Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Science marches on.... mostly good medical news.

Girding myself for the long-haul, I will try to punctuate political missives with reminders that we are a scientific civilization, still. And that the whole American Experiment has been about moving forward mostly ourselves.  And hence, getting across this week...
== Medical advances ==

A 25-year-old student has just come up with a way to fight drug-resistant superbugs using a star-shaped polymer that can kill six different superbug strains without antibiotics, simply by ripping apart their cell walls.  

In the most finely-parsed brain mapping to date, researchers put a donor brain through MRI and diffusion tensor imaging and then sliced it up by specific regions. The end result is a map of 862 annotated structures at a resolution of roughly a hundredth the width of a human hair.  

A unique brain 'fingerprint' method that involves mapping the human brain with diffusion MRI can identify an individual with excellent accuracy.

Intriguing line of research: could Alzheimer's disease be a diabetic disorder of the brain?

A low oxygen environment may help stimulate heart regeneration in mice.

IBM's Watson recommends the same cancer treatment as doctors 99% of the time, but offered options missed by doctors in 30% of cases.

Read about ProTactile ASL, a language for the DeafBlind that doesn't rely on sight or sound. 

Fighting against dengue and zika around the globe: a visual guide to modified mosquitos. 

Larry Brilliant’s new book, autobiographical on a most-interesting life (!) is now available. Sometimes Brilliant: The Impossible Adventure of a Spiritual Seeker and Visionary Physicist Who Helped Conquer the Worst Disease in History. Okay, if I had a name like that… 

Larry writes: “In the middle of the Cold War, Russians and Americans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists—people of all races and creeds—joined together to conquer the worst disease in history. I was living in a Himalayan monastery when my teacher, Neem Karoli Baba, sent me to be a foot soldier to help eradicate smallpox. I stayed in India for a decade. We did eradicate this terrible disease, and I saw the very last case of variola major.”  See it reviewed on Electric Review

== Forever young? ==

Rejuvenation? Oh, this is simultaneously hopeful and creepy — evidence that injecting young human blood into older bodies does seem to offer powers of rejuvenation – even if those old bodies aren't human themselves. Researchers took blood samples from a group of healthy, young 18-year-old human participants and injected them into 12-month-old mice – late middle age in mice years, or the equivalent of being about 50 years old in human terms. And there were effects on memory and other functions, as if they had been made younger.

First, results in mice don’t always translate to humans, especially when it comes to matters of aging. I explain why in my article: Do We Really Want Immortality?

Second, the cheap sci fi movie plots spin out, in the mind.  One envisions a dystopian hell in which young people are hooked up to the vampiric rich — the flick becomes even more bankable because vampire flicks always correlate with Republican administrations. (During democratic administrations, it’s zombies, all the way down. I explain why, elsewhere.) 

A much better film would start with a reasonable premise… all young people are expected to donate blood at reasonable intervals — say the three month cycle that is how I got up to donating 84 pints. Only the schedule keeps getting tightened as kids get tired all the time. A more plausibly chilling hell.

Our Orwellian fear is that secretive elites will hoard and monopolize new technological powers and manipulate the state into protecting their monopoly. But technology often stymies this trend, by spreading more democratically, as happened with the supercomputers we carry in our pockets.  And hence, rejuvenation results have drawn focus on blood components that change with age, opening the possibility that some factors might be provided industrially, en masse, without having to clamp onto the veins of the young.

Oh and look up the good news about Aspirin, which just keeps coming. But, update your notions of maximum dose for Tylenol. And don't mix it with Aspirin... which appears to be gaining cred as a wonder supplement.

== Curiosities ==

The ancient shipwreck at Antikythera has been enriching us with insights to the Roman era world for 100 years… including the wonder called the Antikythera Device.  Now, archaeologists have found a human skeleton which might reveal even more secrets… of… the… past!  

The world's deepest underwater cave in the Czech Republic - Hranick√° Propast - reaches a dizzying depth of 1,325 feet (404 meters). 
This year’s Ig-Nobel Prizes for scientific studies that… well… some were foolish and others wise, but all make you smile.  

