May 28, 2015
This week, I posted a look at City Flag Design with a view from a personal level, discussing the different cities of which I have been a citizen. In addition, I got around to sharing and writing up the two articles that I mentioned last week. And I link to a couple great (and surprisingly recent) articles from around the web.
I loved the July 2014 issue of Wired (originally read in print), which had two fascinating feature articles discussed below.
Hard Target: One Doctor’s Quest to Save People by Injecting Them With Scorpion Venom is a twofold discussion of the science surrounding using chlorotoxins found in scorpion venom and the process of crowdfunding scientific research. From the article:
Though accepting money from patient families may make ethicists squeamish, traditional methods of funding have their own problems—a fact well illustrated by the challenges faced by TransMolecular, the company developing chlorotoxin as a treatment for gliomas. Despite all the initial fanfare, TransMolecular couldn’t publish the results of its Phase II trials when they were finally ready. Sontheimer blames this failure on the 2008 economic crisis, which caused venture capitalists to grow leery of backing biotech companies with idiosyncratic products. TransMolecular’s CEO died unexpectedly the following year, and his successor decided that the best course of action was to liquidate. Sontheimer still holds out hope that the company that purchased TransMolecular’s assets will eventually continue his work.
The takeaway from the majority of the article is that science and nature are awesome and when they work together, some amazing things can happen. However, humans (and more specifically pharmaceutical companies) are not great at allowing good ideas to come to the forefront if they aren’t popular or politically useful.
The Wild Bunch: How We Can Tame Overlooked Wild Plants to Feed the World is an article that was basically written for me. I think of myself as an experimental cook; Lexi and I have invested in CSAs with unique harvest elements and I am willing to try combining any ingredients if they sounds good to me. Back to the article, it discusses lesser known plants that may help the human race to survive the weather patterns that are coming with global climate change. In addition, it discusses the current state of genetic modifications that are being researched to bring these plants to larger groups of people. Similar to the previous article, my takeaways here are that nature and science can do amazing things and that the human race is not all that creative, but we have to be if we are to survive. From the article:
Perennial grasses dominated the famed prairie ecosystem that once spread across Kansas. The plants, deep-rooted and tall, resisted disease and grew in thick mats that left no room for weeds. They lock carbon in the soil and are better at coping with erratic rainfall (again: climate change). Yet today, acre upon acre of former grassland in North America is planted instead with namby-pamby, needy annuals: wheat, corn, soybeans. The same goes for China, Brazil, and Russia.
The New York Times had an article a couple weeks ago about nature: When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen. As a kid, I always wondered about animal languages; perhaps all kids have similar thoughts. I would hear the chittering of squirrels, the barking of dogs, the songs of birds and wonder if the lion and the lamb could understand and respond to each other in some way. Well, science has yet again found clues that may have answered just that. From the article:
Studies in recent years by many researchers, including Dr. Greene, have shown that animals such as birds, mammals and even fish recognize the alarm signals of other species. Some can even eavesdrop on one another across classes. Red-breasted nuthatches listen to chickadees. Dozens of birds listen to tufted titmice, who act like the forest’s crossing guards. Squirrels and chipmunks eavesdrop on birds, sometimes adding their own thoughts. In Africa, vervet monkeys recognize predator alarm calls by superb starlings.
Talk about multilingualism!
Finally, the New York Times posted an op-ed that stirred up the higher education community. Thankfully, the discussion has come with some entertainment. If you’re interested, read the following links in the order listed below.
In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. Such spending has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general. For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.
[The article is] a mess, to the extent that it refers “public higher education,” “public universities,” and “colleges and universities” interchangeably. They are not the same thing. “Public higher education,” for example, includes community colleges, which go entirely unmentioned in the piece. That’s not a small oversight, given that nearly half of the undergraduate students in America attend one. Community colleges don’t “cost so much,” nor have they evidenced “administrative bloat,” nor do they have “seven-figure salaries for high-ranking administrators,” unless you count cents.
Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who is quoted in the op-ed, begs to differ. In a blog post Sunday, she writes that, adjusted for inflation, state appropriations per student have declined by 18 percent in the past 30 years, and are 29 percent lower than their 1988-89 peak. Mr. Campos’s only reference to the latter statistic is to acknowledge that appropriations per student have dropped “somewhat” from their peak. But total appropriations, he writes, reached a peak in 2009.