Archives for category: Science

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, makes three important points about the ongoing controversy over abortion and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. The anti-abortion movement is not satisfied because they want more than a decision that allows some states to offer abortions.

First, their real goal is a national ban on abortion and a declaration that a fetus has all the rights of a person. They want fetal personhood, in every state.

Second, since the Dobbs’ decision reversing Roe, large numbers of Republicans have expressed their opposition to the decision.

Third, post-Dobbs, expect to read frequent stories about women who died because they were denied an abortion; about women forced to carry dead fetuses for the full term of pregnancy; of children forced to give birth because they are “too immature” to have an abortion.

The only good news in this tragic turn of events is that Republicans who support abortion extremists may face a backlash.

She writes:

It’s being called “Roevember,” a reckoning around women’s rights and fundamental liberties that hasn’t been witnessed since the shaggy-haired days of the ERA. As Jeremy Stahl noted just last week, recent polling seems to show that women are pretty affirmatively pissed off about Roe v. Wade being overturned, and it’s affecting a set of key Senate races, in addition to down-ballot contests around the country. Mark Joseph Stern and I wrote recently that there is virtually no other way to assess the beatdown Kansas voters recently unleashed upon an amendment that would have removed abortion rights from their state constitution than as a repudiation of the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs intervention, and a promise that even in ruby red states, and even among ruby red voters, only a tiny minority of female voters would endorse forcing teen girls to carry pregnancies to term. After Dobbs came down at the end of June, Kansas reported a 1,038 percent increase in voter registrations that week alone, compared just with the week before.

Yes, even Republican women get abortions. Even conservative women get abortions. Having had the “right” to an abortion and control of their bodies for almost half a century, many women will find it hard to give up their reproductive rights.

Remember when Republicans believed in local control of schools? Those days are over, at least in Florida (and in other states where billionaires and Wall Street titans pour money into school board races to advance privatization).

In Florida, Governor DeSantis has endorsed candidates in more than two dozen local school board elections who are as irresponsible as he is. He can’t bear the possibility that anyone disagrees with him.

He is endorsing candidates who opposed any mask mandates, defying the advice of doctors, scientists, and the CDC.

DORAL, Florida — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is working to line up a slew of loyalists on school boards across Florida as he seeks a second term in the nation’s third-largest state.

“We need help at the local level,” DeSantis said at a firefighters building before 430 enthusiastic supporters during a campaign event on Sunday. “You guys with your power going out and voting is going to make a huge difference.”

The governor has endorsed 29 conservative candidates ahead of Tuesday’s election for school board races, which typically don’t receive much attention and are technically nonpartisan.

School board members make decisions about spending, schedules, supplies, curriculum, and other matters. But in more than a dozen counties where DeSantis endorsed candidates, school boards defied the governor last fall by obligating students to wear masks.

What we know about DeSantis. He is shrewd. He plays to basic racism, homophobia, and the most extreme rightwing tendencies of voters. He is a bully.

A recent study by scientists at Yale concluded that it was possible to bring a dead pig back to life by injecting them with a solution soon to be patented. Their goal is to create a source of organs for transplants. The heart valves of pigs, for example, are often used in heart surgery for humans.

If the solution works on pigs, it would probably work on humans. However, the scientists took care not to reactivate the pigs’ brains.

The ethics issues are complex and profound, far above my pay grade. But we all need to think about what could happen next, or after that, or after that.

Science writer Gina Kolata wrote in the New York Times:

The pigs had been lying dead in the lab for an hour — no blood was circulating in their bodies, their hearts were still, their brain waves flat. Then a group of Yale scientists pumped a custom-made solution into the dead pigs’ bodies with a device similar to a heart-lung machine.

What happened next adds questions to what science considers the wall between life and death. Although the pigs were not considered conscious in any way, their seemingly dead cells revived. Their hearts began to beat as the solution, which the scientists called OrganEx, circulated in veins and arteries. Cells in their organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys and brain, were functioning again, and the animals never got stiff like a typical dead pig.

