Greenland Shark Likely to Have Lived to at Least 272 Years Old

(p. A11) The mysterious Greenland shark lives at extreme depths in dark, icy waters, which have long protected it from scientists’ prying eyes.
But now, an international group of researchers has estimated the dark brown cartilaginous fish may live as long as 500 years–which would make it the longest-living vertebrate on the planet.
The work, published Thursday [Aug. 11, 2016] in the journal Science, “offers the first hard evidence of how long-lived this poorly understood shark species can be,” said Steve Campana, a shark expert at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, who wasn’t involved in the study.
. . .
. . . the 11-person team of researchers turned to math models and radiocarbon dating, a technique typically used to date fossils. They focused their work on the eye lens nucleus of each shark, a structure that stops developing at birth and therefore serves as a rough proxy of birth date. They measured the levels of carbon-14 in the tissue, which animals stop accumulating when they die.
The oldest shark in the study, which measured more than 16 feet, lived an estimated 392 years, according to the scientists. Because the study had a margin of error of 120 years for that fish, the researchers concluded the sharks could live up to about 500 years.

For the full story, see:
DANIELA HERNANDEZ. “Enigmatic Shark Can Live for Centuries, Study Says.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 12, 2016): A12.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2016, and has the title “Mysterious Greenland Shark May Live Hundreds of Years, Scientists Say.” The online version included several additional sentences, interspersed through the article, that were not included in the print version. The sentences quoted above, appeared in both versions, but the formatting of the quotes above, most closely follow the print version.)

The research article reporting findings discussed above, is:
Nielsen, Julius, Rasmus B. Hedeholm, Jan Heinemeier, Peter G. Bushnell, Jørgen S. Christiansen, Jesper Olsen, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Richard W. Brill, Malene Simon, Kirstine F. Steffensen, and John F. Steffensen. “Eye Lens Radiocarbon Reveals Centuries of Longevity in the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus).” Science 353, no. 6300 (Aug. 12, 2016): 702-04.

Andreessen Venture Funds Succeed Modestly

In an Andrew Ross Sorkin column, Sean Parker urged successful entrepreneurs to become serial entrepreneurs, rather than to semi-retire as venture capitalists. In that column, Marc Andreessen was quoted as sympathizing with Parker’s view.

(p. A1) Andreessen Horowitz’s first three venture funds have nearly doubled their investment capital or better since inception, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal that provide a rare look at the performance of one of Silicon Valley’s top venture-capital firms.
But an analysis of its returns, compared with funds from top rivals and industry averages, shows that Andreessen Horowitz hasn’t yet earned its reputation as an elite firm.
The firm, co-founded by web pioneer Marc Andreessen in 2009, is routinely mentioned among the pantheon of great startup investors with the likes of Sequoia Capital, a status that has allowed it to command higher fees than some of its peers.
Sequoia has separated itself from the pack thanks to its consistently high returns. Its 2003 and 2006 venture funds have both risen eightfold net of fees, according to a person familiar with the matter.
. . .
(p. A2) Venture-capital firms raise money from universities, pension funds and other institutions to wager on startups. They typically raise a new fund every few years, operating a handful at the same time with each expected to wind down after 10 years.
Though they fall short of their top-notch rivals, all three Andreessen Horowitz funds–whose bets include Instagram, Airbnb and Pinterest Inc.–have outperformed the average of venture funds raised in the same years, according to benchmark data from investment adviser Cambridge Associates. The earliest fund, raised in 2009, ranks in the top 5% of venture funds from that year; the second fund, raised in 2010, ranks in the top 50%; and the third from 2012 ranks in the top 25%.

For the full story, see:
Winkler, Rolfe. “Andreessen’s Venture Firm Trails Rivals.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 2, 2016): A1-A2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Sept. 1, 2016, and had the title “Andreessen Horowitz’s Returns Trail Venture-Capital Elite.”)

