All posts by Stuart Rogers

Are we Alone ? : An intersection of faith and logic

Human beings seem to hold an innate desire to believe in things beyond our scientific understanding of the world and often even our corporal reality, whether that is an almighty creator or ghosts – a high proportion of the human population hold some irrational belief which holds no scientific veracity.

However, there is a category of paranormal belief that crosses the wires of the two opposing ideologies of science and faith – the idea that we are not alone in the universe.

Regarding the paranormal, believing in aliens is a unique position as it does hold some reputable support. The existence of extraterrestrial life is coincided to be possible by the scientific community which has soundly debunked most other paranormal theories like the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot.

The famous Nazi/ NASA scientist (yes you read that right) Wernher von Braun made a very profound statement regarding the possibility of alien life elsewhere in the cosmos “Our sun is one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy. Our galaxy is one of the billions of galaxies populating the universe. It would be the height of presumption to think that we are the only living things in that enormous immensity.” This is a credible statement however just saying that universe is a big place ain’t much to go on – with all our space faring and astronomy have we seen any hint of aliens?

Well – possibly, the Kepler telescope recently picked up a sun that has an unusual amount of objects blocking it and although proposing that this is an alien structure was at the bottom of the list of explanations it still made it to the list. In fact, it actually jumped up a spot because the most likely explanation of an unusual formation of comets has been ruled out. Some scientists have proposed that the anomaly may be some type of extraterrestrial solar panel to harvest energy from the sun.

It is important to remember that this theory is still at the bottom of the list and we have been in these waters before -when Neutron stars were first discovered the scientific community put aliens down as a possible explanation source of their origin, however, this was discarded after further study.

Below is a photo of NASAs new gangster space telescope named the James Webb and its due to go up into space in 2018 (unless Trump wins then he will probably strip if for parts to build his wall or lend it to Putin to pose topless on).

 

As far as telescopes go it looks pretty bling.

It has been said that collectively the Hubble and Kepler space telescopes have lead us into the “Golden age of astronomy”.If that’s true, the James Webb will take us is into platinum age as it will utilise a staggering upgrade in technological prowess and enable us to peer into the distant cosmos like never before. This all does depend on a successful launch and after the Philae comet landing fuck up you probably shouldn’t let yourself get excited until it’s actually up there and doing its thing – but once that happens it could bring us closer to puzzling out the “are we alone” question.

In the spirit of equality lets hope they enlist a female scientist geared up for the media interview in whatever the Top gun volleyball inverse of this shirt is and enjoy the inevitable twitter meltdown.

Strong wardrobe choice.

The universe is unfathomably vast and I think Wernher von Braun was right; one of those distant planets and must either have life as we know it or maybe life as we don’t but, saying our chances of finding it are slim is a dramatic understatement. We know that our solar system will only be able to support life for another 1.75 Billion years and in the cosmic scale of time this relatively short period, so we are looking for another planet that can support life and happens to have it at this point in time, the odds of finding life elsewhere in space are immeasurably stacked against us. Life in space may be a rare flash of sentience in the vastness of space – this is elegantly explained by this potent mix up of Carl Segan and Grand Theft Auto.

Now for the fun stuff – has earth been visited by extraterrestrial beings?

A colossal disaster in the art of espionage/cover ups is the ‘top secret’ airbase Area 51, as it’s probably the only American air base you have ever heard of due to its infamous link with alien technology. The truth is probably less sensational as Area 51 was the base where they test flew the B2 stealth bomber pictured below.

You have to admit that if you saw that giant black Tetris block shaped motherfucker flying overhead before the US air-force officially released its existence You would probably think it was an alien craft too, or maybe Batman.

My point here is that you can understand the origin of the aliens/Area 51 connection.

UFO sightings remain a common phenomenon in modern culture, and some can be explained but some can’t, for example, this one captured over Norway looks legit.

Sorry to disappoint, but it was just an out of control satellite leaking pressurised gas which caused the spiral effect. The internet is awash with supposed ‘proof’ of aliens visiting earth, but it is telling that these images surfaced around the same time as Photoshop software was made available to the public – I was surprised to learn that Hitler and ET where tight.

Bromance.

However, UFOs are a real phenomenon and have been the subject of governmental investigation and their have been some fascinating cases that remain unexplained, a good example of this is the incident in Glasgow in 2013.

A fun theory I’ve heard is that UFOs are not aliens but are human craft piloted by us time travelling from the future but I think you need to take a scarface portion of narcotics before you actually believe it.

