Among Hoofed Mammals Outsiders Are More Likely to Innovate

(p. D2) Fair or not, goats have not earned a reputation for their problem-solving abilities.  . . .  But if you hide food in a strange cup and put a lid on it, a goat may find a way, a new study finds. And not just any goat, a team of researchers says. Animals that functioned like outsiders in their social group were best at tackling and solving a problem.

. . .

Mr. Caicoya and his colleagues looked at 13 species of hoofed mammals, with their study totaling 111 individuals living in zoos in Spain and Germany.

In a study published on Wednesday [April 12, 2023] in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Mr. Caicoya and his colleagues reported that around 38 percent of the animals avoided the cups entirely.

. . .

They found that animals that were outcasts or low in the pecking order had less fear of new objects, more willingness to explore them and a greater chance of getting the prize.

. . .

“The ones that are on the margins of the groups are the ones that are eating less and have more problems surviving in nature,” Mr. Caicoya said speculatively, “so those are the ones that normally take more risks to get food.”

Necessity, perhaps, is the mother of innovation.

For the full story see:

Veronique Greenwood. “Mammalian MacGyvers; Revenge of the Outsiders: Shunned Goats Solve Problems.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 11, 2023 [sic]): D2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 4, 2023 [sic], and has the title “Outsiders Solve Problems. Just Ask Goats.” The passages quoted above follow the wording in the lengthier online version.)

The study co-authored by Caicoya and mentioned above is:

Caicoya, Alvaro L., Alina Schaffer, Ruben Holland, Lorenzo von Fersen, Montserrat Colell, and Federica Amici. “Innovation across 13 Ungulate Species: Problem Solvers Are Less Integrated in the Social Group and Less Neophobic.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 290, no. 1996 (2023): 20222384.

The “Rules of Desperation Oncology” Allow Oncologists to Throw Dying Patients a Hail Mary Immunotherapy Drug

(p. D1) Dr. Oliver Sartor has a provocative question for patients who are running out of time.

Most are dying of prostate cancer. They have tried every standard treatment, to no avail. New immunotherapy drugs, which can work miracles against a few types of cancer, are not known to work for this kind.

Still, Dr. Sartor, assistant dean for oncology at Tulane Medical School, asks a diplomatic version of this: Do you want to try an immunotherapy drug before you die?

The chance such a drug will help is vanishingly small — but not zero. “Under rules of desperation oncology, you engage in a different kind of oncology than the rational guideline thought,” Dr. Sartor said.

The promise of immunotherapy has drawn cancer specialists into a conundrum. When the drugs work, a cancer may seem to melt away overnight. But little is known about which patients might benefit, and from which drugs.

Some oncologists choose not to mention immunotherapy to dying patients, arguing that scientists first must gather rigorous evidence about the benefits and pitfalls, and that treating patients experimentally outside a clinical trial is perilous business.

But others, like Dr. Sartor, are offering the drugs to some terminal patients as a roll of the dice. If the patient is dying and there’s a remote chance the drug will help, then why not?

. . .

(p. D6) . . . there is Clark Gordin, 67, who lives in Ocean Springs, Miss. He had metastatic prostate cancer, “a bad deck of cards,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Sartor tried conventional treatments, but they didn’t work for Mr. Gordin. Finally, the doctor suggested immunotherapy.

Mr. Gordin’s insurer refused. But then the lab that had analyzed his tumor discovered it had made a mistake.

There was a chance Mr. Gordin might respond to immunotherapy, because he had a rare mutation. So his insurer agreed to pay.

Immediately after taking the drugs, Mr. Gordin’s PSA level — an indicator of the cancer’s presence — went down to nearly zero.

“Makes my heart nearly stop every time I think about it,” Dr. Sartor said. “Life sometimes hangs on a thin thread.”

For the full story see:

Gina Kolata. “A Life’s One Last Chance.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 1, 2018 [sic]): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 26, 2018 [sic], and has the title “‘Desperation Oncology’: When Patients Are Dying, Some Cancer Doctors Turn to Immunotherapy.”)

Dogs Can Alert Owners to Epileptic or Diabetic Emergencies

(p. B1) Rosebud is a service dog trained at a nonprofit called Canine Partners for Life in Cochraneville, Pa. The dog can detect when Ms. Vible will have a seizure about 15 minutes before it happens. She lets Ms. Vible know with a whine or a bark and then lies down with her owner until the seizure is over.

Seizure-alert dogs are part of a growing class of service animals that can detect warning signs of epileptic seizures and diabetic emergencies and identify other medical conditions. Demand has surged, according to trainers and training centers—some of which now have long wait lists—as recent scientific studies have started to confirm the dogs’ efficacy in helping their owners.

. . .

