Economical Parrots Decline an Immediate Smaller Treat to Be Able to Trade a Token for a Bigger Treat

(p. D3) Chalk up another achievement for parrots, . . . .

Anastasia Krasheninnikova and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany tested four species of parrots in an experiment that required trading tokens for food and recently reported their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

. . .

A metal hoop could be traded for a piece of dry corn, the lowest value food, a metal bracket for a medium value sunflower seed and a plastic ring for the highest value food, a piece of shelled walnut.

The birds were then offered various choices, like a piece of corn or the ring. They all reliably chose to forgo the corn and take the ring. Then they were able to trade the ring for a piece of walnut.

They also did well choosing a bracket instead of the corn, and in other situations where the token was of higher value than the food.

For the full story see:

James Gorman. “Parrots Think They’re Pretty Smart.” The New York Times (Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 [sic]): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Parrots Think They’re So Smart. Now They’re Bartering Tokens for Food.” Where there is a small difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The paper published in Scientific Reports and mentioned above is:

Krasheninnikova, Anastasia, Friederike Höner, Laurie O’Neill, Elisabetta Penna, and Auguste M. P. von Bayern. “Economic Decision-Making in Parrots.” Scientific Reports 8, no. 1 (2018): 12537.

Nobelist Phelps Opposes a Universal Basic Income, Since Recipients Might Miss the Fulfilment That Comes from Meaningful Work

UBI below stands for Universal Basic Income.

(p. C9) And yet Mr. Phelps, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in economics and emeritus professor of political economy at Columbia University, is among the most lucid, passionate and original defenders of capitalism. (He is also the founding director of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society.) He disparages European-style corporatist economies as being unsuited to dynamism or innovation. Progressives who’d claim him as their own would do well to remember that he takes a hostile view of the idea of a universal basic income.

In “My Journeys in Economic Theory,” Mr. Phelps declares that it is “disappointing that UBI”—embraced by such modish politicians as Andrew Yang and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—“has not received widespread opposition.” The idea, if implemented, “would entice people and their children away from meaningful work and thus from a sense of involvement in the economy—society’s central project.”

It is this last, humane observation that distinguishes Mr. Phelps from the economists’ tribe, reflecting his belief that the nobility of capitalism lies in the chance it offers for prosperity and self-discovery on a national scale. He calls this phenomenon “mass flourishing,” words that make up the title of his late-in-life magnum opus, published in 2013 when he was 80.

. . .

It is apparent in his memoirs that Mr. Phelps wishes to be remembered most for his theories of the past two decades, which focus on the workplace and creativity. He believes that economists are mistaken in their supposition that the reward for work is pay alone. As he writes in “Dynamism” (2020), in America “it is very clear that work is central to a meaningful life.” People at all rungs of the economy “possess imagination and creativity,” and the modern economy is “a vast imaginarium” in which growth comes from “creativity within the workforce.”

Mr. Phelps underscores a connection between economic growth and job satisfaction. He urges economists “not to stop at the standard theory” but to explore an “uncharted realm” of human desires and fulfillments. There’s more to life than capital, mere employment and national income. And certainly more to economics.

For the full review, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. “On the Way to the Nobel, and After.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 13, 2023): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 12, 2023, and has the title “‘My Journeys in Economic Theory’ Review: A Creative Nobelist.”)

The book under review is:

Phelps, Edmund S. My Journeys in Economic Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2023.

Phelps’s magnum opus, mentioned above, is:

Phelps, Edmund S. Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Elephants Have Backup or “Resurrected” Copies of Cancer-Killing Genes

(p. D3) Elephants ought to get a lot of cancer. They’re huge animals, weighing as much as eight tons. It takes a lot of cells to make up that much elephant.

All of those cells arose from a single fertilized egg, and each time a cell divides, there’s a chance that it will gain a mutation — one that may lead to cancer.

Strangely, however, elephants aren’t more prone to cancer than smaller animals. Some research even suggests they get less cancer than humans do.

