Rome, 2800 years of history – Great location for a scientific meeting

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C and Avelina Espinosa

We just visited Rome for the second time. Our first journey was back in 2010 when we traveled to Sicily, Rome, Florence and Pompeii before heading to the UK. But the last encounter with this imposing capital was, finally, what we always wanted: extensive, no rush and with enough opportunities to explore everything possible during three weeks in a 2800-year-old settlement.

As readers of EvoLiteracy know, we do not take vacations, but we explore Earth as much as we can within our academic schedules to attend scientific meetings. We never engage into “checklist traveling” (adding names of locations briefly visited) but rather dedicate quality time to experience –and learn about– each destination in detail. Time, however, is always a constraint.

Our primary reason for going to Rome was the ECOP-ISoP 2019 gathering or the “VIII European Congress of Protistology – International Society of Protistologists Joint Meeting” (July 28 to August 2). Avelina is Program Committee Chair of ISoP and oversees the academic planning and organization of the conference(s), including symposia and special events; local organizers materialize each meeting via specific committees. PDFs of the program (talks, poster sessions) can be downloaded from this LINK.

We attend the ISoP meetings yearly and have reported about them before: Vancouver (2018),  Prague (2017), Moscow (2016) and Seville (2015). Previous conferences have taken place in Banff (2014), Oslo (2012), Berlin (2011) and Kent-Canterbury (2010), which we have attended as well (no postings of those years, but see photography and science traveling during the past 15 years).

This time, the package of the ECOP-ISoP 2019 meeting included a flyer describing our book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health” (2018), together with endorsements by Joan E. Strassmann (Washington University in St. Louis), Virginia P. Edgcomb (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) and Joachim G. Frommen (University of Bern). Additional info about the book can be obtained from the publisher Cambridge Scholars.

Nowadays, we are getting used to presenting posters; they bring back memories of our student years when poster presentations were the main format available to us. Fun though. Here is what we shared at ECOP-ISoP 2019 (click on image for higher resolution). Note at the bottom that we highlight two of our cover-journal articles (2012 and 2019), and the book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health”.

While exploring Rome, we walked 417,024 steps, equivalent to 209 km or 130 miles (about 10 km or 6.2 mi a day); we took 8,879 photos, of which 154 (1.7%) were shared on social media (Facebook and Twitter). Between the two of us, we lost 10 pounds, despite eating pizza daily. – Here are the most important locations (dots) at which we stopped to do something other than walking.

Below is a graphic account of our experience, before and after the ECOP-ISoP meeting. The images (more than 100) follow a chronological order of the sites visited. No doubt Rome is a great location for a scientific meeting, enjoy:

Above: the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, as seen from the Angel’s Castle.

Above: a closer look B&W of the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Above: colors at the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican [secular camera].

Above: colors inside the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: the main pulpit at the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: colors inside the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican [secular camera].

Above: the Pantheon [secular camera].

Above: Fontana di Trevi, the 5th most visited place in Rome after the Colosseum, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pantheon and Vatican Museums.

Above: Piazza Venezia… day

Above: Piazza Venezia… night.

Above: Fontana dell’Adriatico, Piazza Venezia.

Above: the imposing monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Venezia.

Above: another take of the imposing monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, Piazza Venezia.

Above: up close, Piazza Venezia.

Above: the Castel Sant’Angel.

Above: Michael de Archangel at the Castel Sant’Angelo (on top of the castle).

Above: another take of Michael de Archangel at the Castel Sant’Angelo (inside the castle).

Above: the Sant’Angelo Bridge as seen from the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Above: pigeon photobombing at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. Look at the St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

Above: through an opening, shots at the Vatican (this is what we wanted to show in the previous image before the pigeon photobombed it).

Above: impossible to not know what it is.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: ROME, monumental… beyond monumental.

Above: when PROTISTS meet ancient ROME. Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes (2018) made it to the Foro Romano…

Above: Colosseum from within…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: just outside the Colosseum – Image One of Two – taken at the right place and time.

Above: just outside the Colosseum – Image Two of Two – taken at the right place and time; for this one, we went back to the Colosseum a few days later and looked for the exact spot to take the picture (different angle, of course).

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: Measuring the Evolution Controversy (our 2016 book) at the Vatican…

Above: ROME, monumental…

Above: ROME, bellissima…

Above: ROME, bellissima…

Above: at the Palatine.

Above: …and the last one of the Colosseum (for this particular day).

Above: ROME, bellissima.

Above: QUESTIONS IN ROME (at the ECOP-ISoP 2019 meeting) – colleagues asked us a few questions about “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes” – (1) Are there alternative ways to order the book (meaning to make the purchase affordable)? The best option is to order it directly from the publisher. Another option is to ask your university library to purchase the book and have it at your campus. – (2) Is the book suitable for high schools? Short answer yes. Long answer, as we state in the book “offering over 200 figures and diagrams, this [book] will appeal to a broad audience, including researchers in academia [our first target audience: scientists], postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and research undergraduates. Science writers and college educators will also find it informative and practical for teaching”. We know of two high school teachers that have gotten the book for their own use as reference for lectures. – (3) Do we sign copies of the book? Yes, if you are at ECOP-ISoP- Rome-2019, approach us with your copy and we will sign it.

