Monday, May 27, 2013

"Consensus" science? And more science...

First, before getting down to science, congratulations to my bro Kim Stanley Robinson, for winning this year's Nebula Award for best novel. 2312 is an epic that spans the solar system and a myriad fascinating ideas. And felicitations also to the other Nebulists - the delightful/brilliant Nancy Kress and the talented Andy Duncan and Aliette de Bodard. Learn more at the SFWA site.

SciFiStarOh, one more announcement. See today's  San Diego Union Tribune article/interview about me and the Clarke Center Starship Conference (with a familiar face smiling on page one of the paper on our doorstep). 

Mostly, I was asked about SETI... the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. By coincidence, at the Starship Century Symposium at UCSD, we had the honor of hosting Dr. Freeman Dyson and Dr, Jill Tarter (head of the SETI Institute) at our home, along with luminaries Geoffrey Landis, Allen Steele, Kevin Grazier and many others.

== Do scientists "vote" on what is true? ==

Is it true that "97 percent" of scientists working in the fields of climate, meteorology and planetary atmospheres stand by the current consensus that human generated, carbon-rich gases produced by human industry are responsible for substantial, rapid climate change?

That claimed figure -- long denied by one major wing of Culture War -- now appears to have been verified systematically.  Almost all of the extremely smart folks who study climate on eight planets and who were responsible for transforming the Weather Report's range from two pathetic hours to ten miraculous days agree that something reckless and perilous is going on, and therefore some new technologies and some carefully discussed and economically bearable alteration of habits may be in order.

Does 97% expert agreement mean that something is necessarily true?  My late colleague, author Michael Crichton, led the charge among those on the right whose catechism now declares that "science cannot vote on what is true: there is no such thing as scientific consensus."  Indeed, like many polemical lies, that line has a basic level where it is true. Nature, indeed, cannot be coerced by mass opinion, even among brilliant scientists. There have been times when 97% of savants were dead wrong!

Take these examples from a well-written little piece  on the Fox News site that relates "five blunders in science." Indeed, at the surface, these interesting anecdotes -- (e.g. Lord Kelvin's calculation of the age of the Earth and Einstein's cosmological constant) -- simply go to show that science is not a realm of all-knowing priests, but of brilliant and not-so brilliant workers whose interplay of argument, experiment and reciprocal criticism is just as important as coming up with terrific models. When you and I read this article, we'll say, here's evidence that science works well.  Ah, but then note where this piece was published. (And imagine the  very different sub-text lesson that is drawn by the average Fox customer; these guys know their propaganda.)

merchants-of-doubt1In fact, those occasions when 97% of scientists get  it wrong are exceedingly rare. And science has been much better at discovering and correcting systematically wrong models than any other walk of life has been. Moreover, those rare cases are irrelevant to the matter at hand…

...which is whether to let public policy be affected by -- and prudently attend to -- important failure mode warnings by the vast majority of those who actually understand an important field of human knowledge.  And to give them some benefit of the doubt, rather than reflexively obeying the same advertising firms that claimed cars don't cause smog and tobacco is good for you.

When 97% of those who know a lot more than you do about something warn you that there may be danger ahead, only idiots blithely ignore such expert diagnoses and go charging ahead with business as usual.  You criticize and question while heeding the advice of folks who are much, much, much smarter than you are.

See also: Distinguishing Climate Deniers vs. Skeptics and Arguing with your Crazy Uncle About Climate Change.

== Science Potpourri! ==

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Canada have discovered pockets of water that they say have been isolated for at least up to two billion years. What makes the find especially intriguing is that the ancient water carries all the essential ingredients for life.

Reversing heart disease in older mice?  Sure. Claiming this portends a reversal of aging in humans? Malarkey.  Mice are not analogues for human aging. Period. For reasons I go into elsewhere.  Good news for mice though!

NASA's Lunar Monitoring Program uses a special 14 inch telescope to stare at the moon whenever it is in view from Marshall Space Flight Center.  This is the sort of thing we need to do more of -- and it bore result startling results when a boulder-sized meteor slammed into the moon in March, igniting an explosion so bright that anyone looking up at the right moment might have spotted it.  Only now we have a device looking for us.

D-WaveRead a fascinating and cogent explanation of why NASA and Google are investing in D-Wave's quantum annealing approach to quantum computing, which appears to work better for optimization problems than any of the gate based quantum computer experiments. This is a frontier with many puzzles and many potentials. (A few of them illustrated in Existence.)

Amateur beekeepers are taking up controlled breeding to seek hardier varieties that can withstand New England winters, resist mites, overcome parasites and pesticides and help stave off the honeybee collapse that threatens agriculture across North America.  Augmenting work done at universities, these clubs are terrific exemplars of useful avocation science and the Age of Amateurs.  Heck, I just rescued a hive on my hill, moving it from a lethal place to safety.  Third time I've done it. I think I'll buy some bee boxes next.

Would you gardeners use human poop that's been treated and transformed into organic fertilizer? About 50 percent of the bio-solids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland through a process that is heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency… To sell Class A biosolids to farmers and gardeners, facilities have to ensure that there are no dangerous heavy metals or bacteria in the end product. Still…

Researchers have used transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS) which mildly "shocks" the brain with high frequency electrical noise. Supplied to an area known to be important for math ability, this can apparently improve a person's ability to perform calculations. No one exactly knows how this relatively new method works, but it does seem to allow the brain to work more efficiently by making neurons fire more synchronously.  Augmentation, here we come. Expect huge use in China.

Alien? Subhuman primate? Deformed child? Mummified fetus? The Internet is buzzing over the nature of "Ata," a bizarre 6-inch-long skeleton featured in a new documentary on UFOs. A Stanford scientist now asserts the DNA is purely human and not "alien." Uh huh. Right.  Okay, look, I deal in the strange professionally.  And the lack of  any external and separate-referenced studies of this thing screams alarm bells.  Despite sober-sounding rhetoric in the articles, I give it 90% to be a hoax. But I never let 90% -- or even 97% -- prevent me from keeping a corner of my mind... well... ready for more questions.

== And still more science! ==

According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. JPL calculations suggest the comet is most likely to make a close pass of 0.0007 AU of Mars  (that’s approximately 63,000 miles from the Martian surface). But uncertainties are still high and the comet might either strike the planet or break up. (If it struck... what a show! And maybe water reservoirs might awaken?)

But that's unlikely and not what concerns me most.  What I fret about is the storm of pebbles, dust and gas  accompanying the dirty iceball (according to my doctoral dissertation). There is real danger that a near passage might sand-blast our Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissaance Orbiter spacecraft, now delivering valuable science from above the Martian surface and providing services to the Curiosity and Opportunity landers. I find this prospect both exciting and worrisome.

