New Technology Reveals Fossil Secrets

(p. A11) Using a new laser imaging technique to reveal traces of soft tissue in fossils of an early feathered, birdlike dinosaur, scientists have found direct evidence of a wing structure needed for flight that was previously invisible from the preserved bone evidence.
The research is part of a body of work on the cutting edge of paleontology, leveraging new technology to flesh out the study of fossils beyond bones, to look at soft tissue and feathers. Other scientists have recently turned up evidence of the protein collagen preserved in dinosaur fossils millions of years old, and scanned feathers, muscle, skin and ligament tissue from a dinosaur’s tail preserved in amber.
Known as laser-stimulated fluorescence, the new imaging technique “is revealing information preserved in the fossil we can’t see with normal light,” says University of Hong Kong paleontologist Michael Pittman, one of the leaders of the research, published Tuesday [February 28, 2017] in Nature Communications.

For the full story, see:
Ellie Kincaid. “Imaging Reveals Soft Tissue in Dinosaur Fossil.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 1, 2017): A11.
(Note: bracketed date added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 28, 2017, and has the title “New Imaging Method Helps Scientists Look Beyond Dinosaur Bones.”)

Innovation Skeptics Fail to See Its Broad Benefits

(p. B11) Professor Juma died on Dec. 15 [2017] at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 64. His wife said the cause was cancer. At his death he was widely credited as having been an important force in ensuring that biotechnology would play a critical role in improving economic life in many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Calestous understood that people often resist the changes that come with innovation, and that overcoming this resistance can be very important in enabling societies to move ahead,” said Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School. “So he tried to understand why people resist innovation, and what can be done to make them feel comfortable with change.”
Professor Juma’s latest book, “Innovation and Its Enemies” (2016), described how technological change is often greeted with public skepticism. Beneath such opposition, he argued, is the belief that only a small segment of society will benefit from potential progress, while the much broader society bears the greatest risk.
. . .
Professor Juma could be lighthearted in the classroom or in public in order to make his points. With more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, he shared with them cartoons that teased skeptics of science and innovation. One of his last posts featured a game show called “Facts Don’t Matter.” In it, a contestant is told: “I’m sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points.”

For the full obituary, see:
ADEEL HASSAN. “Calestous Juma, 64, Advocate of African Progress, Dies.” The New York Times (Tues., January 2, 2018): B11.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 1, 2018, and has the title “Calestous Juma, 64, Dies; Sought Innovation in African Agriculture.”)

The most recent book by Juma, mentioned above, is:
Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

World War I Spread the Deadly Flu of 1918

(p. A17) The Spanish flu began in the spring of 1918, infected 500 million people, and killed between 50 million and 100 million of them–more than both world wars and the Holocaust combined. Not since the bubonic plague of the mid-14th century–the Black Death–had such a fearsome pestilence devastated mankind.
Spanish-flu patients “would soon be having trouble breathing,” writes Laura Spinney in “Pale Rider,” her gripping account of the pandemic.
. . .
Ms. Spinney is at her best in trying to tease out the real origin of the pandemic. The first suspect was China, where pneumonic plague had erupted on the Manchurian border in 1910. The government, trying to curry favor with the Allies in World War I, had then sent tens of thousands of laborers, many infected, to dig trenches on the Western Front. Another theory put the initial outbreak at the British army’s mobilization base in Étaples in northern France. A third candidate was in the American heartland, at a U.S. Army staging base, Camp Funston in Kansas. The question is unsettled, but plainly the movement of troops in the Great War accelerated the flu’s spread.
. . .
The frantic search for the cause of the pandemic was nightmarish, too. A respected researcher persuaded himself and others that he had found the bacillus, and he persisted even though autopsies rarely turned up his pet suspect in the tissues of the dead. The microbe hunters couldn’t find their quarry because it slipped through the ultrafine strainers they tried to catch it with, and it was invisible to their microscopes. It was what the French bacteriologist Émile Roux called an “être de raison,” an organism whose existence could be deduced only from its effects. Eventually a virus–1/20th the size of a bacillus–was identified as the culprit. It was not actually seen until decades later with the invention of the electron microscope.