On Tuesday [Aug. 14, 2018 [sic]], a team of researchers reported what may be a partial solution to that mystery: Elephants protect themselves with a unique gene that aggressively kills off cells whose DNA has been damaged.

Somewhere in the course of evolution, the gene had become dormant. But somehow it was resurrected, a bit of zombie DNA that has proved particularly useful.

Vincent J. Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the paper, published in Cell Reports, said that understanding how elephants fight cancer may provide inspiration for developing new drugs.

. . .

In 2015, Dr. Lynch and his colleagues discovered that elephants have evolved unusual p53 genes. While we only have one copy of the gene, elephants have 20 copies. Researchers at the University of Utah independently made the same discovery.

. . .

Dr. Lynch and his colleagues continued their search for cancer-fighting genes, and they soon encountered another one, called LIF6, that only elephants seem to possess.

In response to DNA damage, p53 proteins in elephants switch on LIF6. The cell makes LIF6 proteins, which then wreak havoc.

Dr. Lynch’s experiments indicate that LIF6 proteins make their way to the cell’s tiny fuel-generating factories, called mitochondria.

The proteins pry open holes in the mitochondria, allowing molecules to pour out. The molecules from mitochondria are toxic, causing the cell to die.

. . .

After the ancestors of elephants evolved ten LIF genes, however, something remarkable happened: One of these dead genes came back to life. That gene is LIF6.

Somewhere in the course of elephant evolution, a cellular mutation inserted a genetic switch next to LIF6, enabling the gene to be activated by p53. The resurrected gene now made a protein that could do something new: attack mitochondria and kill damaged cells.

For the full commentary see:

Carl Zimmer. “MATTER; A Resurrected Cancer Fighter.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 21, 2018 [sic]): D3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 14, 2018 [sic], and has the title “MATTER; The ‘Zombie Gene’ That May Protect Elephants From Cancer.” Where there is a small difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The paper published in Cell Reports and mentioned above is:

Vazquez, Juan Manuel, Michael Sulak, Sravanthi Chigurupati, and Vincent J. Lynch. “A Zombie LIF Gene in Elephants Is Upregulated by TP53 to Induce Apoptosis in Response to DNA Damage.” Cell Reports 24 (2018): 1765–76.

“Never Say Die” in Search of Species That We’ve Declared Extinct

(p. D1) Just a few years ago, it seemed like the scarce yellow sally stonefly had gone locally extinct.

In 1995, ecologists collected a single specimen of the aquatic insect in the River Dee near the Wales-England boundary, the species’ only known refuge. For the next two decades, every survey there failed to find another of the stonefly, which is only about a half an inch long.

“There had been so much work done to refind this beast,” said Craig Macadam, conservation director at the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, more commonly known as Buglife, a charity in Britain. “We were all beginning to give up hope.”

. . .

(p. D5) “When you actually see the animal alive in front of you and then the next year it’s gone, you feel like you’ve watched it disappear from Earth,” Mr. Davy-Bowker said. “Nobody could find it, so that was it. It just disappeared.”

But Mr. Davy-Bowker wouldn’t quit. In March 2017, during the season when the River Dee is at its coldest and deepest and stonefly nymphs are large, he put on chest waders and went in.

. . .

About 20 minutes into that day’s expedition, Mr. Davy-Bowker captured a living scarce yellow sally stonefly, upending 22 years of presumed local extinction.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely staggered, really,” he said. “I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to find it again. Never say die.”

. . .

Mr. Macadam, of the Buglife conservation charity, said the species’ rediscovery has rekindled hope for other critically endangered invertebrates that have gone missing.

“For me, it opened up the possibility that there is another species that we’ve declared extinct, that is still holding on somewhere,” he said.

For the full story see:

Marion Renault. “Don’t Believe Your Eyes.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 25, 2020 [sic]): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 25, 2020 [sic], and has the title “‘Never Say Die’: Genetic Sleuths Rediscover Extinct Species.” Where there is a slight difference in wording in the last quoted sentence between the versions, the passage quoted above follows the online version.)

