National Institutes of Health Rejected Funding for Moir’s Radical Theories

(p. B14) Robert D. Moir, a Harvard scientist whose radical theories of the brain plaques in Alzheimer’s defied conventional views of the disease, but whose research ultimately led to important proposals for how to treat it, died on Friday [December 20, 2019] at a hospice in Milton, Mass. He was 58.

His wife, Julie Alperen, said the cause was glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

Dr. Moir, who grew up on a farm in Donnybrook, a small town in Western Australia, had a track record for confounding expectations. He did not learn to read or write until he was nearly 12; Ms. Alperen said he had told her that the teacher at his one-room schoolhouse was “a demented nun.” Yet, she said, he also knew from age 7 that he wanted to be a scientist.

. . .

Conventional wisdom held that beta amyloid accumulation was a central part of the disease, and that clearing the brain of beta amyloid would be a good thing for patients.

Dr. Moir proposed instead that beta amyloid is there for a reason: It is the way the brain defends itself against infections. Beta amyloid, he said, forms a sticky web that can trap microbes. The problem is that sometimes the brain goes overboard producing it, and when that happens the brain is damaged.

The implication is that treatments designed to clear the brain of amyloid could be detrimental. The goal would be to remove some of the sticky substance, but not all of it.

The idea, which Dr. Moir first proposed 12 years ago, was met with skepticism. But he kept at it, producing a string of papers with findings that supported the hypothesis. Increasingly, some of the doubters have been won over, said Rudolph Tanzi, a close friend and fellow Alzheimer’s researcher at Harvard.

Dr. Moir’s unconventional ideas made it difficult for him to get federal grants. Nearly every time he submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Tanzi said in a phone interview, two out of three reviewers would be enthusiastic, while a third would simply not believe it. The proposal would not be funded.

For the full obituary, see:

Gina Kolata. “Robert Moir, 58, Researcher Who Rethought Alzheimer’s.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 21, 2019): B14.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “Robert Moir, 58, Dies; His Research Changed Views on Alzheimer’s.”)

Clint Eastwood’s “Stubborn Libertarian Streak”

(p. C6) Though he acts bravely and responsibly at a moment of crisis, Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) isn’t entirely a hero, and “Richard Jewell” doesn’t quite belong in the gallery with “Sully” and “American Sniper,” Eastwood’s other recent portraits of exceptional Americans in trying circumstances.

. . .

Eastwood, Ray and Hauser (who is nothing short of brilliant) cleverly invite the audience to judge Jewell the way his tormentors eventually will: on the basis of prejudices we might not even admit to ourselves. He’s overweight. He lives with his mother, Bobi (Kathy Bates). He has a habit of taking things too seriously — like his job as a campus police officer at a small liberal-arts college — and of trying a little too hard to fit in. He treats members of the Atlanta Police Department and the F.B.I. like his professional peers, and seems blind to their condescension. “I’m law enforcement too” he says to the agents who are investigating him as a potential terrorist, with an earnestness that is both comical and pathetic.

Most movies, if they bothered with someone like Jewell at all, would make fun of him or relegate him to a sidekick role. Eastwood, instead, makes the radical decision to respect him as he is, and to show how easily both his everyday shortcomings and his honesty and decency are distorted and exploited by the predators who descend on him at what should be his moment of glory.

. . .

Eastwood has always had a stubborn libertarian streak, and a fascination with law enforcement that, like Jewell’s, is shadowed by ambivalence and outright disillusionment.

. . .

“Richard Jewell” is a rebuke to institutional arrogance and a defense of individual dignity, sometimes clumsy in its finger-pointing but mostly shrewd and sensitive in its effort to understand its protagonist and what happened to him. The political implications of his ordeal are interesting to contemplate, but its essential nature is clear enough. He was bullied.

For the full film review, see:

A.O. Scott. “The Jagged Shrapnel Still Flies Years Later.” The New York Times (Friday, December 13, 2019): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the film review was last updated December 23 [sic], 2019, and has the title “‘Richard Jewell’ Review: The Wrong Man.”)

French Regulations Require Only Doctors Can Identify the Dead

(p. A4) DOUAI, France — Her mother’s death had been expected. Terminally ill with breast cancer, she lay in a medical bed in her living room, visited daily by a nurse.

But when Sandra Lambryczak’s 80-year-old mother died earlier this year, in the predawn hours of a Saturday morning, the daughter suddenly discovered a growing problem in France’s medical system: By law, the body couldn’t be moved until the death was certified by a medical doctor, but a shortage of personnel can sometimes force families to keep their deceased loved ones at home for hours or even days.

. . .

Doctors have resisted pressure from some politicians to delegate the authority to certify deaths to other health care officials. They argue that it is a serious medical procedure and that a mistake in noting the cause of death could have legal consequences.

“There are doctors, if they don’t know the patient well, say to themselves that they don’t want trouble later on,” said Dr. Olivier Bouchy, the vice president of the French Medical Council in the department of Meuse. “Signing a death certificate is not harmless.”

As with many things in France, tradition is perhaps also an obstacle to changing the doctor’s role in certifying deaths. The death certificate process, Dr. Bouchy said, harked back to an earlier time.

. . .

In France, the state’s role in regulating people’s daily lives — including in matters of health — remains strong. So the lack of a doctor, especially at the emotionally vulnerable moment when a family member dies, can feel like a deep betrayal.

“We felt abandoned by the state,” said Frédéric Deleplanque, who had to wait more than two days for a doctor to certify the death of his father-in-law, Jean-Luc Bajeux, a retired autoworker. “We were nothing.”

