Summary of “Five Books Expert Recommendations”

Coronaviruses are RNA viruses like flu and Ebola viruses.
Although SARS-CoV-2 – which is the correct virological nomenclature for the new coronavirus – doesn’t have much in common at the genetic level with, say, herpes viruses, which are DNA viruses, it is 85% identical to SARS-CoV-1 that caused the SARS epidemic in 2003.
The Coming Plague came out just when I was writing my first book about viruses, The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses, and it certainly stimulated me to get on with it.
Read. Let’s move on to our next book about viruses.
Dawkins called one of his books The Blind Watchmaker and viruses are totally blind but appear very sophisticated.
Dawkins has a wonderful way of expressing himself in writing, and his books have informed all my writing about viruses, because they’ve given me a feeling for evolution.
We are now using viruses to transfer genes into humans.
They’re always one step ahead. In Viruses: A Very Short Introduction, you quote George Klein to the effect: “The stupidest virus is cleverer than the cleverest virologist.” Where does that leave us? Are we fated to be finally wiped out by a virus that has outsmarted us?

The orginal article.

Summary of “Japanese Fasting Study Reveals Complex Metabolic Changes in the Human Body”

Fasting is gaining popularity among biohackers looking for an edge, but there’s remarkably little information on what happens inside the body during a fast.
To start filling in this knowledge gap, a small new study shows that fasting’s effects on human metabolism are actually much broader than previous research has shown, and intermittent fasting could have unrecognized benefits.
As a human is fasting, the body has to switch from using food for energy to using the energy that’s stored in the body, in the form of fat and glycogen.
The implications of these findings aren’t completely clear, as the study was small and didn’t track the participants’ long-term health over multiple fasts, but the researchers say they point to several potential benefits of fasting.
One thing is abundantly clear, though: Fasting really changes the body.
“Since the 44 metabolites account for one-third of all blood metabolites detected, fasting clearly caused major metabolic changes in human blood,” write the researchers.
With future studies, they hope to gain a clearer picture of how fasting affects the human body by recruiting more volunteers, lowering the chances that variations in metabolism will be due to individual differences.
We performed non-targeted, accurate semiquantitative metabolomic analysis of human whole blood, plasma, and red blood cells during 34-58 hr fasting of four volunteers.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Human Fallibility and the Case for Robot Baseball Umpires”

I, for one, will welcome our robot umpire overlords, at least when it comes to calling balls and strikes.
If you’ve spent any time on Twitter during baseball season, especially the postseason the last few years, you’ve probably stumbled on fans arguing for #RobotUmpsNow against those who argue for “The human element,” two sides of the ongoing debate over whether baseball should move to automated calling of balls and strikes.
I’m unabashedly in the former camp; calling balls and strikes is a difficult task, virtually impossible for a human to do well, and just a few errant calls can sway the outcome of a game or series.
Humans shouldn’t be making these calls, because humans are subject to so many biases.
I’m not talking about the sort of player-specific bias where Davey Strikethrower always gets the benefit of the doubt on a pitch that’s an inch or two off the plate or Joey Bagodonuts gets squeezed a lot as a hitter because umpires don’t like how much he complains.
If you’re human, you have these cognitive issues, and since umpires are asked to make ball/strike calls immediately after each pitch and have almost zero latitude to change a call even if they think better of it, there is no corrective procedure available to them when they do miss a call.
The first known issue with human umpires is that the way they call a pitch is biased by their calls on the previous pitches, especially the pitch that came right before.
There is no reason why the ball/strike status of one pitch should be affected by previous pitches; pitches are independent events, and if you can predict, even with a little success, whether a pitcher is going to throw a ball or strike on his next pitch, then that pitcher is too predictable and hitters will catch onto him.

The orginal article.

Summary of “AI’s PR Problem”

Artificial intelligence, it seems, has a PR problem.
While it’s true that today’s machines can credibly perform many tasks that were once reserved for humans, that doesn’t mean that the machines are growing more intelligent and ambitious.
The robots may be coming, but they are not coming for us-because there is no “They.” Machines are not people, and there’s no persuasive evidence that they are on a path toward sentience.
We’ve been replacing skilled and knowledgeable workers for centuries, but the machines don’t aspire to better jobs and higher employment.
More recent techniques, which go under the aspirational banner of machine learning, proved much better suited for these challenges.
I’d suggest that one problem with AI is the name itself-coined more than 50 years ago to describe efforts to program computers to solve problems that required human intelligence or attention.
Perhaps a less provocative description would be something like “Anthropic computing.” A broad moniker such as this could encompass efforts to design biologically inspired computer systems, machines that mimic the human form or abilities, and programs that interact with people in natural, familiar ways.
We should stop describing these modern marvels as proto-humans and instead talk about them as a new generation of flexible and powerful machines.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Learning From Plants”

“The body has wisdom of its own, which it shares to a large extent with other living things, including plants. Consider our skin’s sensitivity to light. In this respect, plants are more intelligent, because they can register and differentiate many more waves of sunlight.”
The research team subjected common pea plants, Pisum sativum, to drought conditions and learned that such plants will warn their neighbors of a potential water shortage through biochemical alerts.
The “Communication of stress cues between plants rooted in soil” revealed an underground network that Marder says should change the way we look at plant life.
Marder says that at least some plants can learn, citing a 1999 Dutch study in which lima bean plants were observed summoning insects as allies against organisms harmful to the plants.
“There are those who suggest that plants are altruistic,” Marder says, citing research that shows that plants form alliances not only with insects but also with other plants.
These plant communities operate over a biochemical network that appears to be more open than our nervous system, he explains, but whether plants intentionally warn each other of dangers is “Hotly debated.” As with human neighbors who call the fire department to report nearby house fires, it is hard to tell if plants are being selfinterested or selfless.
What of parasitic plants or aggressively invasive species like kudzu and bamboo? “In most cases,” Marder says, “Parasitism is relatively harmless and in fact can be used as a great example for plant coexistence, co-growth, or symbiosis.” He notes that people wrongly cite examples of what appears to be violence in the vegetal world to legitimate human violence.
Nor are such comparisons anthropomorphic, he says, as long as we resist projecting ourselves onto plants but instead open ourselves to what plants can teach us about us.