Above: theistic evolutionists have a crush on this guy…

Above: water clock…

Above: there is symmetry in this image, and for a reason.

Above: Roma, bellissima… Ponte Fabricio.

Above: just outside the Pantheon.

Above: the Pantheon.

Above: Head of Saint Giovanni Battista at Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Above: Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori, even more spectacular than the Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Above: Galileo Galilei by Tsung Dao Lee, Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli.

Above: …and the outdoors of the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori, ROME… today’s walk [secular camera].

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: we went back to the Basilica Papale Santa Maria Maggliori for a few B&W and color shots – This monument rivals the Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Above: ScooteRome…

Above: spectacular Rome, Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Terme di Caracalla…

Above: Rome, ancient…

Above: Rome, ancient…

Above: …and another basilica in ROME (impossible to miss them in every block) – Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, another competitor in beauty [secular camera].

Above: National Museum of the Venetian Palace.

Above: Giordano Bruno at the Campo Dei Fiori (where he was burned in 1600 for heresy).

Above: at Piazza Navona.

Above: mirror showing “the heavens” [figuratively, of course] at the Gesὺ Church in Rome [secular camera].

Above: Giordano Bruno… ROME, today’s walk – “…On February 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: ‘Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.’ Not long after, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori, his tongue in a gag, and burned alive…

Above: the SHHH paradox – “SHHH”… they tell you on loud speakers at the Vatican museums. The SHHH itself is louder than the noise made by hundreds of people visiting the exhibits. The SHHH is to show respect at the temples and for the deities that are always deaf.

Above: only Rome looks like this…

Above: we got great tickets to Noche Española with Plácido Domingo (row 13, center).

Above: Rodin at the Vatican…

Above: Egypt at the Vatican Museums…

Above: sarcophagus of Imhotep at the Vatican Museums…

Above: we found this Roman cat roaming around ancient Rome. It soon decided to pause, self-groom and sleep…

Above: woman on scooter and Rome…

Above: THOTH [Egypt 1300 – 1250 BC], a baboon, Vatican Museums.

Above: detail of oil on wood by Filippo Balbi 1855 at the spectacular Terme di Diocieziano.

Above: One of the “Colossal Animal Heads of the Michelangelo’s Cloister”.

Above: Socrates at Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Above: we visited the Bioparco di Roma (the ZOO) and took some images. The zoo is quite good for education, with great signs and posted info about what is in the enclosures; a particular emphasis on animal behavior is evident in the posting (i.e. tips about what the animals do and what it means).

Above: under a fig tree…

Above: pygmy hippo.

Above: close up with a primate-cousin.

Above: reticulated giraffe…

Above: the story of Rome as told at the Bioparco di Roma (the Zoo) next to the wolves enclosure…

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma… Trilogy.

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes (mom and offspring) at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: and one more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: a few more shots of reticulated giraffes at the Bioparco di Roma.

Above: Lowland Amazon tapirs nose-pointing at something [feeding time], Bioparco di Roma

Above: TAPIR TRIO – top: tongues in – bottom: tongues out… Bioparco di Roma…

Above: chimps feeding…

Above: this is what captivity can do to apes.

Above: an empire collapsed, then gravity took everything else down.

Above: the famous Loba Capitolina at the Capitolini.

Above: Marcus Aurelius at the Museum Capitolini.

Above: Bernini’s Medusa, Museum Capitolini.

Above: …and a fantastic mosaic made of marble… Museum Capitolini.

Above: it does rival any other best museum in the world… the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Hercules at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: same spot, same time…

Above: the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: another take of Centaur at the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: and yet another take of Centaur at the spectacular Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: main door, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: inside details of Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Above: From Egypt to Rome…

Above: Jacob Wrestling With The Angel [Giacobbe e l’Angelo by Stefano Maderno] – Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Above: Lion (well, half of a lion) Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: BEE – ROME… Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: Monumento Celebrativo del “Bicentenario dei Carabinieri”. Imposing, we tried to give it a winter touch (Rome was 100-F-hot on that day).

Above: splendor of Latona e i figli by Domenico Pieratti (1600s) Gallerie Nazionale D’Arte Antica.

Above: Piazza della Repubblica.

Above: CLAUDIO… Emperor of Rome [Museo dell’Ara Pacis].

Above: Museo dell’Ara Pacis.

Above: shot of the Colosseum at dusk.