Don't swear at Siri: on average, ten to fifty percent of our interactions with our technological devices are abusive. And... .what are we going to say when our machines begin to ask why they're here?

U.S. dementia rates are dropping, even as the population ages. Perhaps as a result of higher education levels?

Why does Elon name his sea and space ships after those in sci fi books? Why? Because he can!  

Okay, how'd that taste? The troglodytes have decided to grab our ankles, kicking and screaming how much they hate the future.  But we can keep moving forward, and take them - despite their howls - to Star Trek.


Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin said, "Larry Brilliant’s new book, autobiographical on a most-interesting life (!) is now available."
I wrote a review on that just last week for Electric Review. I am very happy to second Doctor Brin's endorsement!

LarryHart said...

I might not be much present on line tomorrow, so I want to acknowledge my favorite holiday of the calendar, Thanksgiving Day (for Americans, anyway). While religious in inception, it is not sectarian and can be celebrated by secularists as well as by the faithful. It's as non-controversial a holiday as one is likely to find, and the essence of it is to take the focus off of what we are dissatisfied with and to take stock of what we have to feel grateful for.

Cliche as it sounds, I'm first and foremost grateful for my family. For many years, I never expected to marry, and I certainly never sought progeny, yet I can say that against my own expectations, my wife and child turned out to be the highlights of my life. They've brought me more pleasure and pride and satisfaction than one could reasonably expect in a lifetime. If I were to drop dead at this moment, it would not be without having lived a complete and satisfying life.

Some of you know that my wife was on death's door a few years ago, and was spared only by having enough knowledge to self-diagnose a disease that no test could identify and to find a doctor willing to use common sense rather than pretend that not knowing what disease she had meant nothing was wrong with her. I'm more thankful than you can imagine that she continues to be with me today. As Hamilton said in the play (although I think Aaron Burr wrote the words in real life), she's the Best of wives; best of women. And for some reason I'll never understand, she attached herself to me.

This year, there are circumstances which make it hard to feel thankful, at least at first blush. Both my employer and my country have revealed themselves to be untrue. The USA acquiring a taste for the jackboot is by far the harder to deal with. Not sure yet whether the correct response is flight or fight. All I know is, I'm not the coward I was at twenty, and if necessary, I'll do what I can and must to resist the affront to our values being unleashed by white-supremacist bullies. Maybe this state of affairs, like the other, will turn out to be a blessing in disguise, because as much as the country might go for center-right economic theory, I don't think it will long stand for being dictated to by Nazis. Burr, I'd rather be divisive than indecisive. Skip the niceties! Meanwhile, I'm thankful for being in a blue state in which such acts of threats and violence don't seem to be endemic.

No, this year, I can't long evade either politics or "Hamilton". I'm thankful for "Hamilton", by the way. It's always nice to have something new to fall in love with.

In the case of employment, at least, a rebound is imminent. Here, the betrayal was most definitely a blessing in disguise. Complacency had made it seem too daunting to take the step of moving on. Once forced to take the plunge, I find the water only ankle deep after all. I should have moved on years ago. Go figure.

Likewise, when the old Yahoo "Cerebus" list fell apart, this community was here and welcoming. I'm thankful for this blog too. These all seem to be analogous situations.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, I'm thankful for the Cubs. Their championship was something my dad never lived to see, and I didn't really expect to either. One more step toward a complete life.

I wish blessings on us all, whether or not tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day where you live. Be free, be brave, be blessed, and remember to be thankful.

David Brin said...

Zepp & LarryHart back atcha. Thanksgiving is also my favorite. Almost completely un-ruined by commercialized crap... that is, if we can defend it against the War BY Christmas.

May this be a start of a wonderful year for us all and the rise of civilization against darkness.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Aye that, Doctor. Nobody is going to miss 2016. 2017 HAS to be better!

TCB said...

I don't take Tylenol any more, just aspirin; but a lot of the time what you really need is all-around anti-inflammatory. I take a supplement called Arthro-Select. Not cheap but worth it. It contains curcumin and about half a dozen other things. Like the person who recommended it to me said: It seems like it doesn't do anything, but stop for a couple of weeks and see how bad you feel.

