Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. In fact, it ranks right above wasting time, patience, daylight and space. The mind is not just a terrible thing to waste because it is more important than these other things but because it is the easiest thing of all not to waste.
It takes in fact, little effort at all to have an active brain, when it contemplates or muses about the world around it. Simple acts of thought are all it takes like “How did I get stuck in the skull of this human?” the brain might wonder.
And while getting stuck in the skull of human much like the following hour of programming, does not necessarily represent the views of University of California, Davis, KDVS or its sponsors, the thinking mind, while not a virtue and only considered to be an idle vice should be viewed as the most previous of renewable resources upon which any nation can beat its energy needs and fuel itself.
For instance, a single idea can be enough to launch a thousand others. So pull up your ears to the mental fuel pump. Get ready to fill up for free on This Week In Science coming up next.
Good morning, Kiki.
Kirsten: Good morning, Justin.
Justin: How’s your government vacation going? I mean no. You don’t work for the government. What am I saying?
Kirsten: I don’t work for the government but I am on a – I’m not on a vacation either.
Justin: No? No, that’s…
Kirsten: But I’m in Russia.
Justin: Yes. Behind the iron curtain. Is it still the iron curtain?
Kirsten: No, not so much.
Justin: No, it’s not the iron curtain. Not anymore. No. Now, it’s like a…
Kirsten: Yes, I…
Justin: …bamboo fence.
Kirsten: I’m learning so much about how similar Russian and American cultures are. And we how different, so many differences. I had – they eat seaweed for lunch apparently.
Justin: Yes, that’s pretty yummy.
Kirsten: Yes, it was pretty good. I asked the students I’m working with. I said does seaweed, is this common? They said, “Oh, yes. Seaweed, we eat it all the time.” I said, “Oh, in America we only eat it if we go to sushi.”
Justin: Which we do quite often I think, at least in California.
Kirsten: Yes, we do.
Justin: It’s pretty common in here.
Kirsten: Yes, but I’m in Russia. I’m teaching English to Russian science students like they say who — students who are in the same level as — around the same level as maybe the end of bachelor’s degree, some master’s degree students also.
Kirsten: Yes. So early 20s, very interested in science. All of them who join, very, very interested in scientific research.
Justin: I wonder why I didn’t head off for that job. I can teach some Englishness to people.
Kirsten: I bet you can. I bet you could very well. And yes, it would be interesting for sure. But next week, I think we’re going to have a few, maybe a couple of students come on the show to tell us what they do.
Justin: Oh, wow!
Kirsten: Yes. I’m going to talk to some of the students into appearing like – I guess, you don’t “appear” if you are on a radio. But talk of into joining us.
Justin: And you’re going to translate?
Kirsten: No, they speak in English. Really? They speak English. But there’s still science going on in the world so I’m here.
Justin: Right on.
Kirsten: We have Skype.
Justin: Were you…?
Kirsten: I love Skype.
Justin: Are you skyping? Is that what this is? Okay.
Kirsten: Yes. I’m skyping. And I was able to find an internet connection. I’m in the middle of a pine forest in a cabin with an internet connection via satellite, I think talking to you over Skype.
Kirsten: It’s 7:30 in the evening. And the sun is out. People are getting ready to have dinner. There’s a lake right nearby. It’s great, very picturesque. I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.
Justin: Oh, they’ve brainwashed you. But then again, we are all brainwashed all the time. What’s the difference?
Kirsten: I know.
Justin: You know? Info in, info out.
Kirsten: how are you doing? What’s going on like what…?
Justin: Oh, you’re trying to get a story out of me?
Kirsten: Yes. (Unintelligible).
Justin: Okay, okay, okay. I’ll break the ice here. This is a good one. Wanting to whoo with wild whoopee but wilting when the time is near, never mind the spammy pharmaceuticals will be endangered aphrodisiacs, watermelon will put your works in gear.
Justin: Yes, this is amazing.
Justin: Watermelon. According to recent study, watermelon has ingredients that deliver Viagra-like effects to the body’s blood vessels and may even increase libido. Watermelons!
Justin: “The more we study watermelons, the more we realize just how amazing a fruit it is in providing natural enhancers to the human body”, says Dr. Bhimu Patil, Director of Texas A&M’s Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center in College Station.
Beneficial ingredients in watermelon and other fruits and vegetables are known as phyto nutrients, naturally occurring compounds that are bioactive or able to react with the human body that trigger other things to go on that have these healthy reactions.
In watermelons, these include lycopene, beta-carotene and the rising star amongst its phyto nutrients citrulline who’s beneficial functions…
Kirsten: Mm hmm, citrulline.
Justin: Huh? Have you said…?
Kirsten: I said, “Mm hmm, citrulline.”
Justin: Citrulline who’s beneficial functions, it says here, are just now beginning to be unraveled. Among them is ability to relax blood vessels much the same way a Viagra does.
Science says know that when watermelon is consumed, citrulline is converted to arginine through certain enzymes. Arginine is amino acid that works wonders in the heart and the circulation system maintaining good immunity.
The citrulline, arginine – that’s why I didn’t get the job. You have bunch of Russians going on. Well, (unintelligible)…
Kirsten: I just wonder though. I mean how much watermelon would you have to eat to really get a blood vessel dilating effect.
Justin: Well, funny you should ask.
Kirsten: I would like to know.
Justin: First, it can actually – there’s indications it can help people who suffer from obesity, type 2 diabetes, blah, blah, blah. It boosts nitrous oxide which relaxes the blood vessels – same base effect.