Above: “TRUMP supporters or Celtics fans”? – That was the question when purchasing the tickets to the Catacombs of San Sebastian (located Southeast of Rome’s downtown); apparently, a joke to anyone requesting info in American-English. We offered a simple answer “we are atheists stopping by.” – This is the original of Bernini’s 1679 The Salvator Mundi (restored 2006), spectacular work on marble, his last sculpture at age 82.

Above: The last shots of Rome – Palazzo della Consulta.

Above: FONTANA di TREVI – despite the thousands of people around, we elbowed ourselves a spot and took some shots of the Fontana, the 5th most popular site in Rome… arrivederci.

Above: BOSTON – back home and to conspiracy inferences that “the plane was not landing due to an arbitrary decision [by the Italian pilot] to take us somewhere else.” – In fact, as the pilot explained and it was obvious to see from the windows, there were very low clouds at ground level allowing visibility to only 1,000 feet (about 300 meters), unsafe for landing. We made it about an hour later, after flying in loops (identical in shape to the Circus Maximus in Rome) to make up time. The human mind is so prone to believing on anything but facts; and yes, it only takes one adamant passenger to trigger the rumor. ‒ EvoLiteracy © 2019

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Clone Discrimination/Recognition in Entamoeba Featured on Cover of Scientific Journal

By Avelina Espinosa & Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Our latest review on clone-clone discrimination/recognition in Entamoeba species has been featured on the cover of the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology (JEUK-MIC, Volume 66, Issue 2, March-April 2019). This is the second time our work has made it to the cover of JEUK-MIC (the first time was back in 2012, coincidentally in the March-April Volume 59, Issue 2). Below are the links to the 2019 article, as well as the abstract and caption to the cover image.

Discrimination Experiments In Entamoeba and Evidence from other Protists Suggest Pathogenic Amebas Cooperate with Kin to Colonize Hosts and Deter Rivals. 2019. Avelina Espinosa & Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 66(2): 354–368.

Entamoeba histolytica is one of the least understood protists in terms of taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination/recognition ability. Yet, the capacity to tell apart same or self (clone/kin) from different or non-self (non-clone/non-kin) has long been demonstrated in pathogenic eukaryotes like Trypanosoma and Plasmodium, free-living social amebas (Dictyostelium, Polysphondylium), budding yeast (Saccharomyces), and in numerous bacteria and archaea (prokaryotes). Kin discrimination/recognition is explained under inclusive fitness theory; that is, the reproductive advantage that genetically closely related organisms (kin) can gain by cooperating preferably with one another (rather than with distantly related or unrelated individuals), minimizing antagonism and competition with kin, and excluding genetic strangers (or cheaters = non-cooperators that benefit from others’ investments in altruistic cooperation). In this review, we rely on the outcomes of in vitro pairwise discrimination/recognition encounters between seven Entamoeba lineages to discuss the biological significance of taxa-, clone- and kin-discrimination/recognition in a range of generalist and specialist species (close or distantly related phylogenetically). We then focus our discussion on the importance of these laboratory observations for E. histolytica‘s life cycle, host infestation, and implications of these features of the amebas’ natural history for human health (including mitigation of amebiasis).

About the Cover (above): Population bottlenecks (PB) in the life cycle of Entamoeba histolytica. (1) Upon host’s ingestion of contaminated food and water, ameba-cysts (dormant stage of the organism) will face the enzymatic milieu of the oral cavity (the mouth environment can be highly variable in temperature, concentration and mix of chemicals originated from diverse foods and the host’s own microbiota); (2) once reaching the stomach, the cysts will be exposed to high acidity, an inducer of severe ameba-cysts-population crashes; (3) cysts arrival at the small intestine, a more favorable environment for excystation; (4) not all amebas released during excystation will survive (simply due to intrinsic differential survival); (5) the colonization of the mucous layer on the small-intestine endothelium (nutrient-rich) will induce fast ameba clonal proliferation, but the successful population expansion will depend on variable conditions inside the host and be limited by the presence of different clone competitors (priority effects, see text); (5a) a potential trophozoite invasion of the colon in the large intestine (if it occurs) will be countered by the host’s immune responses (i.e. endothelium guarded by white-blood cells) and also by other ameba clones already established in the colon; (5b) in the uncommon cases of systemic infection, the liver, lungs and other organs (rarely the brain) can be colonized by amebas, which form abscesses, but abscess formation involves high mortality (both caused by host immunity and amebas’ own programmed cell death, PCD, imposed by abscess development); (from 5 to 6) prior to being eliminated from the body, the amebas must encyst, but not all cells will successfully form cysts; (7) and (8) cysts released into the external environment will face additional population crashes, although not directly associated with the fate of the host. To overcome the challenges of population demise (PBs) and stochastic opportunities to recover inside the host, amebas will need to associate and cooperate with clone members (kin); single amebas will not survive and associations or cooperation with genetic strangers will be maladaptive (prone to cheating). Dotted line indicates cases of direct elimination of cysts from the small intestine. ‒ EvoLiteracy © 2019