Something that has slid off the radar in the world of popular paranormal belief is alien abductions as they can be easily explained by sleep paralysis and other sleep disorders. An interesting theory claiming to explain them speculates that people who claim they have been abducted are actually remembering being born and the doctor wearing a face-mask is the alien examining you and cutting the umbilical cord under the bright hospital lighting. There is no real evidence to support this, but it is entirely plausible – at least in the anecdotal seance.

Overall there is no real proof that aliens either have visited earth or even exist, although many scientists consider the latter to be likely and we are on the cusp of drastically increasing our knowledge of the universe around us.

I am going to finnish this post by taking my sceptical hat off and embrace our innate desire to believe in the extraordinary by leaving you with a surprisingly profound quote regarding our understanding of the universe from the summer blockbuster Men in Back (before Will Smith went all Scientology batshit crazy on us).

MIB

And also this because it’s funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natures superweapon : The electric eel

For the last 10 years Hollywood has been relentlessly churning out superhero films like there is no tomorrow – you would think people wearing Lycra and punching each other through walls would get old after a few years but apparently not.

Electric eels dont go to the cinema and give 0 fucks about the new X men film because they got here own superpower.

Electric eels are not actually eels, they belong to a group called knifefish (+ 10 gangster points) and new research has revealed a whole new chapter of awesomeness on these infamous creatures.

Electric eels generate electricity from three pairs of special organs located in their abdominal region which takes up four fifths of their body (which can grow to 2 meters long). These organs have evolved independently at least six times in fish and are made of electrocytes (electricity producing cells) which are stacked so each one adds to a potential difference and lined up so a current of ions can freely flow through them. They can produce two types of electric organ discharges: low voltage and high voltage which they use both to stun prey and defend themselves.

When the eel wants to zap something it sends a signal from its brain to open up the ion channels in their special organs allowing sodium to flow through, reversing the polarity momentarily. By causing a sudden difference in electric potential, it generates an electric current in a manner similar to a battery, in which stacked plates each produce an electric potential difference.

They have also been found to bend their body back on itself into a horseshoe shape which has the effect of doubling the power of the discharge – They can blast you with up to 860 volts as this poor bastard found out.

to give you some perspective the voltage of an average socket is 120 volts so 860 volts is no joke – there are reports of electric eels blasting horses off their feet.

Another way they can increase the power of their electric attack is to spectacularly leap out of the water and press their head against the unsuspecting predator and blast it for its trouble. This means that none of the electricity is wasted through the surrounding water – check the short clip below to see this in action.

kinda like getting a headbutt from a mad Glaswegian holding a power cable in each hand.

 

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Dont mess.

Despite the high voltage the eel only delivers the discharge for a short period of time so its unlikely to be directly fatal to a fully grown adult but drowning as a result of the paralysis is a real possibility.

This electric zap power is very impressive but new research has revealed a far more devious ability of these eels.

Electric eels can “reach into the nervous system” of their prey and make them move in certain directions.

Yup thats right, they can essentially use electric signals to remote control other fish around them and make them reveal their hiding position or even swim towards them to get munched.

So these water gangsters can make their own lightning and hack into the nervous system of other animals to make them do things – basically two  complete superpowers in one animal.

I am going to leave you with a meme from the post “boaty mc boat face” internet craze of renaming of the worlds animals choice for the electric eel.

 

Programmed to die : The unlikely key to biological immortality

Turning 30 was like a swift kick in the balls and I know I was not  alone in this experience – no one likes getting old.

Our society is geared towards celebrating and worshipping  the status of youth, the amount of money the western world spends on plastic surgery and anti-ageing remedies are a testament to this obsession with holding onto our virility.

This fixation is nothing new, eternal youth is a recurring theme in folk tales and mythology (vampires ec) which has been passed on in cultures across the globe. It is also worth mentioning that a significant amount of historical figures are known to have endeavoured to remedy this inevitable decay of the corporeal vessel that we take through life and achieve immortality. Perhaps the most infamous of these is Elizabeth Báthory .

Weapons grade resting bitch face

This woman used to torture and murder virgin girls and drink/bathe in their blood in the pursuit of stealing there virile energy and preserving her beauty. She died under the medieval version of house arrest in this tower when she was 54.

#Fail

However this crazy bitch may not have been that far of the mark, experiments with mice have shown that if a 3 year old mouse (officially old as fuck in mouse years) has its blood drained and replaced with blood donated from younger mice it actually shows signs of rejuvenation and can even extend its life span.

With the prospect of the human race being able to manufacture synthetic blood a very real possibility in the near future this could very well hold implications for further extending the virility of human beings.

This is all standard stuff though, obviously organ and blood transplants can extend the natural lifespan of humans, where it gets really interesting is whether it is possible to genetically programme humans not to age past a certain point and remain at their biological peak indefinitely. This idea has been explored in the science fiction film ‘In Time’ which is a cool premise for a film but watching Justine Timberlake trying to act is like being force fed a bee hive.

