Transcript: June 03, 2008

Justin: Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer.

The following hour of programming makes no apology for these discoveries that science brings to the world of man. The Pandora’s box that opens wider with each passing eureka moment ushering a new challenges and new hope to the people who have ushered it will forever be pushed open wider – relentlessly until the only thing left within the box is the dust at its bottom accumulated by an eternity of waiting for us to find it.

And then we will study the dust and the container itself. Heck! Maybe it’s not even a box, maybe it’s a jar. Who knows?

But there’s no going backwards – only upwards, only onwards with new hope and fresh ideas. And while fresh ideas like the following hour of our programming do not necessarily represent the views of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors, we still ponder how from fire to the Phoenix Lander, from the wheel to the double helix, from absolute Aristotelian space to the relative principles of uncertainty, each new discovery in science takes us further from our humble beginnings and launches us fearlessly into the humble future.

Speaking of the humble future, get ready for This Week in Science, coming up next.

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin.

Justin: Nice hat.

Kirsten: Thanks.

Justin: Hey, stop the show. Wait.

Kirsten: Wait. Nice hat.

Justin: That’s a Science Channel hat you are wearing.

Kirsten: It is a Science Channel hat that I’m wearing.

Justin: How did you get a Science Channel hat? How come I don’t have one?

Kirsten: Because…

Justin: How come the Science Channel is sending hats? What’s going on?

Kirsten: What’s going on? Well, I was invited back to New York City to be the reporter on the scene for the World Science Festival for the Science Channel.

Justin: Nice. Nice.

Kirsten: Yes. So, last Wednesday, I flew out to New York City. And then, yes I spent three days running around the city going to various events for this World Science Festival that was put together by Brian Greene and Tracy Day.

Brian Greene is a string theorist who we’ve interviewed here.

Justin: We interviewed him on the show, absolutely.

Kirsten: Yes, we’ve interviewed him on the show. He did the Elegant Universe, which is a book and also been a NOVA Special on PBS. And he’s written a couple of – I think a couple of other books as well.

Justin: The book is actually better than the NOVA Special. There’s more character development.

Kirsten: Yes. And he is an amazing writer. He has a way with getting ideas across to the public. I saw him present to the World Science Festival. And he’s vibrant when he’s describing science and the ideas that he understands that evolved..

Justin: But were you vibrant?

Kirsten: I think I was vibrant…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …in my on-camera presence and my interviewing. I got to interview Brian which was great and he actually remember – he’s like, “Hadn’t you interviewed me once before?” And I was like, “Yes.” And I said, “And my co-host popped you with his…

Justin: Whatever!

Kirsten: …his oceanic string theory hypothesis.

Justin: And he’s thought about it ever since.

Kirsten: And he said, “So, how did I deal with it?” I couldn’t remember the exact situation. But I told him he was very good in his dealing with your armchair ideas.

Justin: So, when do people get to see you on the small screen?

Kirsten: I’m not sure exactly. So, we did a whole bunch of interviews with scientists who presented at various events. So, people from environmentalists to string theorists from physicists, to chemists, imaginers.

Justin: So, maybe they’re going to break it up to small branches?

Kirsten: I think they’re going to break them up, break the interviews up and do what they’re talking about doing is doing like little interstitial clips that will go in between their programming. I’m not exactly sure.

Justin: Wait a sec now. Are you on camera or you’re just asking the questions and then it’s just going to be them talking?

Kirsten: I’m not sure. I was on camera a lot.

Justin: Oh, gosh.

Kirsten: I actually was on camera but they also did, just the scientist close-ups. So, we’ll see exactly what happens.

Justin: Yes. Because that’s usually what you see on those is the scientist answering the questions, it’s just the scientist.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And without the…

Kirsten: Yes, but…

Justin: They better not do that to you.

Kirsten: But additionally, which is exciting, I believe…

Justin: I’ll go down there at the New York and get them a piece of my mind.

Kirsten: Thanks. I believe that they’re going to air the interviews in their entirety on their website as well.

Justin: So, keep your…

Kirsten: Keep your eyes peeled…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And when I hear anything about when this stuff is going to be out there.

Justin: Yes. Cool, cool.

Kirsten: It’s cool. Yes. It was really fun. I mean, I have to say, I hope this event happens again.

Justin: It is. They scheduled for next year already.

Kirsten: Great.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I mean it’s just an amazing festival. I mean, this stuff goes on in Europe all the time where they have…

Justin: Well, and they’re popping up across the country here now. I mean, let’s see, is it Carnegie Mellon, that is doing it I think even this year like and it starting yearly. There’s a bunch of universities…

Kirsten: I think there’s also a San Diego Science Festival that’s going to be starting.

Justin: Mm hmm. So, science is finally catching on.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I think it’s…

Kirsten: That’s not science. It’s people are catching on to the idea. Scientists are catching on to the idea that people want to learn more about science. People want to get bring science into their lives and they want it to be entertaining.

Justin: Gosh! Who had that idea? Who had the idea of making science popular and interesting for? Oh, I think it was you like…

Kirsten: I think it was me, like ten years ago.

Justin: Oh, it isn’t that long ago?

Kirsten: That was.

Justin: Oh, god. Yes.