But stay tuned… 2014 will be significant in other ways.

A disappointingly superficial article about geo-engineering by Clive Hamilton appeared in the New York Times, glossing over many aspects and issues, and leaving out any mention of the one geo-engineering remedy to climate change that would actually replicate what the Earth is already doing -- ocean fertilization to remove CO2 from the atmosphere while stimulating new fisheries. By far the most promising (despite very badly-done initial "experiments"), this remedy almost certainly will be used by our children, in one form or another, yet it is almost never discussed. Alas for journalism.

transhumanist-readerWhere is it all leading?  Max More and Natasha Vita-More are the editors of The Transhumanist Reader: Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, the first book to present a comprehensive survey of the origins and current state of transhumanist thinking about the future of humanity. The volume offers of core writings by seminal thinkers, exploring the scope of the effects of human innovation of science and technology and how, in turn, science and technology often changes human nature.  It goes into arguments for and against human enhancement and life prolongation along with issues of social concern and biopolitics.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the world's most famous astrophysicist, and he is a Trekkie.  "I never got into Star Wars," Tyson tells us. "Maybe because they made no attempt to portray real physics. At all."  Despite his getting way too inflated lately I always liked the guy a lot.  Here's one more reason. I guess.

== Science I'll preen about ==

San Diego-based Torrey Pines Logic is developing the Beam 100 Optical Detection System for the military; it sends out pulses of low power lasers that can detect various lenses out to roughly one kilometer. Returning pulses are analyzed for signatures indicative of optical glass, discarding noise from other glass, like bottles, windows. (Note one for the predictions registry?)

Meat from tissue culture could be a powerful game changer, one that has appeared in science fiction since the 1940s and certainly in many of my own past novels. Now researchers hope to make one hamburger from calf muscle cells grown in dishes… a small and expensive beginning, but so was the first micro-processor.

Reminiscent of my "privacy moths" on Planet Jijo, in my novel BRIGHTNESS REEF:  "Croatian Bees Are Being Trained to Hunt Down Deadly Land Mines."

3DPrinterSpace
A 3D printer is slated to arrive at the International Space Station next year, where it will crank out the first parts ever manufactured off planet Earth.  More than 30 percent of the spare parts currently aboard the International Space Station can be manufactured by Made in Space's machine. I presented a paper to NASA in 1982 predicting this exact event, someday.  It was dismissed as sci fi, alas.

And now I'm rather tired after three tech and space conferences in a week, discussing starships, asteroid mining, transhumanism, national and international tech policy, SETI, destiny, Dyson Spheres, and fine wines... I almost certainly have the best job on the planet.

Now... Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

78 comments:

Anonymous said...

Far fewer than 97% of economists agreed with the bailout, and yet I don't recall Fox and its ilk decrying an 'economic consensus' and claiming more studies were needed — before we spent way more than measures to reduce and mitigate climate change that have been blocked as 'too expensive'.

Mel Baker said...

Dear David,

Wouldn't ocean fertilization with Iron also increase ocean acidification? I thought that was the reason that the idea is off the table. What if the phytoplankton shells melt and crash the food chain!

Also, I had a chance to interview a representative from D-Wave which has provided the quantum computer to NASA/Google. Try telling the story in a :45 second radio report! Fascinating stuff. The next big challenge to quantum computing is coming up with people smart enough to write programs that can effectively use quantum superposition!

I also did an interview with UCSF. They have been studying depression and the links to diseases of aging. They have found that the telemeres of people with chronic, severe depression are shorter (hence diseases of aging) than people without depression symptoms. Now for the interesting bit. People with damaged telemores produce high levels of the telemerose enzyme, apparently as the body's effort to protect the telomeres. They also discovered that patients who had the lowest levels of the enzyme, had the best response to anti-depressent drugs, which could finally explain the reason anti-depressents work on some patients and not others!

David Brin said...

I don't claim to be an expert on ocean fertilization. I do know that dumping a huge load of powdered iron does NOT emulate what nature is doing... which is when ocean currents create upwelling that caries bottom sediments up high where they stream along creating healthy plankton blooms that feed great fisheries and remove most CO2.

That is what happens off the Grand Banks and off Chile. Why not experiment with ways to emulate that? I described this in EARTH, way back in 1989.

sociotard said...

Alas, I really wanted a little bit of a political blog, where David could let us know which of the current Obama scandals he actually thinks is worth looking into? Which, if it had happened under BushII would have had David hollering about how BushII was corrupt or incompetent, or how he was appointing corrupt or incompetent cronies.

(although I do always appreciate the links and potpouri posts)

Paul451 said...

David,
In a way nature does dump iron-rich powder into the ocean, every time there's a dust-storm in a desert the ocean down-wind gets a big serve of iron-rich dust.

Similarly, dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara is supposedly it's a major source of nutrients for the Amazon.

Mel,
Re: Acidification.
They don't use metallic iron, they use a soluble iron salt.

Paul451 said...

You might have heard of the idea of using fast pulsars as a sort of GPS for spacecraft. The disadvantage is the size of the radio telescope necessary to pick up millisecond pulsars (like 150m^2). I assumed we would build large receivers at points throughout the solar system which use pulsars to determine their own position, then rebroadcast a timing pulse much "louder" and at a higher frequency, so small receivers on spacecraft can piggy-back off them. Kind of like how the European colonists would build observatories wherever they landed, to determine longitude, which ships would use to correct their own maps. (And later, correct their on-board clocks. Which is why historical coastal observatories have equally historical signal cannons nearby. "At the third stroke, it will be 1pm precisely. Beep, beep, BOOM!")

But a recent (-ish) paper suggests next gen x-ray telescopes could be small enough and light enough to fit on any spacecraft and could position the spacecraft to within 5km, anywhere in the solar system (or indeed, beyond.) [Interestingly, the limit to accuracy seems to be how precisely we can time each of the pulsars we use.]

http://arxiv.org/pdf/1305.4842v1.pdf (pdf 22 pages.)

Of course, this assumes that pulsars are natural and that those who set up the system don't change the coding every few decades (or during wartime).

Sociotard,
IMO - The IRS thing is nothing, never was. The FBI bugging journalists and whistle-blowers is nasty and creepy and several high ranking people should lose their jobs.

Tony Fisk said...

(with a familiar face smiling on page one of the paper on our doorstep).

"..Dad? There's a strange man at the door!"

(Come to think of it, wasn't that how Farnham's Freehold started?)