Other pigs, dead for an hour, were treated with ECMO, a machine that pumped blood through their bodies. They became stiff, their organs swelled and became damaged, their blood vessels collapsed, and they had purple spots on their backs where blood pooled.

The group reported its results Wednesday in Nature.

The researchers say their goals are to one day increase the supply of human organs for transplant by allowing doctors to obtain viable organs long after death. And, they say, they hope their technology might also be used to prevent severe damage to hearts after a devastating heart attack or brains after a major stroke….

The work began a few years ago when the group did a similar experiment with brains from dead pigs from a slaughterhouse. Four hours after the pigs died, the group infused a solution similar to OrganEx that they called BrainEx and saw that brain cells that should be dead could be revived.

That led them to ask if they could revive an entire body, said Dr. Zvonimir Vrselja, another member of the Yale team.

The OrganEx solution contained nutrients, anti-inflammatory medications, drugs to prevent cell death, nerve blockers — substances that dampen the activity of neurons and prevented any possibility of the pigs regaining consciousness — and an artificial hemoglobin mixed with each animal’s own blood.

When they treated the dead pigs, the investigators took precautions to make sure the animals did not suffer. The pigs were anesthetized before they were killed by stopping their hearts, and the deep anesthesia continued throughout the experiment. In addition, the nerve blockers in the OrganEx solution stop nerves from firing in order to ensure the brain was not active. The researchers also chilled the animals to slow chemical reactions. Individual brain cells were alive, but there was no indication of any organized global nerve activity in the brain.

There was one startling finding: The pigs treated with OrganEx jerked their heads when the researchers injected an iodine contrast solution for imaging. Dr. Latham emphasized that while the reason for the movement was not known, there was no indication of any involvement of the brain.

The older I get, the more I am inclined towards vegetarianism. Pigs are intelligent creatures. Do they exist only to serve our needs? Can we do as we wish with other creatures?

Chalkbeat reports that the Center for Disease Control is easing up on its COVID recommendations:

Schools can end quarantines and regular screening tests for COVID, but students and staff should keep masks on in areas with high levels of COVID spread, according to guidelines released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new, more limited recommendationscome as districts across the country are starting a new school year — and in many cases reflect decisions to ease up on COVID precautions that schools have already made. Almost no districts are starting the year with a mask mandate, and in-school quarantine rules are on the retreat.

“This latest guidance from the CDC should give our students, parents, and educators the confidence they need to head back to school this year with a sense of joy and optimism,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “While COVID continues to evolve, so has our understanding of the science and what it takes to return to school safely.”

Brown University released a study showing that hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved if everyone had gotten vaccinated.

With the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, a number of states are taking steps to make the punishments for abortion stricter and to eliminate any exceptions, such as rape, incest or the life of the mother. some states will treat abortion as homicide, with criminal penalties for those who perform them.

The Washington Post reported a recent incident where medical staff at a Cleveland medical facility worked feverishly to save the lives of a pregnant woman and the child she very much wanted.

The pregnant woman was bleeding heavily by the time she arrived at the hospital.

Maria Phillis, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and other doctors on duty at the Cleveland medical facility transfused her with bags of blood, but her condition deteriorated rapidly. It wasn’t long before the mother faced an awful choice: Her placenta, a part of the womb, had attached in the wrong place, wreaking havoc in her body. But the baby was far too young to survive on its own.

The pregnancy was terminated to save the woman’s life — an outcome painful for all involved. “This was a very desired pregnancy,” Phillis said.

Now Phillis replays the recent medical crisis in her head, wondering about the implications in a world where Roe v. Wade is overturned and abortion becomes illegal in her home state of Ohio. State lawmakers are weighing a bill to make performing the procedure a fourth-degree felony. Might she be charged with a crime for providing care she believes is moral and necessary?

Anti-abortion laws frequently make exceptions for women whose lives are in danger.

