human history. The sea free of polar ice that the Greeks had deliberated over and Barents’s own mentor had insisted was real wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations. The open polar sea that Barents had imagined, the idea for which he’d risked everything, has finally come to pass. He just sailed four hundred years too soon.

Let’s see if the scientific consensus turns out to be correct! I hope that we haven’t all been killed by variant COVID-19 by 2040 and can see if the experts were right. If the CDC lifts its no-sail order, perhaps we can have a comfortable Royal Caribbean cruise from Miami to the North Pole and back by way of Halifax (so as to qualify as an international trip).

Meanwhile… I suggest reading Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World.

From my own trip to the Arctic, made more tolerable by the presence of a French chef…


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Coronascientists are the modern Aristotles?

Since the 17th century (see Francis Bacon), people who call themselves “scientists” have been using the scientific method:

  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  5. Test the prediction.
  6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

As previously documented here in this weblog, the “scientists” on whose advice politicians have ordered lockdowns, masks, etc. have consistently failed at Step 4 (making predictions). This failure, though, has been mostly invisible to the public due to the lack of media interest in going back a few weeks or months and comparing prediction to reality. In the rare cases when a false prediction, e.g., that the Czech Republic would have a low death rate due to masks and shutdown (in fact, the country ended up at #1 in the Covid death rate Olympics), is revisited it will be a “scientist” explaining how someone did something during the intervening period and that this action (or inaction) explains the current situation.

Is it Science when you can’t make accurate predictions, but you can tell a convincing tale? Yes! We just have to go back to 350 B.C. and Aristotelian physics. A lifted rock falls toward the earth because it is seeking its natural level. Air bubbles rise because the air seeks its natural place around the earth.

For concreteness (and remember that concrete seeks its natural level underneath highways!), let’s look at the official newspaper of those who #FollowScience. In “‘Life Has to Go On’: How Sweden Has Faced the Virus Without a Lockdown” (New York Times, April 28, 2020), the obvious comparison countries to Sweden were Ireland, Britain, and France. Once additional data are received, and it turns out Britain and France have higher COVID-19-tagged death rates than Sweden while Finland, Norway, and Denmark are outliers, the same scientifically minded folks will assert that Finland, Norway, and Denmark are the only sensible countries to which to compare Sweden and that it would be absurd to use France or Britain as a comparison. We did the same thing domestically. In March 2020, the experts predicted that locked-down Massachusetts would end up with a far lower death rate than Florida (and we should have, since only 14 percent of our population is over 65, compared to 20 percent in Florida). Now that data are available and Florida has suffered only 62 percent of the MA death rate, it is plain to scientists that comparing MA to FL would be nonsensical.

(The article has a funny-in-retrospect section:

From the first signs of the pandemic, the Swedish Public Health Authority decided that a lockdown would be pointless. “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,” the country’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said. “How do you reopen? When?”

California teachers’ union answer: never! To the Swedes who say “Life Has to Go On,” the majority of Americans say, resoundingly, “No, it does not!”)

A more recent example… “Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing” (December 3, 2020, Atlantic, owned by someone who got rich by marrying Steve Jobs and now advocates for unlimited migration into parts of the U.S. other than her own Palo Alto neighborhood):

The story of the coronavirus in the state is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility.

“In a lot of ways, Iowa is serving as the control group of what not to do,” Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, told me. Although cases dropped in late November—a possible result of a warm spell in Iowa—Perencevich and other public-health experts predict that the state’s lax political leadership will result in a “super peak” over the holidays, and thousands of preventable deaths in the weeks to come. “We know the storm’s coming,” Perencevich said. “You can see it on the horizon.”

Experts expect to see a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state roughly one week from now [December 10], two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday. That spike will likely precede a surge in hospitalizations and, eventually, a wave of new deaths—maybe as many as 80 a day, Perencevich, the infectious-disease doctor, estimates. Add Christmas and New Year’s to the mix, and Iowans can expect to see nothing less than a tsunami, Perencevich says.

What actually did happen? From the NYT:

Cases peaked on November 13. Given that “cases” are subject to much human whim, e.g., whether people are fed into PCR machines or not, let’s look at deaths:

What happened to the predicted “tsunami” of death after Christmas and New Year’s gatherings? Deaths peaked on December 15. a month after the “case” peak and, thus far, have failed to reach that level again.

