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, December 14 at 5:30pm EST, join us on Discord and let’s build the best Scientific Inquirer possible.
The plummeting American life expectancy that started with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has shown no signs of relenting two years on. Per USA Today,
Average American life expectancy fell from 77 to 76.4 years last year, bringing U.S. figures back to where they were in 1996, according to federal data released Thursday. That means all the medical advances over the past quarter century have been erased, said Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University, who was not involved in the new study. For American men, life expectancy fell by more than eight months, and for women the loss was about seven months, the study found. Life expectancy, which is actually a measure of death rates, dropped in every age category over age 1. Though the rate of decline in life expectancy wasn't as dramatic as in 2020, Woolf said, the fall-off in 2021 was actually worse because it came on top of that year's 17% decline.
Not many ways to spin a return to 1996, is there? https://bit.ly/3WqnzD9
After anti-Covid-Zero protests erupted in China, Beijing pulled the public-health-rug from under its population and opened-up quicker than would be advisable. As a result, it’s anyone’s guess how the waves of infections will play out. Per the Associated Press,
Nearly three years after it was first identified in China, the coronavirus is now spreading through the vast country. Experts predict difficult months ahead for its 1.4 billion people. China’s unyielding “zero-COVID” approach, which aimed to isolate all infected people, bought it years to prepare for the disease. But an abrupt reopening, which was announced without warning on Dec. 7 in the wake of anti-lockdown protests, has caught the nation under-vaccinated and short on hospital capacity. Experts have forecast between a million and 2 million deaths next year. Predicting deaths has proven tricky throughout the pandemic, since it is influenced by varied factors and China presents an especially complicated case because of opaque information sharing. It’s not clear exactly how large the current outbreak is, as China has reduced testing and stopped reporting most mild cases. But in cities and towns around Baoding and Langfang, in Hebei province, an area that was among the first to face an unchecked outbreak, Associated Press reporters saw hospital intensive care units overwhelmed by patients, and ambulances being turned away. Across the country, widespread reports of absences from work, shortages of fever-reducing medicine, and staff working overtime at crematoria suggest the virus is widespread.
It should be pointed out that models can be and have been wildly off the mark with Covid-19 predictions. Time will tell how bad things become. Fingers crossed it isn’t too bad. Nobody likes people dying. https://bit.ly/3vdSery
It’s a good thing people tend to have short memories, at least that’s what the Japanese government is banking on. Per the AP,
Japan adopted a plan on Thursday to extend the lifespan of nuclear reactors, replace the old and even build new ones, a major shift in a country scarred by the Fukushima disaster that once planned to phase out atomic power. In the face of global fuel shortages, rising prices and pressure to reduce carbon emissions, Japan’s leaders have begun to turn back toward nuclear energy, but the announcement was their clearest commitment yet after keeping mum on delicate topics like the possibility of building new reactors. Under the new policy, Japan will maximize the use of existing reactors by restarting as many of them as possible and prolonging the operating life of aging ones beyond a 60-year limit. The government also pledged to develop next-generation reactors.
Nuclear energy is much cleaner that carbon-based sources – that is, until there’s a nuclear meltdown. In event of disaster, everyone will be wishing they were using carbon-based sources or some other semi-sustainable source. https://bit.ly/3WGh1jG
Ah, drug prices in the United States. For anti-Big Pharma activists, it’s the gift that keeps giving. Per the AP,
In September, Relyvrio became only the third drug approved in the U.S. for ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that is usually fatal within five years. But patients and physicians who celebrated Relyvrio’s approval several months ago are now contending with the obstacles posed by the U.S. health care system. Their odyssey is an object lesson in the soaring cost of specialty drugs and the byzantine systems that insurers have created to try and control them. Patients with insurance coverage say the $158,000 per year price tag set by drugmaker Amylyx Pharmaceutical is fueling insurance delays or denials, and sometimes exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses.
It’s easy to understand why the amorphous entity called Big Pharma is so reviled. What’s the point of making a drug nobody can afford? https://bit.ly/3FQ1gjg
If you know anything about American politics and where most American textbooks are made, this next bit of news will come as no surprise. Per The Guardian,
US college-level biology textbooks miss the mark on offering solutions to the climate crisis, according to a new analysis of books over the last 50 years. Fewer than three pages in a typical 1,000-page biology textbook from recent decades address climate change, according to the new study, despite experts warning it is humankind’s biggest problem. While the coverage of the topic has expanded since the 1970s, and sentences focused on climate solutions peaked in the 1990s, that emphasis declined by 80% in recent decades. The average coverage of climate change in biology textbooks from the past decade was 67 sentences, a step up from 51 sentences in the 2000s.
When politics and science mix, nothing worthwhile ever happens. https://bit.ly/3jspvfG
A promising bit of news regarding the benefits of brain stimulation. Per Nature,
Stimulating neurons that are linked to alertness helps rats with cochlear implants learn to quickly recognize tunes, researchers have found. The results suggest that activity in a brain region called the locus coeruleus (LC) improves hearing perception in deaf rodents. Researchers say the insights are important for understanding how the brain processes sound, but caution that the approach is a long way from helping people. “It’s like we gave them a cup of coffee,” says Robert Froemke, an otolaryngologist at New York University School of Medicine and a co-author of the study, published in Nature on 21 December1. Cochlear implants use electrodes in the inner-ear region called the cochlea, which is damaged in people who have severe or total hearing loss. The device converts acoustic sounds into electrical signals that stimulate the auditory nerve, and the brain learns to process these signals to make sense of the auditory world.
Our future moves toward a cyborg future continues unabated. https://bit.ly/3Vmi1s6
From a glance into the future to a glimpse into our human past, a recent study indicates that hunter and gatherers don’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to culture. Per Science,
Broken, charred and still crusted with nearly 8000-year-old food, the remnants of ancient pottery found across northern Eurasia wouldn’t be mistaken for fine china. But the advent of this durable technology—used to cook and store abundant plant and animal resources—was a huge step forward for hunter-gatherers in this part of the globe. It was also home-grown, new research suggests. For decades, researchers believed pottery arrived in Europe along with agriculture and domesticated animals, as part of a “package” of technologies that spread northward from Anatolia beginning about 9000 years ago. Pots found in Northern Europe dating around the same time were thought to be mere knockoffs by hunter-gatherers copying their more sophisticated farmer neighbors, says Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the University of Göttingen who was not involved with the new research. “A generation ago, nobody looked to the East.” But a study published today in Nature Human Behaviour tells a different story. Beginning about 20,000 years ago, the know-how needed to make and use pottery spread among groups of hunter-gatherers in the Far East. This containers replaced less durable vessels made of hide and skin, and were better able to withstand fire than wood bowls. Starting about 7900 years ago, clay pots became common from the Ural Mountains to southern Scandinavia within just a few centuries.
It’s dizzying how often consensus views on our past get overturned. That said, no complaints here. It’s all fascinating. https://bit.ly/3WJBR1D
IMAGE CREDIT: British Museum.