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Related Articles

Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health

Symposium Kin-Discrimination in Protists just featured on JEUK

Kin Recognition or Kin Discrimination in Single-Celled Organisms – Protists

 

New Review of “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Joachim “Jo” G. Frommen, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Bern, has written a review of our book “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health.” The article came out (as early view) in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology (JEUK-MIC). Before sharing details of Jo’s take on our work, here is an excerpt that captures his overall opinion:

This a highly timely and interesting book. People not being too familiar with microbiology will find it a fascinating and inspiring introduction into kin recognition in non-animal systems, which thereby challenges our thinking of underlying cognitive processes such as learning. Students of evolutionary biology will find it highly useful to read, for example, about the advent of multicellularity and sociality, leading to major transitions in evolution. Researchers in microbiology will appreciate a comprehensive summary of the field, with some additional dives into methodological details. Teachers will take advantage of the more than 120 detailed figures showing experimental setups, results and schematic diagrams, as well as of the great appendix linking to recent media resources that can be downloaded and included in lectures… This is a great book, which I can highly recommend.”

Well, first, thanks to Jo for a sharp and generous assessment. Avelina Espinosa (my coauthor) and I were quite pleased to see that Jo grasped the book precisely in the way we wrote it, plus the intention with which we put it together. We spent much time conceptualizing the chapters, their order and content, the illustrations and terminology boxes, the recapitulations of previous sections prior to “diving” deeper into more complex themes, and the didactic summaries at the end of each major subject.

Jo further summarizes the book as follows:

“…Chapter one (Kin recognition: Synopsis and the advent of protists models) sets the stage for the following chapters by explaining the most important terms and concepts of the kin recognition literature. It further highlights the importance of kin recognition in animals and introduces protists as promising model organisms. Chapter two (The genetics of kin recognition: from many cells to single cells) explains the genetic mechanisms of kin recognition (e.g. green beard effects) using red fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and social ameba (Dictyostelium discoideum) as examples. Chapter three (Can protists learn phenotypic cues to discriminate kin?) introduces learning as possible nongenetic kin recognition mechanisms. While this chapter is intentionally rather speculative, it is highly inspiring at the same time when thinking about definitions of terms like learning or memory. Chapter four (Entamoeba clone-recognition experiments: morphometrics, aggregative behavior, and cell-signaling characterization) introduces one of the authors’ own study systems, and how it might help us understanding clone recognition. Although the book focuses mainly on kin recognition in protists, the authors devote almost 100 pages of chapter five (The prokaryote´s tale) to show the impact of relatedness on the evolution, ecology and pathogenicity of prokaryotes. By doing so, they largely increase the breadth and information content of the book and open it to a wider audience…

Indeed, Jo got it just right. We purposely dedicated a comprehensive chapter to kin discrimination/recognition in bacteria (most case studies) and Archaea (a few case studies). In fact, there is so much excellent research in prokaryotes that a book dedicated entirely to them should be compiled (not by us, but by somebody else).

Jo continues:

[click to enlarge]

…Chapter six (Protists´ clonality, kinship and pathogenicity) illuminates the gregarious and social behaviors of pathogenic protists like Plasmodium or Trypanosoma. In chapter seven (Micro-biogeography: kinship and social/spatial structure) the authors focus on the local and global distributions of various protist species, with a special focus on Becking’s Everything is Everywhere hypothesis. Chapter eight (Multicellular aggregations: from single cells to many cells) highlights the importance of understanding the multifarious levels of protists’ social organization and cooperation, when aiming to understand the evolution of multicellularity more generally, which is considered as one of the Major Transitions in Evolution. The short ninth chapter (Conclusions and future directions) eventually provides a brief summary of the book and suggests promising future research avenues for the study of kin recognition in protists…

Yes, we do suggest in the book some directions in which the field of kin discrimination/recognition could venture in the immediate and longer-term future, particularly now that unicellular organisms have been incorporated into research programs worldwide. We state, for example, that “…despite the academic progress made during the past two decades, the field of kin recognition in protists and other microbes is just getting started. For the immediate future, we predict a significant increase in studies on the genetics, evolution, behavior and health aspects of the cell-to-cell molecular mechanisms of communication, cooperation, facultative or permanent multicellular aggregations, as well as mathematical modeling on high-complexity organismal systems, and their interactions, for which microbes will generate the data central to the simulations.”

Jo makes a fair observation:

…As a grain of salt, I would have loved to see some more terminological strictness at some occasions. The field of kin recognition is full of semantic debates, often leading to confusion whenever researchers from different backgrounds come together. The same is also true for the concept of learning. Defining clear terms before opening the discussion would have been helpful to the reader, even if not everybody may agree on the definition itself. The authors acknowledge this mess of concepts and try to avoid the debate by using very broad definitions, which I agree are inclusive, but may be too broad to be useful at the same time. However, these are very minor shortcomings that reflect current debates in the field and do not diminish the scientific and scholarly value of this great book, which I can highly recommend.

