“Nature Is So Beautiful, but Also Resilient”

(p. D2) Just after dawn on May 5 [2022], scientists working along a stretch of the Mekong River in Cambodia released a giant, endangered freshwater stingray that had been caught on a fisherman’s line. At 13 feet long and 400 pounds, the gigantic animal pancake was larger than a hibachi table.

“It was shaking, and I told her, ‘Calm down, we will release you soon,’” said Chea Seila, a coordinator for the Wonders of the Mekong Project.

. . .

That a stingray of this size could still be found in these waters was extraordinary, the experts said.

“It shows you nature is so beautiful, but also resilient,” said Sudeep Chandra, a limnologist at the University of Nevada, Reno and co-scientist on the Wonders of the Mekong Project. “Even with the major environmental problems in the Lower Mekong, like dams, forest change and overfishing, these large, charismatic species are still there, wanting to persist.”

For the full story see:

Jason Bittel. “Rescue Party: For a Mekong River Colossus, A Little Help From Its Friends.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 24, 2022 [sic]): D2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 23, 2022 [sic], and has the title “Watch a Giant Stingray’s Safe Return to Its River Home.”)

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.

Prime Minister Robert Peel Lost His Job for Supporting Repeal of the Corn Laws, but Advanced Britain’s Middle-Class

(p. C11) Simon Heffer’s “High Minds” is a deep, droll and lucid exploration of Britain’s intellectual and political life from 1837, when the young Queen Victoria ascended the throne of a chaotic, semifeudal society, to 1880, by which time Victoria was a widow and the Empress of India, and the British, apart from those at the very top and bottom of society, had bootstrapped themselves into sobriety and “respectability.”

. . .

The “crucial step” in the middle-class advance, Mr. Heffer writes, was the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. Opening the ports to foreign grain pacified the workers by lowering the price of bread. It hobbled the aristocracy by cutting the value of land, their biggest asset. And it geared economic policy to the commercial classes. A “long-term realignment” in politics followed. Repeal was secured by a Tory prime minister, Robert Peel, in alliance with free-market Whigs. It cost Peel his job but, over the next two decades, the Whigs turned into the Liberals, the party of middle-class reform.

For the full review, see:

Dominic Green. “Laying Stone on Stone.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 23, 2022 [sic]): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 22, 2022 [sic], and has the title “‘High Minds’ Review: The Victorian Pursuit of Perfection.”)

The book under review is:

Heffer, Simon. High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. New York: Pegasus Books, 2022.

Fauci’s Office Rejected Protocol for a Voluntary COVID Human Challenge Trial That Could Have Tested Therapies and Vaccines Faster

(p. 2) . . . the first Covid-19 human challenge study [was] just completed in Britain, where young, healthy and unvaccinated volunteers were infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid while researchers carefully monitored how their bodies responded.

. . ., there were those who decried deliberately infecting or “challenging” healthy volunteers with disease-causing pathogens. It violates the medical principle of “do no harm.” The trade-off is a unique opportunity to discover the causes, transmission and progression of an illness, as well as the ability to more rapidly test the effectiveness of proposed treatments.

. . .

Dr. [Matthew] Memoli [the director of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Clinical Studies Unit at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] has conducted numerous influenza challenge studies, and he prepared a protocol for a Covid challenge trial that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases rejected last year because it was felt that not enough was known about the virus and that there were no effective rescue therapies, according to a statement from the office of the director, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The consortium formed to run Britain’s Covid challenge trial, which included scientists who trained at the Common Cold Unit, had access to the British National Health Service’s robust, real-time data on Covid hospitalizations and deaths. The researchers designing the study said they felt confident that there was little risk to the healthy unvaccinated 18-to-30-year-old volunteers they recruited for the trial. There were no severe adverse events in the 36 people who participated, and they will continue to be monitored over the next year.

The aim of the study was to identify the lowest amount of virus to safely and reliably infect someone, so researchers can later easily test the efficacy of vaccines or antivirals on future challenge trial volunteers.

. . .

Dr. Fauci’s office said the institute has no plans to fund Covid-19 human challenge trials in the future. Many bioethicists support that decision. “We don’t ask people to sacrifice themselves for the good of society,” said Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. “In the U.S., we are very much about protecting individual rights and individual life and health and liberty, while in more communal societies it’s about the greater good.”

But Josh Morrison, a co-founder of 1Day Sooner, which advocates on behalf of more than 40,000 would-be human challenge volunteers, argues it should be his and other people’s right to take risks for the greater good. “Most people aren’t going to want to be in a Covid challenge study, and that’s totally fine, but they shouldn’t project their own choices on other people,” he said.

. . .

As one participant in Britain’s Covid human challenge trial put it: “You know the phrase ‘one interesting fact about yourself’ that strikes terror into everyone? That’s now solved forever. I did something that made a difference.”

For the full commentary, see:

Kate Murphy. “Are Human Challenge Trials Ethical?” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, October 17, 2021 [sic]): 2.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 14, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Britain Infected Volunteers With the Coronavirus. Why Won’t the U.S.?”)

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.”)

Low Water Level of Panama Canal Due to El Niño, Not Due to Global Warming

(p. D5) The recent drought in the Panama Canal was driven not by global warming but by below-normal rainfall linked to the natural climate cycle El Niño, an international team of scientists has concluded.

. . .