Their acute sense of smell helps the dogs detect low and high blood-sugar levels and epileptic seizures before they happen. Researchers haven’t yet identified the specific compounds that the dogs are smelling. But once the dogs recognize the smell, they are trained to respond with a specific action such as barking or pawing at their owners. Depending on the owner’s state and the animal’s training, some dogs also might alert another adult, bring a juice box or press a button that sends a phone text to a caregiver.

The University of Bristol in England this year produced a study of dogs’ ability to detect hypoglycemia, which occurs when a diabetic’s blood sugar drops dangerously. If left untreated, this can lead to unconsciousness or death. In assessing the effectiveness of 27 glycemia-alert dogs, the Bristol study found that the dogs alerted their owners to 83% of hypoglycemic episodes in more than 4,000 hypo- and hyperglycemic episodes.

The findings of another study released this year showed promise for people suffering from epilepsy. Researchers from the University of Rennes in Normandy, France, presented dogs with samples of breath and sweat odors obtained from epileptic patients having seizures, not having seizures and exercising (to determine whether the dogs were just detecting sweat). All of the dogs succeeded in identifying the epileptic-seizure-odor sample, and the dogs spent about 23 seconds investigating the seizure smell, compared with about five seconds spent on the other samples.

The lead researcher of the study, Amelie Catala, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rennes, says the research could help in the development of electronic noses, devices that can detect and analyze odors and flavors.

“If there is an organic compound related to these diseases that we can detect and identify, it could help develop electronic noses,” she says.

Medical-alert dogs are being trained by for-profit and nonprofit centers, by individual trainers and at times by individual pet owners themselves. In addition to those skills already mentioned, some have been trained to warn patients about abnormal heart rhythms, and to detect allergens. Dogs also have been trained to help identify certain cancers in laboratory settings.

For the full story, see:

Aili McConnon. “Dogs That Can Read Warning Signs Progress Before Explosion.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 [sic]): R9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 12, 2019 [sic], and has the title “A Growing Role for Medical-Alert Dogs.” The last four paragraphs quoted above appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)

The University of Bristol academic paper mentioned above is:

Rooney, Nicola J., Claire M. Guest, Lydia C. M. Swanson, and Steve V. Morant. “How Effective Are Trained Dogs at Alerting Their Owners to Changes in Blood Glycaemic Levels?: Variations in Performance of Glycaemia Alert Dogs.” PLOS ONE 14, no. 1 (2019): e0210092.

The University of Rennes academic paper mentioned above is:

Catala, Amélie, Marine Grandgeorge, Jean-Luc Schaff, Hugo Cousillas, Martine Hausberger, and Jennifer Cattet. “Dogs Demonstrate the Existence of an Epileptic Seizure Odour in Humans.” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (2019): article #4103.

Shark Tank Shows Capitalism as a “Bootstrap Meritocracy”

(p. 24) . . . my favorite TV show is “Shark Tank.”  . . .  The premise of the tank is that small-business owners get an audience with investors — the “sharks,” a crew of millionaires and billionaires that includes Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Lori Greiner, the “queen of QVC” — in the hope of provoking a bidding war for a stake in the company. Sometimes the sharks dismiss the ideas outright, and they often do so cruelly, but in a satisfying, detailed way. You start to feel as if you could write your own business plan after watching a few episodes.

. . .

(p. 25) The show dramatizes a romantic vision of our economy, depicting it as a bootstrap meritocracy.

. . .

Part of the show’s appeal is that it’s an equal-opportunity forum — you don’t have to know a Silicon Valley V.C. or even a banker to get your audience with the sharks.

. . .

I was so politically assertive as a kid because I wanted someone to respect my opinion, to value me. I wanted to be taken seriously. I think most kids feel this way, dismissed outright for being small. In the tank, no one is dismissed — the sharks start every segment with furrowed brows, ready to take notes and hear out pitches, no matter how preposterous. They begin the process with a clean slate every time. Somewhere deep down, I want all these deals to work, I want the enthusiasm that sharks feel to be genuine and I want the contestants to walk away with business plans ready to be set into motion. Even if “Shark Tank” is propaganda — the selling and marketing of the American dream — the fantasy feels real.

For the full commentary, see:

Jaime Lowe. “Letter of Recommendation: ‘Shark Tank’.” The New York Times Magazine (Sunday, October 1, 2017 [sic]): 24-25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 28, 2017 [sic], and has the same title as the print version.)

SpaceX Embraces Fast Failures as the Best Path to Fast Fixes

(p. B1) SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft pulled off an extended flight through space on its third test mission, marking major progress for a vehicle that could one day transport astronauts to the moon and beyond.

Shortly after launching the nearly 400-foot-tall rocket Thursday [March 14, 2024], SpaceX successfully separated the booster from the spacecraft, which proceeded to fly for around an hour before it was lost while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, according to a company livestream.