Take up beekeeping? Why not? You wouldn't be the first sf author to do so.

space ratopol: Law Enforcement Agency run by 'pandimensional superbeings'

Conrad Dunkerson said...

Mel Baker, ocean acidification is the result of carbon dioxide (CO2) combining with water (H2O) to form carbonic acid (H2CO3). Plankton, on the other hand, draw down carbon (and iron) to use as components of their bodies. Thus, the carbon is in that case not forming carbonic acid and not contributing to acidification.

Indeed, when the plankton (or things which have eaten the plankton) die, a lot of that carbon falls to the sea floor and decays into methane hydrates... effectively sequestering the carbon out of both the atmosphere AND the oceans.

That said, the few experiments in 'plankton seeding' which have been conducted thus far haven't shown very promising results. We'll have to see if more effective methods can be developed.

Tacitus2 said...

I just last week turned a batch of "Milorganite" into the garden patch. It is of course composed of, well, Milwaukee, and I had thought it dated to the mid 90's when Milwaukee had an epidemic of cryptosporidium from sewage dumping in Lake Michigan. Actually the product goes back to the 1920s.

I am in Day One of my campaign to not aggrieve my Fellow Citizens by challenging The Way, The Truth and The Light. So I offer this link on searching for Alien Megastructures

http://io9.com/the-hunt-for-alien-megastructures-509777337

with the warning that I found it on the DoublePlus Ungood Instapundit site.

As this is a Conservative nest I am sure that the article somewhere features Jesus riding on a dinosaur.

Be Pure my Friends.

Tacitus

Alex Tolley said...

I thought the problem with ocean fertilization was that the plankton do not significantly fall to the ocean bottom and get buried, thus sequestering the carbon. As a possible way to improve oceanic fishery productivity, that is a different story. The open oceans are almost deserts in terms of productivity, so there is potential to stimulate primary production and hence fish populations.

Alex Tolley said...

I think the "science isn't done by consensus" meme is just another version of "they laughed at Galileo...".

That has always been the mantra of crackpots.

There are, of course, periods when the scientific consensus has been wrong, and the corrective mechanism failed for a long time. A good example was continental drift. Acceptance was a classic Kuhnian "paradigm shift". I think (but I'm not certain) that Margulis' Endosymbiotic theory was a similar paradigm shift in biology.

String theory was supposed to be a major advance in physics, but although it has gained a lot of traction in academia, so far it has singularly failed to offer testable hypotheses.
On the other side, last weekend we were treated to a possible "Galileo" moment with Eric Weinstein's lecture at Oxford on his "theory of everything". He will need to publish his theory before the physics community pays any serious attention. Most likely it will prove to be nothing (c.f. Garrett Lisi), but you never know...

Jumper said...

On scientific blunders, my mother recalled one of her chemistry professors rejecting atomic theory as late as the '30s. The gist of it was that this was a "crazy" theory only used by crackpots back in Roman times who had no real understanding.

The Alvarez hypothesis of meteor strikes having real large effects on Earth's timeline was similarly poo-pooed by those who rejected the nutty Velikovsky junk, and this meteoric bombardment theory was a little too reminiscent of Catastrophism.

Thus Jumper's Rule of Hinky-Sounding Science: every (eventually proved) true hypothesis that resembles an earlier, discredited hypothesis, will have its acceptance suppressed more than the average new, (eventually proved)true hypothesis.

Carl said...

Regarding D-Wave, their current specialized machine can be and has been outperformed on their special problem on a regular classical computer with ordinary code optimized for the task. Scott Aaronson has more:

http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1400

That "3,600 times faster" result is from comparing D-wave's super-specialized system against non-optimized classical code, on the exact problem that D-Wave has optimized for. But right now the evidence is still compatible with no quantum speed-up for the D-Wave machine.

Mel Baker said...

Thanks Conrad for the clarification on the differences between carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and using iron to seed the ocean. It makes sense. Thanks for giving me some insight for the next time I do a story on this topic.

There is of course the worry that the ocean may warm enough to affect some of the shallower (a relative term!) methane hydrates.

Carl, thanks for the additional D-wave info. The exec I spoke with says there were able to do some calculations at up to 20 thousand times the computational rate of a standard chip. The interesting thing about the D-Wave is that the quantum chip is only about the size of half a credit card, but it takes up an entire room to create the near absolute zero temperature, vac conditions and anti-magnetic and EM space to allow quantum functions. It is in a way like the room sized computers of the 1950s.

Mel Baker said...

Carl. The D-Wave spokesperson I spoke with was very unhappy with the claim that his machine "isn't a quantum computer." I understand the debate isn't by any means over. It will be interesting to see if it really is doing quantum calculations or if something else is going on and they are getting those many times faster results with something short of quantum activity.

The Physicist said...

"You criticize and question while heeding the advice of folks who are much, much, much smarter than you are."

Herein is the crux of the problem. Many neo-conservatives believe beyond any ability of evidence to contradict that they are the smartest possible person on any subject. They honestly believe that they can study up on a subject for an afternoon and learn all there is to know about it, or simply that they inherently know about it via natural human instinct or via scripture. They honestly believe that anyone saying something that differs from these beliefs MUST be lying.

I used 'honestly' a lot in there because I want to emphasize that these people, on the whole, are not some cackling evil force. They really believe that this is true and obvious, and that the cackling evil forces are on the liberal side. When they say "X is destroying America". they believe it, and no amount of argument, no matter how well founded, will change that, because the two sides cannot even agree on what "well founded" means.

"I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it. The whole of existence is in jeopardy right now... whether they know it or not, [they] are exploiting that belief. And if they’re successful, you, me… ALL of this ends in a heartbeat, all over a belief." - The Apostle Rufus

David Brin said...

Sociotard, I see no evidence that the IRS thing was anything more than local zealotry… and grotesquely stupid, since it had zero deleterious effects upon the activist groups involved, except perhaps making them hire lawyers. No one was audited or "chilled" so I take a middle course. Make examples of the zealots. But there is no national biggie.

The Justice Dept search warrant of Associated Press phone records is disturbing, but completely legal. A reporter who knowingly receives stolen property is protected by tradition, not by law. I dislike the Obama Admin's obsession with stopping leaks, though and I am keeping a wary eye on that. His transparency record, while better, is disappointing.

All told, I am yet to see justification for imbeciles who let Cheney lie us into multi-trillion dollar land wars of attrition that benefited only Cheney-linked companies to take a snooty attitude.

Carl, thanks for the skeptical take on D-Wave. Good to read the critics.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

When you have a chance, I asked a question about "Infinity's Shore" in the last thread.