Kirsten: Seriously, I’ve been doing TWIS for almost ten years.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: I think I started – it was 2000 or 1999 when I started. So, it’s – I mean we’re at eight, nine years already…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: …which is – it’s been a long time.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I’ve learned a lot. I love doing this show and I want to keep doing it and keep doing more, more, more, more science for everyone. And we’ve got a whole bunch of science today on This Week in Science.

Justin: Not so much actually. I didn’t find any stories.

Kirsten: Oh, my goodness.

Justin: Nothing happened in science this week.

Kirsten: Liar. And at the halfway point of the show, we also have Dr. Michael Stebbins, bringing us The Weird from Washington. So, definitely stay tuned for that for – wait in about 20 minutes or so.

Justin: I’m going to jump right into this. This is basically a press release from California Institute of Technology. And it’s, this is something we’ve sort of covered in general before on the show. But it’s a great run down on there. It’s a press release something they found but it also runs down the whole situation.

So, a naturally occurring molecule has been made symbiotic by gut bacteria and maybe a new type of treatment for inflammatory bowel disease according to the scientists at the California Institute of Technology.

So, listeners to the show already know and people who just pay attention, they already know that the vast majority of bacteria are actually beneficial and are in the human body for a very good reason.

We couldn’t breakdown lot like sugars and stuff. We can’t do a lot of our digestive system work without them.

So, an example in here is that there’s a hundred trillion bacteria occupying the human gut that have evolved along with the human digestive system and immune system from millions and millions of years.

Kirsten: Is your phone ringing?

Justin: I don’t know how in the world I’ve got a signal down here. That’s insane.

Kirsten: We’re in the basement and…

Justin: I know.

Kirsten: …somebody’s calling you.

Justin: It must have just bounced down the hall way or something.

Kirsten: Anyone wants to call Justin’s cellphone.

Justin: Yes, hit me up. So, okay. So…

Kirsten: I’ll answer the phone.

Justin: If the bacteria actually and are actively modifying the gut in doing work down there, then there is, there’s a question about how we’re living today that maybe affecting these millions of years of evolution.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And there’s a tie-in with something that’s called the hygiene hypothesis, which is the modern practices of our sanitation, the Western diet antibiotic use, even vaccination which reduce bacterial infections also reduce the amount of beneficial bacteria in our bodies, which may very well be related to the increase in inflammatory or bowel disease, asthma, multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes in the Western or the modern world there.

I guess I can’t keeping calling it the Western world anymore because we’re sort of becoming the just the modern world everywhere.

Kirsten: Yes. I mean, the way that we’re living in the world, the food that we’re eating, we’ve had such massive cultural evolutions, societal evolution, technological evolution that we were living basically the same way for tens of thousands of years.

And then, all of a sudden, agriculture, industry, plastics, soy food, you know. All this stuff that we’ve never really eaten before that – and things that we had never experience in the environment before because we started to create them chemically as we bring these into our lives.

We don’t know how fast and how well we can adapt to survive well with the changes that we have put on ourselves.

Justin: Yes. And what this is also showing is the bacteria themselves do certain amount of work. But they also create molecules separate from themselves which are also doing work. So, it’s this whole system that’s going on in there.

And there’s another story from MIT which actually confirms a link between chronic inflammation of the intestine or stomach, being able to actually damage DNA.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: And may result therefore in cancers.

Kirsten: So, they can get the colon cancers that we’re seeing could possibly be as a result of this.

Justin: Isn’t that wild so that…

Kirsten: Bacterial action.

Justin: Yes. So, the bacteria are creating molecules that help the immune system, reduce inflammatory. And if you have in there increased inflammatory, you can have DNA damage and therefore cancer.

So, what is it? Is it, do you have an upset stomach and have a little bit of – I’m trying to put this – just say some guttural discomfort.

Kirsten: Guttural.

Justin: …of sorts. All right, do you put with that and then not get cancer? Is that okay? I think, that sound like (unintelligible), give me the bacteria, absolutely. So, yes.

Kirsten: I’m all about bacteria, when you take the antibiotics and kill off that intestinal store…

Justin: And there’s gosh, there’s another story that I don’t have. So, I won’t run through it. But there’s another group that’s working on just coming up with beneficial bacteria that you could actually, not even…

Kirsten: Probiotics that you could take.

Justin: They’re probiotics but these are like specifically engineered to tackle specific like intestinal problems. I mean, it’s like it’s getting to that point now.

Kirsten: There’s no reason why not.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Justin: Brilliant.

Kirsten: Yes. There’s a bug that we are very fond of here at This Week in Science.

Justin: E.Coli?

Kirsten: No. Toxoplasma gondii.

Justin: Toxoplasma gondii.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: My favorite.

Kirsten: Michael Grigg of the U.S. National Institutes of Health says that, “T. gondii is the most successful protozoan and pathogen on the planet.

Justin: Oh, yes.

Kirsten: Oh, yes. It lives in kitty cats and is – we’ve found that it has been passed to our estuaries and oceans through kitty litter.

Justin: Yes. Well, it can…

Kirsten: Getting flushed down the toilet.

Justin: It can be in lots of things. But yes, it completes its life cycle in the cat. That’s working…

Kirsten: It completes its life cycle. Cats…

Justin: …successfully comes out in their poop.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. And it ends up going downstream.