Patients Know Their Condition and Should Be Listened to by Physicians

The article quoted below gives evidence that on average the patients of female physicians have slightly better health outcomes than the patients of male physicians, and speculates that the reason is that on average, female physicians are somewhat better at listening than are male physicians. The article does not highlight an important implication of this speculation: that what the patient is saying is worth listening to, i.e., it has merit, often providing true and useful knowledge about their own condition. Patients actually know something. If so, this goes against the popular views that physicians should be paternalistic, and that the only actionable source of health knowledge is a randomized double-blind clinical trial.

(p. D4) Whether your doctor is male or female could be a matter of life or death, a new study suggests. The study, of more than 580,000 heart patients admitted over two decades to emergency rooms in Florida, found that mortality rates for both women and men were lower when the treating physician was female. And women who were treated by male doctors were the least likely to survive.

Earlier research supports the findings. In 2016, a Harvard study of more than 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients found that when patients were treated by female physicians, they were less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital over a 30-day period than those cared for by male doctors. The difference in mortality was slight — about half a percentage point — but when applied to the entire Medicare population, it translates to 32,000 fewer deaths.

Other studies have also found meaningful differences in how women and men practice medicine. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed a number of studies that focused on how doctors communicate. They found that female primary care doctors simply spent more time listening to patients than did their male colleagues. But listening comes with a cost. Doctors who were women spent, on average, two extra minutes, or about 10 percent more time per visit, creating scheduling delays and putting them an hour or more behind their male colleagues by the end of the day.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist whose book “Women Are Not Small Men” helped start a national conversation about heart disease in women, said the research should not be used to disparage male doctors, but should instead empower patients to find doctors who listen.

. . .

Edna Haber, a retired mortgage company owner who lives in Westchester County in New York, said she has had wonderful male and female doctors, but her worst experiences have all involved male doctors.  . . .

Recently she decided to see Dr. Goldberg to discuss heart palpitations and feeling lightheaded. But a series of medical tests during the office visit found that her heart was normal. “I do believe that had I been with a male doctor, I think he just would have put his arm around me and said, ‘Listen, go home, relax, meditate, maybe take a tranquilizer,’ and that would have been the end of it.”

But Dr. Goldberg knew the patient had been concerned enough to see a doctor, so she suggested that she wear a heart monitor for a few days. Several days later, the technicians monitoring the feed noticed a pattern that ultimately showed Ms. Haber needed a pacemaker.

“She paid attention and treated me as if I was credible,” said Ms. Haber. “I wish all the women I know could understand how important it is to have a doctor who pays attention to them, whatever part of the body they are looking at. I think a lot of women are getting short shrift.”

For the full story see:

Tara Parker-Pope. “Should You Choose a Female Doctor?” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 21, 2018 [sic]): D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 14, 2018 [sic], and has the same title as the print version.)

The “new” study mentioned above is:

Greenwood, Brad N., Seth Carnahanb, and Laura Huang. “Patient–Physician Gender Concordance and Increased Mortality among Female Heart Attack Patients.” PNAS 115, no. 34 (Aug. 21, 2018): 8569–74.

University of Chicago Press Undermines Its Own New Edition of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom

(p. C9) I had never read “Capitalism and Freedom” and was renewed in my admiration for midcentury American reading audiences. The book, full of tightly reasoned arguments about the principles of economic freedom in various spheres of life, sold 400,000 copies in its first 18 years. The University of Chicago Press, which first published the book six decades ago, evidently would rather it stop selling. The new edition’s foreword is written by Binyamin Appelbaum, a member of the New York Times editorial board, who treats Friedman’s classic text as mildly interesting artifact. “Friedman’s claim that ‘widespread use of the market reduces the strain on the social fabric,’ ” Mr. Appelbaum assures us, “misapprehended the nature of society, which is more like a muscle than a fabric.” I await Chicago’s edition of J.K. Galbraith’s “The Affluent Society,” with a foreword by Larry Kudlow.