Well here’s the thing, watermelon is not as specific as Viagra for the cost. But it does have the larger general fact. It looks like I’m missing the other part. No, here it is. Almost 92% of watermelon, right, is water, okay?
Justin: But the 8% that’s remaining is loaded with the stuff as well as – well, it’s got more lycopene than tomato?
Kirsten: More lycopene than tomato.
Justin: Lycopene than tomato which is the one that they think is good for the prostate and all the rest of it, right.
Kirsten: Right. Wow!
Justin: Most of the concentrations are not in the reddy, fleshy or the flesh, mostly concentrating citrulline, that is, or near the rind. So they’re actually now working on watermelon that sort of disperses that nutrient more. Or you could just munch on some rind, you know. That’s some good stuff at the bottom there.
Kirsten: Yes. Chew on the rind a little bit. Bounce them to me. You know…
Justin: The only thing that has a problem with this as far as the anti-oxidant for the prostate and the lycopene?
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Is that lycopene – they were noting on the page that I’m missing. They were noting that it requires fats to be in the body to fully dissolve it…
Justin: …which you might get if you’re having a…
Kirsten: Fat soluble.
Justin: Right. So if you have like a really oily, olive oil and stuff on your salad with your tomatoes, that tomatoes would pick up quicker versus watermelon you don’t normally associate with eating something fatty or oily along with it.
Kirsten: No. In the summer time, when you have that butter drenched corn. There you go. Butter drenched corn in a side of watermelon, I bet you’re (off it).
Justin: July forever and be very randy.
Kirsten: So bumblebees as we all know has been dying out little by little, I guess it’s a great lot by great lot. And the thing that researchers are seeing is that some of their plants – the flowers that they eventually gather for which they usually gather pollen is not as available to them.
People are planting a smaller diversity of plants in their gardens or land is just being wiped – wild land is being wiped out for development and buildings and things like that.
And so, bees, bumblebees are not able to get the nutrition that they need from pollen. And the pollen is really important to bumblebees because it’s the only source of protein for bumblebees. But it also is sugary and it has a lot of energy for them. And so, the bees are searching for other sources of energy. And they’re starting to harvest secretions from aphids.
Justin: Oh, wow!
Justin: That’s kind of cool.
Kirsten: The bumblebees are starting to be seen, yes. People are noticing them more and more often kind of harvesting aphid secretion. And ants are known to farm aphid and in return for the secretion. Ants kind of make sure the aphids are okay and don’t get eaten and don’t die and stuff like that.
And so, these bumblebees are kind of taking advantage of these secretions. But the problem is that the secretions from the aphids, while they have a lot of energy and they’re full of sugars, they don’t have any protein.
So bumblebees are going back to the hives and feeding their offspring with this low, low protein aphid secretion. And so, their little children, the little baby bumblebees are not going to be nourished enough to grow properly.
Justin: So it’s kind of like fast-food. I don know, like…
Kirsten: Yes. Maybe, yes, fatty. No. But one thing researchers have been taking a look at particular pollen from certain species of plants. And they found that pea and (mints) plants, plants from the families of mint and pea seem to have pretty high levels of protein in the pollen.
So if you’re considering planting your garden in a bumblebee friendly manner, maybe some sweet peas and some mint would be a good idea.
Yes. Peas – we need to start a movement, a “Feed the Bumblebee” movement.
Justin: Yes. I’ve actually just bought about as many watermelon seeds as I could get my hands on. I think my gardens are going to be pretty much full this year. But…
Kirsten: Guys, did you hear about Mars and the soil on Mars – speaking of garden.
Justin: They found. What? What did they – you tell me because they found what look like ice but then I take they didn’t get to analyze it but they could tell by how the rate at which it evaporated.
Kirsten: Right. They were looking at how it evaporated. And so, they decided yes, they’re positive that there was ice. They’re positive that they found about eight dice-sized chunks. And those melted away the way they would have expected water to.
But they’ve also dug a little bit of the dirt and dug some wet chemistry and mixing the soil with water that came from earth. And then heating it up and drying it in an oven and then doing some techniques to determine what chemicals or molecules are present in the dirt.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Kirsten: And they found that it’s like really good soil. And the – this is a quote from the researchers too. I’m sure (unintelligible) they made this quote so it would be a good sound bite and everybody would talk about it.
But they said “It is the type of soil you would probably have in your backyard, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well.”
Justin: Well, what…?
Kirsten: So, we’re going to go to Mars and grow asparagus.
Justin: You know what they say about Martians?
Justin: Phew, smell like asparagus.
Justin: Now, well that kind of makes sense because one of the problems if you’re trying to grow in an area where it rains a lot is a lot of the nutrients filter down through the soil.
So like for instance, I know up in parts of Oregon, it’s really hard to have a decent garden without adding lots of supplements to the soil. Whereas, in an arid area which is normally arid which is the central valley where we’re pumping water all over the place to what used to be seafloor but doesn’t really get washed up that much, it works a lot better. There’s plenty of nutrients in that thick hard clay, so.
Kirsten: Yes, there lots of nutrients down here. But the nutrients – the things that they found on Mars, it’s pretty exciting. There’s nothing about it that’s toxic. They found traces of magnesium, sodium, potassium, other elements.
They found what they say, the lead chemist says it appears to be the requirements, the nutrients to support life.
Justin: Could be.
Kirsten: They found nitrogen. And the only thing that they have not found, the one very, very, very important thing that they need that they have not found is organic carbon. And organic carbon is necessary because that’s a building block for life.