Just wondering (as I read the book for a third time) whether the mythology of the goddess Ifni is supposed to come from Galactic culture or from pre-Contact Terran culture.

Love the series.

Anonymous said...

Brin advocates that 97% of experts in an area are unlikely to be wrong - and yet out-of-hand dismisses the significance of experimental results from lab mice as irrelevant to human biology.

Alex Tolley said...

Re: IRS - the Time magazine article on this had anecdotal evidence that would be groups gave up trying to form because of the difficulties with the IRS. Donors were dissuaded from making contributions without IRS granted tax exempt status.

We don't know whether this simply reduced competition for donor dollars, or reduced overall donations, which could be classed as a chilling effect.

Ian Gould said...

A commercial product based on Transcranial stimulus

http://www.gizmag.com/focus-gaming-headset/27653/

If this works, the implications are massive.

If.

Anonymous said...

The Fox News site "five blunders in science" article may be well written, but it has its own blunders.

It highlights the blatantly false statement that "Darwin really didn't know any mathematics so his theory is entirely non mathematical" made by astrophysicist Mario Livio. At Cambridge, Darwin studied for his finals under Henslow, whose subjects were mathematics and theology, and got a good place in the exam "by doing Euclid well". His theory involves the statistics of Malthus, and Darwin himself used mathematical analysis of the data he obtained. Not always successfully, as in his calculation estimating the age of the Earth. He was conscious of his limitations, but clearly knew some mathematics, and worked with mathematicians.

Livio then misrepresents Darwin's views on blending inheritance: it was a common idea at the time, but Darwin correctly thought the problem could be overcome by natural selection from a large population with a range of small variations.

learner said...

Ref; Beam 100 Optical Detection System for the military; I know for certain that the military has had a system like this for well over 20 years. Not only would it identify all glass lenses looking in the direction of the sensor in a wide rage out to a mile it did it quickly and could be program to automatically send a pulse of high energy laser designed to craze the targeted lens. Tough on eyeballs looking through the same lens. All was computer automated. Two major issues at the time, friendly fire ie friendly id and the most problematic, power source for the computer and laser. Required two large vehicles. So David I think you may be a bit behind on this one.

Ian said...

I hope all the people who are concerned about the privacy threat posed by Google Glass are equally concerned that about 90% of the people they speak with are carrying smartphones equipped with voice recording capabilities.

Tim H. said...

An interesting beginning:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/13/meat_burger_vitro/
Vat burger,"Come up to the lab, and see what's on the slab."
"rectest student", redundant.

Alfred Differ said...

Another thing Livio got wrong about Darwin is the notion that the evolution concept sprang up out of nowhere. Look on Darwin's family tree and you'll find he was exposed to this concept from the world of economics. The selection process in markets IS different and tends to select for groups over individuals, but the concept is roughly the same.

David Brin said...

Larryhart, some things are kept deliberately vague… e.g. the notion of "Ifni". Didn't you think about it more, because of the vagueness? ;-)

Anonymous says: "rin advocates that 97% of experts in an area are unlikely to be wrong - and yet out-of-hand dismisses the significance of experimental results from lab mice as irrelevant to human biology."

And… one has to do with the other in what way? How? Find me the 97% of biologists who assert that caloric restriction will double human lifespan, as it does in some mice? You won't find 50% --- or even 20%. Because it is bull. The xperiment has been run in 4000 years of ascetic monasteries, where healthy but sparse dietary regimens of every conceivable variety have been tried. SHow me the 200 year old monks capering around!

Feh, no wonder you were anonymous.

Alex, these low level IRS fools did not help Obama in any way. The dems benefit from Tea Party radicalism.

Ian, lots of human computer interfaces in the pipeline. Zowee.

Learner, I'm not behind. The military often has things for decades before announcing. I sometimes have to wait till then.

Otter said...

Absolutely Unbelievable, that you would believe that '12,000 papers' bull. Many of the scientists who's papers were 'involved,' can't even begin to fathom how non-skeptical Cook managed to Totally reverse what they themselves said in their own papers.

You are a Fool.

David Brin said...

Um... who was that troll and what was his drive-by about?

Tony Fisk said...

Vale Jack Vance. (1916-2013)

It happens. #sigh

David Brin said...

Indeed... Jack Vance, one of the greats of science fiction and fantasy literature, has passed away at age 97... a fine milestone to reach, given he will be immortal to many of us.

locumranch said...

Oxymoronic nonsense terms like "Consensus Science" and/or "Scientific Consensus" are problematic from a linguistic perspective because one term represents an emotionally irrational conclusion while the other presupposes a reliance on empirically observable fact.

Defined as a (feeling of) "general or widespread agreement, assent or accord" the term "consensus" comes to us from the Latin 'consentīre' meaning "to feel together". Being synonymous with popularity, it lends itself readily to 'ad populum' type arguments which are logically fallacious by definition.

The term 'science' is defined as "the systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms". Being objective in nature, it cannot and should not be influenced by emotionally subjective notions like popularity, consensus or popular consensus.

Leaving us with Michael Crichton's mostly (but not entirely) true statement: "There is no such thing as scientific consensus (because) science cannot vote on what is true". Such a statement can be said to be mostly true because science truly has nothing to do with popularity, but it can also be said to be partially false because the 'science' designation is non-homologous with the 'scientist' designation and the scientist (being human) is always subject to the physics of popularity.

To restate terms in a different manner: We can say that Climate Change data (being empiric in nature) is 'scientific'; we can say that Climate Change 'scientists' (being emotionally human) have reached a consensus about the theoretical significance of Climate Change data; but we cannot say that such a consensus among scientists is 'scientific' without invoking the unscientific logical fallacy of 'argumentun ad populum', so it doesn't matter if "97% of scientists agree" about the truthiness of anything in particular because "consensus is not science".

Likewise, we can say that Climate Change is a scientific fact; we can also say that Climate Change Theory (being the consensus of reputable scientists) is probably valid; but we cannot say that Climate Change Theory is a fact because a theory (by definition) is not a fact.

Sorry to hear about J Vance. I thoroughly enjoyed his 'Dying Earth' and Star King revenge opera.

Best.

David Brin said...

locum is having one of his extremely cogent periods. Everyone give him way positive feedback!

In fact though, I sidestep the "consensus" red herring by talking about working models of the world. Science can contain competing models. Consensus tends to gather around the model that:

-has a good record of being consistent with known observations

- is simpler than other models (Occam's Razor)

- has consistent theory behind it

- has the best record of making predictions that were subsequently verified by experiment

- holds promise for further predictions that can be plausibly tested.