Yes, as we noted in the book “…the field of kin recognition, has no consensus on definitions or proposed mechanisms, likely due to the vast diversity and complexity of life histories across organisms, and also because researchers use terminology depending on circumstances or preference…” We deliberately avoided the discussion of terms and the way they have been used by specialists in the field, a debate that goes back decades, and a topic that might require a separate review for comprehensive coverage. Terminology guides us and is central to scientific inquiry; but it can, occasionally, drag us back and prevent us from making progress, or even accepting the obvious, like “learning abilities” in microbes, which continue to be skeptically honored by scholars due to the customary deference for “high-cognition learning in humans” versus the “learning-like mechanisms” in other organisms. Research with microbes suggests that learning is ubiquitous in nature and that “unicells” sense stimuli coming from the environment, selectively react to chemosignals excreted by themselves or others, store information about such signals and retrieve it when needed (although, in our book we linked “potential learning” primarily to protists’ recognition/discrimination of close genetic relatives, kin).

In sum, Avelina and I thank Jo Frommen for his attentive and positive review of “Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes: Genetics, Evolution, Behavior and Health.” ‒ EvoLiteracy © 2019

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Related Readings

Other Reviews of Kin Recognition in Protists and Other Microbes

Book Website

Link to Book at publisher Cambridge Scholars

The most outrageous act by scientists in 2018

“Remember the saying ‘when they go low, we go high’? Well, they did go low, as low as you can imagine. And I will try to go high, as much as ‘their low’ allows me. — The tale starts with a cartoonish illustration of a baboon, labeled ‘figure 1.’ Next to the baboon’s rump appears a sketch of its feces or ‘the sample.’ — Someone posted online a video zooming in and revealing the details of ‘the sample.’ The face of Donald J. Trump had been purposely inserted into the sketch. — Outrageous acts by scientists cannot simply vanish.”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Remember the saying “when they go low, we go high”? Well, they did go low, as low as you can imagine. And I will try to go high, as much as “their low” allows me.

The tale starts with a 1.5-inch cartoonish illustration of a baboon, labeled “figure 1,” in the journal Scientific Reports, a branch of the prestigious Nature. Next to the baboon’s rump appears a 1/4-of-an-inch sketch of its feces. From here on, I will refer to it as “the sample.” The purpose of the publication was to document a new technique for DNA extraction from baboons’ excretions and, potentially, from any other animal. The breakthrough was significant, it allowed scientists to exclude unwanted DNA (exogenous) that the organism had eliminated after digesting multiple food items (each with its own DNA), and focus the analysis on a single DNA, in this case the baboon’s (host DNA).

The study was released January 31, 2018. But it took until early December to gain media notoriety. Why? Someone posted online a video zooming in and revealing the details of “the sample.” A minimum of 800-percent magnification was needed to spot the meme, and only a 3000-close-up exposed it fully. The face of Donald J. Trump had been purposely inserted into the sketch.

Although a youthful celebration surged on Facebook/Twitter, scientists condemned the deed (regardless of their opposition to the White House’s current stance on science). But it was not clear who was responsible. The authors? An illustrator? At what point during the editorial process ―which included resubmissions of the work― was the image modified to depict the face of Trump?

I commented on the journal’s website, at the end of the article: “Author(s) and/or the person who did the illustration deceived the editorial or article-production process by introducing a concealed message irrelevant to the research; he/she/they misused the purpose of the Scientific Reports platform, i.e. to communicate best science to the scientific community.”

On December 14, 2018, the journal posted: “The editors have become aware of unusual aspects to the ‘Extract fecal DNA’ illustration in figure 1. We are investigating, and appropriate editorial action will be taken once the matter is resolved.”

Rejections by scholars continued on the Scientific Reports’ interface; here, I abridge some. Scooter wrote “Any credibility these ‘researchers’ may have enjoyed was instantly nullified by their juvenile attempt at making a political statement. What are you people, like 10-years-old?” Anil added: “Dear authors, if you consider you have exercised your ‘freedom of expression’, you are wrong. What you did has absolutely nothing to do with the science you reported. Freedom is ‘whatever I want to do within a sphere of accountability and responsibility'”. And Ron stated: “So you thought it would be cute to add the President’s face to [the] monkey [sample]. Congratulations, because now that’s how this study will be known and not for its content. It also validates the idea that academia is biased and scientific research is being politicized.”

By December 19, 2018, Scientific Reports concluded: “In the original version of this article, there were unusual aspects to the ‘Extract fecal DNA’ illustration in figure 1. These features have been removed.”

Shocking as it might seem to readers, the journal had limited options. Retracting the paper, something suggested on social media, would have been difficult to justify. The science about “single DNA extraction from a mixed-DNA source” was sound. Plus, nowhere else in the article additional dirt was found. In the long run, the journal, and perhaps other periodicals, will have to adjust their guidelines and alert contributors that serious actions shall follow if hidden messages are smuggled into the scientific reporting.