For the full story, see:

Norimitsu Onishi. “An Agonizing Delay After a Death at Home.” The New York Times (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 16, 2019, and has the title “In France, Dying at Home Can Mean a Long Wait for a Doctor.”)

Boudreaux Names “Openness” as One of Seven “Superb” Books Published in 2019

George Mason economics professor Donald Boudreaux, in his essay “Some Great Books for Stuffing Stockings” says “I offer here a list of seven superb books published in 2019 that your open-minded friends and family members are sure to love.”

I am honored that he included my Openness to Creative Destruction as one of the seven:

Arthur Diamond, Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. As does George Will, Diamond emphasizes the vital role played by individual entrepreneurs in helping to create modern mass prosperity. (The accounts of the challenges and efforts of flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs through the years is alone worth the price of this book.) And as does Deirdre McCloskey, Diamond recognizes also the importance of widespread respect for innovators and businesspeople. Making clear that modernity’s prosperity is the result of creative destruction, this book offers an unusually effective and powerful explanation of genuine market competition and a brilliant brief for its indispensability and for its goodness.

Effort to Reduce Global Warming by Extracting Natural Gas from Cow Manure

(p. B11) Dominion Energy Inc. has struck a $200 million pact with a renewable energy producer and the Dairy Farmers of America Inc. to extract natural gas from cow manure.

. . .

It is the latest venture between big livestock concerns and power producers aiming to generate pipeline-quality natural gas from animal waste. Doing so results in gas that is more expensive than that which has flooded the market from U.S. shale formations. So-called biogas, however, is in high demand among consumers, businesses and local governments eager to lower their emissions and earn environmental plaudits. It can generate valuable and tradable carbon offset credits for buyers, which can make producing biogas worthwhile for companies like Dominion.

For the full story, see:

Ryan Dezember. “Dominion Energy Turns to Cow Manure in Gas Pact.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 12, 2019): B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 11, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

ALS Drug Entrepreneurs Developed Idea in Dorm Room and Self-Funded the Early Development

(p. B3) An experimental drug slowed the paralyzing march of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in a clinical trial, according to researchers who say the results are a fresh sign that recent insights into the condition may soon bring new medicines.

. . .

The idea for the drug came to Amylyx Chief Executive Josh Cohen, he said, while he was a Brown University junior in 2012 and 2013 majoring in biomedical engineering and reading scientific papers on how neurons die.

Mr. Cohen told Mr. Klee, whom he had first met playing club tennis in college. Mr. Klee, a neuroscience major, spent the following night reading up on his friend’s idea.

“We did what most people in our generation do” when trying to learn about a topic, Mr. Klee said. “We went to the Internet. We Googled it.”

The research shed light on some molecular routes that neurodegeneration follows, which Mr. Cohen said sparked his interest in combining drugs that attacked two important pathways. The problem was, each drug alone hadn’t worked in studies.

Unfamiliar with both drug research and the industry, Messrs. Cohen and Klee sounded out experts, including Dr. Cudkowicz, to learn how to test their hypothesis in a laboratory, start a company and conduct testing in patients.

Their project took off after the pair scraped together $6,000 from personal savings and family donations to pay contract researchers in Finland, who found their combination drug worked in a petri dish.

Mr. Cohen took all his courses during his final year of college on Thursdays so he could devote the rest of the week to Amylyx.

Mr. Klee, who had moved to Cambridge, Mass., after graduating, took odd jobs coaching swimming, working as a research technician and participating in medical-research studies to earn money for the fledgling startup then based in his apartment.

The company, based in Cambridge, had three employees last March and seven today, but plans to add 100 employees next year.

For the full story, see:

Jonathan D. Rockoff. “ALS Drug Shows Promise in Study.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 17, 2019): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “ALS Drug Works in Study, Researchers Say.” The sentences quoted after the ellipsis above, appear in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)

Figurative Cave Art at Least 43,900 Years Old

(p. A15) In December 2017, Hamrullah, an archaeologist on an Indonesian government survey, was exploring a cave system in Sulawesi, a large island in central Indonesia. He noticed a tantalizing opening in the ceiling above him. A skilled spelunker, Hamrullah (who only uses one name, like many Indonesians) climbed through the gap into an uncharted chamber. There, he laid eyes on a painting that is upending our understanding of prehistoric humans.

The dramatic panel of art, dating back at least 43,900 years, is “the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world,” a group of scientists said in a paper published Wednesday [Dec. 11, 2019] in Nature, although additional research will be needed to confirm the age of every character in the painting.

In the story told in the scene, eight figures approach wild pigs and anoas (dwarf buffaloes native to Sulawesi). For whoever painted these figures, they represented much more than ordinary human hunters. One appears to have a large beak while another has an appendage resembling a tail. In the language of archaeology, these are therianthropes, or characters that embody a mix of human and animal characteristics.

. . .

“This finding is very significant because it was previously thought that figurative painting dated to a time shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe, perhaps circa 40,000 years ago, but this result shows it has an origin outside Europe,” said Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton in England, who was not involved in the study.

For the full story, see:

Becky Ferreira. “Cave May Possess World’s ‘Earliest Figurative’ Art.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 12, 2019): A15.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 11, 2019, and has the title “Mythical Beings May Be Earliest Imaginative Cave Art by Humans.”)

The academic paper in Nature, mentioned above, is:

Aubert, Maxime, Rustan Lebe, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, Muhammad Tang, Basran Burhan, Hamrullah, Andi Jusdi, Abdullah, Budianto Hakim, Jian-xin Zhao, I. Made Geria, Priyatno Hadi Sulistyarto, Ratno Sardi, and Adam Brumm. “Earliest Hunting Scene in Prehistoric Art.” Nature (Dec. 11, 2019), DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1806-y.