Notice a couple of things from fiction here: low oxygen levels regenerate mice hearts?
That's how they made Deadpool!

And as for anti-aging 'vampires' taking young blood: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad came pretty close to this prediction. Also predicting a radio demagogue.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Thanksgiving is also my favorite. Almost completely un-ruined by commercialized crap... that is, if we can defend it against the War BY Christmas.

You're singing my song. The so-called "War on Christmas" is meant to distract us from the war on Thanksgiving--a mostly non-monitizable holiday for which most businesses lose workers for two days. They'd like nothing more than to drop it into the memory hole and have Christmas (shopping) season begin immediately after Halloween. Don't let it happen. JOIN! THE! MOCKINGJAY!

(I kid, but it's what Al Franken calls "kidding on the square")

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:
May this be a start of a wonderful year for us all and the rise of civilization against darkness.

For better or worse, I think 2017 is now the real start of the new century.

raito said...


It looks like we have some things in common. I, too, never expected to marry or have progeny. Married at 45, children at 47 and 50.

I'm now just a booster rocket for the future.

Alfred Differ said...

Funny thing about guys marrying late for the first time... They might have baggage, but there is a decent chance they aren't hooked on the idiocies of their youth. It's not a certainty, but I think they are easier to spot.

I married at 33, never doubted I would, but tried to avoid thinking about it while going to school. Good thing in retrospect. When I finally did fall in love, any thoughts of my career path vanished for a full year. Poof. Had to pick a new one afterward, but I was too happy to care. 8)

So... I'm obviously thankful for my family. I can't imagine wanting to shop while in this mood. 8)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tony Fisk said...

The attraction of young blood for the old has had a number of, erm..., treatments. It's why the Skeksis were after the Gelflings in "Dark Crystal". It could be argued that it drove the economy in Vance's story "To Live Forever" (where immortals lived in luxury while the youngsters strove to prove themselves worthy of treatments that granted them a few extra decades)

wrt zombies and vampires, I'm tempted to write a tale about a small band of holed up oligarchs, last of their kind, fending off frenzied attacks by hordes of the enraged living, and praying for nightfall. Come next April 1, I might get the nerve up to pitch it to Clarkesworld.*

* (See the Submission Guidelines to see what I mean about 'nerve' ;-)

Tony Fisk said...

...Enjoy your meals.

Anonymous said...


Flypusher said...

I hope this grows into something.

Howard Brazee said...

I'm reminded of James Gunn's The Immortals.

Zepp Jamieson said...


Isn't Peakoil already doing that for you?

Jumper said...

If you haven't seen this you might want to know about it. It's Damn Interesting.

Jumper said...

I keep trying to get them to add an "F" to LBGTQIA. "F" for "Furries." They are suffering widespread scorn for their "perverse" lifestyle; you can see these prejudices are quite real and the hate not imaginary, if you attend SF conventions, where these innocent folks gather to find camaraderie with their fellow fuzzballs but experience insults and shunning. Help change LBGTQIA to LBGTQIAF.

Zepp Jamieson said...

While I agree with your sentiments about Furries, who strike me as utterly harmless folk, the LBGTQIA acronym is already one of the most cumbersome and annoying such entity on the political scene. Why make it even worse?

Flypusher said...

"While I agree with your sentiments about Furries, who strike me as utterly harmless folk, the LBGTQIA acronym is already one of the most cumbersome and annoying such entity on the political scene. Why make it even worse?"

Damn, I'm not keeping up. I? A? Intersex? Asexual? Something else?

Zepp Jamieson said...

They're people who like to dress up as animals, sometimes for sexual pleasure. It might be as simple as a pair of velvet fox ears and a tail along with some drawn-on whiskers, all the way up to elaborate full body costumes. You can read further (pun intended) here:

David Brin said...

Jumper I like the Damn Interesting site.

But No to adding an F! "Help change LBGTQIA to LBGTQIAF." ????

Hell no! We need vowels! Make it "AnimAmorous" and it's fine by me. I guested at one of their conventions. Sweet folks but SWEATY under that garb!