Justin: Into the kitty litter.

Kirsten: Into the kitty litter, people are flushing and it’s getting…

Justin: If you get that new, easy flushable.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: All right?

Kirsten: Right. So, the problem, we’ve seen that it has gotten into the filtering species, mussels and oysters. There’s been research that actually has – they found one mussel in the wild that actually had T. gondii in it. And there are marine organisms that eat this mussels and oysters and clams and they end up becoming infected as cats do.

But it’s causing trouble in their life cycles. And we’re finding that it increases the rate of infection of within some of these marine mammals.

Now, there’s a group – what are their names? And the California…

Justin: And Toxoplasma gondii has weird behavioral changes when…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Because it’s a parasite and a little…

Kirsten: But it can get into the brain and pass the neural stuff.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: So, these researchers, the California Polytechnic State University say that they’re looking into it. And they’ve actually found that it is affecting dolphins and whales now.

And the question has been how does it get to the dolphins and whales because dolphins and whales don’t eat clams and mussels and these little filtering things?

But it seems as though it’s getting into anchovy populations. And so, they are doing a whole bunch of studies. They are in the early stages to figure out whether or not their hypothesis is actually correct. So, they’ve put anchovies in seawater that’s containing the T. gondii eggs and dissected the fish and looked in their gut for the DNA of toxoplasma.

The tests are actually positive that suggest that the fish are filtering water and getting the parasite eggs into them and thus allowing the life cycle to continue for this parasite.

And then, dolphins and other marine mammals are eating up the anchovies and it’s causing trouble.

Justin: And it’s going to be a bizarre. Because, here’s like – the closer you are to the cat species it seems the more effective this parasite is and really causing some behavior that could help get – continue its life cycle.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: For instance, if a rat gets it, they no longer become afraid of cats.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, one of the problems it that, parasites become involved to particular hosts. If they are successful parasite, the host allows them to reproduce and then continue their life cycles so that they can continue reproducing and producing more of themselves.

But if they kill off their host, they’re not transmitting themselves in the population very well. And what is happening is that the normal changes that the T. gondii would have happen in their normal host. It’s not happening normally in these new marine hosts. There are different things that are actually causing…

Justin: There’s no cats it the ocean.

Kirsten: No cats. There are no rats. There are no birds. There are no mice. But what they’re finding, they’re actually finding Beluga Whales that have been dead from encephalitis that has been thought to have been caused by the toxoplasma parasite. So, anyway…

Justin: Well, the other thing is that it’s also a fact that…

Kirsten: T. gondii spreading itself around.

Justin: …that perhaps 20% of people in America have it.

Kirsten: Twenty percent?

Justin: No. It’s extremely high. There was a study that put correlations between the effects of Toxoplasma gondii and the differences in societies in a larger scale.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Because it has this weird effect on men of making them – I think it’s being more interested in novelty and in women that creates more, higher emotional states and guilt issues.

And then, you look at the cat lady, right? And you compare cat lady versus the rat. The rat becomes less afraid of cats. So, it’s much more likely the cat can eat the rat and the parasite can get back into the cat.

Now, if the cat lady becomes a little grim because then, cat ladies much bigger than a rat but suddenly cat lady has like 18 cats. So, it gives a better shot for the parasite, you know…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …to take down the prey if there is 18 cats around that are being cared for.

I don’t know, it’s a pretty intense parasite that I think will end badly for our marine brethrens out there but…

Kirsten: Yes. But, who cares?

Justin: What?

Kirsten: We’re all going to die anyway.

Justin: That’s true.

Kirsten: This is just the way things work. I think one, one of my favorite statistics is that everyone experiences a death rate equal to one, 100%.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: One hundred percent of people, of organisms die.

Justin: I don’t know. I think my perspective on that has always been that if you’re the person dying, everyone else is going to lose you but you’re going to move on. But you’re going to lose everybody else that you know. So, the less friends you have in life, the less painful the idea of death would be.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: If you have no friends and that is like, yes, like I do.

Kirsten: Yes, whatever. Well, they’re finding more and more that greenhouse gases they could, everyone’s been talking about carbon dioxide as being main greenhouse gas. And that’s the one that everyone is talking about because it has a half life in the atmosphere like 50 years.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: So, it stays in the atmosphere a long time. However, methane has a much larger effect on warming, on climate forcing. Yet it has a survival rate in the atmosphere of about eight years. So, it doesn’t last just long but it has a larger effect in the climate while it’s here.

And there’s some evidence out from some researchers publishing in Nature from the United States and Australia that the melting period after snowball Earth was due to methane.

I think that methane clathrates, which are methane-rich ice that forms under ice sheets at specific temperatures and pressures that something happened at some point to make things a little unstable which release the pressure on these methane clathrates that had probably formed beneath the ice of snowball Earth.

And then, the methane melted and ended up in the atmosphere and caused an extreme period of global warming.

So, it’s a warning I guess for us to not – I guess to not to ignore the amount of other greenhouse gases such as methane that we are pouring into the atmosphere.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: We got to keep an eye on all of it. We have to – I don’t know. That’s a good idea. Let’s just take a look at everything.

Justin: it seems like a repeat week.

Kirsten: A repeat week?

Justin: Yes. Because I think we had the methane story.

Kirsten: No, we didn’t.

