Scientists find mutation that protects against ‘mad cow’ disease after studying cannibal group
Scientists have found a genetic mutation that imparts complete protection against the human form of “mad cow” disease, which could lead to new ways of tackling similar incurable brain diseases.
The researchers discovered the mutation after studying the genes of the Fore people of Papua New Guinea who until recently had practised a form of cannibalism where a related disease was transmitted by eating the brain tissue of the dead.
At the height of the kuru epidemic in the mid-20th Century, the disease was killing about 2 per cent of the Fore population every year. Some villages had become so severely depopulated they risked dying out, with few if any women of child-bearing age left alive.
However, the scientists believe that people who had been born with the resistance mutation may have helped to re-populate the Fore villages, leading to a rise in the number of individuals who were resistant to kuru.
If I had more brains my first thought on reading this article in the Independent would have been, as it was for Professor John Collinge, director of the Prion Unit:
“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans – the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia.”
But if I had more brains I wouldn’t need a second thought.
Yesterday a medical doctor friend told me that these days you have to show ID and sign for laboratory glassware. You may perhaps even be asked why you need it.
When I was a kid, you picked up an Edmunds Scientific or other catalog, used the money you earned mowing lawns and bought your gadgets and glassware by mail order – unless you were lucky enough to live in the same city in which case you went to their outlet and came straight home with it on the same day. No questions were asked. Lab glassware was just part of being a future scientist in a nation of free people.
Why has this changed? The Drug War. It is yet another culturally disastrous bit of police state monitoring enabled by fear mongering about meth labs. Well, to put it simply, I do not care. The people responsible for these sorts of regulation are much more socially damaging in their efforts because they undercut our liberty, our ability to act as free and autonomous citizens. It is my right to buy something ‘because I feel like it’ and to use it for ‘whatever the hell pleases me’ just because I am an American. I need no other reason.
I have no sympathy for the drug warriors. I want them unemployed. As to the people who think up these un-american regulations…
“Hangin’s too good for ’em.”
There was a news article a week or two back saying that driverless cars currently under test in California had been involved in four collisions. This sounded bad until you dug into the details and it turned out that in each and every case it was a human driver at fault. As Nassim Taleb points out there is no such thing as confirmatory evidence, but this in no way falsifies my theory that driverless cars are already safer than their human-directed equivalent.
This makes me think that the driverless car revolution is on the way and is going to take place far sooner than most of us think. Yes, there are legal issues to be resolved. Yes, government will drag its feet. Yes, there will be horrible accidents of the sort only computers can cause. Yes, there will be a transitional period of mixed human and computer driving. But it will happen and it will – over all – be better. But given it is going to happen I wonder what it will be like? For instance:
- Will cars continue to be user-owned? Will we even have “our” exclusive cars or instead use cars in the same way we use taxis today?
- Could this make micro-cars more attractive?
- Will styling continue to be so important?
- Is there anything to prevent a speed-limit of 120mph, or higher, on motorways? If so, what future inter-city trains?
- Will this advantage electric cars?
- If buses can self-drive is there any future for commuter trains?
- If cars can drive themselves to and from our doorsteps will we still need driveways?
- Is this good or bad news for Uber?
- What will cabins be like without the need for a driver and a steering wheel?
- Will there be implications for the layout of vehicles?
- How soon will it become illegal to drive a car on the public highway?
It’s going to be fascinating to watch.
Hopefully they’ll look better than this.
A little over a year ago I asked the following question:
Has the day come when election polls are nearly always right?
Famously, in the last US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His prediction for the election before that was correct for 49 out of 50 states.
Both times, I had hoped it would turn out otherwise. My hopes had been a little higher than they should have been because of the residual glow from the Shy Tory factor, first exhibited to a dramatic extent in the 1992 UK general election and still apparent, though in lesser degree, for several elections after that. I had known about that factor in my guts before that election, from listening to people on the tube, and had correctly guessed the final result would be more Conservative than the polls claimed. As the results came in I did not rejoice that the Government would be Conservative, but I did rejoice that the Chattering Classes had been confounded, their bubble burst, their conversational hegemony broken open and their flary-nostrilled noses put out of joint. Yeah.
Unfortunately not-yeah since then. I haven’t eaten a hearty post-election breakfast with schadenfreude sauce about the polls for many a year now. George Bush winning in 2004 was splendid fun, of course, but it was no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. The polls had given him a consistent small lead for months before the election.
Betteridge’s law of headlines strikes again. That day had not come. The polls in the General Election of 2015 were wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong, wrongbert, wrongble and wrong.*
As was I, but least I had the nous to put in a question mark.
So, elections just got interesting again. Goody! But none of the articles I have yet seen adequately explain why the Shy Tory effect was successfully allowed for by the pollsters in the UK General Elections between 1992 and 2015, only to burst forth again now, nor why political polling in the US has generally managed to factor in Shy Republicans just fine. Except for the 2014 midterms.
The one place where the UK polling companies did fairly well this time round was Scotland, although they still underestimated the scale of the SNP’s triumph. Wishful thinking led me to suppose that the estimates being chucked around of 48 seats for the SNP were exaggerated; in the event they were too cautious. Going back to 2011, it is part of Scottish Nationalist mythology that the victory of the SNP in the Holyrood election of 2011 was completely unpredicted by the polls. However the very last polls were quite close to the actual result when it came to the constituency vote, but much less close when it came to the regional vote in the Scottish Parliament’s semi-proportional voting system. Probably the polls recorded a shift of opinion in the last few weeks of the campaign, which is all you can ask of them. When you think about it, polls cannot predict anything; the people who look at them do that. The final polls for the Scottish referendum were out by a not-bad 5% or so, in the usual direction of underestimating the small-c conservative side.