If we add an "A" then all sorts of word-jumble possibilities emerge.

ANd if *I* add an "A" Then I have a BRAIN!

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous at 4:18

You wouldn't have needed SCARY CAPS if you'd read the article closely. It looks reasonably factual, except for the head line.

Fukushima #2 power plant is Fukushima Daini, not Dai-ishi the one that was ravaged in the March 2011 disaster. Daini wasn't damaged, though they did have trouble. So, the incident was in the power plant that's in good shape, and they solved it long before it could escalate.

The head line says there was a loss of cooling in reactor #3, which sounds scary. But it was in the spent fuel pool. Quite some difference.

It takes 7 days for this spent fuel pool to reach dangerous temperatures, the cooling was back after 90-100 minutes, about 1% of the maximum time to solve the problem.

So let's keep a cool head about nuclear power, it's one of the sources of CO2-free power that we need badly right now. WE can discuss phading it out after we've managed to reduce CO2 to safe levels again.


TCB said...

So we're talkin' bout furries now, eh?

It's the 21st Century, shouldn't be that hard for people to get bioengineered fur and lab-grown tails. Lab-grown teeth are just around the corner, so getting some nice canines is totally doable. And that's just for starters...

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Some interesting stuff.

I spent some time trying to figure out what was happening with the new antibiotic you mentioned in the first link, and basically, I failed. There are apparently 16 or 32 peptides attached to a single core. Since these are powers of two, I guess (really, I'm just guessing) they are using a branched chain structure with 3 to 5 generations. (why 3? A chain starts with two ends, so 2 * 2^3 = 16. Don't fuss at the fenceposts.) Are all the "arms" the same? What do they do? Is the point of this to use otherwise too-toxic peptides that are rendered non-toxic (or less toxic) by attaching them to a structure too big to enter most cells?

Why does everyone mention that the researcher is twenty-whatever? Every article but one that I looked at had a picture of the photogenic researcher. She's a Ph.D. student, doing what mankind put Ph.D. students into academia to do: trying to make a significant new contribution to our store of knowledge. Hats off to her, the team, and our society.

One of the articles I looked at had a usual discussion of why pharmaceutical companies don't work more on developing antibiotics: They have an annoying tendency to cure the patient, who then stops buying the antibiotic. This is a major problem with medical economics. If research funding reflected sane values, we would put a lot more money into vaccines, antibiotics, and public health measures, and a lot less into me-too drugs.

Hmm. I was going to discuss more than one link, but I think I'll sign off ...

David Brin said...

What's new with you?

David Brin
Shared publicly - 8:07 PM

Jill Stein, the former Green party presidential candidate, is preparing to contest the results of the U.S. election in several key battleground states. An online fundraising page on Stein’s campaign website, launched Wednesday, had secured $2,646,523.16 in donations by Thursday morning, out of a target $4,500,000.00.

A statement on the page said that the campaign already had enough to fund a review of the vote in Wisconsin, well ahead of the Friday deadline, and is now seeking money to pay for reviews of the Michigan and Pennsylvania results.

Wisconsin matters. Nowhere else has a Republican government fought so hard to repress the voting democratic majority. Nowhere else did the exit polls show such a huge disparity with the reported figures.

And no where else might a pummeled and torched GOP finally turn to a rescuer of adult conservatism. Tacitus 2018!

Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr. Stein has now surpassed $4 million and will almost certainly meet the $4.5 million goal tomorrow, Friday. That is more than her campaign raised over 18 months.
A full and open audit of the votes in those three states will either legitimize Trump's claim to the Presidency, or destroy it.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: Thanks for this post.

It hadn't occurred to me this year to express my gratitude to Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk. How odd. How many people sitting around the table tonight would not have been there but-for the work these men did, and the millions of other unnamed footsoldiers who similarly fought a war against diseases to wipe out smallpox, polio, and so many others.

"Nowhere else [other than Wisconsin] has a Republican government fought so hard to repress the voting democratic majority."