For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. “Of Markets and Morals.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 [sic]): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date January 29, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Politics: Of Markets and Morals.”)

The book under review is:

Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020 [1st ed. 1962].

Buy Health Supplements Certified by “a Trusted Third Party” Like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)

According to a Consumer Reports article, “USP is a nonprofit organization that sets what CR experts say are the most widely accepted standards for supplements.” Note that with the services of private organizations such as USP, attentive consumers can be safe without the heavy hand of government regulators.

(p. D6) . . . most supplements have not been rigorously tested for safety or effectiveness, said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

. . .

But, she said, there are some instances where taking a supplement may improve your health. Here are some of the main ones.

If a blood test reveals that your body is low in a particular vitamin or mineral, such as vitamin D or iron, supplements can be “essential” in correcting that deficiency, said Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance in Somerville, Mass.

. . .

Most older adults usually get enough nutrition from their food. But as you age, your requirements for some nutrients increase while your ability to absorb them and your appetite can diminish, so your doctor may recommend a supplement. Older adults may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, for example. And you may need a calcium and vitamin D supplement if you’re at risk for bone loss, Dr. Manson said.

. . .

Several recent trials have also found that multivitamins may improve memory and slow cognitive decline in older adults, though more research is needed, Dr. Manson said.

And there’s some evidence that taking a supplement that contains vitamins C and E, zinc, copper, lutein and zeaxanthin (called an AREDS supplement) can slow vision loss for those with age-related macular degeneration, Dr. Manson said.

. . .

If you do purchase supplements, look for a certification seal from a trusted third party organization such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia or NSF, which confirm that the products contain the ingredients listed on the label.

For the full story see:

Alice Callahan. “Ask Well: Are Any Supplements Proven To Benefit Health?.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 7, 2023 [sic]): D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 31, 2023, and has the title “Ask Well: Should I Be Taking Supplements?” Where there is a difference in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

Australian Night Parrot Found Alive After Thought Extinct for 140 Years

(p. D3) Depending on whom you ask, the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine has either been extinct for nearly a century or has been just really good at hiding.

Now new research examining hundreds of reports from more than a century shows there is a good chance the thylacine may have persisted for a few decades longer in the most remote parts of Tasmania.

“There are pockets where the species could have maintained small populations,” said Barry Brook, a professor of environmental sustainability at the University of Tasmania.

One of the problems with the thylacine, and extinction in general, is it’s hard to prove something is truly gone. Australia’s night parrot for instance, was thought to be extinct for 140 years until its recent rediscovery.

. . .

For a study published . . . [online on March 18, 2023 [sic]] in the journal Science of the Total Environment, Dr. Brook’s team studied 1,237 Tasmanian tiger reports from 1910 onward. It classified these reports in terms of credibility.

For the full story see:

Joshua Rapp Learn. “When Did Tasmanian Tigers Actually Disappear?” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 2, 2023 [sic]): D3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 7, 2023 [sic], and has the title “New Support for Some Extinct Tasmanian Tiger Sightings.”)

The study co-authored by Dr. Brook and mentioned above is:

Brook, Barry W., Stephen R. Sleightholme, Cameron R. Campbell, Ivan Jarić, and Jessie C. Buettel. “Resolving When (and Where) the Thylacine Went Extinct.” Science of The Total Environment 877 (June 2023): 162878.

See also:

Ham, Anthony. “‘Ghost Bird’ Haunts Those Searching for It.” The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2022, D1.

Life Was Resilient Even in the Face of Earth’s Greatest Disaster

(p. D2) The asteroid moved 24 times faster than a rifle bullet as it struck Earth some 66 million years ago. Its supersonic shock wave flattened trees across North and South America, and its heat wave sparked incomprehensibly large forest fires.

The event lofted so much debris into the atmosphere that photosynthesis shut down. The non-avian dinosaurs disappeared. And nearly 75 percent of all species were extinguished.

. . .

But even at ground zero, life managed to return, and quickly.