All in all, a British or American polling company attempting to sell its wares to interested political parties or news organizations on May 6th 2015 could have made a fair case that they were on top of the Shy Tory problem. So what happened on May 7th? What will happen on November 8th 2016, and will we have any idea beforehand?
*This is funny but nothing to do with this post. Americans and people under 50: don’t ask.
“This week Short, probably Britain’s greatest-ever chess player, suggested that women were biologically worse at chess and that “rather than fretting about inequality, we should just get on with it.” The reaction has been predictably bitter.”
“I like Nigel Short. I went to see him play his 1993 world championship game against Kasparov. But I’m dismayed he said this — even if it turned out he was right — because it can become self-fulfilling.”
– Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.
“Eppur si muove!” (“And yet it moves!”)
– Some say these words were muttered defiantly by Galileo Galilei after he was forced by the Inquisition to recant his theory that the Earth goes round the sun.
“I want more women to do computer science, not because of my views on gender equality but because I want more people in general to do science. The chess debate will make that harder. It takes enough courage as it is to decide you want to become the only girl on your computer science course. Hearing that you are also hard-wired to be worse at it is not going to help.”
– Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.
“In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration”
– Thomas Henry Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his robust defence of Darwin’s theory of evolution in public debate.
“Whatever biological influence on mathematical ability there may or may not be, there is indisputably a far greater influence: culture. Publicly debating biology directly influences that culture — for the worse.”
– Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.
Friday night is usually my movie night out here in the desert and there was nothing in particular I really wanted to see. After perusing the options, I settled for ‘Age of Adaline‘, the story of a woman of the 1920’s who through an accident and a process explained through a bunch of made up technological gobbledygook stopped ageing at twenty-nine.
Part of the movie was fairly good, a study in the fear of being different and the pain of watching those you love grow old while you remain the same and try to stay under the radar.
There were two things I found wrong with the movie, both of which are ignorable if you just want an unusual love story. Whomever came up with the narrated ‘scientific’ explanations should be taken out and shot. They were painfully idiotic. The script writers would have been better off if they’d just said she had a genetic mutation which did not kick in until her body was put under a life threatening stress she’d never before experienced.
And second of all… Hollywood cannot deal with the idea of people living long lives. They believe that healthy extended lives must by necessity lead to boredom and emotional problems. They nearly always fall back on a plot device that anyone who has it will yearn for a return to the Mayfly life or even immediate joyful death as in “Zardoz”. This movie is not as bad as some. It hints that the accidental process which gave her long life would be discovered in 2035, with the implication that perhaps it was then used.
What I find humorous is that very wealthy A list actors, producers and directors will be among the first in line to embrace the initially very costly technologies of life extension and anti-aging technologies, perhaps right behind the techies who are already inventing it for real in labs all over this planet. They will sing a wholly different tune when it is they who face age and death as fashion options.
Personally, I long for the day when we eliminate both of the presently unavoidable scourges of humanity: death and taxes!
I am certain it comes as no surprise to Samizdata readers that States are interested in penetrating your computers and stealing private communications without bothering about the legal niceties of search warrants issued by judges whom they do not own. But some things come as a surprise to even those of us who watch such things. I had not heard of this particular attack before. Spoofing, in conjunction with other attacks to pin down the real source while the spoofer gets in, have been around awhile. Some were dependant on analysis of the generated packet sequence numbers to allow a complete hijack.
None seem as practical as the web page substitution technique discussed in this Wired article. It is somewhat technical but useful reading if you want to keep up with what the enemies of liberty and rule of law are up to. Even more importantly, the article shows there are ways of keeping the bad guys out of your computers. The method may not be as satisfying as dropping a nuke on the SOB’s, but hey, you work with what you got.
I was watching this video about electric cars…
…and was struck by this remark by Mark Tinker, discussing driving a Tesla:
“I liken it to driving an iPad”
Then I had a flash forward a few years into the future…
Me: Hello, sorry I am a bit late, but I had a car crash.
Friend: oh no, is everyone alright?
Me: Not that kind, I just had to pull over and wait for the car to reboot.
Either astronomical phenomena don’t apply to Essex, or the guys doing the sacrificing to Huitzilopochtli were really hard at work.
The US government, working tirelessly to bring new opportunities to criminals worldwide:
Microsoft released a security advisory on Thursday warning customers that their PCs were also vulnerable to the “Freak” vulnerability. The weakness could allow attacks on PCs that connect with Web servers configured to use encryption technology intentionally weakened to comply with U.S. government regulations banning exports of the strongest encryption.
Thanks Uncle Sam!
Well ok, Han Solo was not flying the Millennium Falcon when he crashed yesterday, more like the Millennium Budgerigar, but I wonder if this was what brought him down?
Samsung’s latest model Smart TV is the real deal.
The warning relates to the product line’s voice recognition services, which lets users control their television with voice commands input through a microphone on the set’s remote control.
Get it now before the rush; the word is that this technology soon really will be a “must-have”. Because it isn’t just Samsung or the company that provides Samsung with voice-recognition software that you need to worry about. As the Boomtown Rats put it back in ’79:
And when the place comes ablaze with a thousand dropped names
I don’t know who to call.
But I got a friend over there in the government block
And he knows the situation and he’s taking stock,
I think I’ll call him up now