As for the authors, Kenneth L. Chiou and Christina M. Bergey, it remains a mystery what individual roles they played on the prank; Scientific Reports did not offer an explanation. Chiou and Bergey claim affiliation with the Department of Anthropology, Washington University St. Louis; Department of Psychology, University of Washington Seattle; Department of Anthropology, New York University; Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, New York; and Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University. Will these institutions simply rebuke Chiou or Bergey?

After the storm and end-of-the-year calmness, will the authors worry about good standing with their sponsors: the National Science Foundation (federal funding), Leakey Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Geographic Society and NYU University Research Challenge Fund (including the National Institutes of Health, which supports the Genome Technology Center at NYU)? Will the sponsors penalize the authors beyond the glare?

Outrageous acts by scientists cannot simply vanish. The baboon’s DNA tale belongs in history and in our long-term memories. — EvoLiteracy © 2019.

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Nobel Prize in economics goes to climate and innovation – What?

“Despite these brilliant minds, conceptual modeling and empirical research subsequently published by thousands of economists enthused by Nordhaus’ and Romer’s legacies, the global environmental crisis has worsen. The planet’s warming, pollution of the land, air and oceans, and biodiversity loss are ubiquitous in origin. Yet, the markets or innovation technologies have failed to stop the ecocide, or even minimize it. Climate science has been called a hoax and regulations pro nature protection are being ignored or dismantled.”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

This year’s Nobel Prize in economics has been awarded to American professors William D. Nordhaus (Yale University) and Paul M. Romer (New York University Stern School of Business) for the integration of “climate change” and “technological innovations” into long-run macroeconomic analyses, respectively.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which has granted the “Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences” —the official name— since 1969, highlights that Nordhaus and Romer developed the methods to understand a problem of global relevance: how the economy interacts with nature (exemplified by climate change) and with human knowledge (the ideas and innovations generated to solve problems).

It has long been known to scholars that nature imposes limitations on the economy. At the same time, innovation or “ideas” determine how societies undertake challenges. In the 1990s, Nordhaus introduced the factor “climate” into economic projections. He came up with “DICE,” a Dynamic Integrated Model of Climate and the Economy (watch VIDEO) in which three subcomponents interacted: traditional economic growth theory (markets that produce goods using capital and labor, with natural resources as energy inputs), the carbon cycle (particularly carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere derived from burning fossil fuels), and climate (the damage to nature resulting from the accumulation of greenhouse gases).

Separately, and during the 1980s, Romer had observed that technological development correlated with economic prosperity. He asked simple, yet fundamental questions: Where did ideas for new technologies come from? What kind of a product was an idea? Romer proposed that ideas by inventors, engineers or scientists emerged “endogenously” in the marketplace via “rivalry and excludability.” For example, access to inventions like a computer software, a secret soft drink recipe or a coded satellite TV-broadcast could be restricted by encryption (the software or satellite signal) or patent laws (the ownership of the soda formula). For Romer, rivalry and excludability of ideas were central to growth because the latter depended on innovation.

Neither Nordhaus nor Romer offered definitive answers to the challenges of extracting resources from nature with low environmental impact or generating the right amount of knowledge —innovation technologies— to manage such resources to generate sustained and sustainable long-term affluence. In fact, the Committee for the Prize in Economic Sciences noted that the recognition to the researchers was for addressing difficult questions about the economy and providing the conceptual and numerical tools to studying and modeling them.

Nonetheless, based on Nordhaus’ work, corrective measures were suggested to carbon and greenhouse-gases emissions, including carbon taxes on countries. A tactic also rooted in a 1920s notion —in England— that polluters should pay for the damage they caused to society by their polluting practices. A more modern assumption derived from Nordhaus’ research has been that if carbon emissions are limited by law and a high price is set to carbon pollution (by global emissions trading systems), then, minimization of pollution is possible.

Romer’s modeling, on the other hand, later showed that different from the economic growth driven by the accumulation of physical capital (the traditional view), prosperity motivated primarily by the accumulation of ideas did not inevitably experience decreasing returns. He alerted that although unregulated markets will produce technological change, they will tend to underprovide research and development (R&D) and the very goods that R&D could create. To secure global long-run growth, Romer suggested that governments ought to intervene via regulations (patents) and subsidies and incentives to innovation (research). The laws should limit —in time and space— the monopoly rights to goods and balance them with encouragement to creativity.

Despite these brilliant minds, conceptual modeling and empirical research subsequently published by thousands of economists enthused by Nordhaus’ and Romer’s legacies (1980s onwards), the global environmental crisis has worsen (see IPCC October 7, 2018, report). The planet’s warming, pollution of the land, air and oceans, and biodiversity loss are ubiquitous in origin. Yet, the markets or innovation technologies have failed to stop the ecocide, or even minimize it. Climate science has been called a hoax and regulations pro nature protection are being ignored or dismantled in various countries (see reports on the United States A and B).