If it has all of these, then it is deemed a useful model of the world. If it has most (e.g. it has unpleasant complexity) then that consensus behind it is more contingent and young turks go gunning for possible alternatives.

None of which is either grasped by the denialists not of interest to them. They have a single agenda... to undermine science as an alternative - competing elite that might question oligarchic rule.

Anonymous said...

Re: 97% of experts and dismissing mouse experiments:

Brin: "And… one has to do with the other in what way? How? Find me the 97% of biologists who assert that caloric restriction will double human lifespan, as it does in some mice?"

Caloric restriction is irrelevant to the article that you cited and dismissed. The article discusses a protein that seems to rejuvenate hearts in mice in a specific fashion.

Feh - perhaps you should post anonymously, if you aren't going to pay attention to what you write about.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Larryhart, some things are kept deliberately vague… e.g. the notion of "Ifni". Didn't you think about it more, because of the vagueness? ;-)


Got it. Wouldn't dream of asking a writer to reveal something that's SUPPOSED to be ambiguous.

However, wheteher you meant it or not, I'm convinced that the g'Kek earned the wrath of the Jophur by using discared Jophur rings as tires. :)

David Brin said...

deigning to stoop to talk to a nasty troll. Caloric restriction is just one of dozens of magic longevity treatments that appear to have effects upon bacteria, insects, even rodents, but have yet to show more than a scintilla of effects upon human beings.

Moreover, the topic was "97%" and you will find a lot more than 3% of biologists, physiologists and doctors agreeing with what I just said. Indeed, A majority... a LARGE majority... would avow that mice are poor analogues to humans when aging is at issue.

The reasons are complex and I am through "deigning" to a nasty troll. They can be viewed at http://www.davidbrin.com/immortality.html

We have already plucked the low-hanging fruit. No single protein or cocktail of proteins will flick a switch for us to be 200. Oh we may get there but it will be non trivial.

Alfred Differ said...

Seeing as caloric restriction is most likely going to impact the highest consumer of calories in us, namely our brains, I can't see how it COULD extend our lifespans much. Our brains are what give us an edge against the critters and our neighbors, so it strikes me as a silly idea even if we had not already tested it. In fact, it sounds a bit like that homeopathic nonsense. Dilute the calories and magic happens. 8)

Also, I had never even considered Ifni having anything but a human origin. Heh. WAY too human.

Paul451 said...

Temporary, broad immunity to multiple strains of influenza by squirting genes for the anti-body up your nose. (Idea emerged from a throw away line by Bill Gates.)

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2013/05/gene-therapy-against-the-flu.html?ref=hp

Alfred Differ said...

locumranch:

I think you are trying to hard to interpret what amount to idioms. Literal interpretations of them often make no sense. How could 'spill the beans' have anything to do with unwisely speaking of secrets to outsiders? How could 'seeing red' have anything to do with anger when we have a perfectly good word in English for it already. Idioms are defined by how the nati ve speakers use them. Consensus Science is too and you can be pretty sure it is the scientists who want to have the biggest say in what it means. If you want more literal interpretations, offer something closer to a proverb we can use.

Ian said...

"We have already plucked the low-hanging fruit. No single protein or cocktail of proteins will flick a switch for us to be 200. Oh we may get there but it will be non trivial."

True but we know some of us can live to ca. 115 so it's quite possible a relatively simple therapy could help a great many more of us to live that long.

Ian said...

Oh and if we move beyond a philosophical abstraction of how science operates and look at actual scientific papers, readers will note that the authors don't spend 50,000 pages describing how they verified Ohm's Law experimentally and spent a month taking measurements to confirm that the gravitational acceleration at the Earth's surface is approximately equal to 9.8 metres per second.

Nor, most likely, did they provide citations to support those facts.


They treated them as givens.


Because there's a consensus that these facts are proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Ian said...

What happens when you try to print a gun on a home-grade 3D printer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9taL4svjH_g

Paul451 said...

With apologies to Robert, cute single-panel webcomic worth a look:

http://tragedyseries.tumblr.com/

(Turing: "particularly adioch": It would be tragic if "adioch" doesn't mean melancholic whimsy.)

Tony Fisk said...

Locum is confusing philosophy with nit-picking.
Nit-picking, when directed at basic assumptions of an argument, is a useful, even essential, tool of critique. However,if applied indiscriminately,
it simply becomes tiresome, and the other party stops responding.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
Re: Plastic gun.
Again, I object to the panic-mongering. It is not "an emerging threat". It's a zip gun. You have to take it apart to load for each single round. It only fires (without exploding) special low powered rounds.

I have no problem if police wanted to say to hobbyists, "Be careful of what you hear on US sites, unlike the US it's actually illegal to make these under Australian law, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. And if you do make it, be aware it can only fire special low-powered rounds. Here is what happened when we fired a regular store-bought .38 round: [cue video, Bang!]". But that's all you need to say. Those are two perfectly reasonably pieces of information and everything you say after that blurs the message.

It's basic design theory. If you bombard people with the same hysterical level of warning for everything, they quickly tune them out and won't actually pay attention when when you need to warn them of something serious. How many people click through Windows warnings without reading them, because they've been trained to by the excessive "Are you sure?" warnings? How useful were the endless terror-threat warnings in the US after 9/11? How many drug users would ever listen to safety info from any govt official? (And sure enough, the two top-rated comments on that video were both casting doubt on the demonstration itself.)

Paul451 said...

The pyramids may not have been built by ancient astronauts, but 5000 year ago the Pharaohs wore jewellery made by ancient asteroid miners.

http://www.nature.com/news/iron-in-egyptian-relics-came-from-space-1.13091

(Been theorised for awhile, but apparently hard to get permission to test it on ancient iron artefacts.)

atomsmith said...

Locum commits the etymological fallacy in an absurd argument that the accepted meaning to "scientific consensus" should be considered incoherent because of historical reasons.

And dismissing it as ad populum is just a lazy way to ignore the track record of modern science: how often in recent history (say since the adoption of Popper) has a consensus of 97% been exactly wrong?

Alfred Differ said...

Setting any time frame to the blunder discussion, especially one as recent as Popper's contribution, probably doesn't help our case. I think it is stronger to argue that Science isn't all that old. We like to trace it back to the Greeks, but if you look at the processes and social institution it is today I think that is too much of a stretch.

The modern form CAN be dated back to the early Puritans, but you need a liberal society for science to work as we understand it, so if one is going to choose a time frame I think that is it. I'm not dismissing the historical roots that go much farther back and include non-western cultures, but I do think we can dodge the blame for blunders made in non-liberal societies that provided the seeds for science.

