Tag Archives: Science

Obama Administration Launches New Strategy to Combat Declining Bee Population

On May 19th, the federal Pollinator Health Task Force released a new plan to reverse the rapidly declining honeybee and monarch butterfly populations. The “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” calls for making millions of acres of federal land more suitable for bee colonies, as well as spending millions on research and possibly using fewer pesticides which have been linked to cancer.

Around 2006, commercial beekeepers began reporting what has become known as colony collapse disorder— entire colonies of bees died off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.

The Associated Press reports:

“While putting different type of landscapes along highways, federal housing projects and elsewhere may not sound like much in terms of action, several bee scientists told The Associated Press that this a huge move. They say it may help pollinators that are starving because so much of the American landscape has been converted to lawns and corn that don’t provide foraging areas for bees.

“This is the first time I’ve seen addressed the issue that there’s nothing for pollinators to eat,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum, who buttonholed President Barack Obama about bees when she received her National Medal of Science award last November. “I think it’s brilliant.”‘

White House science adviser John Holdren discussed declining bee populations and monarch butterflies, stating that “pollinators are struggling.”

Under the plan 7 million acres of bee habitats would be restored over the next five years. This will require a move from monocropping (growing a single crop at a time) to more diverse planting for the pollinators. The changes will affect the Department of Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency will increase studies into the safety of controversial neonicotinoid pesticides. The “Neonics” are a class of pesticides which have previously been linked to declines in bee populations. They were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have implicated Neonics, which are used to kill insects harmful to crops, as a possible cause for colony collapse disorder.

Recently researchers with Lund University in Sweden found that wild bee populations exposed to the nicotine-based systemic insecticides had a reduction in density, less reproduction and colonies that did not experience growth.

The Swedish scientists conducted the study in the wild, the first of its kind. They examined 16 patches of land with canola seeds, half of which were sprayed with the pesticide and the other half which were not sprayed. The researchers found that wild bees displayed negative health effects while honeybee populations, which pollinate crops with assistance from humans, did not display the illness.

A second study found that in laboratory tests bees are not deterred by the pesticide but may in fact prefer crops sprayed with the chemicals. This could indicate an addiction to the nicotine in the pesticides. Both studies were published in the journal Nature.

 Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director for the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, told the AP that the plan was still not enough. Friends of the Earth food program director Lisa Archer expressed similar sentiments, stating, “Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”

Scientific Study: Interrogators Can Trick People into Falsely Believing That They Committed Crimes

Some psychologists have long theorized that it is possible for interrogators to use certain techniques to obtain false confessions from suspects by tricking them into believing that they committed the crime in question. The Association for Psychological Science noted that this phenomenon has been observed in the cases of some wrongfully-accused criminal suspects. However, Julia Shaw of the University of Bedfordshire and Stephen Porter at the University of British Columbia decided to put the theory to the test in a lab setting and conducted a study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Psychological Science. The above-embedded video coverage by Discovery Channel‘s DNews describes their findings.

The study, which included 60 adult college students as participants and was funded by the University of British Columbia’s Lashley and Mary Haggman Memory Research Award and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, demonstrated that 71% of those who were suggestively told that they had committed a crime in their youth developed vivid false memories of the event. As a control, 50% of the participants in the study were told instead that they had experienced an emotionally intense event that never took place using the same techniques. 76.67% of those who were asked to describe the false emotional event were found to have similarly developed false memories.

“Our findings show that false memories of committing crime with police contact can be surprisingly easy to generate, and can have all the same kinds of complex details as real memories… All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is 3 hours in a friendly interview environment, where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory-retrieval techniques,” said Julia Shaw of the study’s findings.

To conduct the research, Shaw and Porter contacted the primary caregivers of the participants of the study and asked them to provide some details of some events that might have happened in the participant’s life between the ages of 11 and 14. The caregivers were told not to tell the participants what questions they were asked.

Over the course of three 40 minute interviews, interviewers asked the participants about two events portrayed as happening in their past, one being a true event from the interview with caretakers and another being a false event of either a criminal or emotional nature. Of the 30 who were told that they had committed a crime in their youth, 20 were told that they had committed assault either with or without a weapon. The interviewer carefully weaved real life details and friends’ names learned from the caretaker into the false stories, which Shaw said was key in convincing them that the events had occurred. Said Julia Shaw, “In such circumstances, inherently fallible and reconstructive memory processes can quite readily generate false recollections with astonishing realism… In these sessions we had some participants recalling incredibly vivid details and re-enacting crimes they never committed.”

During the second and third interviews, participants were asked to describe the events, and, in the case of the false one, were told to use suggestive memory-jogging techniques if they could not recall it. According to the study, 71% of the 30 participants who were told they had committed a crime “volunteered a detailed false account.” The study also noted that “these reported false memories of crime were similar to false memories of noncriminal events and to true memory accounts, having the same kinds of complex descriptive and multisensory components.”