One would expect that a Nobel Prize granted to our scientists might reignite public commitment to honor academic work and support it; or realize that wealth and prosperity will vanish without competitive research. But there is a campaign out there to delegitimize science, and it is growing strong in respect to climate. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

This op-piece appeared in The Standard Times (South Coast Today), see HERE.

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Related Articles

Nobel Prize for the economics of innovation and climate change stirs controversy – Science Magazine October 8, 2018

Economists who changed thinking on climate change win Nobel Prize – Nature Magazine October 8, 2018

Key climate panel, citing impending crisis, urges crash effort to reduce emissions – Science Magazine October 8, 2018

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5ºC: Responding to climate change is far more like a marathon than a sprint – Real Climate October 7, 2018

When it comes to weedkiller and cancer, the answer is complex

“Why did New Scientist, ‘the world’s most-read weekly popular science and technology magazine,’ as described on its website, decide to departure from covering ‘international news from a rational, analytical standpoint rooted in the scientific method’ and inject extra doubt into the glyphosate debate? I am referring to the directional ‘probably not’ when swiftly-answering its own query ‘does weedkiller cause cancer?'”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

“Does weedkiller cause cancer? Probably not.” These engagement-bite question and answer, as they are known in social media circles when postings lure followers to quick-comment about a topic, were used by New Scientist on Facebook right after a jury in San Francisco concluded that the giant agrochemical and biotech Monsanto must pay $289 million in damages to Dewayne Johnson, who has cancer of the immune system (lymphoma), a condition he and his attorneys claim was caused by exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides commercialized by Monsanto from 1974 to 2000.

The jury’s decision went viral. A 46-year-old school groundskeeper was dying, a world known corporation was being blamed for it, and the state of California offered the perfect stage for litigation. The German Pharmaceutical group Bayer, which back in June, 2018, formalized its engulfing of Monsanto for $60-plus billion, went into frantic damage control, and for a reason. About four thousand other plaintiffs await their day in court. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in potential damage awards could be in dispute, more so if Monsanto-Bayer fail in their appeal to the California decision.

But, why did New Scientist, “the world’s most-read weekly popular science and technology magazine,” as described on its website, decide to departure from covering “international news from a rational, analytical standpoint rooted in the scientific method” and inject extra doubt into the glyphosate debate? I am referring to the directional “probably not” when swiftly-answering its own query “does weedkiller cause cancer?”

As the reader might imagine, the New Scientist’s position caused turmoil among academics and science educators, whose mentors and themselves have relied, since 1956, on the London-based enterprise to get their weekly news. For researchers, New Scientist is a classic, like The New York Times or BBC are for journalists.

The concerns in many of the five hundred comments that New Scientist’s Facebook followers wrote were: why did New Scientist appear to align with Monsanto-Bayer, rather than simply apply the scientific method to communicate the facts about glyphosate to the public? Based on the available research, why did New Scientist take the path of “probably not,” rather than an objective “there are some studies suggesting an association between glyphosate and cancer, and others arriving at inconclusive results”? Moreover, why did New Scientist explicitly state in the heading to its post that “there is no evidence that the weedkiller glyphosate causes cancer”? The latter is false; it implies that the studies that have found such indication should be arbitrarily ignored. And that is not how science works.

Some commentators on the New Scientist post added links to the scientific literature and prestigious journals in which associations between glyphosate exposure and cancer had been reported in laboratory animals and limitedly in humans. Others defended Monsanto-Bayer and listed the publications by researchers affiliated with the multi-company Glyphosate Task Force. But the vast majority questioned, not Monsanto-Bayer, but New Scientist for relying on its outreach platform to seed generalized distrust on any probable link between glyphosate and cancer.

The New Scientist’s captions appeared as large texts on a micro-video with images of Mr. Johnson, containers with Round-up (one of the herbicide’s market names), crop fields being labored, activists “impersonating death” and opposing the weedkiller, small airplanes spraying glyphosate, quotes that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “considers glyphosate probably carcinogenic” to laboratory animals when exposed in high doses (in direct contradiction to the very New Scientist headings), but that other “studies in humans have found no evidence of a link,” and that “other agencies have concluded there is no increased risk of cancer” due to contact with glyphosate. Yet, the take-home message in the clip was: glyphosate does not or “probably does not” cause cancer (see also companion article “There is no evidence that the weedkiller glyphosate causes cancer…”).

From a rational, analytical standpoint, rigorous scientists would hardly take the “probably not” path. Here is why. It is not a scientific answer. When investigators find evidence, even if limited but of statistical rigor in a controlled study, they state categorically that such evidence exists under the parameters of the research. When no evidence is found, or the numerical sustain is weak, the studies are never declared “probably not” (a “leading-the-mind” hint), but rather inconclusive; and that is Science 101.