Readers: What do you think? If Aristotle can be a great “scientist” despite an inability to predict projectile trajectories or planetary orbits, is it also reasonable to call the coronascientists great despite their inability to predict the likely impact of coronavirus?


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Were coronalockdowns good preparation for sending humans to Mars?

In the dark BC age it was thought that human psychology presented a significant barrier to human exploration of Mars. Humans were social animals who could never tolerate being locked into a small space for seven months, unable to venture out into a hostile and dangerous environment.

But, thanks to young people having meekly surrendered what had previously been considered liberties, we can now draw from a pool of tens of millions of people who spent an entire year in a tiny apartment, often entirely alone, either unable to venture outside or afraid to do so. Perhaps some of them suffered reduced mental health from being sedentary and watching a screen 24/7. But for those who sailed through… this is the ideal pool from which to draw candidates for a Mars mission, no?

The red planet:

(okay, it’s Jordan, 2012, and now apparently open for visitors)

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Politicians tell scientists how dangerous coronaplague in Germany needs to be

From the Dutch NPR (February 9, 2021) plus Google Translate:

‘German ministry hired scientists to induce corona fear’

At the beginning of last year, the German Ministry of the Interior worked with several scientists on a strategy to increase fear of corona in order to foster understanding for drastic corona measures. The newspaper Die Welt reports this on the basis of a leaked email exchange.

The emails date from March and April 2020, when Germany was in the first lockdown. Seehofer was concerned about easing too quickly and instructed his State Secretary Markus Kerber to come up with a plan to create support for stricter measures.

Kerber sent an email to various scientists, universities and research institutes asking, among other things, for a worst-case scenario to get a “mental and systematic” grip on the situation. This would help to plan “measures of a preventive and repressive nature”.

The scientists provided plenty of suggestions, including proposals to put “fear and obedience in the population” on the agenda, writes Die Welt. For example, campaigns could be used with images of people dying of breathlessness because there are no IC beds available.

When you’re making up numbers, there can be a debate at what the numbers should be:

It is striking that scientists “negotiated” among themselves about the possible death toll that should be mentioned. The RKI, the German RIVM, proposed to work with their estimate of 0.56 percent of the infected persons, but an employee of the RWI, an influential economic research institute, argued for the death rate of 1.2 percent.

He wrote that they should think “from the purpose of the model”, which is to emphasize “a great deal of pressure to act” and therefore present the numbers “better worse than too good”.

The opposition demands clarification from Seehofer. It cannot be that politics gets “opinions on demand” from science, says Die Linke party chairman Dietmar Bartsch in Die Welt. According to him, politics and science are doing each other a disservice, because trust in science is being damaged.

The liberal party FDP wants an explanation of the ministry in the interior committee of the Bundestag tomorrow. FDP member Konstantin Kuhle writes on Twitter that it is normal for science and politics to exchange ideas, but it cannot be the case that “tailor-made” results are presented, he says.

The Dutch article links to one in German, but that is paywalled.

A photo from 1997(?) when Siemens was our software company’s customer…

The perfect place to hide from coronavirus!


  • “Coronavirus: Germans’ mental health worse in second lockdown — study” (DW): “Life satisfaction has decreased significantly — worries, stress and depressiveness have increased,” research group leader Dorota Reis told the German news agency DPA. … During the first lockdown, the study participants initially reported that society was moving closer together. They now assessed behavior as “rather selfish and drifting apart,” Reis added.
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Science lawn sign idea

A fair number of our neighbors seem to have invested in “In this house we believe… science is real” or “Science is not a liberal conspiracy” signs. Signs of Justice (TM) are ubiquitous:

How about making some $$ with the following sign:

In this house we oppose science, because it was invented by the white patriarchy to enslave indigenous peoples, to enrich corporations that poison humanity with processed and genetically modified foods, to pollute our local environment, to destroy the Earth with climate change, and to kill millions of non-white people with nuclear weapons.

Readers: Who can turn the above text into a fetching graphic design?

(Don’t try to sell this in Florida. Lawn signs, bumper stickers, and other attempts to tell others how to think and what to believe were present at perhaps 1/100th the rate of what we have here in Maskachusetts.)