For the physicists, I think I would have to put the Aether up there among the blunders that were commonly accepted. It went by different names, but it boils down to the assumption that leads to Galilean coordinate transformations.

atomsmith said...

I think a relatively small time-frame for blunders is necessary to account for the fact that a 97% consensus right now means a lot more than a 97% consensus among the Ancient Greeks meant regarding probability of being correct. After all, things like statistical significance and peer-review are very modern inventions.

LarryHart said...

I wish I had the Isaac Asimov essay in front of me to quote, but I remember reading one of his missives where he described scientific progress and the fallacy that each new discovery proved the earlier theories "wrong".

People used to think the earth was flat. Then they thought it was a sphere. Then an oblong sphere. Then an oblong sphere with one pole more squished than the other. At the lowest level, each new theory disproves the earlier one, so the cynic can say "Every theory is WRONG. The odds are that the new one is wrong too."

But that's ignoring the fact of scientific progress. Each theory is an APPROXIMATION of reality (even the "flat" model isn't ridiculously far off if you're looking at the local surroundings), and each successive theory is a BETTER approximation than the one before it.

All "wrongs" are not created equal. Consensus tells us that Ronald Reagan (president at the time Asimov was writing) is the 40th president of the United States. Yet if someone were to count all of the individuals who had been president, he would find that Reagan was the 39th such person. "40th president" is only true if we count Grover Cleveland twice. If someone were to insist "Ronald Reagan is the 39th president of the US", conventional wisdom would say he's wrong, but that assertion is not AS wrong as if someone said that Reagan was the FIRST president.

Some "wrongs" are wronger than others.

Ian said...

"The modern form CAN be dated back to the early Puritans, but you need a liberal society for science to work as we understand it, so if one is going to choose a time frame I think that is it. I'm not dismissing the historical roots that go much farther back and include non-western cultures, but I do think we can dodge the blame for blunders made in non-liberal societies that provided the seeds for science."

Modern science can be traced pretty directly to the work of two men: Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei, neither of whom were puritans and neither of whom lived in anything resembling a liberal society.

Alfred Differ said...

Blunders can also be categorized although it isn't always a clean separation. There are errors the the prediction engines within our theories and there are errors to the explanatory narratives that give meaning to the calculations. The aether failed as an explanation, but it got replaced by something else that made use of essentially the same prediction engine. Tweak the coordinate transformation laws and classical mechanics done the way Newton did it isn't all that different from the way Einstein did it. Of course, that eventually failed too and we had to change the prediction engine to deal with quantum behavior. We still don't have a 'good' explanatory model for that even though parts of it are good enough to get predictions to the 10th decimial place in QED. 8)

I've gone round and round with climate deniers who don't see the distinction between the explanation and the prediction components. I point out that they could be correct in that we will swap out the narrative later for a better one yet still keep the prediction engine mostly untouched. Experimental tests really only test the engine, but they don't get that. They are used to science being taught as explanations. Even though we've tossed Newton's stuff out the window, it is still pretty good at predictions. Even geocentric astronomy is pretty good... up to a point.

Alfred Differ said...

It is easy to argue that Bacon and Galileo were scientists, but it is a stretch to argue that there was a community of science at that time. The 97% consensus notion requires a community for comparison.

I'm not dismissing the scientists. I'm arguing for the recognition of a gift economy we've learned to call science. I think that began to take solid form in the 17th century before just before Newton and was humming along by the turn of the 18th century.

Ian said...

http://space.brevardtimes.com/2013/05/asteroid-with-own-moon-nears-earth.html

This is interesting the asteroid making a close approach to Earth has a moon.

I'm wondering if this has any practical implications - like nudging the moon into Earth orbit or using the moon as a base for mining operations.

Ian said...

I'm goign to stay skeptical here but this is interesting:

http://phys.org/news/2013-05-global-chlorofluorocarbons-carbon-dioxide.html

"Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are to blame for global warming since the 1970s and not carbon dioxide, according to new research from the University of Waterloo published in the International Journal of Modern Physics B this week.
...
"Lu's theory has been confirmed by ongoing observations of cosmic ray, CFC, ozone and stratospheric temperature data over several 11-year solar cycles. "CRE is the only theory that provides us with an excellent reproduction of 11-year cyclic variations of both polar ozone loss and stratospheric cooling," said Professor Lu. "After removing the natural cosmic-ray effect, my new paper shows a pronounced recovery by ~20% of the Antarctic ozone hole, consistent with the decline of CFCs in the polar stratosphere."

By proving the link between CFCs, ozone depletion and temperature changes in the Antarctic, Professor Lu was able to draw almost perfect correlation between rising global surface temperatures and CFCs in the atmosphere.

"The climate in the Antarctic stratosphere has been completely controlled by CFCs and cosmic rays, with no CO2 impact. The change in global surface temperature after the removal of the solar effect has shown zero correlation with CO2 but a nearly perfect linear correlation with CFCs - a correlation coefficient as high as 0.97." "

My first question is what's preventing the gteenhouse effect associated with Carbon Dioxide in well-documented lab experiments from occurring in the atmosphere.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Freeman Dyson has been a climate change skeptic, often making arguments that are no different than Glen Beck. Read some of his howling writing at the NY Review of Books, which should have been embarrassed to publish such tripe from him.

Anonymous said...

How is it "nasty trolling" to point out your invalid basis for dismissing an interesting experimental mouse result as not possibly relevant to humans?

The result in the article was not about the pace of aging, or the maximum age attainable, but rather was about discovering the cause of a specific kind of aging - namely reduced production of a protein necessary for mouse heart health.

Mice and men both age, though at different rates. It seems very likely that mice and men share biological mechanisms that fail in similar ways as they age. Mice and humans are commonly considered by experts to be biologically similar enough that discoveries in mice often have implications for humans.

Why would you dismiss the idea that there may be proteins that play the same role in humans, given observations of similar heart disease in aging humans? Perhaps even the SAME protein, merely produced in healthy amounts longer for humans than for mice.

Ian said...

Anonymous, it's trolling when you accuse him of dismissing the possible human implications "out of hand", when he links to a detailed explanation of his reasoning.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

David is linking together many aspects of aging that should not be linked at all. It is true that mice (and many other non-human organisms) are very poor analogs of humans when you are trying to push beyond the current maximum lifespan.

Humans appear to be telomere limited to a maximum lifespan of 115-120 years. Mice have very long telomeres, which seem to be less relevant because mice do not have the DNA repair mechanisms possessed by humans.