Justin: Well, here’s the thing though. If you’re a Mars (fest) destiny-er, ish, ness, you actually want to find life on Mars. You want to find that you can figure out a way to sustain life on Mars so that people can move there. So it can be our backup planet in case we already ruined this one.
Kirsten: Right. If there was…
Justin: Although you would think that if we could manage to make that one livable, we could fix this one to the point where we wouldn’t need to leave?
Kirsten: Right. But now we know that if we wanted to go there, all we have to do is…
Justin: Bring asparagus.
Kirsten: …start agriculture. Yes, bring your fertilizer and a tractor and you’re ready to go.
Justin: I don’t know. I think if you have everything you could ever want or could ever need at home, why would you ever leave?
Kirsten: You’ve said this before. I know. I know.
Justin: There is. I have found somebody who agrees with me completely. It’s a chameleon from the arid southwestern Madagascar who spends up to three quarters of its life in an egg!
Kirsten: Three quarters.
Justin: Three quarters of its life in an egg. When it hatches…
Kirsten: Talk about living a sheltered life.
Justin: Yes. But this is what gets even – three quarters of its life. When it hatches into the cold reality of life, it pursues the outside world for a while about four or five months before giving up and dying.
How sad is that? It’s very bizarre lifecycle especially since even by lizard standard, some lizards only live like small lizards might only live like a year or so. But chameleons tend to go a couple years, you know.
Justin: But to have such a long gestation– I’m going to call it justation – because I know how to say my name. They have such a long time getting here and, this isn’t an incredibly small — where is the size on this? Oh, it’s somewhere in here. This is a pretty big chameleon. It’s not a tiny creature by any means.
But to spend that much time in the egg to just pop out for a couple of months – one season is all you get, you know.
Kirsten: Some mackerel, very, very short life spans.
Justin: Short life spans but to put this much energy into growing something this size – as big as a chameleon…
Kirsten: And then they burn bright and strong.
Justin: Yes, they have meteoric lives. They just, “Let’s go, go, go, go, man. Come on we’re going to live for today or at least tomorrow because that’s about all we got.” No, this is like – this is on one point, when I first – I was like, “Gosh, that’s a horrible trick of fate on these evolutionarily very advanced creatures.”
But then, in the other hand, it’s like, yes, if you’re in the egg and you realize, okay, there’s no predators that are getting me. I’m buried under the sand, right? I’m getting all my nutrients, I’m warm. I’m relatively happy.
And maybe they’ve got word back from the outside that chameleons aren’t the dominant top predator species on the planet. Maybe they just decided that, “Hey, egg living is good enough for me.”
Kirsten: They’re going to make sure – they have to make sure that they’re ready. That they’re really, really ready to get out there by the time they’re going to do it.
Justin: So this – oh, I guess they’re about 5.5 inches. Oh no, no, that’s so much – where is the size of these things?
Kirsten: These little chameleons…
Justin: when I got this…
Kirsten: The dinosaurs – what?
Justin: No, go ahead.
Kirsten: I was going to say there was a dinosaur run. There is a dinosaur kind of like velociraptor type Dromaeosauridae carnivorous feathered running lizard.
In Korea, they found footprints next to a lake that suggests that this raptor was out for a jog. And the footprints are about 145 to 100 million years old.
Kirsten: I know. It just amazes me when they find footprints. I mean it’s just millions of years to preserve footprints. It’s just amazing. Martin Lockley, one of the authors on this study says it was a fast animal. We do not know if it was influenced by other animals in its behavior.
What they mean – what he mean by that…
Justin: They don’t know if they were chased?
Kirsten: Yes. He doesn’t know if that dinosaurs was being chased. It could have been running for its life.
Justin: Or could have been a cardio workout.
Kirsten: Just got the cardio, just out for some exercise. I mean it could also have been chasing after something.
Justin: Yes, totally.
Kirsten: He’s been acting like a predator and trying to find some lunch. But the footprints, based on the size of the footprints and the details, they were able to calculate the hip height of the dinosaur as about 27.5 inches high. And from there, they can calculate the hip height because of the stride-lengths.
So whatever height the hip is, they know how far the animal could take a full – how long a full stride is and then they can calculate how many steps in a given distance and be able to calculate speed.
Justin: The only thing that could…
Kirsten: So, they think…
Justin: Yes, go ahead.
Kirsten: Maybe it was running at about 11 miles per hour.
Justin: Wow! That’s awfully fast. I think the one thing that might be able to throw them off, because it’s a feathered dinosaur, if you’re used doing any kind of gliding at the time or, like if you’ve ever seen a duck come in for a landing or something like that, you know…
Justin: …there’s that sort of…
Kirsten: Well, that all depends when it has wings or not. I don’t think it had wings, just feathers.
Justin: Oh, just – well, what’s the difference – okay, fine.
Kirsten: Just feathers.
Justin: All right, fine. Fine, so it wasn’t coming in for a landing and they’re going to make a tall dinosaur out of a short one. Just…
Justin: I have a – see, I’m getting with the pronunciations of thing. Ventastegual creature has been found.
Justin: No, Ventastigual.
Justin: Yes, it’s a…
Justin: It’s a skull of this – this is a story from Seth Borenstein, AP Science writer, they found a new dead-end branch in the family tree of life – a skull discovery of the most primitive four legged creature in earth’s history helping a scientist better understand the evolution of fish to tetrapod. Tetrapod being four leggedy back boned life forms on earth.
Kirsten: Oh, yes.
Justin: The 365 million year old fossil skull, shoulders in the part of the pelvis of this water dweller named Ventastega Curonica were found in Latvia.