The game in Wisconsin is pure gerrymandering, rather than 'repression' per se. Assuming the DoJ completes some form of investigation before they get their wings clipped, 'voter repression' per se may well be worse in North Carolina and Ohio, but I'll wait to hear the evidence (most likely: inconclusive results or contradictory findings). The 'repression' story is all about the "Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program" (which allegedly has been championed by Republicans to purge young, black, Hispanic, and Asian-American constituencies, aka, Democrats).

Odd that my Thanksgiving musings are troubled by politics this year. Then again, we can thank Abraham Lincoln for converting Thanksgiving into a national holiday in 1863: it had nothing to do with pilgrims, and everything to do with the Civil War. I suppose things were even more troubled nationally at that time than they are now...and yet, here we are.

donzelion said...

re smallpox: of course, now I'm reading the wikipedia entry on smallpox, and apparently, Edward Jenner wasn't the first to 'discover' the link between cowpox, smallpox, and what became known as 'vaccines.'

Instead, he was the first to publish on the matter. And publication - as opposed to 'secret' knowledge passed among a small coterie of apprentice apothecary/doctors - is what made the efficacy of the vaccine abundantly clear (and back then, publication didn't exactly involve experiments applying the same scruples as doctors adopt today: Jenner's experiment on his gardener's young son would today get a doctor throne in jail).

So: all those scientists doing this sort of work, improving their methods, demanding coherence - creating a deep web of connection, challenge, interaction, contribution: thank you folks. May the rest of us find our own ways to contribute to humanity. My contribution tonight? Well, the Filipino guests are the first to ever sample my Thanksgiving cuisine and conclude that the broccoli was the standout hit (not the turkey? the pecan pie?). LOL...

Tony Fisk said...

@TCB. Don't even need lab-grown teeth. I'm sure "Invisalign" orthodontic technology could be adapted.

I agree with David about the vowelless acronym. It's exclusive, too: what about CDEFHJKMNOPRSUVWXYZ? (My daughter, who has become an Authority from Too Much Information in Health classes, tells me there are about 50 recognised gender types, now. This is getting to be as big an explosion as the Burgess Shale! S'OK folks. I'm good with it.)

There's an interesting little 10 minute video, made by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1946, describing the factors that may cause a country to slip into despotism. The narrator opens with this remark:

"First, avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of Government can, of itself, protect against despotism."

It goes on to describe four measures of vulnerability (not *all* drawn from the recent German experience). Looking at them, I don't think Americans have much grounds for complacency (although I also think the future will be unevenly distributed)

If they are to be of any use, the protective institutions people were talking about earlier need to be actively exercised. Hence Stein's recount push. I'm intrigued to see how the Democrats will respond: They've gone Vewy Kwiet after the election.

David Brin said...

Stein was the one. As a formal candidate she has "standing." And it lets HC stay dignified and quiet, not whiney.

LarryHart said...


"Nowhere else [other than Wisconsin] has a Republican government fought so hard to repress the voting democratic majority."

The game in Wisconsin is pure gerrymandering, rather than 'repression' per se

Well, they also have voter-id laws and closing of polling places. Those are kinds of voter suppression.

Odd that my Thanksgiving musings are troubled by politics this year.

In this particular situation, it's hard to avoid. The state of our troubled nation forces one to come up with things that one is still thankful for.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

First, avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of Government can, of itself, protect against despotism."

It goes on to describe four measures of vulnerability (not *all* drawn from the recent German experience). Looking at them, I don't think Americans have much grounds for complacency

I don't think Americans are complacent at all, at least not in the states and cities which still value actual facts over made-up stuff. In the other part of the country, despotism isn't something they naively presume can't happen here. Rather, it is the point of the exercise--a feature, not a bug.

LarryHart said...

I mentioned here that the aftermath of Trump's election drew me to a re-read of "V For Vendetta", a graphic novel conceived in 1982 which takes place in an imagined future world of 1997 in which Britain is an overtly fascist dystopia.

I kid you not, this is a line from the second page of the book--part of an announcement from the leader to the people of London (bold emphasis is my own) :

Mr. Karel went on to say that it is the duty of every man in this country to seize the initiative and make Britain great again.

Tacitus said...