Humans have especially short telomeres on chromosome 17, which, not coincidentally, is where most of our important DNA repair genes have evolved out of necessity.

GDF-11, the protein in question in the article, does have similarities in mice and humans. GDF-11 (by itself) will never allow humans to live beyond age 120, and I haven't seen anyone claim that it would.

GDF-11, which is already a commercially available protein produced by recombinant DNA technology, may allow human to increase their HEALTHSPAN.

GDF-11, and other similar proteins, may allow humans to stay much healthier until our DNA telomere clock runs out after 115-120 years.

David Brin said...

A nasty troll is called a troll because he is nasty, not because of the topic at hand. And he was indeed, very nasty. As for the topic, it was "97%" The anonymous troll twerp raised THAT in the context of human life extension, a silliness.

Reiterating, humans needed to expand our life spans 100,000 years ago, when the only way to store portable information was grandparents, so every tribe needed a few, while children had super-long formative years. We needed longer spans... and got them by plucking all the low hanging fruit. All the easy switches (e.g. mgic proteins or caloric restriction related) already are flicked BECAUSE WE NEEDED TO FLICK THEM.

We'll do more, but it will be very very hard, and probably not in time for any of us.

Edit_XYZ said...

"Reiterating, humans needed to expand our life spans 100,000 years ago, when the only way to store portable information was grandparents, so every tribe needed a few, while children had super-long formative years. We needed longer spans... and got them by plucking all the low hanging fruit. All the easy switches (e.g. mgic proteins or caloric restriction related) already are flicked BECAUSE WE NEEDED TO FLICK THEM."

Did our ancestors evolved to pick low hanging fruits in order to live longer?
Yes.

Did they pick ALL the low hanging fruits?
There is no proof for this assertion of yours:
Evolution makes a living organism good enough to survive an environment, it does not "search" for all the low hanging fruits.
Even more, what are low hanging fruits for technology can prove extremely difficult to reach fruits for biology - see the wheel, for example.

Paul451 said...

Edit_XYZ,
Nature doesn't necessarily find every low hanging fruit, but it's important to assume she's somehow messed with the one your plucking.

Ie, if the GDF-11 protein has a certain effect in mice, it not only doesn't mean the same effect will be observed in humans, it may cause the opposite (due to how nature has, thanks to its drunkard's walk, messed with that mechanism already).

This is not a bad thing, you may find something more interesting, which is why we should continue this kind of research. But it can often become bad if we aren't careful. We have to assume until proven otherwise we are ballsing up some other system, precisely because humans already live so far past the norms for our body-mass/heart-rate.

David,
"BECAUSE WE NEEDED TO FLICK THEM."

We need to wha.... oh, "flick", right, I guess that makes more sense.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

GDF-11 is already produced in humans. The gene for it is on human chromosome 12. The problem is that production of GDF-11 diminishes with age. I don't think that anyone knows if there is a benefit of the loss of GDF-11 with age.

It is unlikely that there would have been any evolutionary benefit to avoiding the loss of GDF-11 with age, so nature didn't do it.

GDF-11 has multiple actions in the human body, but all of the major actions seem to be beneficial (for example, in maintaining skeletal integrity).

A significant improvement in the health of those over 70 would have been of little benefit 10,000 years ago (since most humans would never have attained that age). Today, a significant healthspan improvement would be a dramatic benefit in terms of the large cost reduction of programs like Medicare in the U.S.

If we don't get a dramatic improvement in healthspan in the near future, we may have to convert our shopping malls into nursing homes because we won't able to financially support our shopping malls anyway.

Edit_XYZ said...

"Nature doesn't necessarily find every low hanging fruit, but it's important to assume she's somehow messed with the one your plucking."

Paul451, nature MAY have plucked the GDF-11 "fruit". Or maybe not.

David Brin did is state nature most definitely plucked that fruit - by using unsupported hand-waving. And then behaved as if his fallacy is so obviously true, that only a fool would disagree with it.

Tim H. said...

Yeah, but absent abuse, humans do live kind of a long time. Not really handwavium here.

David Brin said...

Edit_XYZ poses a very cogent question. Did our ancestors who needed to live longer pick ALL the low hanging fruits?

Very good question. Obviously I cannotprove all the easily accessible switches to prolong lifespan were already flicked. But I can show you why it is likely:

1) We've had 10,000 years of kingship, in which a small clade of grandparents not only lived past the normal billion heartbeats to get the human 2.5 billion, but lived in comfort and had access to the kingdom's most fecund women. For as long as the king could produce good sperm, for that long he would reproduce and those who did it longer had more kids.

2) Low-hanging means readily accessible without high tech. And believe you me those kings ordered experiments! The chinese annals are filled with tales like the First Emperor, ordering thousands experimented on to find elixers of youth. Those who lived long were interviewed and their diets etc studied. To think this did not happen with care and detail is historical contempt and bigotry.

6000 years of ascetic monasteries, and not one of them found an elixer, That sounds like using up low hanging fruit. They looked for it!

Now what WE deem low-hanging is another matter. I claim even the middle branches are bare. Some may not be and Pharma is looking hard. I hope I am wrong.


(BTW "Edit XYZ" you aren't fooling anyone.)

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I think there are a few on the middle branches we can reach. They are pretty obvious, but a lot of people still don't reach for them.

Don't smoke.
Don't become obese.
Don't become an alcoholic.

Do any of these and the odds are unpleasantly high that you won't make it past 2 billion heart beats or that you'll use them up quickly. Avoid these and 3 billion slowly used isn't unlikely.

This isn't a doubling obviously, but these fruits hang pretty low.

TheMadLibrarian said...

A few observations:
It isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel by reverifying constants that have already been repeatedly tested, unless that testing is an integral part of your experiment.

It's really hard to prove a negative. Confirming we have definitely done all the easy, low hanging fruit counts.

Demanding a perfect theoretical model first pop out of the box is the fallacy of the gaps, beloved of creationists who like to point to the incomplete fossil record as proving evolution wrong. Then, when a transitional fossil is found, they point to the new space on either side and demand filler for the new gaps as well. Science is a series of refinements on theories. Sometimes old theories get dumped and new ones arise when the evidence for or against becomes overwhelming, but there must be evidence.

TheMadLibrarian
ivenerli: erli what? Bedtime?

Robert said...

Actually, there is one thing to consider about the low-calorie diet. Just how healthy have those monks been with their diets? Do they get the proper amount of vitamins and other elements they need? Or are they suffering from low-level undernourishment? Though to be honest I doubt that a low-calorie diet that was completely healthy would do more than add maybe 10 years to someone's life. There are people who eat unhealthily and yet live to be in their 90s... having smoked, drank, and more. There are health fanatics who exercise and do everything right... and die before 30. Diet isn't everything.