Julia Shaw said her research could be helpful in identifying the types of interrogation techniques that lead to false confessions and convictions, “Understanding that these complex false memories exist, and that ‘normal’ individuals can be led to generate them quite easily, is the first step in preventing them from happening. By empirically demonstrating the harm ‘bad’ interview techniques – those which are known to cause false memories – can cause, we can more readily convince interviewers to avoid them and to use ‘good’ techniques instead.”

Two Robins Wish You a Very Happy Christmas

I arrived in England yesterday from my home in the States and the jet-lag had the better of me this morning by 4.45 am.

Dad, whom I have traveled across the Atlantic to spend Christmas with, is still in bed as I write this, and I am sitting alone on his couch in a silent house.

Nevertheless, I have already received my biggest Christmas greeting of the day. A little bird came to give it to me.

Creeping around Dad’s house with my first cup of tea in hand, so as not to wake anyone, I wondered over to the living room window to see the dawn – something my body clock prevents me from doing when I am not jet-lagged. Peering out, I saw in the little garden below me a rather stereotypical bird house. Perched on top of it, right there on the front of the roof of the box, was a robin – the very symbol of an English Christmas.

I smiled at the coincidence of it; the simplicity of it; the Christmassyness of it. It was as if the universe had just conspired to make me a Christmas card in the three dimensions of reality.

Of course, the little robin wasn’t there to deliver to me a Christmas greeting. After all, he didn’t know I was going to look out of the window right then. And he couldn’t – because he’s a robin.

People often say that we “come into the world”. But we don’t: we come out of it. As the wonderful Alan Watts used to say, just as an apple tree “apples”, so the universe “peoples”. It also “robins” and, I’m pleased to note, it also “Robins”, for Robin happens to be my name.

Since Isaac Newton, it has been fashionable to believe that consciousness is an “emergent property” of physical stuff, which might fancifully be expressed as the idea that consciousness is fundamentally a very complicated rock. But that idea is a noetic and cultural fashion: it’s not scientific as much as it is scientistic.

As much as I love the intellectual sincerity and commitment to empiricism of people like Richard Dawkins, who would essentially agree with that view, I don’t hold to it. More like most people throughout most of history and most of the world, I suspect the opposite is closer to the truth: that a rock is a very simple form of consciousness – which enables me to wonder if the two robins of my story – the big Robin (me), and the little Robin (my Yuletide avian acquaintance) – are expressions of the Divine, or in Christian terms, beings “made in God’s image”. It also allows me to conceive of Love as fundamentally real, and fundamentally meaningful, rather than just a sensation that arises from a cosmic accident involving lots of particles.

But why? Why would the Divine express Itself in Robins and robins and everything else in the world? Because – and here’s another one of my working hypotheses – that is the only way It can experience what It knows Itself to be. And the most important aspect of Its nature is Love. There’s more to it than that, of course, but on a Christmas Day spent with family and with thoughts of loved ones elsewhere, that seems the aspect of All That Is that is worth focusing on.

Whatever your metaphysical disposition may be, this is for sure: you cannot fully understand one part of our universe without knowing all of it. To explain completely everything there is to know about a single grain of sand would take in all the laws of nature and “initial conditions” of the universe, if there are any. And to specify them would be (with allowances for the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics,) to explain the whole universe. William Blake wasn’t being fanciful when he wrote of seeing “a world in a grain of sand”.

Whether you prefer rock-as-crude-consciousness or universe-in-a-grain-of-sand, you’re still left with We Are All One, and little robin and big Robin as just two fluctuations of the same ultimate reality –what All-That-Is is doing and here and now. Little robin and I are fundamentally united.

I have bookshelves full of New Testament history and biblical exegesis. I was rather preoccupied with it for years as a young adult. And the traditional Christmas story that has been handed down in Christmas sermons in institutions of organized religion is, in my humble opinion (and to be as kind as I can possibly be), extremely incomplete and misrepresented. But the bigger story – indeed, the universe-sized story – that Love is ultimate reality and manifests in physical form, has to my mind, a lot more going for it. And for what it’s worth, I type that as someone academically trained in the physical sciences and a philosophy of science.

If it is the case that the little robin and I are ultimately the same thing – fluctuations of an underlying All That Is – then I have to wonder if there is any way I could have been standing at my Dad’s window a few hours ago without the little robin’s looking back at me from that bird house.

Now I am being more fanciful than Blake, perhaps, but whatever the truth of all that, I saw a robin on Christmas morning and he jolted me into the here and now and a direct of experience of peacefulness and oneness and Love. And I am pretty sure if it weren’t Christmas day, and it wasn’t a robin, the symbol of Christmas, he wouldn’t have done that.

So whether he intended it or not, the little robin brought me, in a very deep sense, my Christmas greeting this morning.