For the full review, see:
Edward Kosner. “BOOKSHELF; A World Of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 11, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 10, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A World of Sickness; The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 500 million people, killing between 50 and 100 million. Its cause was discovered only decades later.”)

The book under review, is:
Spinney, Laura. Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.

High Demand for STEM Workers Is Mainly High for Workers in Info Tech

(p. 10) A working grasp of the principles of science and math should be essential knowledge for all Americans, said Michael S. Teitelbaum, an expert on science education and policy. But he believes that STEM advocates, often executives and lobbyists for technology companies, do a disservice when they raise the alarm that America is facing a worrying shortfall of STEM workers, based on shortages in a relative handful of fast-growing fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and computer security.
“When it gets generalized to all of STEM, it’s misleading,” said Mr. Teitelbaum, a senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. “We’re misleading a lot of young people.”
Unemployment rates for STEM majors may be low, but not all of those with undergraduate degrees end up in their field of study — only 13 percent in life sciences and 17 percent in physical sciences, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation survey. Computer science is the only STEM field where more than half of graduates are employed in their field.

For the full story, see:
STEVE LOHR. “Where the STEM Jobs Are/Aren’t.” The New York Times, Education Life Section (Sun., NOV. 5, 2017): 10.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 1, 2017, and has the title “Where the STEM Jobs Are (and Where They Aren’t).”)

Extreme Left Attacks “Enlightenment Values: Reason, Inquiry and Dissent”

(p. A19) The revolution on college campuses, which seeks to eradicate individuals and ideas that are considered unsavory, constitutes a hostile takeover by fringe elements on the extreme left. Last spring at the Evergreen State College, where I was a professor for 15 years, the revolution was televised–proudly and intentionally–by the radicals. Opinions not fitting with the currently accepted dogma–that all white people are racist, that questioning policy changes aimed at achieving “equity” is itself an act of white supremacy–would not be tolerated, and those who disagreed were shouted down, hunted, assaulted, even battered. Similar eruptions have happened all over the country.
What may not be obvious from outside academia is that this revolution is an attack on Enlightenment values: reason, inquiry and dissent.
. . .
In a meeting with administrators at Evergreen last May [2017], protesters called, on camera, for college president George Bridges to target STEM faculty in particular for “antibias” training, on the theory that scientists are particularly prone to racism. That’s obvious to them because scientists persist in using terms like “genetic” and “phenotype” when discussing humans. Mr. Bridges offers: “[What] we are working towards is, bring ’em in, train ’em, and if they don’t get it, sanction them.”

For the full commentary, see:

Heather Heying. “First, They Came for the Biologists; The postmodernist left on campus is intolerant not only of opposing views, but of science itself.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 3, 2017): A19.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 2, 2017, and has the title “U.K. Treasury Chief Defends Free-Market Capitalism Against Resurgent Opposition,”)

Amateur Archaeologists Uncover Most Important Roman Site in Half Century

(p. A6) BOXFORD, England — Their ages range from 9 to about 80. They include a butcher and a builder. Some devoted vacation days to laboring on their hands and knees in an open field.
The group of amateur archaeologists — 55 in all, though only two dozen toiled on a typical day — were part of an excavation project near the village of Boxford, in southern England. They had to contend not just with days of backbreaking work, but also with a daunting, two-week deadline to complete the challenging dig.
Their commitment was handsomely repaid, though, in a few magical moments one Saturday last month. As a layer of soil was carefully scooped away, small, muddy pieces of red-colored tiling glinted in the sunlight, probably for the first time in more than one and a half millenniums.
The mosaic that slowly emerged from the earth is part of a Roman villa, thought to date from 380 A.D., toward the end of the period of Roman domination of England. The find is being described as the most important of its type in Britain in more than half a century, and in this picturesque, riverside village of thatched cottages, the scale of the discovery is still sinking in.
. . .
“It was down to the volunteers, it really was. I get quite emotional about it; it was something to see their drive,” added Mr. Nichol, project officer for Cotswold Archaeology, a company whose normal work includes helping real estate developers preserve archaeological finds.
. . .
So for the organizers, it was a relief, rather than a disappointment, when the earth was pushed back to conceal their discovery.
The night before that was done, Mr. Nichol decided to keep watch over the site from his S.U.V. with a supply of food, a sleeping bag and a bottle of red wine, all donated by volunteers.
The Roman owner of the villa would have invited guests to eat and drink on this spot, using the mosaic as a talking point, so a mildly bacchanalian vigil did not seem out of place.
“I was on my own in the field; it was incredible,” Mr. Nichol said. He described how, in the solitude, he felt drawn back across the centuries to experience a unique connection to the more-than-1,600-year-old archaeological site, and to the mythological images of its extraordinary, colorful mosaic.
“The wine did help,” he added.