Justin: I think we have the toxoplasma story. I mean we think we’ve covered this (unintelligible). The other one it’s in the news right now that’s driving me nuts is the monkeys that use their brains to control a robot arm.

Kirsten: Right. It’s…

Justin: We’ve covered that like years ago.

Kirsten: Well, yes. It’s being reported again because they have – because what…

Justin: They need more funding? What’s going on?

Kirsten: No. What has happened is that they have reached a new level of finesse with the robot arm and what the monkeys are able to do with it.

So yes, last year, we came out – we’ve been reporting on this stuff for years. And the robot monkey arm thing has been happening for a couple of years now.

So, it’s new news but the new angle on it is that, the monkeys are able to grab things that are maybe sticky and do other things to try and get the food things that they’re trying to eat off of their hands.

And the robot hands I guess – but it’s just a new level of finesse which is important because if we’re going to have people who need these things as prosthetic limbs, you want to be able to have someone amount of control over what you’re doing as opposed to just being like – and you smash things around with your robot arm.

Justin: I don’t want to be in the lab when they articulate the robot hand to have a middle finger. The monkeys have control…

Kirsten: The monkeys like, “Hey.”

Justin: …just like, “Hey, guess what?”

Kirsten: I’m wondering these researchers who are developing this kind of technology and also who are developing social robots who can pick things up and hold things and can be companions to people sometime in the future.

I’m just wondering. I just wanted to – I want to ask these roboticists, when it gets to the point where you’ve created a robot that can touch and feel and take that proprioceptive input and use it to do things in the way that a human would, would you trust that robot to hold your baby?

Justin: Wow! That’s pretty.

Kirsten: That’s my question, you know.

Justin: I’d say, no.

Kirsten: Because what if something just went wrong and it squished.

Justin: Because I think you’d still have to think of the robot as a pet. And like I wouldn’t let my dog hold my baby or my, you know. You know what I mean. It’s just still like there’s – no.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Ask some good friends and relatives or I’ll be like, you know. You shake too much.

Kirsten: Don’t touch my baby.

Justin: So speaking of babies, study came out recently that shows that the doulas when accompanying pregnant mamas when they go to the hospital, reduce the amount of cesareans by 12%.

Kirsten: Oh, wow!

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: I kind of think that people have gotten a little C-section happy. I mean it’s just like if anything’s on the verge of going wrong, it’s like C-section or, people want to have a set date that they’re going to have their babies sort of like, “I’ll have a C-section.” Whatever happened to natural childbirth?

Justin: And actually that’s only off our normal – actually the need for cesarean after an induced labor decreased by 46%. Wow!

So doulas are – they kind of like – what do you call – like a midwife kind of a thing.

Kirsten: They’re not. They like a helper.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: They’re not qualified to be a midwife and actually to help deliver the baby. But doulas are trained in helping to calm the mother down to get things for her, to make the delivery process as calming and as easy and natural as possible.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes. I have a friend who’s trained to be a doula.

Justin: Nice ladies.

Kirsten: Yes. She is a nice lady.

Justin: But, yes. I guess it’s, it kind of shows that if you take the – this is a book I think it’s called “The Red Tent”. If you take the red tent, the old birthing methods, they still work.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And even though doctors may, in the hidden moment maybe more than willing to just, “All right, let’s just get out of this and get to something.” There’s a process that can still take place in which you can have happy, healthy babies without…

Kirsten: Absolutely.

Justin: …without surgery.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely.

Justin: They have an exit. It’s a way out.

Kirsten: Well, speaking of life, whether or not it ever did or did exist on Mars is now under question yet again.

Justin: Because it’s too salty? Is that right?

Kirsten: Too salty, yes.

Justin: Yes. That makes me with – because aren’t we salty like didn’t life evolve from a salty ocean on Earth?

Kirsten: I believe it did.

Justin: But not that salty.

Kirsten: But so salty that it would have to have been very hardy, extreme organism to have been able to survive. So, and we have those organisms here on Earth. We have organisms that are found in highly sulfuric or hot environments with hot temperatures or, highly salty environment. There are all sorts of…

Justin: Down there with the vents under the ocean.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And it was like, yes.

Kirsten: They’re all sorts of environments. Every time we say there’s no way life exist here, we find life.

Justin: Thousands meters under the ocean floor.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I mean this is everywhere.

Kirsten: Yes. So, sometimes I think – I mean this Nicholas Tosca, the lead guy on the study, a Harvard University geochemist, this paper was published in science. He says if Martian life had to contend with the conditions we found, it certainly would have had a tough time.

And well, I haven’t read the paper itself. It’s just makes me – the way that the news is picking up on it, it just makes me wonder about the short sightedness of all of these to say, “Nope, too salty.” When in fact, over and over and over again, we’re proven wrong in our assumptions about where life exists.

Justin: Life will find a way, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Like dinosaurs are all one gender having babies in Jurassic Park.

Kirsten: Yes. But it is – it does help people, the scientists that are working on the issue to maybe hone their predictions on what era, epoch of the Martian planet’s life cycle, life actually did take place. Was it much when Mars which much younger? Was it at a later stage of the planet’s life? But, I don’t know.

