Science and Technology links (July 23 2022)

    1. Compared to 1800, we eat less saturated fat and much more processed food and vegetable oils and it does not seem to be good for us:

      Saturated fats from animal sources declined while polyunsaturated fats from vegetable oils rose. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) rose over the twentieth century in parallel with increased consumption of processed foods, including sugar, refined flour and rice, and vegetable oils. Saturated fats from animal sources were inversely correlated with the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

      Kang et al. found that saturated fats reduce your risk of having a stroke:

      a higher consumption of dietary saturated fat is associated with a lower risk of stroke, and every 10 g/day increase in saturated fat intake is associated with a 6% relative risk reduction in the rate of stroke.

      Saturated fats come from meat and dairy products (e.g., butter). A low-fat diet can significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease events.
      Leroy and Cofnas argue against a reduction of red meat consumption:

      The IARC’s (2015) claim that red meat is “probably carcinogenic” has never been substantiated. In fact, a risk assessment by Kruger and Zhou (2018) concluded that this is not the case. (…) a meta-analysis of RCTs has shown that meat eating does not lead to deterioration of cardiovascular risk markers (O’Connor et al., 2017). The highest category of meat eating even paralleled a potentially beneficial increase in HDL-C level. Whereas plant-based diets indeed seem to lower total cholesterol and LDL-C in intervention studies, they also increase triglyceride levels and decrease HDL-C (Yokoyama et al., 2017), which are now often regarded as superior markers of cardiovascular risk (Jeppesen et al., 2001). (…) We believe that a large reduction in meat consumption, such as has been advocated by the EAT-Lancet Commission (Willett et al., 2019), could produce serious harm. Meat has long been, and continues to be, a primary source of high-quality nutrition. The theory that it can be replaced with legumes and supplements is mere speculation. While diets high in meat have proved successful over the long history of our species, the benefits of vegetarian diets are far from being established, and its dangers have been largely ignored by those who have endorsed it prematurely on the basis of questionable evidence.

    2. People dislike research that appears to favour males:

      In both studies, both sexes reacted less positively to differences favouring males; in contrast to our earlier research, however, the effect was larger among female participants. Contrary to a widespread expectation, participants did not react less positively to research led by a female. Participants did react less positively, though, to research led by a male when the research reported a male-favouring difference in a highly valued trait. Participants judged male-favouring research to be lower in quality than female-favouring research, apparently in large part because they saw the former as more harmful.

    3. During the Jurassic era, atmospheric CO2 was very high, forests extended all the way to the North pole. Even so, there were freezing winters:

      Forests were present all the way to the Pangean North Pole and into the southern latitudes as far as land extended. Although there may have been other contributing factors, the leading hypothesis is that Earth was in a “greenhouse” state because of very high atmospheric PCO2 (partial pressure of CO2), the highest of the past 420 million years. Despite modeling results indicating freezing winter temperatures at high latitudes, empirical evidence for freezing has been lacking. Here, we provide empirical evidence showing that, despite extraordinary high PCO2, freezing winter temperatures did characterize high Pangean latitudes based on stratigraphically widespread lake ice-rafted debris (L-IRD) in early Mesozoic strata of the Junggar Basin, northwest China. Traditionally, dinosaurs have been viewed as thriving in the warm and equable early Mesozoic climates, but our results indicate that they also endured freezing winters.

    4. In mice, researchers found that injecting stem-cell-derived “conditioned medium” protects against neurodegeneration:

      Neuronal cell death is causal in many neurodegenerative diseases, including age-related loss of memory and dementias (such as Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, strokes, as well as diseases that afflict broad ages, i.e., traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, ALS, and spinal muscle atrophy. These diseases are characterized by neuroinflammation and oxidative cell damage, many involve perturbed proteostasis and all are devastating and without a cure. Our work describes a feasible meaningful disease-minimizing treatment for ALS and suggests a clinical capacity for treating a broad class of diseases of neurodegeneration, and excessive cell apoptosis.

    5. Greenland and the North of Europe were once warmer than they are today: the Medieval Warm Period (950 to 1250) overlaps with the Viking age (800–1300). Bajard et al. (2022) suggest that the Viking were quite adept at adapting their agricultural practices:

      (…) the period from The Viking Age to the High Middle Ages was a period of expansion with the Viking diaspora, increasing trade, food and goods production and the establishment of Scandinavian towns. This period also sees a rapid increase in population and settlements, mainly due to a relatively stable warm climate (…) temperature was the main driver of agricultural practices in Southeastern Norway during the Late Antiquity. Direct comparison between the reconstructed temperature variability and palynological data from the same sediment sequence shows that small changes in temperature were synchronous with changes in agricultural practices (…) We conclude that the pre-Viking age society in Southwestern Scandinavia made substantial changes in their way of living to adapt to the climate variability of this period.

      The Vikings grew barley in Greenland, a plant that grows normally in a temperate climate. In contrast, agriculture in Greenland today is nearly non-existent due to the harsh climate.

    6. Ashkenazi intelligence often score exceptionally well on intelligence tests, and they achieve extraordinary results in several intellectual pursuits.
      Nevertheless, Wikipedia editors deleted the article on Ashkenazi intelligence. Tezuka argues that it is the result of an ideological bias that results in systematic censorship.
    7. You can rejuvenate old human skins by grafting it on young mice.
    8. Tabarrok reminds us that research funding through competitions might result in total waste through rent dissipation…

      A scientist who benefits from a 2-million-dollar NIH grant is willing to spend a million dollars of their time working on applications or incur the cost of restricting their research ideas in order to get it. Importantly, even though only one scientist will get the grant, hundreds of scientists are spending resources in competition to get it. So the gains we might be seeing from transferring resources to one researcher are dissipated multiplicatively across all the scientists who spent time and money competing for the grant but didn’t get it. The aggregate time costs to our brightest minds from this application contest system are quantifiably large, possibly entirely offsetting the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports.

    9. Corporate tax cuts lead to an increase in productivity and research over the long term. Conversely, increases in taxation reduce long-term productivity as well as research and development.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

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

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