For the full story, see:
STEPHEN CASTLE. “BOXFORD JOURNAL; A Link to Roman Era Is Unearthed in the English Countryside.” The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 19, 2017): A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 18, 2017, and has the title “BOXFORD JOURNAL; Amateur U.K. Archaeologists Stumble on a Roman Masterpiece.”)

Animals Can Benefit from Humane Animal Research

(p. A17) Dog owners may soon be able to add years to their pets’ lives, thanks to an experimental antiaging pill. In tests on mice the medication, rapamycin, has been shown to lengthen lifespans up to 60%. Now scientists at the University of Washington’s Dog Aging Project are studying whether it works in canines.
Initial reports indicate the drug improves heart health. Researchers speculate that if larger trials are successful, rapamycin could extend a dog’s life by five years. Animal lovers the world over must be jumping up and down in excitement, right?
Wrong. In fact, many animal-rights groups strongly oppose the studies–as they do almost any studies involving animals.
. . .
If these groups truly advocate for animals, their logic is backward. Nearly 70% of American households have pets. Those animals’ food and vaccines all have been developed through humane research and testing with lab animals.
. . .
Animals are living longer, healthier lives because of these scientists. Discouraging studies condemns animals to unnecessary suffering and death from preventable illnesses. Real animal lovers should be proud to support animal research.

For the full commentary, see:
Matthew R. Bailey. “Love Your Dog, Support Animal Research; Endangered species as well as pets benefit from humane testing.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 18, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 17, 2017.)

Tinkerer Won Nobel for Gene Targeting

(p. B15) Oliver Smithies, a British-born biochemist and inveterate tinkerer who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering a powerful tool for identifying the roles of individual genes in health and disease, died on Tuesday [January 10, 2017] in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 91.
. . .
Dr. Smithies’s discovery, known as gene targeting, allows scientists to disable individual genes in mice to understand what the genes do. The loss of a gene typically brings about changes in the appearance or the behavior of the mice, providing important clues about the gene’s function.
. . .
In addition to gene targeting, Dr. Smithies invented a method of separating proteins with a jelly made from ordinary potato starch, a major advance that was cheaper, easier and more precise than existing technologies. His invention, called gel electrophoresis, is in wide use today.
Behind Dr. Smithies’s breakthroughs were ingenious homemade contraptions cobbled from everyday objects and junk. He thought of himself as an inventor and toolmaker and acknowledged that he could not pass a rubbish bin without pausing to inspect the contents — a trait he said he shared with his paternal grandfather, who used to pick up nails and straighten them for later use.
His tinkering did not go unnoticed. Colleagues at Oxford University, where Dr. Smithies pursued his graduate studies, set aside their discarded equipment for him, labeling it, “NBGBOKFO,” or “No bloody good but O.K. for Oliver.”
. . .
To Dr. Smithies, the process of invention was straightforward. “You use whatever is lying around, and you see something that needs to be done, and you try to do it,” he said. “I think it is making things work, you know, somehow.”

For the full obituary, see:
DENISE GELLENE. “Oliver Smithies, Tinkerer Who Transformed Genetics and Won a Nobel, Dies at 91.” The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 12, 2017): B15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 11, 2017.)