The views of Sean Parker and Marc Andreessen on venture capital, that I mention at the top, are summarized in:
Sorkin, Andrew Ross. “Dealbook; Taking a Risk, and Hoping That Lightning Strikes Twice.” The New York Times (Tues., July 24, 2012): B1 & B4.

Traveling Health Volunteers Often Do Harm

(p. D3) Tens of thousands of religious and secular institutions now send hundreds of thousands of health volunteers from the United States out into the world, generating close to an estimated $1 billion worth of unpaid labor. Volunteers include experienced medical professionals and individuals who can provide only elbow grease; between these extremes of competence are the hordes of students in the health professions, among whom global volunteering has become immensely popular.
. . .
Students may take advantage of the circumstances to attempt tasks well beyond their expertise. Seasoned professionals may cling to standards of practice that are irrelevant or impossible to sustain in poor countries. Unskilled volunteers who do not speak the language may monopolize local personnel with their interpreting needs without providing much of value in return.
Problems may lie with the structure of a program rather than the personnel. Volunteer projects may be choppy and discontinuous, one set of volunteers not knowing what the previous group was up to, and not able to leave suggestions for the next group. Medications may run out. Surgery may be performed with insufficient provisions for postoperative care.
Even well-organized programs may undermine hosting communities in unanticipated ways: For instance, a good volunteer-based clinic may sap confidence in local medical care and, providing free services, threaten to put local physicians out of business.
. . .
A few studies on the long-term effects of short-term good works are ongoing. In the meantime, “there is little evidence that short-term volunteer trips produce the kinds of transformational changes that are often promised,” Dr. Lasker finds.

For the full review, see:
ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. “The Folly of the Well-Meaning Traveling Volunteer.” The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): D3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title “Books; Book Review: ‘Hoping to Help’ Questions Value of Volunteers.”)

The book under review, is:
Lasker, Judith N. Hoping to Help: The Promises and Pitfalls of Global Health Volunteering, The Culture and Politics of Health Care Work. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016.

Feds Use Taxpayer Money to Buy $20 Million of Cheese

(p. C1) U.S. agricultural officials agreed to purchase $20 million of cheese products from struggling dairy farmers who pleaded for a bailout earlier this month.
Around 11 million pounds of food will be donated to families throughout the country through government nutrition-assistance programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
. . .
The national Milk Producers Federation, a group of roughly 30,000 farmers, on Aug. 12 asked the agency to purchase a much as $150 million of cheese, as a glut of dairy products and other food commodities has sent prices for many farmers to the lowest levels in years.

For the full story, see:
Gee, Kelsy. “U.S. Says Cheese–to Aid Farmers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 25, 2016): C1.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: after much searching on 9/10/16, I could not find an online version of the story on the WSJ site.)

Colorful Coral Reef Is Thriving in Hot Water

(p. D1) In 2003, researchers declared Coral Castles dead.
On the floor of a remote island lagoon halfway between Hawaii and Fiji, the giant reef site had been devastated by unusually warm water. Its remains looked like a pile of drab dinner plates tossed into the sea. Research dives in 2009 and 2012 had shown little improvement in the coral colonies.
Then in 2015, a team of marine biologists was stunned and overjoyed to find Coral Castles, genus Acropora, once again teeming with life. But the rebound came with a big question: Could the enormous and presumably still fragile coral survive what would be the hottest year on record?
This month, the Massachusetts-based research team finished a new exploration of the reefs in the secluded Phoenix Islands, a tiny Pacific archipelago, and were thrilled by what they saw. When they splashed out of an inflatable dinghy to examine Coral Castles closely, they were greeted with a vista of bright greens and purples — unmistakable signs of life.
“Everything looked just magnificent,” said Jan Witting, the expedition’s chief scientist and a researcher at Sea Education Association, based in Woods Hole, Mass.
. . .
(p. D6) If Coral Castles can continue to revive after years of apparent lifelessness, even as water temperatures rise, there might be hope for other reefs with similar damage, said another team member, Randi Rotjan, a research scientist who led and tracked the Phoenix Islands expedition from her base at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
No one actually knows what drives reef resilience or even what a coral reef looks like as it is rebounding. In remote, hard-to-get-to places, our understanding of coral is roughly akin to a doctor’s knowing only what a patient looks like in perfect health and after death, Dr. Rotjan said.