Justin: It can be much later now. They found – I mean there have been geological records of that they’ve looked at that shows that large ice formations at least, surface water was in existence much more recently than they’ve been thinking previously. So, it’s getting closer to a possibility.

And their, as much as I have been like not a big fan of like not caring about going to Mars and that sort of thing, I have come to realize how insanely important it would be to find and study a life form that developed on another planet.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: I still think though there’s plenty here to study.

Kirsten: There are plenty here.

Justin: But it would be – I mean, it would be – I mean, it would be first of all, be the only example of such a thing. And it’s the most likely place. I think it’s the closest to a place that has life…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: …in the universe that we knew of. So, if there is the pence Bermuda – the, something from space that can allow that crashed the earth and had already organisms who board it…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …which is like kind of the simple pre-package version of life forming.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: But if that’s actually viable then you’re almost would have to say that there should be life on Mars too.

Kirsten: Yes. I mean, why not?

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Mars would have been hit and if the condition were right, why wouldn’t – yes, why not?

Justin: And in fact, the further out you get into the solar system, the more likely are to be hit. Even the smaller asteroids can get in without the atmosphere. So, it seems like more and more likely of the last atmosphere and within to get there, there’s no atmosphere to it and how do you live. Yes, it sucked. It just a very thin.

But that’s if it’s totally a biological. There’s a whole theory that the problem with finding life on Mars is we’re not looking at life the right way. It may not be our type of organisms, our type of organic.

Kirsten: Yes. It may not be like our life here on Earth.

Nanopaper has been created. This paper that acts much like regular paper except it doesn’t really soak up water. It’s made of nanowires that are composed of solid, potassium, manganese oxide instead of cellulose.

However, it’s made in much the same manner as regular paper. They put the fibers, these little tiny metal fibers into water and then allow the water to evaporate, the fibers clump together and create a flat sheet of paper.

Justin: That’s great.

Kirsten: And normally, this paper does soak up water. Yet, what they do is they coat the nanopaper with something called a polymer called soloxane. It’s a common polymer that turns the paper into a hydrophobic compound, which means that it repels water and it ends up actually absorbing oil.

So, the idea behind this paper is the paper can be put into the ocean…

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: …or waterways, anywhere. It will not absorb any water. And in fact, it will soak up, up to 20 times its weight in oil.

Justin: Wow!

Kirsten: Yes. So, it can be – the whole idea is that it could be use to help clean up oil spills, difficult emulsions, environmental toxins, make it a little bit easier to clean up this planet we live on.

Justin: It’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yes, great, great, great product. The paper appears in Nature Nanotechnology and is out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Justin: MIT again?

Kirsten: Yes, MIT again.

Justin: They’re like becoming my favorites. I like UC Davis, of course.

Kirsten: Of course, because we’re here.

Justin: Because they have this nice radio station. But MIT is like quickly becoming my favorite source of new stories lately.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: They’re like all over the place. There’s just researching up a storm over there.

Kirsten: Research, research, research.

Justin: What’s going on? Did all the brains move to MIT? Is that what happen?

Kirsten: I think they’ve always been there.

Justin: Oh, yes maybe.

Kirsten: Yes. Well, it’s 9 o’clock. Time for us to go to our station break and in a few moments…

Justin: Do we have Dr. Michael Stebbins today?

Kirsten: That’s right. We’ll be back with him.

Justin: Awesome. Get some policy (wanking-ness).

Kirsten: With Dr. Michael Stebbins. Without any further ado, let’s go to the break.

Justin: Chlamydia.

Kirsten: Justin’s favorite song on the air at This Week in Science. We have Dr. Michael Stebbins on the line.

Justin: The Weird from Washington with Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Good morning doctor.

Michael: The introduction I’ve come to love.

Kirsten: We try and give it to you.

Justin: (Unintelligible) about you in here.

Michael: Yup. Good and intense in the morning.

Kirsten: That’s right. How is it going over there on the other side of the country?

Michael: It’s good, very well over here.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Yes, the weather is nice and the Congress is actually doing good things. It’s great.

Kirsten: Yehey!

Michael: Yes. It’s been a fun time over here. We’re actually seeing some movement on a lot of good stuff, which I’ll talk about some of it.

Kirsten: Great.

Michael: And so, yes.

Kirsten: Yes. I was going to – it’s been two weeks since we last talk to you. But in the meantime, the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act was passed.

Michael: Yehey!

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Exactly.

Kirsten: I mean you’ve been talking about this for so long.

Michael: I know, I know.

Justin: And there was no signing statement.

Michael: It puts a little jump in my step and a little based on our process here, the President signed it. And we have a nice little party with our Congresswoman Slaughter and Francis Collins showing up. It was absolutely fantastic.

And now, what was weird about it was that the White House did not actually have any sort of ceremony. I mean by most people’s estimates, this is the first forward-looking civil rights piece of legislation that the U.S. has ever passed.

Kirsten: Wow!

Michael: Preventing, and will really pave the way for personalize medicines. So, if you have a genetic test done on you, that’s you won’t be discriminated against but this seems pretty irrational. And well, our people to take advantage of a lot of the advances from the human genome project.

And yet, they decided to have a quiet little ceremony in the oval office, signed it. It was very quick. Apparently, the entire thing was only a couple of minutes long.

And so, rather than try – I mean, they could have – this was something they deserve credit for because the President has been supporting this from day one.