Researchers report – this is in the journal nature recently. So even though Ventastega is likely an evolutionary dead-end, the finding does shed some new details on evolutionary transitions between fish to tetrapods.
So this is kind of an interesting. This is 100 million years before dinosaurs, right?
Justin: And these fierce looking creature probably swam through somewhat shallow waters, had – it was about 3ft or 4ft long, probably other fish.
It’s still – you see, they said “other fish” but it’s tetrapods. That’s like fishes, “If seen at a distance, it would look like a small alligator. But if you look closer, you would find a fin in the back,” said lead author Peter Ahlberg, Professor of evolutionary biology at the Uppsala University in Sweden.
I think that I like the look of that. Alligator.
Kirsten: Yes, it’s the fin not at the back.
Justin: I’m picturing like a nice dorsal fin on that guy, yes.
Kirsten: I like that. I like it. I like it.
Justin: And then you can – now, that’s a natural transition to the first dinosaurs. I mean you can actually see that. Although they do believe that this is an offshoot branch that eventually died off which sort of…
Kirsten: Right. Just really go anywhere.
Justin: Yes, that didn’t – because they found…
This was interesting about evolution too. When a design is functional, it gets picked up lots of places in multiple times. Think of flying lizards not being, the flying lizards of the time of the dinosaur is not being related to the dinosaurs who weren’t flying at the time who later became birds. I mean – and then they got bats.
I mean there’s things that repeat themselves. Insects fly, wings are pretty standard which you need for flight. This is kind of interesting because it’s not the oldest tetrapod that’s ever been found. There are some that are much older that are much more advanced than this. But this is a…
Kirsten: Right. And there are probably ones that their lineages did continue.
Justin: Right. I mean this one is more primitive though meaning that it’s more cut in between tetrapod and fish. And they found older versions that are more fish. This one is the one that’s just coming over the line, just leaving fishdom and going tetrapod.
Kirsten: I will be a tetrapod!
Justin: I’m going to walk.
Kirsten: Yes. Researchers have been assembling a tree of life for birds speaking about evolution in trying to figure out how family trees go and where different individuals…
Justin: Yes, get your razors out. We got some work to do there, right.
Kirsten: There’s a place called the field museum that has been collecting DNA from all major groups of birds. And they have a dataset that have more than 32,000 basis of nuclear DNA sequences from 19 different locations on the DNA of each of 169 bird species.
Kirsten: So they’ve taken 169 bird species that are spread out among all the living birds, the groups of birds and then picked 19 locations in their data in their DNA and then checked out 32 kilo basis of those DNA sequences from those locations.
And the researchers have said that, I mean this study is so broad and in such a good look at the relations of these birds. They say that they’re going to have to change the scientific names of dozens of birds. And they’re going to have to change biology textbooks and bird watchers field guide. Like the whole bird tree of – the same bird family tree is going to have to be redrawn…
So they think that because of looking at the actual – the DNA, they’re finding that the physical characteristics that the tree was currently developed with, those characteristics don’t mean anything.
Just because birds looked the same, like, “Oh, you’re a water bird. You live just in water.” That doesn’t mean that they’re related to each other.
For example, hummingbird that are nice and colorful and these small pretty birds with their long beaks…
Kirsten: …they actually came from these really kind of drab looking night nocturnal birds called nightjars which physically looked like completely different bird. But that’s where this study says the hummingbirds came from.
Falcon, maybe the hawks and eagles.
Kirsten: Tropic birds, tropic birds that are these white flying ocean birds are not really like the other water birds at all. And it’s been – there’s this widely held view that shore birds gave rise to all modern birds. And this study says, “Nope, not the way it worked. That’s not the way it worked.”
Justin: Some of those like shore birds giving rise, that’s got to – sometimes science roots itself in an old idea and it just doesn’t let go and tell there’s some reason to.
It’s sort of like states a claim and tell, “I don’t know why shore birds would have to be the precursor except that well, they’ve got to the shore and they stayed there forever.”
Justin: And then they might – evolution took the other birds in it. But that’s like kind of like what we talking about. You can see the designs of evolution, things that worked in evolution repeating themselves over and over again because they work not necessarily because they’re connected to the same species.
Kirsten: Exactly, yes. So it’s – I mean this study is huge. It’s published in science I think at the end of the Soft Week June 27th issue. And it’s just going to shake up a lot of what we know about birds. It’s a big study. I want to thank Ed Dyer for sending that in. Awesome.
Justin: Yes, it’s a great one. Hey, I wonder if we can later go back and check out the songs, the ones that we’ve thought weren’t related. And see if there’s some interesting similarities there too.
Kirsten: Similarities. Yes. That would be an interesting…
Justin: I’m sure people are already doing that, you know.
Kirsten: Very possible.
Justin: Did you know that supermodels will live longer than average people by average, I mean everybody except for you and me.
Kirsten: I don’t know.
Justin: While this…
Kirsten: Because if they live the model life drinking champagne and doing cocaine, maybe not.
Justin: Yes, I guess there’s other elements being supermodel. While this hardly seems fair to some, nature may have preference though for those that fast.
Justin: Researchers at Utah Southwestern Medical Center have determined that starvation that affects the growth hormone, for one, via an unforeseen mechanism may have also have implications in treating diabetes and extending life spans.
What was previously known is that starvation in the young can stunt growth, right?
Kirsten: Mm hmm.