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous, lest he/she/ze/they be Gina Caranoed:

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If coronascientists can’t predict the future, why do we call their predictions scientific?

From yesterday’s post on Israel

For comparison, how about the U.S. case count, plunging since January 1, 2021 despite no changes in policy or significant numbers of people vaccinated (from NYT):

And the plunging hospitalizations, which presumably should lead to a plunge in deaths (since the only thing worse than death is death without Medicare being billed for a hospital stay):

Given that Americans did not change their behavior or policies during the time period covered, coronascience that is actually “scientific” should have been able to predict this peak and subsequent downward trend, right?

Let’s look at what our nation’s greatest scientist (at age 80), Dr. Fauci, said to state-sponsored media just a month before the peak. “Fauci Warns Of ‘Surge Upon A Surge’ As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Hit Yet Another High” (NPR, November 29):

“We may see a surge upon a surge,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “We don’t want to frighten people, but that’s just the reality. We said that these things would happen as we got into the cold weather and as we began traveling, and they’ve happened.”

With the December holidays just around the corner and more people traveling, “it’s going to happen again,” Fauci said. “We’re getting into colder weather and an even larger holiday season.”

The December holidays happened. More people actually did travel: “U.S. air travel reached post-March peak on day before Christmas Eve, TSA data shows” (NBC). Positive tests (“cases”) are half what they were when these superspreading travel events occurred.

From the Official Magazine of Trump Hatred (New Yorker, November 12, 2020)… “The Pandemic’s Winter Surge is Here,” by “Dhruv Khullar, a contributing writer at The New Yorker, is a practicing physician and an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College”:

Unless we put mitigating measures in place, the coronavirus will spread, and sooner than we expect it will get out of control. The only way to avoid mass death is to move quickly and decisively, flattening the curve through masks, distance, testing, tracing, and lockdowns until a vaccine and therapies can avert the suffering caused by covid-19. Passivity is the enemy. The winter surge is here; we decide what happens next.

(Note that science-following humans are in charge of the virus: we decide what happens next.)

None of these things were done, except maybe in California and Maskachusetts, yet the surge that concerned the “scientist” dissipated, apparently due to factors unrelated to human actions.

Here’s Florida “case” curve, with a decline starting just as the snowbirds arrived for Christmas:

Florida is a state with no mask law:

Florida recommends but does not require face coverings for the general public. Several cities and large counties, including Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Hillsborough (which includes Tampa), have mask requirements, but local governments are barred from assessing fines and penalties for noncompliance under a Sept. 25 executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Floridians have rejected what the rest of us call science. Schools are open for in-person instruction (with some objections and lawsuits from science-following unionized teachers). Restaurants are open. Clubs are open. Offices are open. After-school sports for children are open and unmasked. People gather in large groups for social purposes. Even in supermarkets staffed by and catering to the elderly, workers and customers may be unmasked (CNBC). Here’s a January 2020 photograph from a club in Miami, in which people greeted each other with hugs and kisses:

If “scientists” failed yet again in their predictions, why are they still called “scientists”? What has distinguished astronomy from astrology, for example, is the superior predictive power of astronomy. Astronomy also gets better every year. Have we seen any improvement in the ability or people who claim to have scientific insight regarding coronavirus to predict epidemic statistics?

[My personal explanation for the plunge in U.S. “cases”: Back in October, Joe Biden promised that he would shut down the virus. What we’re seeing is simply President Biden delivering on his campaign promise a little earlier than expected (i.e., starting three weeks before taking power).]


  • Did doom visit the Swedes yesterday as planned? (May 24: On May 3, in “Doom for the wicked Swedes is always three weeks away”, the IHME prophecy for Sweden was a peak in ICU usage on May 22 and a peak in deaths (494/day) on May 23. What actually happened? Yesterday’s WHO report showed 54 new deaths. The day before it was 40. In other words, the prophecy was off by a factor of 10. They were going to need nearly 4,400 ICU beds. The actual number in ICUs all around Sweden? About 340. In other words, the “scientists” were off by a factor of 13X.)
  • How is coronaplague down in Brazil? (and the rest of the IHME predictions) (August 5; the June 10 prediction of the “scientists” was off by 10X).
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Our apolitical science-driven physicians

From the New England Journal of Medicine, i.e., the folks whom we can trust to give us science-informed advice on masks and vaccines, untainted by a political point of view… “Failed Assignments — Rethinking Sex Designations on Birth Certificates” (December 17, 2020):

We believe that it is now time to update the practice of designating sex on birth certificates, given the particularly harmful effects of such designations on intersex and transgender people.