Skepticism is what drives science and researchers. As for the question “does weedkiller cause cancer?” Well, there is increasing evidence that it does in laboratory animals and, apparently, in humans, as well as there are historical, inconclusive or unsubstantiated findings (see review articles from 2016, 2017). But then, there is the legal fight between citizens, their attorneys, and a multi-billion corporate colossal. The answer is complex, but it is not “probably not.” — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

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“Complementary medicine” is not helping cancer patients

“…Belief is powerful, it disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the comprehension and acceptance of scientific evidence. Scientists call this phenomenon the ‘3Ds+S’ cognitive effects of illusory thinking. Now, the best tonic against its infectious sequels was discovered long ago; it consisted, still does, on proper healthcare education for all. And, in contrast to misleading and unwarranted ‘paramedicine,’ the side effects of widespread science education will always be cheaper, plus save, for sure, some lives…”

By Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C

Cancer hides or thrives in our bodies. Someone we know, close or distant, is destined to die because of it. And although therapies continue to improve thanks to scientific advances, diverse cancers persist and it might take decades, if ever, to fully manage them.

In the United States, breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer are the most prevalent, and chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy the usual treatments. Yet, more than half of the patients with cancer opt for “complementary medicine” to improve, as they believe, their quality of life and survival.

But, do herbs and botanicals, vitamin and mineral supplements, probiotics, traditional medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, massage, prayer, reflexology, energy medicine, or special diets have an actual impact on prolonging cancer patients’ lives? The short answer seems to be no.

Physicians from the Yale School of Medicine have just published the study “Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients with Curable Cancers” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). From a data set of 1.9 million individuals, gathered between 2004 and 2013 and stored in the National Cancer Database, the researchers extracted a representative sample of cancer patients whom opted for complementary medicine (CM) versus those exposed to conventional cancer treatment (CCT).

The study was straightforward. It aimed at identifying and comparing survival rates between CM and CCT groups.

Patients exposed to complementary medicine had a greater risk of death than those under conventional cancer treatment. In fact, only 82 percent of the CM patients versus 87 percent of the CCT patients survived during a 5-year monitoring lapse since they were first diagnosed with the condition. The trend was noticeable in women suffering breast cancer, with only 85 percent of the CM patients versus 90 percent of the conventionally-treated patients surviving since diagnosis (also during a 5-year follow up).

According to Skyler Johnson, Henry Park and Cary Gross, authors of the study and fellows at the Department of Therapeutic Radiology, as well as the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center at Yale, the general risk of death associated with complementary medicine was primarily linked to the patients’ refusal to receive: surgery (7 versus 0.1 percent refusal between the CM versus CCT groups, respectively), chemotherapy (34 versus 3 percent), radiotherapy (53 versus 2 percent), and/or hormone therapy (34 versus 3 percent).

Quite interestingly, patients in the complementary medicine group were more likely to be young, women, have breast or colorectal cancer, belong to high socio-economic cohorts, have private medical insurance, high-school education, and reside in the Intermountain West or Pacific West of the United States (where alternative-medicine schools are common, protected by state legislation).

In essence, the Yale study concluded that if patients went for unconventional cures to fight cancer, rather than scientific medicine, they had higher risk to die and do it earlier. Complementary medicine did not help.

As David Gorski, member of the Department of Surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Department of Oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute (both in Michigan), already alerted back in 2014 when compiling a comprehensive review for the journal Nature “the vast majority of ‘integrative’ [complementary oncology] treatments [were] supported by little, if any, scientific evidence.” He pointed out, with concern and irony, “therein lies a key problem with integrative oncology. The less ‘alternative’ the intervention, the more it resembles conventional oncology; the more ‘alternative’ the intervention, the more it resembles the quackery from which integrative oncologists rightly distance themselves.”

Why do patients opt for unscientific methods to battle cancer? There are multiple reasons, and only one of them has to do with “hope,” trust on a possibility (the “alternative cure”) beyond the “conventional scientific wisdom,” one that might work and, if not, at least, it won’t hurt. There is always a friend or a relative that recommend “holistic cures” to somebody they love. But the Yale study demonstrates that such paths can indeed be harmful: remember that they were associated with higher risk of dying and doing it earlier among patients choosing “complementary practices.”

Belief is powerful, as research on people’s attitudes toward science suggests, it disrupts, distorts, delays or stops the comprehension and acceptance of scientific evidence. Scientists call this phenomenon the “3Ds+S” cognitive effects of illusory thinking. Now, the best tonic against its infectious sequels was discovered long ago; it consisted, still does, on proper healthcare education for all. And, in contrast to misleading and unwarranted “paramedicine,” the side effects of widespread science education will always be cheaper, plus save, for sure, some lives. — EvoLiteracy © 2018.

This op-piece appeared in The Standard Times (South Coast Today), see HERE.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook @gpazymino and GPC-Facebook