Justin: Poor childhood nutrition can give you foreshortened limbs, making you not as tall. For some reason, I think I got like a slight – must have gone through a slight period of malnutrition as a child because I have the upper body of somebody who’s 6’5” but my legs are legs are like for somebody who’s like 5’4”.
So I like – I ended up right at 6ft even though I’ve got — like I have to go to the big and tall for shirts. It’s like really bizarre.
Kirsten: That’s really funny.
Justin: So, what was – okay, so it’s much more sophisticated system than that says Dr. Steven Kliewer, Professor of Molecule Biology and Senior Author of a study available online in the journal, Cell Metabolism.
Using genetically altered mice, researchers found that during fasting, the actions of growth hormone are blocked by a fat burning hormone called FGF21.
Now, the growth hormone has many functions in the cells for the development. But the growth hormones has other functions as well. In adults, it promotes the breakdown of fats, stimulates secretion of protein and increases levels of IGF1, an insulin like growth factor which is probably hormone that promotes growth. Too much growth hormone can cause insulin resistance resulting in diabetes and lead to other disorders.
In the current study, mice that were genetically altered to produce the excess FGF21 grew to be much smaller than ordinary mice even though they ate more and had more fat proportion of their body size.
What’s really kind of surprising here though is the altered mice produced much higher levels of growth hormone than normal. So the idea is even though you’re fasting, even though a child has malnutrition, the body may be trying to compensate by creating more growth hormone.
Justin: This is – yes. And so, what it turns out is the FGF21 doesn’t block production of growth hormone, what it does is it prevents the growth hormone from being able to activate the genes it normally controls.
So it’s kind of a more intricate system going on. It’s not that you just lack the building blocks for growth, it’s that the…
Kirsten: The signal is not getting through.
Justin: Right because the lack of food creates the FGF21. you get more of that, and that then shuts off the ability for the growth hormone to…
Justin: …actually make you grow. Now…
Kirsten: It’s like an off switch. Or it’s like a barrier being put up saying, “No, no, no.” (Can’t get through here).
Justin: Interminate fasting also increases FGF21 concentrations which can extend the life span in mice. And I wonder if – now, this is Justin postulating why it is that this FGF21 that prevents growth hormones from operating would extend life?
Is it possible that it slows down the turnover of cells that makes you stick with older cells are? Is that what’s going on? Does that make any sense?
Kirsten: It does make sense. It’s a…
Justin: Oh, cool.
Kirsten: Yes, it’s a possibility. Maybe it does slow that down somehow.
Justin: So interminate fashion. This doesn’t mean don’t – and you’ll leave forever because…
Kirsten: The part of growth…
Yes, I’m going to say part of growth is the division of cells in the growth of new cells. And so if you’re going to slow down growth and stunt growth, you’d want to stop cell division. So, and if you’re stopping cell division, then you’re also theoretically could be stopping aging as much. Yes.
Justin: So, intermittent fashion. Now, you can’t just do this all in one. I had a friend who had a cat who every time he fed the cat, he gave the cat half as much food. And it got that he was really upset one day when the cat died because it was unfortunate because he’d almost got the cat to the point where the cat could live on nothing.
I mean he had trained the cat to eat half as much. (You’d find him) almost got it down to where the cat – he wouldn’t have to feed the cat at all. And the thing died…
Kirsten: Are you kidding?
Justin: …of some natural causes unrelated to…
Kirsten: That’s a terrible story. That’s a terrible story.
Justin: It’s a terrible for other things. It’s not a real thing that happened. My goodness.
Kirsten: Oh my goodness. Do we have to go to a break right away because Michael Stebbins is coming on?
Justin: I guess, if the phone number works. I’m going to try to call him and see if I can get him to be on air.
Kirsten: Okay. I just want to – before we go, I want to jump on like a couple of stories that are…
Justin: Yes, hit it.
Kirsten: …totally awesome, just really fast before I leave you.
Justin: Rock it, girl. Go ahead.
Kirsten: Okay — rock it, rock it. So researchers checking out bones of old monks who found that the ink that they used in writing their texts – they’re copying all of their books, they may have poisoned themselves.
One of the inks that they used was used because of its beautiful color. It was called cinnabar and it’s a type of martyry. And so, in using it, they may have licked their brush.
The researchers said that human nature as you’re going to make a straight line may need to lick your brush. So potentially, these monks were injecting mercury giving themselves terrible, painful death.
Justin: Poor monks?
Kirsten: I know. It’s also possible however that they were careless in dispersing medication to a patient that have leprosy and syphilis that were being helped or cured – being treated within the abbeys where they live.
And in the process of treating them, they were using medicine that contains mercury. And they may have gotten some of the stuff and then actually poisoned themselves in the process.
Kirsten: And then – yes, poor monks.
Justin: It’s just not right.
Kirsten: And then – what was the other story? The other story, giant supercomputer in Los Alamos.
Justin: Yey yeah !
Kirsten: It’s a story sent by (Eric Triko). I messed up your last name. He said this is a very important party and we cannot miss it. And to bring it up, they have created a computer that works as a petaflop computation, per second data processing feed.
That means it can process a million billion. That’s 1 quadrillion calculations each second.
Kirsten: And when you think of that number, think of more like the human brain. The human brain has more than 1 billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses. So we need Petaflop like computers to be able to mimic the systems within the brain.
And so, they’ve created a program that they called Petavision and it’s modeling the human visual system. And on Saturday just a week after getting this Petaflop computer up and running, they’ve used Petaflop to model the visual system’s neurons that’s surpassing the scale of one quadrillion computations a second.