"Tacitus 2018!"

List of people enthused about this, in order of decending order:

1. David Brin.
2. Tacitus (hey, when you have "robot Carny" on your CV it gets harder to add interesting stuff.
3. either political party
4. Mrs. T.

unknown status, the voters of Wisconsin.

As I do not live in a Free Democracy or in a True Republic, the question is unlikely to ever be addressed. Nay, living in a Benevolent Spouseocracy is not without enchantments, but both the positive and negative powers of the New Household Order are ready to be deployed at the first hint of Contrary action.


Zepp Jamieson said...

Dr. Brin said, "Stein was the one. As a formal candidate she has 'standing.'"

If the recounts change anything, they'll be erecting statues to her and she'll probably end up in Congress in 2018. Even if they don't, she's the unexpected hero in all this.
Clinton presently leads in the vote count by 2.13 million votes, nearly two full percentage points. She has more votes than any presidential contender in US history. And still, we're going through this.

Jumper said...

Re. body mod and identity politics, was it Bruce sterling who conceived of a future fad involving a pill which would strongly increase the melanin? I seem to recall a story mentioning how white surfers began going black for sun / skin cancer protection; teens followed up because surfers are cool, and then all the grownups who try to look with-it and young and cool. Soon everyone was black.

One wonders if such a fad would be strongly resented as a modern black-face thing. Also I think that stripes and leopard spots would be pretty cool too.

Tim H. said...

I think a strong reason we're going through this is the public had confidence that the republican congress would refuse to work with HRC, just to prove they'd never need a proctologist. And there is a small chance* that the hairpiece that walks like a man might accomplish something positive.

*Possibly comparable to my chances of winning the lottery, but a chance.

Tim H. said...

Jumper, there was an Arthur C. Clarke short where a visiting star ship crew identifies as the descendants of those who established a colony on Earth, but fled because of a hideous genetic plague, and gave a message "If any of you or still white, we can cure you.".

Alfred Differ said...

I remember the Sterling novel. It's an intriguing idea and I doubt it would be interpreted as 'black face' imitation. I'm sure it would piss off some people, though. I'd do it just to piss them off. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Someone is doing replication work and poking holes in a bit of pop psychology.

I especially appreciated the bit near the end that spoke to the consequences of faking it. 8)

silenceinheavenforabouthalfanhour said...

May I suggest DACATOKATE?

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I especially appreciated the bit near the end that spoke to the consequences of faking it

One might suddenly find oneself president of the United States. :)

LarryHart said...

I see I was mistaken about the year that Alan Moore began writing "V for Vendetta". It was 1981. Which leads to a strange parallel, because 1981 was also the year the movie "Escape From New York" came out, and that one also took place in an imagined future dystopian of 1997.

David Brin said...

Tacitus. No sweat, YOUR kind of republican will be run by the democrats in every conservative-leaning congressional district and (I hope) state assembly seat in the country, in 2018. Why? Because the race in my district to unseat Darrell piece-of-work Issa is still not declared! Even this year of Trump, in a conservative district, with Issa pouring $50 million of his own cash into slander-ads, Col. Applegate is tied!

This is the year the dems will learn. Run a retired colonel in every district they do not currently win. There will be tons of willing retired cols and navy captains, after 2 years of Trump! Make it colonels, all the way down! Oh and some doctors like Tacitus 2018!

Seriously, I BOTH hope Jill Stein's recount uncovers flagrant cheating AND kinda almost hope DT stays in, anyway. (Not really.) Because he'll be so de-legitimized that when the recession hits, there will be nothing left of the GOP to scrape off the walls. If Clinton somehow got in, we'll be well-governed and sleep well and be safe and get a decent Court... but it will be Civil War forever and the recession will be hers.

TCB said...

By the way, I kicked in $50 to the Stein recount yesterday. My daughter and her husband did $100.

People want this.

One of the most basic ideas in a democracy is that election winners don't jail or harm losers just for having lost (which is what Trump seems to think he can do) and losers don't take up weapons, but accept that they've lost because a peaceful society is worth that trade, and there's always next election!