Kirsten: That’s great.

Michael: I mean, very early in the administration, you cannot favor this bill which is probably (unintelligible).

Kirsten: And surprise, it took so long though.

Justin: Although I have to disagree with you on one slight point of mine is I think the Constitution was the first forward-looking civil rights they say. But beyond that, you are absolutely correct.

Michael: That is if you consider the Constitution a piece of legislation, correct?

Justin: It is. Of course, it is. It’s the very first one.

Michael: Yes. Yes, indeed it is. So, thank you very much for the correction. It is the second. And some would argue the bill of rights but a lot of those protections were new right then and there.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: So, there you go.

Justin: It puts in good company. Yes.

Kirsten: Now, one thing that’s…

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes, it does. Now, one thing that’s interesting is that, like insurance, it’s been considered that they use, family history to determine what they’ll cover. You know…

Michael: Exactly.

Kirsten: …so, if you have a family history of heart disease or whatever. And this actually keeps them from being able to use not just DNA but family history…

Michael: Indeed. So…

Kirsten: …which is really cool.

Michael: So, if your father or mother was diagnosed with heart disease, they cannot just discriminate against you because they find that out. Or breast cancers actually (prop) with the…

Kirsten: The biggest one.

Michael: …the clearest one.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Where there really is a very clear – in some cases, there’s a very clear genetic component to it in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene. The mutation from those genes are really indicative that you are of high risk to coming down with a little case of a breast cancer.

Justin: And so, the folks who will be using this…

Michael: I’m just so happy about, that this process is moving through. And that Congress is finally got their act together and moving on some key legislation.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Not coincidentally in an election year.

Justin: Well, the folks, they would be afraid of using this information will be like somebody an employer who’s looking for a very long term employee who doesn’t want to have additional expenses down the road and then the biggest one of course insurers, insurance companies.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Right?

Michael: Yes. Well, actually the Chamber of Commerce. Now, here’s the thing, the Chamber of Commerce, behind the doors has been pushing against this bill for some time.

And from what I’ve heard is that they’re actually going to try and manipulate this bill in the implementation phase. And so, once you have law, you have to have policies based on the law.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: And so, they’re going to try and manipulate it again any way so that they can do a little discrimination. So, the fight is clearly is not over. But it was over enough that Francis Collins, the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute who was really a driving force behind this bill…

Kirsten: Yup.

Michael: ..resigned.

Kirsten: Yes, he did. That’s amazing. His like, “I can go and do some other stuff now.”

Michael: All right, he let the sequencing of the human genome, the (half-met) project and many, many other really amazing science projects. And then, this was sort of the icing on the cake for him there. And he will be leaving the institute as of August 1.

Kirsten: Yes. I spoke with him last week. And he was just beaming.

Justin: Yes.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: He just was so happy.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: And he’s just like, of course, there’s going to be some stuff down the road like you just said. But it was just so neat to see somebody in a position such as his to have – he just obviously felt like something great had been done. And it was so cool.

Michael: Well, something great happened on. Well, for him, he was involved in this fight really early on and his office was.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: Another person who deserves quite a bit of credit is the woman named Kathy Hudson at the Genetics and Public Policy Institute at John Hopkins University who worked with Francis early on and in the early days of this.

Now, truth be told, I worked with Francis as a fellow in his office for a while in 2005. And so, I know Francis personally. And so, I’m a little biased. But nonetheless, this guy is a hero. So, I don’t think anyone would argue that.

Kirsten: No.

Michael: It’s a good thing.

Kirsten: What else is going on over there?

Michael: Well, let’s talk about Texas. Creationists have gone wild in Texas. After the (unintelligible)…

Kirsten: Is this an X-rated like “Creationists gone wild”.

Michael: Creationists gone wild.

Justin: Nice.

Michael: (There’s bump in Bible), yes okay. So, actually, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected the Institute for Creation Research as graduate schools request for a certificate of authority to grant science degrees which just cracks me up just hearing that they were applying for it.

They’re going to – they filed a 755-page long appeal which they say, “Paves the way for them to file a lawsuit.” And the entire appeals based upon the claim that the decision was based on a viewpoint of discrimination. So, it’s religious discrimination not to allow this institution to give science degree.

Kirsten: Scientific degrees.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: Oh, my goodness. That’s hilarious.

Michael: Yes, it’s really good.

Kirsten: Why?

Michael: Now, originally they had – their description of their actual contact – of their actual curriculum is a 371-page document which is one of the greatest pieces of comedy that I’ve actually read in a long time. It’s fantastic. I have not actually dug into this 755-page appeal.

But I’m sure that will make for some entertaining reading. But it’s – I talk this up to a victory on for Science and actually for the state of Texas frankly. Because if once someone has one of these Master’s Degrees in Science from an institute like this, they are certified to teach in high school.

Kirsten: Right, exactly.

Michael: Yes. And so, this would have allowed people who have – now granted that there have been several reports that came up that show that there are many Science teachers who have a creationist’s point of view.

Kirsten: I read a report last week that said 16%.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: …of like Science curriculum is taught by people who actually keep – put creation and intelligent design, going against what the school boards say they are supposed to be teaching. They actually do teach creation and intelligent design.