For the full story, see:
KAREN WEINTRAUB. “In Splash of Colors, Signs of Hope for Coral Reefs.” The New York Times (Tues., AUG. 16, 2016): D1 & D6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 15, 2016, and has the title “Giant Coral Reef in Protected Area Shows New Signs of Life.” The print version gave incorrect affiliation for Jan Witting. The version above is the online version.)

FDA Blocking Stem-Cell Therapies from Those With No Other Hope

(p. D2) Research is exploding into ways stem cells might be harnessed to cure diseases, mend damaged tissue, even grow replacement organs.
. . .
Jeffrey Weiss, a retinal surgeon in Margate, Fla., has treated about 570 patients with retinal and optic nerve diseases with stem cells taken from patients’ bone marrow as part of a study, and says that about 60% have had meaningful improvement. Patients pay $19,000 to $21,000 to receive the injections.
Shawn Rockafellow, a 31-year old truck dispatcher in Chandler, Ariz., started rapidly losing his vision in 2014 to a genetic disease and says he was told to accept that he was going blind. His mother read about Dr. Weiss’s work. Mr. Rockafellow raised the $20,000 fee on GoFundMe, a personal charity website, and had the treatment in both eyes in January.
After three months, the vision in his right eye went from roughly 20/1,000 to 20/400. After six months, it was 20/300. His left eye hasn’t improved as much, so he wants to try the treatment again. His regular ophthalmologist, Scott Markham, says “the fact that he’s not worsening is fantastic.”
. . .
Mark Berman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., cosmetic surgeon who co-founded a network of stem-cell clinics, says “fundamentally, all we are doing is a simple, surgical procedure. This is not witch-doctor stuff. We are repairing cell damage with people’s own stem cells.” He says the member clinics in 25 states have treated about 5,000 patients to date, with no significant adverse events.
SammyJo Wilkinson, a former dot-com executive, developed multiple sclerosis in 1995 and was confined to a wheelchair by 2011. She says her symptoms started to improve almost immediately after receiving a high-dose stem cell treatment at a Houston clinic in 2012. When the FDA blocked access to that form of therapy, Ms. Wilkinson went to Cancún, Mexico, for follow-ups. After a total of five treatments for $90,000, she says she has far less pain, can exercise and walk short distances with the help of a walker.
At the FDA hearing, Ms. Wilkinson, who founded a patient group called Patients for Stem Cells, plans to appeal for a faster approval process for stem-cell therapies and a registry to monitor patient outcomes. “Patients will never get these treatments if they have to go the traditional double-blind placebo-controlled trial route. That takes 10 years and $1 billion,” she says. “There’s got to be a middle ground, where you don’t shut off treatment, you just keep track of it.”

For the full story, see:
Beck, Melinda. “Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 30, 2016): D2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 29, 2016, and has the title “Stem-Cell Treatments Become More Available, and Face More Scrutiny.” There are minor differences in wording between the online and print versions. The sentences quoted above, follow the online version.)

“Practice Makes Perfect, but It Doesn’t Make New”

(p. 12) Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world. We assume that they must lack the social and emotional skills to function in society. When you look at the evidence, though, this explanation doesn’t suffice: Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. A vast majority are well adjusted — as winning at a cocktail party as in the spelling bee.
What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.
. . .
In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet “only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. “Those who do must make a painful transition” to an adult who “ultimately remakes a domain.”
Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.

For the full commentary, see:
Grant, Adam. “How to Raise a Creative Child.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., JAN. 31, 2016): 12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 16, 2016, and has the title “How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.”)

Grant’s commentary is related to his book:
Grant, Adam. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. New York: Viking, 2016.