Rob H.

Robert said...

And going back on topic for science, there was a recent article on Huffy Post about Space Elevators which sparked an interesting thought. One of the problems with space elevators is that current materials aren't strong enough to be the tether.

But what if they were? Given that we are now able to do effective three-dimensional printing... has anyone considered examining molecular structures of existing materials to find a shape that is more efficient and increases the strength of the material? For instance, honeycombs are a more efficient form for buildings than a solid wall. Might there be an atomic structuring of atoms that ends up strengthening the object over what we normally construct?

We may even look into the molecular structure of such things as spider silk and the like to see if there's a specific "pattern" which has a higher tensile strength... and which may thus allow us to use more "mundane" materials than carbon nanotubes in building the tether for our space elevator.

Just food for thought.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, naturally, many of the monks' ascetic diets were unhealthy starvation. And some others weren't ascetic at all. The point is that with so many monasteries across 6000 years, most varieties of diet were probably tried and I do know that many (Franciscans and Buddhists) made a point of trying for spare-but-healthy.

With so many experiments, any simple magic bullet that was natural and "low-hanging" really ought to have been found.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

BECAUSE WE NEEDED TO FLICK THEM.


As a comics reader of a certain age, you must be aware that comic books (which in my day were always lettered in ALL CAPS) did not use the word "FLICK" for that very reason--because the L and the I combine in an embarassing way.

:)

David Brin said...


NOW it's time to FL ICK ... onward.........

Paul451 said...

Jerry Emanuelson,
"A significant improvement in the health of those over 70 would have been of little benefit 10,000 years ago"

But we had to get to 70. We had to double our lifespan compared to other equivalent mass apes. Which means that the loss of certain proteins was countered by some other mechanism. Given how messy evolution is, you should assume-until-proven-otherwise, that messing with such a protein will mess with something else that we depend on for health. Hence finding something that "doubles the lifespan" of short-lives animals does not mean a single damn thing about the same mechanism in humans. To a degree that isn't necessarily true with other biological pathways; because longevity is something we've already done.

"If we don't get a dramatic improvement in healthspan in the near future, we may have to convert our shopping malls into nursing homes because we won't able to financially support our shopping malls anyway."

No argument there. We're spending much too much effort increasing the last few years of life, but are barely increasing the prior thirty or so.

But every gained year-of-health needs to be eked out one by one, with the game getting harder as the score gets higher. There's unlikely to be any magic "ageing switch". The benefit of finding such a switch was too high for the animals that would become humans. We doubled our lifespans, probably by grabbing a whole crap load of separate mechanisms and messing with them, if there was a single easy-to-tweak switch to turn off ageing, it seems unlikely that some of them wouldn't have drunkard's walked over it during the million or so years of our species' evolution.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Paul451,

All of the current evidence is that the change in speciation from other apes to humanoids (humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans) took place rather suddenly, with a massive reshuffling of genes and chromosomes.

Humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. The other great apes have 24 pairs. Human chromosome 2 is clearly a fusion of two chromosomes from the other great apes, plus an additional 150,000 or so base pairs added at the site of the fusion of the two great ape chromosomes.

Most such wild re-shuffling of genes and renumbering of chromosomes would not produce viable offspring, or at least not offspring that could reproduce indefinitely. Rather than leading to quick extinction, however, our species thrived and gained longer lifespans.

So the genes that caused our much longer lifespans have likely appeared rather suddenly (in evolutionary terms) rather than being a long series of generational experiments.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

The Human Genome Project has changed everything in terms of our understanding of health and longevity. We just got this instruction book for assembly of the human body about ten years ago. We pretty well understand the vocabulary, but not yet all of the syntax of the instruction book.

We have 6.4 billion base pairs in our DNA. (It is sometimes said to be 3 billion base pairs, but that is just an approximation of the contribution from one parent.) Each of us is different. Even identical twins gain a few random mutations.

So from here on, we are unlikely to find anything that uniformly extends either the healthspan or the lifespan of everyone.

We already know, for example, that in the case of the protein IGF-1: If you have a strong propensity for cardiovascular disease, but not cancer, then increasing IGF-1 will very likely lengthen your life expectancy and your overall health.

But if you have a strong propensity for developing cancer, but not cardiovascular disease, then increasing IGF-1 is likely to cause you to develop cancer sooner and with worse consequences.

If you are an "in between" case, then its a tossup which way things will develop.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

In my own case, on my father's side of the family, men tended to develop problems with severe osteoporosis in their later years. In my father's case, his spine literally started crumbling away when he was 83.

After he died, I discovered that at age 58 my spine was already beginning to soften. By that time, DNA SNP scans became available, so I got scans from two different companies, and began looking around through my genome on my own. I found a odd single base-pair mutation in the gene for the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.

So I got my estrogen levels tested. They were alarmingly low. So I became my doctor's first male patient to begin using topical estrogen. Now, my spine is 42.5 percent denser, and still increasing. If 90 percent of men were to use supplemental estrogen, they would develop prostate problems and many other problems. I got much healthier.

This is the way medicine will be done in the future. "Natural" evolution has pretty much hit a dead end with us. We can start moving ahead with a greatly increased healthspan, but it will have to be individualized to our specific individual genomes. This is something that nature could never have done.


opit said...

It seems you have posted for ages about the putative opinions of 'deniers' without having the audacity to cite specific individuals and circumstances. This is prudent when dealing with a political football from an international political organization disguised with fearmongering under the rubric of sensible impartial analysis.
If science is based on testability, where does such apply to soothsaying future climate conditions? Even then, one would have to note background conditions and much more.
I would get into the analysis 'casting doubt' not on science, but on the reporting of supposed science. Roger Pielke Jr. was so taken with representations of the situation differing from his father's view ( a climate scientist ) that he has been doing much work on the reliability of 'scientific' testimony as it applies to political footballs promoted by activists ( aka Post Normal Science ) . In the case of Carbon Tax ( a tax on air or fire perhaps ) we are treated to the spectacle of a UN bureaucracy spewing nonsense ginned up under the impetus of selling a tax regime which would enrich the proponents beyond the dreams of Croesus ( the EU plan collapsed under the weight of rampant fraud ) while nations enact self chosen disadvantages/ trade barriers which would be especially onerous on their poor ( freezing in the dark is not hypothetical for UK pensioners) .
One could have nasty suspicions about energy monopolists doing so at a time of doldrums on the Sun.
http://www.waragainsttheweak.com/