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DAILY DOSE: Online learning during the pandemic was disastrous for many; Torturing primates for the greater good.

HAVE YOUR SAY.

Join us in The Bullpen, where the members of the Scientific Inquirer community get to shape the site’s editorial decision making. We’ll be discussing people and companies to profile on the site. On Wednesday, October 26 at 5:30pm EST, join us on Discord and let’s build the best Scientific Inquirer possible.


ONE SIZE DIDN’T FIT ALL.

Schooling during the pandemic was conducted online, normally over Zoom. It’s become pretty clear that many children struggled to learn over this medium. An investigation done by the Associated Press drives home just how damaging the time was for some students (though not all).

The longer many students studied remotely, the less they learned. Some educators and parents are questioning decisions in cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles to remain online long after clear evidence emerged that schools weren’t COVID-19 super-spreaders — and months after life-saving adult vaccines became widely available.

There are fears for the futures of students who don’t catch up. They run the risk of never learning to read, long a precursor for dropping out of school. They might never master simple algebra, putting science and tech fields out of reach. The pandemic decline in college attendance could continue to accelerate, crippling the U.S. economy.

In a sign of how inflammatory the debate has become, there’s sharp disagreement among educators, school leaders and parents even about how to label the problems created by online school. “Learning loss” has become a lightning rod. Some fear the term might brand struggling students or cast blame on teachers, and they say it overlooks the need to save lives during a pandemic.

Regardless of what it’s called, the casualties of Zoom school are real.

There is no doubt that it harmed countless students. And yes, things definitely could have been done better. That said, hindsight is pretty perfect and it’s doubtful anyone implemented these policies just so they can destroy the futures of children across the country. Policy makers were going by a playbook that wasn’t constructed with the Covid-19 pandemic in mind. Nobody alive today lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Most did the best they could. Let’s not lose sight of that.


RACISM IN SCIENCE IS REAL.

Nature has dedicated an issue to racism in institutional science. According to the special issue’s introduction,

Science is “a shared experience, subject both to the best of what creativity and imagination have to offer and to humankind’s worst excesses”. So wrote the guest editors of this special issue of Nature, Melissa Nobles, Chad Womack, Ambroise Wonkam and Elizabeth Wathuti, in a June 2022 editorial announcing their involvement.

Among those worst excesses is racism. For centuries, science has built a legacy of excluding people of colour and those from other historically marginalized groups from the scientific enterprise. Institutions and scientists have used research to underpin discriminatory thinking, and have prioritized research outputs that ignore and further disadvantage marginalized people.  

Nature has played a part in creating this racist legacy. After the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2020, Nature committed to becoming an agent of change, and helping to end discriminatory practices and systemic racism.

This special issue is part of that commitment, and the first in this journal’s history to be guest-edited. It can only scratch the surface of such a vast topic, and will be followed by others that examine different facets of racism in science — to help build a future in which all people can participate in and benefit from the shared experience that is science.

This is an important topic that deserves attention. If anything, it should be covered even deeper and more exhaustively than one issue. https://go.nature.com/3DjBQKT


GREATER GOOD?

A series of experiments performed in the neuroscience labs at Harvard have caused an outcry from animal rights activists as well as members of the scientific community. According to Science,

Primatologists and animal rights activists are condemning monkey studies in the laboratory of Harvard University neuroscientist Margaret Livingstone. The work, which involves removing newborns from their mothers and, in two cases in 2016, suturing their eyelids shut to understand how the primate brain processes faces, is cruel and unethical, they say. But some neuroscientists defend the studies as crucial for understanding human vision.

Livingstone says the eyelid suturing procedure she and colleagues utilized is similar to that used to treat children with eye tumors and invasive eye infections—and they have no plans to use it again. But some of her studies still involve separating infant monkeys from their mothers.

That’s shocking to Catherine Hobaiter, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews who has studied primates in the wild for 17 years. “As a scientist, I question what we are learning that we couldn’t learn in another way,” she says. “As a human, I’m horrified.

There are time when science makes it hard to love science. https://bit.ly/3TMlmAp


WHEN A FISH ISN’T JUST A FISH.

It’s hard to fully grasp the downstream implications of consumer products we take for granted. For the consumer, their focus is on their immediate needs or desires. But at the origin, there’s very often tangible harm being done. Salt water aquariums are a case in point. Per the AP,

But the long journey from places like Bali to places like Rhode Island is perilous for the fish and for the reefs they come from. Some are captured using squirts of cyanide to stun them. Many die along the way.

And even when they are captured carefully, by people like Partiana, experts say the global demand for these fish is contributing to the degradation of delicate coral ecosystems, especially in major export countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

There have been efforts to reduce some of the most destructive practices, such as cyanide fishing. But the trade is extraordinarily difficult to regulate and track as it stretches from small-scale fishermen in tropical seaside villages through local middlemen, export warehouses, international trade hubs and finally to pet stores in the U.S., China, Europe and elsewhere.

Of course, there is also the flip-side to the argument at the downstream level in that the industry provides a source of income for people who wouldn’t otherwise have it. https://bit.ly/3sgzaqZ


AN ASTEROID GROWS A TAIL.

Weeks after a spacecraft made a planned collision with an asteroid, there’s been a twist, of sorts. Per space.com,

A week or two after a NASA spacecraft slammed into an asteroid, scientists have spotted something unexpected: The space rock has grown two tails.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission walloped a small asteroid called Dimorphos on Sept. 26 to test a potential technique for protecting Earth from an asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Within two days, radiation pressure from the sun pushed the impact debris into a tail, like that of a comet, some 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) long.

But now a new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows that Dimorphos has sprouted not one, but two tails, a development NASA personnel called "unexpected" in a statement.

Unexpected indeed. And shows that even when scientists think they’ve considered all possible outcomes, there’s always more they never even were aware existed. https://bit.ly/3EZXULN

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.


ON SALE! Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

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