New findings published in the journal Geology . . . [online on January 17, 2020 [sic]] revealed that cyanobacteria — blue-green algae responsible for harmful toxic blooms — moved into the crater a few years after the impact.

For the full story see:

Shannon Hall. “Small Survivors: They Were Left Off Killer Asteroid’s Hit List.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 18, 2020 [sic]): D2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 1, 2020 [sic], and has the title “Asteroid That Killed the Dinosaurs Was Great for Bacteria.” Where the wording differs between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the usually more detailed wording of the online version.)

The findings published in Geology and mentioned above appear in the article:

Schaefer, Bettina, Kliti Grice, Marco J.L. Coolen, Roger E. Summons, Xingqian Cui, Thorsten Bauersachs, Lorenz Schwark, Michael E. Böttcher, Timothy J. Bralower, Shelby L. Lyons, Katherine H. Freeman, Charles S. Cockell, Sean P.S. Gulick, Joanna V. Morgan, Michael T. Whalen, Christopher M. Lowery, and Vivi Vajda. “Microbial Life in the Nascent Chicxulub Crater.” Geology 48, no. 4 (2020): 328-32.

Humans’ Adaptive, Flexible Intelligence Evolved Where Climate “Change Was Dramatic, Frequent, Unpredictable and Stressful”

(p. C9) In “Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History,” astrobiologist and professor of science communication Lewis Dartnell argues that “there is a clear causal chain taking us from the politics and socio-economic conditions of today, to their roots in historical agricultural systems, and then further back to the geological tapestry of the ground beneath our feet.”

. . .

The final sentence he offers as summation—“The Earth made us”—can be read two ways, capturing the parallel themes of “Origins.”

With emphasis on “us,” it refers to the origin of the genus Homo, a clade of naked apes giving rise to our species, H. sapiens, the greatest biological superpower of all time, one so potent that all others in our genus are extinct. Why did this emergence take place in the cradle of the East African Rift and nowhere else? And why did the arrival of our genus broadly coincide with the onset of high-frequency climatic swings about two million years ago? Mr. Dartnell concludes that this recently uplifted and intricately rifted landscape created a mosaic of habitats dominated by lakes that further amplified the climatic oscillations between dry-wet and hot-cool conditions. Change was dramatic, frequent, unpredictable and stressful. Thus “intelligence” became “the evolutionary solution to the problem of an environment that shifts faster than natural selection can adapt the body . . . driving . . . ever more flexible and intelligent behavior.”

For the full review, see:

Robert M. Thorson. “The Earth and Us.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 23, 2022 [sic]): C9.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraph, added; ellipses within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 9, 2019 [sic], and has the title “‘Origins’ Review: The Earth and Us.”)

The book under review is:

Dartnell, Lewis. Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History. New York: Basic Books, 2019.

Crowdsourced Data on Elephants’ Response to Death

(p. D2) It was 2013 when Sanjeeta Pokharel first witnessed Asian elephants responding to death. An older female elephant in an Indian park had died of an infection. A younger female was walking in circles around the carcass.

. . .

For a paper published Wednesday [May 18, 2022 [sic]] in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the scientists used YouTube to crowdsource videos of Asian elephants responding to death. They found reactions that included touching and standing guard as well as nudging, kicking and shaking. In a few cases, females had even used their trunks to carry calves, or baby elephants, that had died.

. . .

Combing through YouTube, the researchers found 24 cases for study.

For the full story see:

Elizabeth Preston. “Gray Mourning: All for One, and One for All: Crowdsourcing Grieving Elephants.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 24, 2022 [sic]): D2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2022 [sic], and has the title “Elephants in Mourning Spotted on YouTube by Scientists.” Where the wording differs slightly between versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The paper in the Royal Society Open Science journal mentioned above is:

Pokharel, Sanjeeta Sharma, Nachiketha Sharma, and Raman Sukumar. “Viewing the Rare through Public Lenses: Insights into Dead Calf Carrying and Other Thanatological Responses in Asian Elephants Using Youtube Videos.” Royal Society Open Science 9, no. 5 (May 2022): 211740.