The mission advanced much farther than the company’s previous two Starship test flights. It was a milestone for a vehicle that is a centerpiece of SpaceX’s commercial ambitions, NASA’s space exploration plans, and company founder Elon Musk’s goal of one day sending humans to Mars.

. . .

(p. B4) Current and former SpaceX leaders have said the company embraces failing fast to try to rapidly identify fixes and improve. The company took 63 corrective actions to address issues that emerged during the initial launch, and an additional 17 following the second, according to the FAA.

For the full story, see:

Micah Maidenberg. “SpaceX Starship’s Third Test Mission Marks Major Progress Before Explosion.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 15, 2024): B1 & B4.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 14, 2024, and has the title “SpaceX’s Starship Makes Major Progress in Third Flight Test.”)

Allowing the Sale of Hearing Aids Over-the-Counter (O.T.C.) Results in “Increased Innovation and Lower Prices”

(p. D3) A year ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced new regulations allowing the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids and setting standards for their safety and effectiveness.

. . .

Some background: In 2020, the influential Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention and Care identified hearing loss as the greatest potentially modifiable risk factor for dementia.

Previous studies had demonstrated a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, said Dr. Frank Lin, an otolaryngologist and epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the new research.

“What remained unanswered was, If we treat hearing loss, does it actually reduce cognitive loss?” he said. The ACHIEVE study (for Aging and Cognitive Health Evaluation in Elders) showed that, at least for a particular group of older adults, it could.

. . .

A small study recently published in JAMA Otolaryngology found that patients who were given a commercially available, self-fitting hearing aid in a clinical trial could, after six weeks, hear as well as patients fitted with the same device by audiologists.

. . .

The United States is the first country to develop a regulated O.T.C. hearing aid market, and “the tech companies and the retailers are still experimenting,” Dr. Lin pointed out. He predicts increased innovation and lower prices ahead.

For the full commentary, see:

Paula Span. “THE NEW OLD AGE; A Challenging Over-the-Counter Market for Hearing Aids.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 31, 2023): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 30, 2023, and has the title “THE NEW OLD AGE; Hearing Aids Are More Affordable, and Perhaps More Needed, Than Ever.”)

The “small study” mentioned above is:

De Sousa, Karina C., Vinaya Manchaiah, David R. Moore, Marien A. Graham, and De Wet Swanepoel. “Effectiveness of an over-the-Counter Self-Fitting Hearing Aid Compared with an Audiologist-Fitted Hearing Aid: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery 149, no. 6 (2023): 522-30.

Musk Calls German Anti-Electric-Vehicle Ecoactivists “Dumber Than a Doorstop”

(p. B1) GRÜNHEIDE, Germany—When Tesla opened its first full-scale European factory in this sleepy community outside of Berlin, Elon Musk was feted as a hero, the chancellor gave a speech and workers cheered the rollout of new Model Ys.

On Wednesday [March 13, 2024], almost two years to the day later, Musk was back, this time to cheer up workers after an act of sabotage by suspected eco-activists shut down the plant for more than a week.

. . .

Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment on the various incidents. In a post on his X social-media platform, Musk has called the eco-activists “dumber than a doorstop” for their criticism of electric vehicles.

As the plant’s managers and workers gathered in a tent on the factory grounds for a “team huddle” on Wednesday, Musk could be seen carrying his son. Hoisting the boy onto his shoulders amid calls of “Elon, Elon,” he shouted back: “They can’t stop us!” and “Ich liebe Dich!”—German for “I love you.”

As he left, reporters asked him whether he was still committed to expanding the plant and producing vehicles in Germany.

“Yes, absolutely,” he said. “Germany rocks!”

For the full story, see:

William Boston. “Tesla Faces Blowback in Germany.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, March 15, 2024): B1-B2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 14, 2024, and has the title “Elon Musk’s Plans to Conquer Europe Collide With Germany’s Culture Wars.”)

Researchers and Entrepreneurs Experiment with Once-Taboo Geoengineering Projects to Reverse Global Warming

(p. A3) Dumping chemicals in the ocean? Spraying saltwater into clouds? Injecting reflective particles into the sky? . . .

These geoengineering approaches were once considered taboo by scientists and regulators who feared that tinkering with the environment could have unintended consequences, but now researchers are receiving taxpayer funds and private investments to get out of the lab and test these methods outdoors.

. . .

In Israel, a startup called Stardust Solutions has begun testing a system to disperse a cloud of tiny reflective particles about 60,000 feet in altitude, reflecting sunlight away from Earth to cool the atmosphere in a concept known as solar radiation management, or SRM. Yanai Yedvab, Stardust chief executive and a former deputy chief scientist at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, wouldn’t disclose the composition of the proprietary particles.