Justin: Which actually, I mean…

Michael: That story was published in the Public Library of Science Biology and it’s free online. And it’s very – there are some problems with that study.

Kirsten: Okay.

Michael: But it’s consistent what we’ve seen before which is that there are Science teachers out there who really don’t get it. But one of the best parts of that particular study that you are talking about is that they showed that people who had more education tended to actually have a better understanding of evolution and be less likely to have a young earth creationist’s point of view.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: So education seems to be the key there for the teachers as well.

Kirsten: Education.

Michael: Yup.

Justin: Actually, I think I made a comment a while back about letting some of these states go completely creationist and then take a look back and see what it’s like to have a third world education in science and see how that affects. I got emails…

Michael: I think you’ve made a comment a couple times.

Justin: I got e-mails from people – from scientists in third world countries who objected to using third world because they’re like even we don’t have the creationist here. So you got to come up with a better example.

Michael: (Unintelligible) you had a problem.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Very good.

Michael: Very good. Well, here’s the “duh” news of the day. Okay. So, the NASA’s Inspector General’s Office is now confirming that NASA distorted the truth on global warming out of their press office and marginalized or mischaracterized studies on global warming between 2004 and 2006. So we’ve known about this for a while.

Justin: Which goes against their mission statement.

Michael: Yes. And here’s the funny — they called it inappropriate political interference, et cetera. But the funny thing is actually the defense of the people who are involved in this. So NASA’s Overall Head of Public Affairs, David Mould was criticized by the report.

He said they got a number of things wrong that he didn’t see things that were politically influenced. But he also said that he was very proud of the improvements that they have made since then.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Michael: No. And then, there was…

Kirsten: We’ve made some changes. Things have gotten a little better.

Michael: Now NASA’s former Press Secretary, Dean Acosta who is accused of telling underlings that there were too many global warming news releases and denied manipulations said that his entire career has been dedicated to open and honest communications. The inspector general’s assertions are patently false. He now works for Boeing Aircraft Company. So…

Kirsten: Great.

Michael: I’m sure they’re putting out lots of great statements out on him. So this is just, yet another confirmation of what we knew that which is that the press office at NASA was full of political lackeys that they were manipulating the – how they’ve communicated science.

Now, they did confirm that the office did not interfere with the science itself just communication of science out of NASA.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: The difference being? I think I now understand there are cases – they get the reports are legitimate. The ports are fine. Nothing was manipulated there. They just released them different than they were – the findings were actually found to be. That’s like ridiculous.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: Yup. That’s a little ridiculous.

Michael: Yes, absolutely. This is – but, if you’re the NASA – I mean if you’re going to manipulate these sorts of things in a negative way and use political appointees, then using the press office to do so would be the most efficient way rather than trying to infuse the place with scientists who are total hacks…

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Michael: …which is done at other places.

Kirsten: Yes. Now, I’m curious. I’ve been getting a lot of press releases from what is it – petitions, something .org. but anyway, there’s a petition going around that’s trying to get scientists to sign on and say that there is really no consensus within the scientific community to what’s going on with climate change.

And there’s something like, what they say like 9,000 scientists have signed it so far and 40 of them…

Michael: Nine thousand “scientists”?

Kirsten: Yes. But they think 40 of them are members of the National Academy of Sciences and they named a few pretty big names. But I’m just curious about what’s actually going on here.

We’ve got, political influence acting on what story has been told to the public. We’ve got, one group that’s the IPCC that’s done a massive study with thousands of scientists involved and come to the consensus or so it says that there is climate change and it’s human induced carbon dioxide that’s probably forcing this climate change.

And then now, there are other groups that are beyond like the one or two crack pot scientists that were coming out a while ago. There seems to be some kind of movement on the other side. Do you know much about that? Have you heard anything?

Michael: Absolutely. And a lot of it is this. They’re not necessarily arguing that there isn’t climate change going on and that human are involved in that climate change. A lot of them are arguing over the specifics of climate change.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: And so, they’re getting involved in what – they’re having arguments over do we need to curve climate change and at what rate.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: And what are the specific causes, to what degree is climate change natural. But there’s no – I don’t think there’s really any credibility to the claim that climate change isn’t happening and that humans aren’t driving that change very rapidly.

Kirsten: Yes, or at least that we’re not highly involved in the process.

Michael: Yes. I mean I don’t – if they’re claiming that then that’s just silly.

Justin: It would be easier to define people as not being humans and say that humans are no longer contributing then it would be clearly refute the actual science.

Michael: Oh lately, I’m sorry. I might think that argument in some cases, yes.

Justin: Yes.

Michael: I’ve seen some rather hirsute people on the subway lately so…

Justin: Subway, come on?

Michael: Yes. Sorry to put that.

Justin: So the car has not been replaced yet?

Michael: Yes.

Justin: No new car?

Michael: For those people in the audience who are interested in this sort of manufacturing of doubt and that you see in industry, there’s actually a fantastic book that just came out, “Doubt Is Their Product” which is put up by David Michaels.

Kirsten: Neat.

Michael: At George Washington University. And so, people are interested in how industry assaulted science and threatened health. This guy wrote a fantastic book. I’m in the middle of the book right now and I’m really happy with it. But that’s a direction that they should definitely consider going.