Conversely, if the winners use their victories to change the rules, undemocratically making sure the losers can't ever win again, then the losers will eventually abandon their commitment to peace.

Some people really would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, seems to me...

Catfish N. Cod said...

Gracious host--

I find I have to dispute your assertion, so comfortingly full of truthiness, that "vampire flicks always correlate with Republican administrations. (During democratic administrations, it’s zombies, all the way down.)" This may be because we are using differing data sets, but let's investigate. For SCIENCE!

Methods: searches of IMDB for keywords "vampire" and "zombie", combined with 1-year time restrictions, for years 1953-2016. Data are insufficiently sparse to continue analysis before 1953; besides which, the controls of both the studio system and wartime propaganda restrictions would likely introduce fatal confounders in any case. Test statistic used was (V-Z)/(V+Z), i.e, the relative excess of vampire films as a proportion of the total of vampire and zombie flicks. Comparisons were made to control of the federal Presidency, Senate, and House by major party.

Results: With the exception of two outlier years, 1953 and 1959, vampire films dominated the box office until 1980 regardless of party control of any branch of government. A dramatic shift to zombie films occurs with the election of Ronald Reagan and persists until 1990, when a slow creep back to a slightly vampiric balance occurs. With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, instability in the V/Z balance occurs, settling in 2007 (after Democratic House control is secured) on a distinct zombie preference, a period persisting until the present day.

Conclusions: The hypothesis that the country displays distinct "moods" regarding vampire/zombie preference is confirmed. Data are insufficient to verify statistical significance, but support is found for the idea that the V/Z preference is tied to political shifts. The hypothesis of a tight linkage between the V/Z preference and presidential or other partisan control patterns is rejected.

Supplemental data and tables available on request.

--Catfish N. Cod, amateur political scientist on the fly

Paul451 said...

Reviewers comment:

You need to drill down to separate "Vampires as an infection" (like the recent series The Strain), from "Vampires as privileged immortals". The former is clearly closer to zombies. The thesis, otoh, requires the latter, vampires as a proxy for the powerful.

Tacitus said...


Strong Work! As to what it means I could see a very interesting free for all discussion on that.


Paul SB said...

Wow, Catfish!

Haven't heard from you in a really long time!

Your Vampire/Zombie ratio reminds me of my archaeology days, when I had a Project Manager who was compiling a gazetteer of the kind of small towns on the Great Plains and the Range & Basin region archaeologists often end up stuck in during field work. One of his key features was that each town got a Bar/Church ratio, a key statistic that was displayed prominently in the upper right corner of each town profile. You can make of that what you will.

On the subject of vampires, my daughter just told me about a book that I bought a few months back but haven't had time to read, called "Survival of the Nicest." In it they describe a study of vampire bats, that found that they will feed strangers (of the same species) who have not had luck foraging for food.

Smurphs said...

From our host, in the last post:

Putin sees the melted Arctic as the best thing ever for Russia... unaware that the entire eastern half of his nation is in the sights of his southern neighbor.

I highly doubt Putin is unaware of this, but is smart enough to realize:

1. China is doing just fine by economically and culturally dominating Western Russia, playing the long game is in their interest. They certainly don't want a war right now.
2. Western Russia & Siberia are pretty much indefensible without a huge military build-up or nukes;
3. Nuclear deterrence (MAD) is working just fine right now, for both sides;
4. There IS a lot of economic/cultural/political conflict going on, but we in The West don't hear about it much. Our news sources are very myopic.
5. Putin does not need the distraction right now, he is only a year or two away from achieving is greatest Russian foreign policy victory since defeating Germany, breaking NATO.

If I was Putin right now, this what I would do:

"Work" with his new friend in America on Syria, following Trump's leadership on some policy changes, giving Trump a victory. Hell, maybe even helping achieve some real peace and relief to the region.

Next, bow to some Western pressure for concessions in the Ukraine. Not Crimea, just minor give backs in eastern Ukraine. It doesn't even need to territory, just give Trump a cosmetic, political win. The point is to stoke Trump's ego, all else is secondary.