Emboldened conservatives in some states are pushing to narrow and in some cases eliminate such exceptions, arguing that they create loopholes that are easily exploited. Doctors say such restrictions will complicate medical decisions for pregnant women, increasing the risk of death in a country that already has the highest rates of maternal mortality in the industrialized world.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin on Monday called for a special legislative session to remove most exceptions from that state’s “trigger law” banning abortion. In Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, leading Republican gubernatorial candidates have teamed up with antiabortion groups to push bans that would not allow the procedure even if the mother’s health is endangered. In some states, exceptions for the “life of the mother,” rather than the “health of the mother” have been written into trigger laws or proposed measures, significantly limiting the scope of when they can be used.

“What we are calling for is a total ban, no exceptions,” Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said in an interview. “We don’t think abortion is ever necessary to save the life of the mother.”

If a woman dies because of such anti-abortion zealots, they should be held criminally responsible for her death.

Myah Ward of Politico Nightly interviewed Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine about the depressing fact that one million Americans have died due to COVID. It’s fair to say that he was outraged by the many thousands of unnecessary deaths, encouraged by Republican politicians and by hostility to science. One man, not mentioned here, could have persuaded his followers to get vaccinated and boosted, as he did. Donald Trump. But while he rightly took credit for the rapid development of vaccines, but did nothing to discourage the anti-vaxxers.

1 million deaths. Did you ever think we’d get here?

For me, the big reckoning was the fact that we’ve not really come to a real national dialogue about what happened after May 1, 2021. That was the day the White House announced that there are so many Covid vaccines that any American who wants to get vaccinated can get vaccinated. Yet we lost another 200,000-300,000 Americans after that date. Those who were defiant to vaccines were overwhelmingly in red states, and the redder the county as measured by Trump voters in the 2020 election, the higher the vaccine refusal and the greater the loss of life.

It wasn’t by accident. It was a deliberate effort by members of the House Freedom Caucus, in the House, some U.S. senators, amplified nightly on Fox News.

I don’t even call it misinformation or disinformation anymore. I call it anti-science aggression, to convince millions of Americans not to take a Covid vaccine. And at least 200,000 Americans between May 1 and the end of 2021 died needlessly from Covid because of it. And everyone’s afraid to talk about it because it’s very unpleasant to have to point out that these deaths occurred along such a strict partisan divide. Even the White House won’t talk about it in that way.

So, with an exhausted public, how would you re-engage Americans at this point? Is it by having these “unpleasant” conversations?

You can understand the first wave of deaths in New York in the spring of 2020. You can even start to understand the second wave of deaths in the summer of 2020, in Texas, in the southern U.S. when we’re just trying to understand it. But then as you move forward, you have to start to come to terms with the fact that a majority of the deaths were probably preventable. And certainly just about all of the deaths after May 1 were preventable. And I think that needs to be front and center. That these are not accidental deaths. The people who lost their lives and died after May 1 were themselves victims of anti-science aggression. If you look at the big-picture threats to the U.S. that we spend billions of dollars every year to combat, like global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, or cyberattacks. Anti-science aggression kills more Americans than all those things combined by far. And yet we don’t recognize it as such. That’s critically important to point that out.

Alongside Americans being “done” with the pandemic, there’s also the concern about Covid funding running out if Congress doesn’t act. How important is this money in your view?

We have to recognize that the mRNA boosters are not holding up as well as we’d like. We’re going to have to probably go — unless we come up with a better technology, which I think we should, but that’s a different matter — we’re gonna need to ask the American people to get boosted yet again. And we’re gonna have to provide those vaccines.

And we’re going to need an ongoing amount of Paxlovid, for instance. I mean, why am I talking to you right now? I’m talking to you right now because I’m the beneficiary of Paxlovid, which I’m on right now, and I’m the beneficiary of having my second booster. And even though it’s not ideal to ask Americans to continue to boost, it’s still going to be essential.

The White House is warning we could see 100 million infections this fall. How do you see this fall and winter unfolding?

I know that’s what the White House is doing, but I don’t quite understand the logic of jumping to fall and winter. We still have two big peaks that are hitting us before fall and winter. We have this current BA.2.12.1, which is now about to become the dominant variant. It’s so transmissible, all you need to do is give a dirty look to that subvariant and you become infected. It’s up there with measles. So that’s issue No. 1. And issue No. 2 is we’ve had a terrible wave of Covid-19 both for the last two summers in Texas in the southern United States. I’m expecting that again. Even before the fall, we’re going to have another wave over the summer from variant TBD, to be determined.

Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times reports on the latest study of Ivermectin, a veterinary drug for animals with parasites. The study found that Ivermectin is useless as a treatment for COVID-19. It is a quack treatment that became popular among Republicans. Anything, anything at all, was acceptable to Trumpers except vacccinations developed by reputable companies.

He writes:

The final results are in, and they’re incontrovertible: Ivermectin, that nostrum assiduously promoted by anti-vaccine advocates and conspiracy-mongers, is utterly useless against COVID-19.

That’s the conclusion of a peer-reviewed studyof more than 1,350 COVID patients treated with the drug, which is customarily used to combat parasitic diseases in humans, livestock and pets.

The study was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, but we reported on it last August.

That’s when one of its principal investigators, Edward J. Mills of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, disclosed the preliminary results during a research symposium. The data he presented then are essentially the same as the final results published by the NEJM.

Mills said then that ivermectin had “no effect whatsoever” on COVID.

Half were given ivermectin for three days and half received a placebo. The goal was to find whether ivermectin reduced the prospect of hospitalization or an emergency room visit due to a worsening of COVID symptoms. The bottom line is that ivermectin had no statistically significant effect.

“We did not find a significantly or clinically meaningful lower risk of medical admission to a hospital or prolonged emergency department observation … with ivermectin,” the study says.

These findings are important because ivermectin has been so assiduously touted by anti-vaxxers and credulous, irresponsible fools such as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has also used Senate hearings to promote hydroxychloroquine, another useless COVID treatment

Education Week reported a new study that confirms the value of masking during the pandemic.

Mask requirements still offer one of the strongest tools to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, say new studies.

The findings come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from a nationwide study published this morning in the journal Pediatrics. They land as the latest pandemic wave recedes, federal masking guidelines begin to relax, and education leaders work toward more flexible approaches to masking for staff and students.

In the Pediatrics study, Duke University researchers in the ongoing ABC Science Collaborative—which tracks pandemic mitigation efforts in schools—analyzed masking policies and infection rates in 61 districts, more than 3,000 schools, and more than 1.1 million students and adults in nine states. For the first time, the national study looked at mitigation from July through December 2021, during the delta wave and the start of the omicron waves of the pandemic.

Schools that required universal masking for adults and students saw 72 percent fewer secondary infections—in which students infected with COVID-19 in the community spread the virus to others in school—than did schools that had no mask requirements or partial masking. Once school size, vaccination rates, and other characteristics were taken into account, schools with universal masking had nearly 90 percent lower infection rates.

Moreover, about half of the students and staff in the study had completed vaccination against COVID-19 by the end of the study, and Duke researchers found universal masking policies were associated with fewer infections even among those who were already vaccinated.

As of March 7, just over 26 percent of U.S. children ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated, as have less than 58 percent of those ages 12 to 17, according to the latest CDC data.

The New York Times recently wrote about Twitter’s suspension of the personal (not the official) account of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Twitter applied its rule of “five strikes and you’re out” because she posted misinformation about COVID and vaccines that could cause harm to others. Among other things, she had posted on Twitter that COVID was not dangerous and that vaccines should not be mandated; that the vaccines were “failing”; and that many people who got the vaccines had died.

While reading this article, I learned of a website called The Center for Countering Digital Hate. This organization published research on the dozen most influential social influencers who spread misinformation about vaccines.

The Center surveyed major social media platforms and found that 12 people were the source of 2/3 of the lies about COVID and the vaccines. The only name familiar to me was that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The leading influencer was one Dr. Joseph Mercola. His Twitter handle was @drmercola. Perhaps he was banned by Twitter. But he now reappears as @mercola.

At the time the CCDH report was written, the COVID death toll in the U.S. was 500,000. It is now over 800,000. It’s likely that the Dirty Dozen caused some of those deaths (and will be responsible for many more) by encouraging resistance to the life-saving vaccines.