Kirsten: It’s amazing. It’s amazing. So they think the Los Alamos researchers — according to this press release on Science Daily, they say they believe they can study in real-time the entire human visual cortex…
Kirsten: …to be able to achieve human levels of cognitive (footprints) on a digital computer. It couldn’t be (unintelligible) (as any).
And this computer they called Roadrunner is actually built using commercially available hardware. So, it has a hybrid design. It has nodes containing two AMD Opteron dual core processors, a four Power XL and IBM processors that are used as computational accelerators. And the accelerators are special IBM-developed variants of the cell processors that are used in the Sony Playstation 3. And Roadrunner uses a Linux operating system.
Kirsten: If you have $120 million, you too can build yourself a Roadrunner.
Justin: I’m going to wait until the price comes down because I’ve noticed like whenever I buy a computer and put real money out on it and like a year later I see it on sale for like a third of the price. I always feel bombed. But I know that happens…
Kirsten: So maybe – yes.
Justin: …to everybody but…
Kirsten: Yes. So soon everyone will have a Roadrunner on their desk.
Justin: Oh, yes.
Kirsten: It’s like price will come down. It will be easy.
Justin: Here’s what Bill Gates once said that, 64 kilobytes of memories is going to be sufficient more than anybody is ever really going to need. Some ridiculous comment when the one of the first computers were being built.
All right. I got to roll.
Justin: We got to get to the – there’s a transition. There’s another thing, I got buttons to push, Kirsten. I can’t believe you’re not here.
Kirsten: Right. I know I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking of the button pushing. May Science be with you.
Justin: Goodbye Kirsten. I’ll see you next week.
Kirsten: Bye Justin. I’ll see you next week too.
Justin: And we’re back with This Week in Science. Weird from Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins. And here he is, the man in the swamp, Dr. Michael Stebbins.
Michael Stebbins: Hey, man.
Justin: Good morning.
Michael Stebbins: Good morning. So, where is Kirsten?
Justin: Kirsten is behind the Iron Curtain, which she claims isn’t an Iron Curtain anymore. But I don’t think she was talking freely.
Michael Stebbins: Oh.
Justin: I didn’t hear her anything pro-American.
Michael Stebbins: Oh.
Justin: Did that means anything, you know?
Michael Stebbins: I don’t think she ever really say something pro-American but, you know… So, anyhow we can go with it alone because there are lots to go through today.
Justin: Let’s do it. Let’s hit it.
Michael Stebbins: Yup. So, for example – and speaking of things that you shouldn’t speak about very loudly, a report presented by the National Intelligence Council to a joint congressional hearing assessed climate change and it’s effect on future global destabilization and US security interest.
Now, they found that – and this is unbelievable – that the report detailed significant problems that are likely to be exacerbated by global warming such as poverty, social tension, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions. That’s the type of…
Justin: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. But we’ve already got that.
Michael Stebbins: Yes, I know. That sounds like but it will get worse apparently.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Michael Stebbins: What they’re really concerned that will hope foster movements towards radical ideologies and increase the pool of potential recruits for terrorism.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Michael Stebbins: So, that is bad news.
Michael Stebbins: Especially when we get extreme weather and drought that are increasing. And that there are about two dozen nuclear facilities and numerous refineries along US coastlines which they are concerned about in particular because of the extreme weather.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Michael Stebbins: So, there’s that. But this is one of my favorite stories of this week. The Department of Defense basically told the EPA to go screw themselves.
Michael Stebbins: Yes, the Washington Post reports that the Department of Defense is refusing to comply with the EPA’s orders to clean up military bases where chemical contaminations pose an imminent and substantial threat to public health.
Michael Stebbins: Now when the EPA issues a final order normally to polluters, if they don’t comply, they can be hauled into court, forced to pay fines up to $28,000 a day for each violation.
Now when the polluter in question is a government agency though, the picture changes somewhat. So under executive branch policy, the EPA is not going to sue the Pentagon but the EPA’s administrator, Stephen L. Johnson basically is supposed to have the final word and should be able to clean up disputes with other federal agencies.
Now, the Pentagon is refusing to recognize that provision. So the Pentagon is basically saying, “No, we’re not really interested.” So, the three bases that we’re talking about are Fort Meade in Maryland, Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, which has significant chemical contaminants on (unintelligible)…
Justin: Well, none of them are in California though so…
Michael Stebbins: Right. Oh, no, no because California is really great. Actually, (unintelligible) are there.
Justin: That’s some that we’re concerned. What?
Michael Stebbins: And just off of Berkeley actually there’s – I don’t think this has ever even hit the press that there is actually some locations where there are some nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project that are starting to crop up.
Michael Stebbins: I actually reported on that sometime soon…
Justin: It don’t.
Michael Stebbins: …and that’s going to come out in the press…
Michael Stebbins: …relatively soon. So, that will be a fun one so… Oh, wait. Did I just leak that? There you go.
Justin: I think you just leaked radioactive waste.
Michael Stebbins: So, yes. But the White House has been taking…
Michael Stebbins: …all sorts of weird stances on these sorts of things. For example, this is another great story. The New York Times reported the other day that in December, the Environmental Protection Agency sent the White House a draft recommendation basically complying with the Clean Air Act and the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required the EPA to determine whether green house gases represent a danger to health or the environment.
So, they sent them this letter and the White House’s response was, “We’re not going to open the email and the document.” That’s their strategy. The document is not unreleased for six months.
But the White House successfully put pressure on the EPA to eliminate large sections of the original analysis that supported regulation resulting in a watered down version of the original proposal and offers no conclusions at all.