Recognizing that the birth certificate has been an evolving document, with revisions reflecting social change, public interest, and privacy requirements, we believe it is time for another update: sex designations should move below the line of demarcation.

Designating sex as male or female on birth certificates suggests that sex is simple and binary when, biologically, it is not. Sex is a function of multiple biologic processes with many resultant combinations. About 1 in 5000 people have intersex variations.

Assigning sex at birth also doesn’t capture the diversity of people’s experiences. About 6 in 1000 people identify as transgender, meaning that their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. Others are nonbinary, meaning they don’t exclusively identify as a man or a woman, or gender nonconforming, meaning their behavior or appearance doesn’t align with social expectations for their assigned sex.

Moving sex designations below the line of demarcation wouldn’t imperil programs that support women or gender minorities, it would simply require that programs define sex in ways that are tailored to their goals.

Moving sex designations below the line of demarcation may not solve many of the problems that transgender and intersex people face. Controversies regarding bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports participation will continue, regardless of legal sex designations.

Today, the medical community has a duty to ensure that policymakers don’t misinterpret the science regarding sex and that medical evaluations aren’t being misused in legal contexts.

Also, “A Test of Diversity — What USMLE Pass/Fail Scoring Means for Medicine” (June 18, 2020):

The stakes are high for all students taking this first Step examination of the three required for medical licensure. But students from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in medicine experience great angst.

Recently, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) decided to change score reporting from a three-digit numerical score for the Step 1 exam (the mean score for first-time takers was 230 in 2018) to a pass-or-fail outcome. … Although the effect on trainees from underrepresented groups remains uncertain, we believe that the change is a critical step toward diversifying the medical profession — particularly the most competitive, and simultaneously least diverse, medical specialties — opening a world of possibilities for physicians and patients alike.

The odds are stacked against students from underrepresented minority groups starting early in their scholastic journeys. Beginning in grade school, they may be subject to teachers’ racial and ethnic biases that can hinder their achievement. Socioeconomic factors such as neighborhood poverty and parental educational attainment may limit their access to high-quality schools, test-preparation resources, and supportive mentorship, widening the achievement chasm.

The medical examination system poses challenges that are especially burdensome to students of color and those with lower socioeconomic status. Step 1, much like the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), places a financial burden on students that includes the cost of the exam ($645 in 2020) and the study materials required to prepare for it.

As with the MCAT, scores on Step 1 are lower among black, Hispanic, Asian-American, and female students than among their white male counterparts. Although this disparity has multiple causes, historically disadvantageous early education in minority communities probably plays an important role for members of underrepresented minority groups.

… we believe that holistic review will be a tide that raises all ships equitably.

The last sentence is my favorite. There are a limited number of slots for training the most lucrative and cushiest specialties, but everyone will have a better chance of obtaining a slot after this change.

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Science is a great career if you don’t mind waiting until age 87 to be recognized

The New York Times ran what seems intended to be an inspiring success story,“Myriam Sarachik Never Gave Up on Physics”:

The New York-based scientist overcame sexism and personal tragedy to make major contributions to the field, for which she received recognition this year.

The phenomenon is now known as the Kondo effect, after Jun Kondo, a Japanese physicist who successfully explained what was going on. The Kondo effect has turned out to be a central component needed to understand the behavior of electrons in solids.

But Dr. Kondo, as a theorist and not an experimentalist, was not the first to show that his supposition [that electrical resistance may increase as some metals are cooled] was correct.

That instead was Dr. Sarachik, 87, now retired after a career spanning more than a half-century as a professor of physics at the City College of New York.

The experiment was just one of the accomplishments for which Dr. Sarachik received this year’s Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research, a top honor of the American Physical Society.