The orginal article.

Summary of “How Africa’s Mountain Gorillas Staged a Comeback”

Years after Fossey sounded the alarm, the killing of mountain gorillas continued.
Living in cloud forests at 8,000 to 13,000 feet, mountain gorillas are entirely covered in long black fur, an adaptation to cold that distinguishes them from lowland gorillas.
High-level diplomacy isn’t the sole reason for success, or maybe even the main reason, Seguya says: “What has really brought mountain gorillas back from the brink of extinction is community engagement and cooperation.”
Not long ago, people in communities adjacent to the parks tended to view the mountain gorillas as competitors.
IGCP’s Behm Masozera agrees: “Village-level buy-in has been critical to the gorilla success story. People now feel heard by park officials. They partner with the park whenever an issue arises. Ten years ago the question was: Will mountain gorillas survive? Today, the question is: How can we sustain, even increase, the current population?”.
Ecotourism itself is not without risk, because people can pass infectious diseases to mountain gorillas.
Watching a mountain gorilla family, the first thing that strikes you is how “Human” they are.
Mountain gorillas would have been extinct by now if it weren’t for humans.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What Are Viruses Anyway, and Why Do They Make Us so Sick? 5 Questions Answered”

You have a virus – actually, many – all the time.
As world health leaders try to determine how to respond to the new coronavirus, virus expert Marilyn J. Roossinck answers a few questions.
What Is a Virus? Defining a virus has been a challenge, because every time we come up with a good definition someone discovers a virus that breaks the rules.
Why Does a Virus Make People Sick? When a new human virus disease appears, it is most often because the virus has jumped from a different species into humans.
The virus goes through a process of adjustment to its new host.
In mice a herpes virus prevents infection from the plague bacteria.
Knowing the source also helps scientists understand mutations that might have occurred in the virus’ genome.
Virus infection can suppress the immune system, so patients should be monitored for secondary infections that might require other treatments.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Scientists Explain Why You Can’t Stop Going Back to the Same Places”

According to a 2018 study in Nature Human Behavior, the idea that a gang of pals would stick to just a small number of places isn’t just a sitcom trope – it’s the way we live in real life as well.
That’s not to say that the places we visit don’t ever change: More specifically, it’s that the number of places don’t change.
In the study, a team of mathematicians explains why, even if there are always new bars or restaurants you and your pals want to check out, you’ll always return to a maximum of 25 places at any given time.
The researchers found that this pattern – which they say is driven by a combination of human laziness and curiosity – holds true even when they open up the data set and include the places people visit on vacation.
“Our study shows that, while these places may change as our needs and circumstances evolve, their number does not,” co-author and City, University of London researcher Laura Alessandretti, Ph.D. explains to Inverse.
“When a place makes it to the set of one’s ‘favorite locations’ another place is abandoned – this result does not depend on how we define what is a ‘favorite location.'”.
Analyzing the locations that the participants consistently visited over two years, the researchers discovered that on average people stuck to 25 places.
“Our results show that there are universalities in the way that we balance the trade-off between the exploitation of familiar places and the exploration of new opportunities.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “The International Space Station Is More Valuable Than Many People Realize”

In 1984 when President Reagan directed NASA to build a permanently occupied space station, no one could have predicted the critical role it would play in human space exploration nearly four decades later.
The International Space Station took 12 years to build with support from 16 nations and has been populated continuously since November 2000.
Under Space Policy Directive 1, NASA and the ISS National Laboratory are accelerating the nation’s push into commercial space.
With an expected trillion-dollar space economy to come, the ISS can play a defining role in the formation of the industry.
Aboard the ISS, an array of basic and applied research programs are underway with participation of companies such as Boeing, Anheuser-Busch, Sanofi, LambdaVision, Space Tango, Airbus, and Teledyne Brown Engineering.
The ISS is effectively the premier space R&D lab, and companies are utilizing microgravity at the edge of the human frontier 250 miles up to solve problems here on Earth.
In July, NASA and Boeing assembled 80 percent of the massive core stage needed to launch the Space Launch System and Orion on their first mission to the Moon: Artemis 1.Notably, NASA’s “New” charge to facilitate and encourage the commercial sector is nothing new.
We can’t get there from here-not without the ISS. The lion’s share of onboard station research is aimed at solving long-term challenges for human survival in deep space.

The orginal article.

Summary of “‘Anumeric’ People: What Happens When a Language Has No Words for Numbers?”

What’s more, the 7,000 or so languages that exist today vary dramatically in how they utilize numbers.
Speakers of anumeric, or numberless, languages offer a window into how the invention of numbers reshaped the human experience.
In my book, I explore the ways in which humans invented numbers, and how numbers subsequently played a critical role in other milestones, from the advent of agriculture to the genesis of writing.
While only a small portion of the world’s languages are anumeric or nearly anumeric, they demonstrate that number words are not a human universal.
Acquiring the exact meaning of number words is a painstaking process that takes children years.
That is, these smaller numbers are the basis of larger numbers.
Most number systems are the by-product of two key factors: the human capacity for language and our propensity for focusing on our hands and fingers.
Research on the language of numbers shows, more and more, that one of our species’ key characteristics is tremendous linguistic and cognitive diversity.

The orginal article.