And since it’s Christmas Day, which is a rather good day for dwelling on things Divine and fanciful (for some of you, they will be the same thing, and for others they certainly won’t be), I’ll allow myself the thought that just because the little robin didn’t know he was bringing me a Christmas message of peace of Love doesn’t necessarily mean that All That Is didn’t put him there for that very purpose.

So from that robin, through this Robin, to all of you, my readers – whether you believe yourself to be a very complicated machine or a rather limited expression of the Divine – I wish you very much Love and a truly happy Christmas.Robin Card

Ebola Virus Has Mutated Rapidly Since Latest Outbreak

The latest outbreak of the Ebola virus has caused an epidemic that is flooding West Africa. On Thursday, a new study published in the journal Science, shows that the current outbreak of the Ebola virus has mutated rapidly, which impedes finding a cure for the disease.

The current epidemic has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries, and although it is moving quickly, the Washington Post reported that the results from the latest study “offer new insights into the origins of the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in history.”

The first outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976. According to the New York Times, Scientists believe “bats are the natural reservoir for the virus,” and that humans originally caught the virus “from eating food that bats have drooled or defecated on, or by coming in contact with surfaces covered in infected bat droppings and then touching their eyes or mouths.”

Doctors Without Borders reported that the current outbreak seems to have started “in a village near Guéckédou, Guinea, where bat hunting is common.”

The recent study on the virus was conducted in June, by health officials in Sierra Leone who worked with scientists at Harvard University. They sequenced the 99 Ebola genomes from 78 individuals in Sierra Leone who had been diagnosed with the virus.

According to the Washington Post, five of the paper’s more than 50 co-authors died from Ebola before publication which shows the toll the virus has taken on both the general public, and health workers.

The lead author of the study, and a computational biologist at Harvard University, Pardis Sabeti, reported that the Ebola virus twice the mutations spreading through humans it West Africa, than it did while spreading through animals in the last decade. “We’ve found over 250 mutations that are changing in real time as we’re watching,” Sabeti said.

“In general, these viruses are amazing because they are these tiny things that can do a lot of damage,” said Sabeti. “The more time you give a virus to mutate and the more human-to-human transmission you see, the more opportunities you give it to fall upon some [mutation] that could make it more easily transmissible or more pathogenic.

An infectious disease reporter at Harvard, and one of the study’s co-authors, Stephen Gire, reported that through the study they “uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks.

Although we don’t know whether these differences are related to the severity of the current outbreak, by sharing these data with the research community, we hope to speed up our understanding of this epidemic and support global efforts to contain it,” Gire said.

Ebola has been called one of the world’s most deadly diseases by Doctors without Borders, due to the fact that it is “a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it.” They went on to write that although the World Health Organization has declared the current Ebola epidemic an “international public health emergency,” the international effort to stem the outbreak has been “dangerously inadequate.”

Johns Hopkins Scientist Raises Serious Vaccine Questions

Peter Doshi, a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, recently published a paper in the British Medical Journal raising serious questions about the benefits of the influenza vaccine.  In his paper, he criticized the methodologies of the major studies on which America’s public health push is based, as well as pointing to statistics which indicated that there are more potential dangers to the vaccine than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate. Some of the potential side effects are mercury poisoning, increased incidence in narcolepsy, even death.



People with weakened immune systems – such as seniors, young children, or people suffering from preexisting medical conditions – are at risk from the vast majority of flu strains.  Influenza is also a much more rapidly evolving virus than those responsible for shingles/chickenpox, smallpox and polio.  This means that scientists must attempt to predict the major flu strains for any given year in their vaccine creation, and that there is a chance that the vaccine will not, in fact, prevent the flu at all.

Doshi’s concerns – and those of other reputable scientists and doctors – make sense in light of these facts.  Though studies have indicated that people who get flu vaccines tend to avoid the flu better than those who don’t, even the CDC recognizes that this difference could be attributable to differing health habits among the two populations.  Someone diligent enough about their health to get a flu shot is probably also conscientious enough to routinely wash his/her hands and engage in other immune-boosting activities.

Doshi says that once this factor is removed, studies indicate that the effect of the flu vaccine is minimal.  It doesn’t seem to decrease the risk of complications, and likely only reduces the risk of illness by 1-9%.

In fact, Doshi’s statistics indicate that there is no benefit at all for young children.  There are risks, though, from mercury toxicity to an increased incidence in narcolepsy to death.  One of the most notoriously dangerous vaccines was the 1970s swine flu vaccine, which killed multiple people as the government continued to promote it and dismissed concerns.

Dr. Russell Blaylock recently told NewsMax, “For most people flu vaccines don’t prevent the flu but actually increase the odds of getting it.”

So if vaccines don’t really help people why does the government and big pharma companies push them every year?

“It’s all about money,” says Dr. Blaylock. “Vaccines are a pharmaceutical company’s dream. They have a product that both the government and the media will help them sell, and since vaccines are protected, they can’t be sued if anyone has a complication.”