Justin: I’ve always known – noticed that on the …

Michael: One final story…

Justin: …Fox News when they’ll ask him ridiculous question and then put, I mean make a ridiculous statement but put a question mark behind it, right?

Michael: Yes, exactly.

Justin: Like Barack Obama having several illicit affairs? So then it’s not – they haven’t reported it.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: They have created some weird doubt that then becomes unfounded.

Kirsten: Yes, final story.

Michael: Okay. The senate is going to start debate on a global warming bill. This is a huge piece of legislation. Everyone should pay attention to this. The idea behind the bill is to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by mid-century, okay?

Kirsten: Wow!

Michael: So this is the biggest one so far based on a market-based cap and trade program, which would be economically disastrous according to the White House and who has threatened to veto the bill.

Senate republicans are a handful of them are threatening to filibuster the bill. And so, we’re going to have quite a battle on global warming right now in Washington. And so, this is a big, big deal. They’ll be that clearly the most expensive measure and maybe the most expensive bill ever passed.

But it’s a real attempt at curbing climate change and greenhouse gas emission. So, I’ll be reporting on this with you guys as things go by. There are many people who don’t think it has a chance…

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: …during this administration but that the same bill may take a year for this to pass, which is a short period of time when you consider how much we’re talking about spending here on and how much we’re talking about curbing greenhouse emissions. But this is a very serious attempt at it.

And it even includes partner bills to actually offset some of the costs for gasoline. So, Senator Inhofe for example is threatening – doesn’t think that any bill on global warming should raise gas prices for people, which is (unintelligible).

A lot of the solutions for example that John McCain is pushing is that don’t fill the strategic petroleum reserve…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: …and that will keep prices under control which is, and it’s artificial. But…

Justin: Inhofe also believes that global warming was created by the Weather Channel to get higher rating so that’s…

Michael: Yes. You know what? It’s probably working.

Kirsten: Yes, I’m…

Justin: I don’t know.

Kirsten: I’m just wondering – I mean I don’t know if I’m – I’m definitely not an optimist these days. But I mean the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act took over ten years to actually…

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: …get signed. So, I mean unless things really substantially change in our federal government, I really don’t see this getting passed any time soon.

Justin: Well, there’s a bag of potential that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: I mean you’re talking ten years but look at what’s been going on the last eight.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: And the audience members can engage with these issues that through Scientists and Engineers for America.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: They should join. It’s free and it gives you a mouthpiece to get involve on these issues.

Kirsten: Yes. The website is

Michael: Thank you very much.

Kirsten: You’re welcome. Yes, this bit of legislation, it’s interesting, right? I wonder if cap and trade is the way to go and that’s one question and…

Michael: It’s one component of a lot of – we’re probably going to have some sort of cap and trade system for sure.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: But can that actually resolve the problem on its own? Absolutely not.

Kirsten: Probably not.

Michael: There is going to be many, many more measures and bills that are going to have to be passed in order really create to a kind of change in our energy dependency that we’re going to have to make.

Kirsten: Yes. And I’m also looking at, the various states that are like California which is pretty progressive in the environmental and emissions spectrum and looking at how the federal government is responding to the state’s actions.

And I think right now, we’re really going to start butting heads up against state’s rights to be able to make decisions on how they’re going to treat the environment.

Justin: Like those sand paintings.

Michael: California is going to be the proving ground with this butting head against the administration of the Clean Air Act request that they made. They reject it.

Justin: The federal government, it is one of those sand paintings made by the Buddhist monks, right? It’s built up. It looks like a beautiful design and then it’s going to be completely washed away and removed and the new one will be made later. That’s a beautiful thing about our federal government. We can change it. It can be different, much different and quickly.

Michael: Yes. You just got to make sure that the previous owner didn’t have a cat that poop in the box.

Kirsten: That’s true.

Justin: And if you find it, don’t flush it because then you’re maybe harming some marine life as we learned today.

Kirsten: As we learn today. Thank you very much Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Michael: Thank you.

Kirsten: That’s been a great, great half hour speaking with you today. Thank you. Have a great couple of weeks and we’ll talk to you soon.

Michael: Fantastic.

Kirsten: Fantastic.

Justin: That was The Weird from Washington with of course Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: And we’re about done with our show for today.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yes. We’re about done.

Justin: That was it? There are more science stories out there in the world but…

Kirsten: There are. I have many more. We’ll have to bring them next week. Next week we have an interview with Carl Zimmer, science writer, often seen in the New York Times. He has a blog called “The Loom”. He has written a book called “Microcosm”.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: It’s about E.Coli.

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten: Yes. He’s one of our favorite authors. He wrote “Parasite Rex” which inspired Scott Ziegler to write his horror sci-fi novel “Infected” and has inspired us to discuss many of the parasites that affect us in the world and followed the news of that fairly readily. So, it should be a really fun conversation with him next Tuesday.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yes, very exciting.

Justin: Totally tuning in (unintelligible) that one.

Kirsten: Yes, tune in. I’ll be – he has a couple of very short videos up on the internet. I’m going to be linking to them on our website just so you can get a little taste and teaser of what it’s all about. So, kind of check out our website, so you can just see what Carl is all about.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes. And I think that’s…

Justin: That’s up pretty much. Does that mean that if anybody learned anything from today’s show, they should remember?

Kirsten: It’s all in their heads.