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Topics - VoxRat

Science / Origins of Indonesian hobbits

The most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed.
"The analyses show that on the family tree, Homo floresiensis was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these two shared a common ancestor," Dr Argue said.
"It's possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere."
Now that Trump has weighed in, I think this deserves its own thread, outside of Dave Hawkins's Alternative Reality Shit Show.

Trump, Citing No Evidence, Suggests Susan Rice Committed Crime
President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were swept up in the surveillance of foreign officials by American spy agencies and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved. ...

Mr. Trump, who has a history of promising to produce evidence to back up his unverified claims, and failing to do so, did not make clear what crime he was accusing Ms. Rice of committing. It is legal and not unusual for a national security adviser to request the identities of Americans who are mentioned in intelligence reports.
I was vacillating between posting this in "Science" or "Politics", but then remembered we have this special place for exactly this kind of thing.

The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank promoting public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, and free markets, has mailed 25,000 copies of its book "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming" and an accompanying explanatory DVD to science teachers across the United States. It plans to continue the campaign until all 200,000 K-12 science teachers in the country have a copy.

< clip most of article, which you should read >

One teacher who won't be using the book is Lori Baker, a sixth-grade science teacher from Indiana, who described the contents of the package as follows: "I read quite a bit of the book, actually, and it was extremely frustrating. It's an attempt to sound science literate, but there's very little actual data," she told Frontline.

Specifically, she cited the first paragraph of the forward, which called Obama's description of the threat of climate change as "laughable" in comparison to the terrorist activities of the Islamic State militant group.

"That as a foreword to something claiming to be scientific is pretty shocking," said Ms. Baker.
introductory article for middle-school level inquiring minds.
 Or "fake news" - depending on which side of The Looking Glass you call home.
I guess "Alternative Science" is the right place for this.
He made that case in an op-ed article published in 2000 and has made no public effort to update his position since.

"Time for a quick reality check," Pence wrote. "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer."

I have a feeling there's going to be a high demand for :facepalm: s in the coming years.
Science / They're bringing the aurochs back!
The wild, extinct supercow returning to Europe
For thousands of years the aurochs were the largest land mammals in Europe, until the rise of human civilization decimated their numbers, and the last of the species died in Poland in 1627 -- one of the first recorded cases of extinction.
Conservationists now believe the loss of the keystone herbivore was tragic for biodiversity in Europe, arguing that the aurochs' huge appetite for grazing provided a natural "gardening service" that maintained landscapes and created the conditions for other species to thrive.
The theory is now being put to the test, as a "near 100% substitute" of the beast is returned to the forests.
Rather than attempt the type of gene editing or high-tech de-extinction approaches being employed for species from woolly mammoths to passenger pigeons, Goderie chose a method known as back-breeding to create a substitute bovine he named "Tauros."
Auroch genes remain present in various breeds of cattle around the continent, and the team identified descendants in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Balkans. Geneticists advised breeding certain species together to produce offspring closer to the qualities of an auroch, and then breed the offspring.

(quibble: the article uses "auroch" as singular; I believe "aurochs" is both singular and plural:
one moose, two moose; one aurochs, two aurochs )

Two separate studies identified a single mutation in the ebolavirus  surface protein that resulted in more infectious (for humans) virus.
Human Adaptation of Ebola Virus during the West African Outbreak
Ebola Virus Glycoprotein with Increased Infectivity Dominated the 2013-2016 Epidemic

Washington Post summary here

The good news is that, with the human to human infection chain now broken, that mutant has a tougher time surviving in the reservoir (bats), so the next outbreak can't just pick up where the last one left off and build even greater infectivity on it.
Science / Neandertals, Denisovans and ? ? ?
DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative
People from Melanesia, a region in the South Pacific encompassing Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands, may carry genetic evidence of a previously unknown extinct hominid species, Ryan Bohlender reported October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. That species is probably not Neandertal or Denisovan, but a different, related hominid group, said Bohlender, a statistical geneticist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "We're missing a population or we're misunderstanding something about the relationships," he said.
meeting presentation abstract
Science / Human life span not likely to increase
Humans can only live so long and we're reaching the natural biological limit, researchers say in a report published in Nature.

The paper, published Wednesday, says that despite life expectancy being dramatically higher than it was 100 years ago, it's highly unlikely it will continue to rise any more than what it is right now. It also says the probability of anyone living for more than 125 years is incredibly unlikely.
the Nature paper

But... but... but...
What about Noah? and Methuselah? :confused:
Politics and Current Events / Bombs in NYC
New York explosion that injured 29 was 'intentional act,' mayor says

The recovered unexploded bomb is one of those home-made pressure cooker bombs similar to the Boston marathon devices.
Was it a wannabe ISIS hero, like in Orlando or San Bernardino?
Or perhaps someone who thinks whipping up fears benefits a certain orange-tinged demagogue who thrives on fear-mongering?
The video, which shows angles from inside and outside Orangetheory Fitness in Chelsea

I'm afraid without Jerome we are forever doomed to :dunno: about these questions.  :(
Research article here (not sure if it's open access or - if so - for how long):
Innate Immunity and Asthma Risk in Amish and Hutterite Farm Children
CBS news article about it: Why Amish kids are less likely to get asthma.

  • Both populations are very similar genetically, both are rural, farming populations.
  • It's a small sample (60 children) but 0% asthma among Amish, ~20% among Hutterite.
  • There are statistically significant differences between the two in profiles of innate immune cells and cytokines.
  • House dust extracts collected from the Amish vs. Hutterite homes could protect against or promote (respectively) asthma-like response in mice.
  • Amish live on small farms, Hutterite farming is more "industrial" style; contact with horses and cows is much more intimate in Amish environment.
Summary of summary: more support for hygiene hypothesis, at least with respect to asthma.
Latin America Zika Outbreak Should 'Burn Out' Within 3 Years, Scientists Say
"Our analysis suggests that Zika spread is not containable, but that the epidemic will burn itself out within 2-3 years," Ferguson, of Imperial College London's School of Public Health, said in a college news release. ...

"The current explosive epidemic will burn itself out due to a phenomenon called herd immunity," Ferguson explained. "Because the virus is unable to infect the same person twice -- thanks to the immune system generating antibodies to kill it -- the epidemic reaches a stage where there are too few people left to infect for transmission to be sustained."

You could call it "natural vaccination"!
Regenerative dental fillings that allow teeth to heal themselves have been developed by researchers, potentially eliminating the need for root canals. 

The treatment, developed by scientists from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University, earned a prize from the Royal Society of Chemistry after judges described it as a "new paradigm for dental treatments."

The tooth filling works by stimulating stem cells to encourage the growth of dentin--the bony material that makes up the majority of the tooth--allowing patients to effectively regrow teeth that are damaged through dental disease.