“Hurricane Superstar” Had No Use For Global Warming

(p. 24) William M. Gray, whose pioneering research helped him make hurricane predictions for three decades and allowed the East Coast and the Caribbean to gird for their fury, died on Saturday [April 23, 2016] in Fort Collins, Colo. He was 86.
. . .
Dr. Gray issued his first data-driven seasonal forecast in 1984. He eventually aggregated measures of atmospheric conditions, water current and water temperature to predict the number and intensity of tropical storms, rather than their paths or potential landfalls.
. . .
Dr. Gray was skeptical about the causes of climate change, prompting vitriolic exchanges with other scientists. Judith A. Curry, who was chairwoman of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, accused him of “brain fossilization.”
Dr. Gray was less alarmed than many of his colleagues at the rate of climate change and attributed it to natural causes, like the circulation of heat-bearing ocean currents, rather than to the human-made greenhouse effect of heat-trapping gasses from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
“After unveiling the first Atlantic seasonal hurricane forecasting system in 1984, he became a hurricane superstar and darling of the media,” Chris Mooney wrote in 2007 in “Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming.” “But he had absolutely no use for the notion of global warming, much less the idea that it might seriously affect the storms he’d spent a lifetime studying. And he had no problem saying so — loudly and often.”
In an interview with Westword, a Denver online newsletter, in 2006, Dr. Gray said, “When I am pushing up daisies, I am very sure that we will find that humans have warmed the globe slightly, but that it’s nothing like what they’re saying.”

For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “William M. Gray, 86, a Predictor of Hurricanes’ Fury.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 24, 2016): 24.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date APRIL 20 [sic], 2016, and has the title “William M. Gray, Hurricane Predictor and Climate Change Skeptic, Dies at 86.”)

The book by Mooney, mentioned above, is:
Mooney, Chris. Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007.

Churchill’s “Natural Curiosity and General Optimism about Life”

(p. A11) In a newly unearthed essay sent to his publisher on Oct. 16, 1939 — just weeks after Britain entered World War II and Churchill became part of the wartime cabinet — and later revised, he was pondering the likelihood of life on other planets.
. . .
The manuscript was passed on to the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Mo., the site of famed 1946 Iron Curtain speech, in the 1980s by Wendy Reves, the wife of Churchill’s publisher, Emery Reves. It had been overlooked for years until Timothy Riley, who became the museum’s director last year, stumbled upon it recently. Soon after news of the discovery, two other copies were found in a separate archive in Britain.
. . .
Largely self-educated in the sciences, Churchill had boundless curiosity for practically anything, an attitude he once described as “picking up a few things as I went along.”
. . .
He was the first prime minister to hire a science adviser. Frederick Lindemann, a physicist, became Churchill’s “on tap” expert and once described him as a “scientist who had missed his vocation,” said Andrew Nahum, who organized an exhibition on Churchill and science at the Science Museum in London. He found a separate copy of the essay in the Churchill Archives Center at the University of Cambridge.
. . .
In the interwar period, Churchill wrote numerous scientific articles, including one called “Death Rays” and another titled “Are There Men on the Moon?” In 1924, he published a text asking readers “Shall We All Commit Suicide?” in which he speculated that technological advances could lead to the creation of a small bomb that was powerful enough to destroy an entire town.
Churchill’s recently unearthed article on extraterrestrial life was probably written in the same vein and was probably intended to be published as a popular science piece for a newspaper.
Two other scientific essays — one on cell division in the body and another on evolution — are stored in the museum’s archives in Fulton, Mr. Riley, the museum director, said in an interview.
Churchill had a “natural curiosity and general optimism about life,” Mr. Riley said. He had “a willingness to see technical and scientific advances improve not only his immediate world or his country, but the world.”

For the full story, see:
KIMIKO de FREYTAS-TAMURA. “A Lost Essay from Churchill on Alien Life.” The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 16, 2017): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 15, 2017, and has the title “Winston Churchill Wrote of Alien Life in a Lost Essay.”)