Michael Stebbins: So – yes. So, to that end, we have the White House hiding behind executive privilege then on top of that. Now, we talked about how the White House had an apparent involvement in the denial of California’s request for an exception for the Clean Air Act so they could set their own guidelines for auto emission.
So the Oversight and Government Reform Committee which is lead by Congressman Waxman basically said they were going to hold EPA administrators, Stephen Johnson and Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator Susan Dudley in contempt for not turning over documents related to the White House’s role.
But the administration is claiming executive privilege now so that they do not have to actually give them the document. Now the most significant definition of the boundaries of executive privilege came in the investigation of Nixon when the Supreme Court found that the valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them in their performance of their manifold duties.
However, it said it also warned against capricious use of the privilege finding to read the article to powers of the president as providing an absolute privileges against subpoena essentially to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of public interest in confidentiality or normality and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They shouldn’t be doing that.
Justin: No, no.
Michael Stebbins: These guys are claiming executive privilege because they don’t want anyone to know how badly they were screwing things up.
Justin: Don’t we already…
Michael Stebbins: So, it becomes left and right here.
Justin: Oh, yes.
Michael Stebbins: So, I mean this is really – but what we’re talking about now is this sort of tact is starting to seriously damage McCain in fact. And the public’s view of McCain is actually not gaining any popularity particularly on his environmental stand.
And I think a lot of people actually are attributing that to the White House and their inability to get stuff done. So, that’s that.
Justin: The executive privilege. I just always – that one seems to be coming up a lot. I’d like to see the tally of the number of times it’s been raised and I…
Michael Stebbins: I think someone should actually start adding that up. That sounds like something of a Center for American Progress or something we’ll actually wind up doing immediate (unintelligible).
Justin: Yes, because I have a feeling it’s been used more in the last, seven and half years than in all of American history put together.
Michael Stebbins: Probably. It wouldn’t surprise me. Oh, I got a good one. This is in Louisiana there is this bill that just passed both houses to – basically, it’s called the Louisiana Science Education Act which of course by its name…
Justin: Means the opposite?
Michael Stebbins: Exactly. Now this bill is to allow supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials on intelligent design or creationism for example, and to foster an environment that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis and other open objective discussion of scientific theories being studied. Yes, okay. So basically what – which sounds fine on surface, right?
But what this really is is a push by the Discovery Institute. This is the intelligent design guys.
Justin: Mm hmm.
Michael Stebbins: And they are basically saying that in the guise of academic freedom which is something that of course kids in Louisiana don’t have that, that you should be able to have supplemental material in your classrooms.
And so, basically this passed both houses. And Governor Jindal of Louisiana who is – he’s actually a 37-year-old governor. He’s the first Indian American to serve as governor as well. And he was a Rhodes scholar. But even worse, he was a Biology major at Brown University…
Justin: Oh, oh.
Michael Stebbins: And he signed the bill. Yes.
So Louisiana basically has been a proving ground for creationist activities for quite sometime. And one of the most important cases the Supreme Court ruled on was actually out of there as well.
But this Governor Jindal is shortlisted for vice president on the McCain ticket. And this may actually be his undoing a little bit because what we’re talking about is a governor that signed a bill that is going to basically – there’s going to be a lawsuit on it. But it’s going to create an environment where intelligent design textbooks can get into classrooms.
And so, this guy who – and he’s been for – he’s actually come out in favor of teaching intelligent design in classes. But here’s the weird thing with this guy. So when he was in college – now this is only 1994. Remember, he’s only 37 like my age.
Justin: Young and good, yes.
Michael Stebbins: And he actually wrote a paper for the New Oxford Review where he described his participation in an exorcism and suggested that it cured a woman of cancer.
And here’s the quote from that paper that he wrote, “(Susan) shows the perfect opportunity to attempt an escape. She suddenly leaped up and ran for the door despite the many hands holding her down. This burst of action served to revived the tired group of students and they soon had her restrained once again this time, half kneeling, half standing.” Holy molly.
Justin: Now, okay. Here is the…
Michael Stebbins: He is the governor.
Justin: Yes, yes. But, I’ve done a lot of writing, right?
Michael Stebbins: Sure.
Justin: And I think maybe in creative writing. Was it a creative writing text scenario I mean is he telling a story or is he recounting an event?
Michael Stebbins: No. He was recounting the event.
Justin: Okay. Now that’s frightening.
Michael Stebbins: Yes. No, no, no. He wasn’t recounting the event and suggesting that “when the operation occurred, the surgeons found no traces of cancer cells after the exorcism.”
So Governor Jindal who, I mean if this guy was accepted to Yale Law School and Harvard Medical School, I think I have that right I mean by all measure, this guy is really, really smart. So, this is not something that he’s confused by any means.
Anyhow, so I think that him being shortlisted for VP is probably a stretch at this point because – and he is going to be labeled as somewhat backwards for signing this bill which is going to again damage Louisiana’s Science education system.
Justin: And on the other hand Michael that, I mean while that sounds like damaging to us…
Michael Stebbins: Yes, I know.
Justin: …some could…
Michael Stebbins: There are those people.
Justin: Portion, a dead portion, a very good portion of the American public who could be like, “Oh, he’s actually performed an exorcism? Totally getting my vote. He can maybe exorcise the economy. Get the demon out of the economy, yes.”
Michael Stebbins: Yes.
Justin: I mean this – I’ve been finding that more and more of my fellow Americans are just completely delusional in one way or the other and I do not exclude myself from that…
Michael Stebbins: No. Me too.