Yedvab said Stardust has raised $15 million from two investors and has conducted low-level aerial tests using white smoke to simulate the particles’ path in the atmosphere. After the company completes indoor safety testing, it intends to conduct a limited outdoor test of the dispersion technology, monitoring devices and particles in the next few months, Yedvab said.

. . .

Experiments aimed at cooling the atmosphere by reflecting sunlight away from Earth are an attempt to mimic what happens when a volcano erupts. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano in the Philippines, spewed sulfur and ash into the upper atmosphere, lowering the Earth’s temperature by .5 degrees Celsius (.9 degrees Fahrenheit) for an entire year.

For the full story, see:

Eric Niiler. “New Experiments Aim to Cool Planet.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 15, 2024): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 14, 2024, and has the title “Scientists Resort to Once-Unthinkable Solutions to Cool the Planet.” The online version says that the title of the print version was also “Scientists Resort to Once-Unthinkable Solutions to Cool the Planet.” But my print version has the title “New Experiments Aim to Cool Planet.”)

Isaacson Reprises His Themes of “Science, Genius, Experiment, Code, Thinking Different” in Book on CRISPR

(p. 12) The landmark research that brought Doudna and Charpentier to the pinnacle of global acclaim has the potential to control future pandemics — either by outwitting the next viral plague through better screening and treatment or by engineering human beings with better disease resistance programmed into their cells. The technique of gene editing that they patented, which goes by the unwieldy acronym of CRISPR-Cas9, makes it possible to selectively snip and alter bits of DNA as though they were so many hems to take up or waistbands to let out. The method is based on defenses pioneered by bacteria in their ages-old battle against viruses.

. . .

The CRISPR history holds obvious appeal for Walter Isaacson, a biographer of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. In “The Code Breaker” he reprises several of his previous themes — science, genius, experiment, code, thinking different — and devotes a full length book to a female subject for the first time.

. . .

Isaacson keeps a firm, experienced hand on the scientific explanations, which he mastered through extensive readings and interviews, all of which are footnoted.

For the full review, see:

Dava Sobel. “Deus Ex Machina.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 21, 2021 [sic]): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 8, 2021 [sic], and has the title “A Biography of the Woman Who Will Re-Engineer Humans.”)

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Federal and State Regulatory Thicket Thwarts “Permitting, Siting, Construction and Operation” of New Energy Infrastructure and Technology

(p. C5) Environmentalists have long argued that tackling climate change will require regulations to discourage fossil-fuel use, such as a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program. In reality, there is no plausible path to a low-carbon economy without a serious deregulatory program. Today’s thicket of environmental regulation at the federal and state levels thwarts permitting, siting, construction and operation of virtually every class of new infrastructure and technology. There are simply too many veto points and opportunities for obstruction, at too many procedural and jurisdictional levels, to conceivably embark on a rapid mission to remake the nation’s energy economy.

. . .

The U.S. can no longer continue to neglect its compounding infrastructure and clean-energy needs. We aren’t going to regulate our way to a thriving low-carbon economy and a more stable climate. America needs to get back to building again.

For the full commentary, see:

Ted Nordhaus. “For a Clean-Energy Future, We Need Deregulation.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 19, 2022 [sic]): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 17, 2022 [sic], and has the same title as the print version.)

“Momentum Around Solar Geoengineering Is Building Fast”

(p. A19) A few years ago, the idea of deliberately blocking the sun to combat climate change was taboo for scientists. But a lot can change in a short time.

As the disastrous effects of climate change mount, Congress has asked federal scientists for a research plan, private money is flowing and rogue start-ups are attempting experiments — all signs that momentum around solar geoengineering is building fast. The most discussed approach involves spraying tiny particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight and cool the planet. Other proposals include injecting sea salt into clouds to increase their reflectivity or using giant space parasols to block the sun.

It might all sound like dystopian science fiction, but some techno-futurists, like OpenAI’s chief executive, Sam Altman, are already normalizing it: “We’re going to have to do something dramatic with climate like geoengineering as a Band-Aid, as a stopgap,” he said in January [2024] at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

No one fully understands the risks of these technologies — which could include calamitous disruptions in weather — or how significant the benefits could be. I’m increasingly convinced that we should do more research on solar geoengineering.

. . .

. . . science is fallible precisely because it is a practice, a cooperative human activity. And as the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us, engaging in a practice well requires exercising its virtues — which for science include transparency, honesty, humility, skepticism and collaboration.

For the full commentary, see:

Jeremy Freeman. “Let’s Find Out if This Can Cool the Planet.” The New York Times (Tuesday, March 19, 2024): A19.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 17, 2024, and has the title “The Best Way to Find Out if We Can Cool the Planet.”)