Now that he has proved to be Trump's friend, a man that can be worked with, Putin can manufacture some crisis in one of the Baltic states, it doesn't really matter which one. Russia can then move to protect the "large ethnic Russian population", Trump will acquiesce, or maybe even support his friend.

The fact that the Baltic states, either singly or together, are not vital to anybody but themselves is not relevant. Russia doesn't really need them for strategic purposes. But they are current members of NATO, and their betrayal would destroy the alliance.

Now, I only give this scenario a chance 30-40% likelihood (which is pretty high). I really think it is more likely Russia will continue the long term policy of destabilizing Europe via the large influx of refugees and supporting the neo-nationalist movements worldwide. That policy is working very well at the moment, why change it?

Jumper said...

How is Russia responsible for large numbers of refugees?

Zepp Jamieson said...

Jumper asked, "How is Russia responsible for large numbers of refugees?"
In Syria, by dropping lots of bombs. Elsewhere, not so much.
Even the hawkish Tom Friedmann, no friend of Putin's, admits the majority of refugees are created by climate change. In fact, he now vociferously advocates for addressing climate change as being the only way to avoid a far vaster refugee crisis, and I'm of the opinion he's right.
Smurphs: I'm getting the impression that Putin is backing away from Trump. That seems counterintuitive, and it could well be just an effort by Putin to muddy the waters, but if so, is the thinned-skin Donald bright enough to figure that out and not react like a jilted 13-year-old?

Catfish N. Cod said...

Paul451: that would take curation, as the IMDB keyword curation does not easily break down along the lines you state. Curating over 2000 titles would require me to write actual code to parse IMDB pages. If Dr. Brin or anyone on this page wants to co-author a paper along these lines that could be put on a CV, say so and I'll contact you privately.

To Gracious Host and Smurphs: of course Putin knows China wants to eat Siberia. But one enemy at a time, and for now the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is to his benefit. NATO scares him more than the Mandarins, who right now want to expand their power south. Until we cease to be a threat, tussling over Eurasia isn't worth it. Far scarier to Putin is the fact that Russia's defense has always depended on General Winter, and General Winter may be sick and dying.

David Brin said...

Catfish n’ Cod… great fun! I stand admonished! While my general impression’s truthiness stands confirmed overall, its statistical reliability correlating with party administrations kind of… er… sucks.

Your Siberian reassurance does not work if the South CHina Sea gambit is meant as a distraction away from northward drives already underway.

Smurphs, your scenario is scary - The most plausible prediction is that Putin will bolster his friend by rapidly negotiating a deal in Syria, in order to cement Trump’s “art of the deal” mastery. Perhaps “federating” the state, locking Assad’s grip on the country’s western third - the valuable bits - and letting go of the rest. This would make Trump look strong while giving the Russians everything they truly want. Trump is then liberated to eviscerate NATO, which is Putin’s central goal. This could be very bad news for Estonia and the other Baltic States. If NATO is no longer drawing a hard red line before them, then Russian speaking populations could serve as an intervention lure/excuse, as others were in the Donbas.

Of course, if this led to actual herm to Estonia, then it could embolden some House members toward impeachment.

I respect how you create a scenario and then give it odds, instead of just declaring it. That’s what I do, too.

David Brin said...



duncan cairncross said...

Hi Catfish
2000 titles - why not simply manually select them? wouldn't take very long - couple of hours

Paul451 said...

"Reviewers comment:
You need to drill down to separate "Vampires as an infection" (like the recent series The Strain), from "Vampires as privileged immortals". The former is clearly closer to zombies. The thesis, otoh, requires the latter, vampires as a proxy for the powerful."

Catfish N. Cod said...
Paul451: that would take curation, as the IMDB keyword curation does not easily break down along the lines you state. [...] If Dr. Brin or anyone on this page wants to co-author a paper along these lines that could be put on a CV, say so and I'll contact you privately."

Errr, I actually thought I was joking.

Paul Revile said...

Why did the Romans produce no great mathematicians, but produced excellent doctors? Why did the antikythera mechanism not survive, except in a sunken ship? The two questions have the same answer and are worth asking. Especially right now.