The scientists found that scant rain, not high temperatures that cause more water to evaporate, was the main reason for low water in the canal’s reservoirs. The weather records suggest that wet-season rainfall in Panama has decreased modestly in recent decades. But the models don’t indicate that human-induced climate change is the driver.

“We’re not sure what is causing that slight drying trend, or whether it’s an anomaly, or some other factor that we haven’t taken into account,” said Clair Barnes, a climate researcher at Imperial College London who worked on the analysis. “Future trends in a warming climate are also uncertain.”

El Niño, by contrast, is much more clearly linked with below-average rainfall in the area, the scientists found. In any given El Niño year, there’s a 5 percent chance that rainfall there will be as low as it was in 2023, they estimated.

For the full story see:

Raymond Zhong. “Study Acquits Global Warming in Drought at Panama Canal.” The New York Times (Thursday, May 2, 2024): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 1, 2024, and has the title “Drought That Snarled Panama Canal Was Linked to El Niño, Study Finds.”)

The report co-authored by Clair Barnes and mentioned above is:

Barnes, Claire, Steve Paton, RF Stallard, H De Lima, B Clarke, M Vahlberg, S Sivanu, A Amakona, K Izquierdo, F Otto, M Zachariah, S Philip, M Mistry, R Singh, and J Arrighi. “Low Water Levels in Panama Canal Due to Increasing Demand Exacerbated by El Niño Event.” In World Weather Attribution Report, May 1, 2024.

Volcanoes Are Proof of Concept That Geoengineering Can Counter Global Warming

(p. C11) ‘Volcanoes get a bad press,” Clive Oppenheimer writes at the beginning of “Mountains of Fire: The Menace, Meaning, and Magic of Volcanoes.”

. . .

Most people know that erupting volcanoes can affect the climate. But there are nuances: “You might expect that volcanoes, with burning flames, spewing molten hot lava and searing ash, would heat up the planet, but in fact they do the opposite.” An addendum, also counterintuitive: “Though several factors . . . influence how much an eruption cools the climate, it is the amount of sulphur blasted into the stratosphere that is critical.”

. . .

. . ., Mr. Oppenheimer’s scientific expertise is what’s most important—for his book and for the rest of us.

For the full review, see:

Howard Schneider. “Explorer of the Underworld.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 6, 2023, and has the title “‘Mountains of Fire’ Review: The Vital Volcano.”)

The book under review is:

Oppenheimer, Clive. Mountains of Fire: The Menace, Meaning, and Magic of Volcanoes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2023.

In Australia and Japan “Coral Appear to Be Migrating Poleward”

(p. A9) Scientists are still learning about corals’ ability to adapt to climate change. Efforts are underway to breed coral that tolerate higher temperatures. In a few places, including Australia and Japan, coral appear to be migrating poleward, beginning to occupy new places.

For the full story see:

Catrin Einhorn. “Scientists Say Rising Ocean Temperatures Are Damaging Coral Reefs Around the World.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 16, 2024): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2024, and has the title “The Widest-Ever Global Coral Crisis Will Hit Within Weeks, Scientists Say.”)

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.)

Before Europeans Arrived, “Conflict Was Endemic” Among Native American Indians

The left’s narrative of peaceful Native American Indians brutalized by colonizing Europeans, is rhetorically used to undermine the legitimacy of property rights that are a foundation of a system of innovative dynamism. The history is messy, but before and after the arrival of Europeans, Indians were frequent violent aggressors.

(p. C8) . . . Wayne E. Lee’s “The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500-1800,” [is] an ambitious and thoughtful reassessment of Native American war-making before and after permanent European settlement in the early 17th century.

. . .

Rather than simply harassing enemies, Native American fighters sought to isolate and destroy them. It was a technique that could be scaled up as opportunity allowed, ranging from the elimination of an unwary scouting party to the surprise of an unsuspecting town.

. . .

The notorious fate of the Mystic Pequots provides an example of Mr. Lee’s approach. Witnessing the conflagration, the New Englanders’ Narragansett allies were appalled by the indiscriminate slaughter, and reproached them for waging, as they put it, a war that was “too furious.” But as Mr. Lee points out, this reaction was not primarily an expression of “culture shock” at the use of “fire and mass killing.” Rather, the Narragansetts were aggrieved because such ruthlessness denied them their anticipated harvest of prisoners.

“Paradoxically,” Mr. Lee notes, Native American attitudes toward captives demonstrated “both the most and least restraint in the overall violence of their warfare.” Prisoners were living proof of victory. Taking scalps—a pre-Columbian practice encouraged by colonial bounties and often cited by Europeans to epitomize Native American “barbarity”—was a poor substitute. Adult males, especially, became the objects of communal vengeance, tortured to death in prolonged rituals that channeled a community’s frenzied grief. Luckier captives were adopted to replace the casualties. Others, as recent research indicates, were effectively enslaved.

. . .

. . ., precontact conflict was endemic, driven by blood feud in a grim cycle of retribution that was hard to break “in a society ill-suited to top-down coercion,” and further motivated by the pursuit of respect, resources and dominion.

For the full review, see:

Stephen Brumwell. “The Native American Way of War.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023): C8.

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

(Note: the online version of the review was updated October 4, 2023, and has the title “‘The Cutting-Off Way’ Review: Native Americans at War.”)

The book under review is:

Lee, Wayne E. The Cutting-Off Way: Indigenous Warfare in Eastern North America, 1500–1800. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2023.