Science and Technology links (March 27th 2021)

    1. Scientists, including climate-science researchers, often travel to faraway places for conferences. Attending a live conference is time consuming and expensive. The cost is relative: attending a $3000 conference in Hawaii is cheap for the Harvard student, but a considerably higher expense for people elsewhere in the world. The conference is also out of reach for people who need to care for young children. People often claim that the environmental cost of the travel can be offset but there is no hard evidence that it actually works. The pandemic has forced scientists to suspend their travel. Should they resume? Niner and Wassermann write:

      Avoiding international travel and associated bureaucracy, time and expense could overcome many of the historic injustices preventing many from participating in and benefiting from international conferences, and also avoid the emissions associated with international air travel. However, prior to 2020, there has been resistance to moving these events online because of the perception that the value of conferences cannot be cultivated online. (…) we conclude that holding international conferences online (..) is a significant improvement in the capacity of conferences to meet the moral imperatives of the conservation community by addressing the climate crisis and some of the systemic injustices within the field.

    2. We found a largely preserved basket that is 10,000-year old. This was shortly after the last ice age.
    3. Wearable devices can help people lose weight.
    4. Disk drives should exceed 100 TB by 2030. 100 TB is enough to store everything your eyes can see during a decade.
    5. There is such a thing as too much exercise.
    6. Students in many countries do not gain critical thinking skills in college.
    7. Your nervous system is protected by myelin. As you age, your myelin regenerate more and more poorly. It appears that this might be reversible.
    8. There are more human twins than ever.
    9. A 70-year-old Albatross has given birth. It is generally difficult to tell how old a bird is, but this particular Albatross was tagged many years ago. Like many other animal species, we believe that many sea birds experience negligible senescence which means that they do not become less fertile or more frail with time.
    10. Though you keep the same genes all your life, your genes are marked by methylation and that can change over time. In other words, your DNA is not “stateless”, it can change. Some genes can thus become silent while others can become active. Using machine learning, we can use your methylation state to determine your biological age. Researchers have reported that methylation can further predict your clinical outcome when affected by SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19). In time, this could be used to quickly identify people most at risk for some diseases. Meanwhile, losing weight appears to lower your biological age as defined by methylation. You might become biologically younger by about a year if you lose a lot of weight.
    11. When doing resistance training (lifting weights), I have often been told to lift to failure (until you no longer can lift). It seems that it might be poor advice. Instead, you may want to tailor your training to maximize volume (total effort).
    12. A low-carbohydrate diet might help you keep your muscle mass as you grow older. It does in mice. Further, vegans may have poorer bone health as they age.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

2 thoughts on “Science and Technology links (March 27th 2021)”

  1. To me, the most important aspect of a conference is the chance encounters that the authors mention. But almost as important is the interruption of daily routine by going somewhere else. It encourages thinking differently about your work, reinforced by taking in all the different directions of thought in one’s domain, in person. Sitting in front of your computer, with the little bubble counting the incoming email, does not do that. The moment there is an intermission, whether scheduled, or just a less interesting moment in the talk, it pulls you back into the rut.

    We humans are contextual beings. My son’s learning behaviors suffered greatly in the pandemic because he wasn’t immersed in the school context. I can force him to not get up as soon as the Zoom call ends. I cannot force his mind to stay on task. If we stay set in our chairs, we stay set in our ways. To get new ideas, we might need to be in new contexts, and to me a conference is the most salient such dedicated time in a new context.

    As the authors note, the online conference destroys the chance encounters. But I fear the damage to creative impetus and ideation, which they do not explicitly note, may be even greater and only visible in longer run. If that’s the case, we are back to the fundamental question of social justice: is a more just outcome worth a less productive one?

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