The article closes with some gender binarism:

“Women are no better and no worse at doing physics than men are,” she said. “They are, however, at least if they’re my age, more persistent. It’s tenacity. It’s the will not to be pushed out.”

What about people with the other 48 gender IDs? Are they persistent when it comes to physics?

As with a lot of articles in publications controlled by those who took their last science course in high school, I think one theme is promoting to young people the greatness of careers in science. But how many people would want to wait until age 87 to be recognized for a huge achievement?


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Kill them all (mosquitoes) with genetic engineering and let God sort out the mutant survivors

“Plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida gets go-ahead” (Guardian) is exciting to me since one of the best things that we could do for humanity would be to kill all of the world’s mosquitoes (in addition to the epic level of annoyance, they are responsible for killing 1 million people/year?).

Of course, the only thing more American than getting a mosquito bite is litigation. From the article:

A plan to release a horde of 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida and Texas is a step closer to fruition after a state regulator approved the idea, over the objections of many environmentalists.

Oxitec, a British biotechnology company, has targeted the US as a test site for a special version of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The mosquitoes contain a protein that, when passed down to female offspring, will lessen their chances of survival and, it is hoped, prevent them from biting people and spreading diseases such as dengue fever and Zika.

But the plan has caused uproar among conservation groups, which have sued the EPA for allegedly failing to ascertain the environmental impact of the scheme. Scientists have also expressed concerns about the oversight of the trial.

If this goes bad, we can blame Donald Trump and what my Facebook friends characterize as his “defunding” of the EPA (I wish someone would “defund” our household in the same way that Trump has defunded the Federal agencies that he has been accused of defunding!).

Personally, I am excited! The Mosquito book referenced below says that these insects have zero redeeming value. There are no animals, for example, that would be significantly inconvenienced if mosquitoes were eliminated. In other words, there is no animal that depends on the mosquito for its subsistence.

A tax-free resident of the Sunshine State (from the Corkscrew Swamp sanctuary):


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Epidemiologists switch from doing politics to writing science fiction

“Emergency COVID-19 measures prevented more than 500 million infections, study finds” (Berkeley News):

Emergency health measures implemented in six major countries have “significantly and substantially slowed” the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to research from a UC Berkeley team published today in the journal Nature. The findings come as leaders worldwide struggle to balance the enormous and highly visible economic costs of emergency health measures against their public health benefits, which are difficult to see.

“The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements,” Hsiang said. “I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time. There have been huge personal costs to staying home and canceling events, but the data show that each day made a profound difference. By using science and cooperating, we changed the course of history.”

Armed with a few lines of Excel or R code, epidemiologists had been making prophecies about what would happen 1-8 weeks into the future. Citizens would then be able to see what actually happened:

(It is not surprising that these “scientific” results proved to be false, even beyond the usual “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” factors. As no country had ever tried an American-style “shutdown” (in which citizens still meet at grocery, liquor, and marijuana stores and still party every night on Tinder), only a scientist with a letter from God would have had a prayer (so to speak) of predicting the effects of such a shutdown. The self-proclaimed “scientists” also had no data regarding how easy it was for coronavirus to spread, what percent of the population was naturally immune, etc.)

The obvious inability of “scientists” to make useful predictions is not good for the image of “science”, even if “scientists” hadn’t further brought ridicule on themselves by flip-flopping on masks and the dangers of contaminated surface transmission, telling people it was okay to gather in huge crowds for BLM protesting, and telling others to quarantine while having sex with married women who would then go back to their husband and kids.

What’s the solution? Scientists can take up the genre of alternative history science fiction.

Traditional novel: What if the Germans had won World War II? Maybe the U.S. would be governed by an authoritarian puppet president, controlled by a foreign dictator. State governors would issue stay-at-home orders that eliminated Americans First Amendment rights to assemble. Young children would be locked into small apartments, denied schooling, friends, and playgrounds. Some brave folks would #Resist by going into the streets to battle with the city governments that they themselves had elected and would soon vote to re-elect.

Science-informed novel: Look at this two-parameter mathematical model. It shows what would have happened if we hadn’t locked down like I was recommending.

The beauty of this new approach is that, as with the “What if the Germans had won?” novel, there is no way to prove the author wrong.

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