Justin: …in any way shape or form.
Michael Stebbins: I’m totally deluded into thinking that Science matters to the American public. But actually, here is something that will be interesting on that. Scientist and Engineers for America tomorrow will be putting out the results of a poll that we did of the public on their views on how congressmen should behave in terms of Science.
Essentially, do they value Science and evidence-based decision making? And we found surprisingly and I can’t give any of the numbers but they will be very happy to hear that the public is very, very pro-Science and shockingly so.
And so, this is – now, we’ve also and in conjunction with 15 other scientific and engineering societies including Science Debate 2008 put out questions for every single congressional candidate, mailed it them to them.
And the entire listening audience can go to Scientists and Engineers for America’s website and can actually send those questions as well to your representatives and ask them to answer the questions on Science. And we’ve also come up with 14 questions for the presidential candidates and those will be sent out fairly soon as well.
So we’re pushing really, really hard on this. And as it turns out, the public really does care about it.
Michael Stebbins: And of course, is it going to take second fiddle to things like a collapsing economy? Absolutely and it should probably. But at the same time, the collapsing economy, the way that you generally address this at least it’s fairly well accepted that investing in innovation and reinvestment in research and development really boost the economy dramatically.
So, that’s accepted now by most economists. And so we’re in a situation where we need some serious leadership on these issues. And so, we’re putting out these questions for everyone. We’re going to have the poll that’s going to be released tomorrow. So you may hear about it in the press a little bit.
And people should definitely go to the website and start asking their candidates like where they stand on some of these issues. And this is not a democratic versus republic and sort of thing. There are people who stink and who are good on these issues on both sides, you know.
Justin: Yes. And gosh, I would really like to think that we wouldn’t short change the financing of Science – good times or bad times because it seems like if you look around, so much of what we have that does continue to make us a prosperous nation is a direct result of dollars we put in to funding our research in Science.
Michael Stebbins: Absolutely. No question about it.
Justin: I mean without that, we’re not making mechanical things that we’re sending around the world and that hasn’t been our thing for many, many, many decades now really. It’s all about innovation and technology so…
Michael Stebbins: Absolutely. And so, when you hear like congressmen who are against for example opening up the Office of Technology Assessment or congressmen who aren’t for increasing funding for the sciences, you think like, “Well, this guy, is he crazy?” I mean this is…
Michael Stebbins: We’ve got an economy that is, on the brink of a very, very serious recession. And to not invest very heavily in something that could pull you out of recession is insane.
So I keep wondering when the public is going to start to get that. And when they’re going to start forcing the candidates for office including not just the president but congressional candidates. There’s 470 other elections going on this year and…
Justin: Well, they’re probably not going to be…
Michael Stebbins: …just force them to answer like questions on where they stand on global warming and what are they going to do to try and fix these problems that are going to hurt us badly.
Justin: Yes. It’s going to hurt us badly but the thing is I don’t think we’re going to force anything because here’s the thing. We’re Americans. We’re tough. We can take anything, right?
Michael Stebbins: Mm hmm.
Justin: We get knocked down, we just get right back up again, I mean we can take a beating and keep on moving, keep on going. We can handle anything they throw at us, right? We can take any level of pain to the point in which…
Michael Stebbins: Are you wearing your American flag underwear today?
Justin: Yes, absolutely.
Michael Stebbins: Yes.
Justin: To the point of which though, it kind of doesn’t make us like that dominant and aggressive a people. It kind of makes sort of like the perfect submissive, the perfect wimping boy.
We can take any punishment that seems to be thrown at us and not complain…
Michael Stebbins: That seems to be the way things are today. And it’s astonishing to me when you hear that so few questions that have been asked to the candidates are on Science and Technology and on environment and climate change. It’s all, I mean you go all the way along the line.
They’ve been asking more questions about stupid lapel pins and this sort of thing than on the major, major issues that are facing them. And the press is really, I mean I’m not a fan of beating up on the press but they have been a asleep at the wheel on this one. This is a major issue, a major series of issues that are they’re getting a pass on. They’re getting short tripped in the elections yet again.
But this year, if our polling numbers are correct, the ones we’re going to release tomorrow, it appears as if the pubic is really starting to get it. And it’s the press that’s actually behind on this. And actual candidates are behind on answering these questions, I mean global warming has become a major, major campaign issue.
And unlike stem cells in 2006, stem cells became a major issue across it but that was actually not a really good example of a policy that was going to dramatically change the face of America where climate change is…
Justin: We can’t call it climate change.
Michael Stebbins: …or climate’s ability to – are falling behind in innovation and competitiveness is.
Justin: Yes. Let’s not call it climate change though because that — obviously that word hasn’t had the effect. It hasn’t had the impact. We got to call it what it is Michael – Climydia.
Michael Stebbins: Oh, that’s nice, like it’s (seen). That’s nice.
Justin: Yes. So in that way it is – then everybody is like…
Michael Stebbins: (I definitely want) creams for it.
Justin: Well, I think if we, global warming, hot summer’s day, climate change…
Michael Stebbins: It’s that…
Justin: …is an adjustment on the thermostat, right, very mild, very weak. Climydia. Now people are like, “Oh, gosh. I don’t want that, right? Can we get rid of it? Yes. It is possible to get rid of it but you got to act quickly because it can have other effects later on. We got to go. We’re…
Michael Stebbins: … it’s a marketing issue.
Justin: Exactly. It’s all it is. You got to market it to the media. Start calling it Climydia and they’re going to run that every half hour, every 15 minutes. They’re going to be talking