So can we hack biological aging?

To answer this we need to look into why we age in the first place.

It was always assumed that ageing just happens due to biological wear and tear, your body fully replaces all of its cells (apart from some brain cells) in a constant cycle and after you pass your adult prime your cells start replicating as a slightly shittier version of themselves each time. The key factor in this process appears to be the degradation of mitochondrial DNA (the cells power plant). However new research has indicated that the gradual degrading process that we call aging may have been selected by an evolutionary mechanism and not a fundamental trait of organic life.

A new study from the New England Complex Systems Institute speculates that ageing may exist to ensure that older generations die and they don’t out compete the younger generation and thus maintain a healthy generational flow of new animals –we are essentially programmed to die so that the young may live.

This concept can be observed in nature, in some species of octopuses the female dies after reproducing – however if you surgically remove a certain gland it stays alive.  This implies that evolution has selected the animal to die after reproducing as it is the best way for to ensure the survival of the species.

It’s quite a trippy concept to get your head around but it makes sense –  it would be very hard for juvenile animals to survive in an environment filled with adults that are biologically immortal because they would be outcompeted by an abundance of their larger and fully developed rivals.

So the very reason we get old and die may help life propagate – if this is true stopping the aging process might be simpler than previously thought as it biologically feasible for cells to continually replicate themselves perfectly without deteriorating.

Image courtesy of NECSI

There are of course exceptions to this evolutionary strategy and some animals may be actually be biologically immortal, the best example of this is the imaginatively named immortal jellyfish. These blobs of floating water goo can alternate between their juvenile and mature state indefinitely which means they will never die of old age.

It’s only a matter of time before they get eaten or killed by something but in theory you could keep one of these animals alive in captivity for 5 billion years until the sun goes white dwarf and fucks our solar system up.

So if humans do age and deteriorate because we are evolutionarily programmed to die, conquering aging may be simpler than previously thought as we wouldn’t have to overcome a fundamental trait of organic life. In the near future the lifespan of human beings could drastically increase.

Obviously despite being biologically immortal we would all eventually die of something, whether it being falling down the stairs or snorting venomous fire ants at an Ozzy Osborne gig (yes that happened).

Overall though I feel western societies chronic anxiety about getting old is not worth the hassle – it is possible to age in style.

My Grandad rocking a starfish like a boss.

We should all learn to just enjoy the ride into crippling obsolescence.

 

Religion : out Darwining Darwin ?

Despite his occasional grotesquery I am a big fan of Frankie Boyle, and in an article he wrote summarising the traits of the different candidates for  the next president of the united states he made a casual yet eloquent joke about religion “creationists often make me doubt evolution – but not in the way they think”.

This nonchalaunt mockery holds a real curiosity, how can so many people who stick their head in the sand and ignore scientific evidence exist in a world that’s based on natural selection ?

Around 84% of the world identify with a particular religion and some people predict that this number will have increased by 2050.

Religion is very prevalent in humanity and there are good reasons for this – before modern science, religion offered the best explanation to the natural phenomena such as  rainbows and solar eclipses and although we now have scientific explanations for these things it can be hard to uproot ideas that have been engrained in cultures for thousands of years. Another reason for the prevalence for religion in the modern world is that much of the world does not even have access to scientific information.

Its also worth mentioning that life for people in  third world countries is unimaginably hard and the promise of a better existence in the afterlife offers a needed comfort that science/atheism cant.

But what is perhaps puzzling  is that creationists/religious people don’t just survive, they thrive. America – which sits comfortably at the top of both the worlds economy and military hierarchy has a population of around 138 million creationists, that’s 42% of its population believe that dinosaurs didn’t exist.

Donald August 19 (cropped).jpg

We may all be fucked.

Religion is also prevalent among high level athletes, it is common to see a top footballer, basket ball player, fighter or runner  point up in apparent gratitude to the almighty being in the sky after winning.

So do creationists/religious people outcompete atheists? do they somehow enjoy a selective advantage over people who don’t believe in god and is atheism doomed to lose as an idea/ideology to people that believe the earth was created in 7 days?

Well here is a theory (admittedly crude) as to why.

The Human ego is a powerful tool, it gives you the will to succeed over your rivals – particularly when engaging in sport or more dramatically warfare. The belief that the all powerful creator is on your side and cares about you scoring the goal or you inflicting damage on the enemy can give you a physiological advantage over your opponent.

If there is a God would think he/she would be more concerned with a child dying in agony from starvation or disease every 11 seconds than kicking a ball into a net.

But regardless of this hypocrisy, the fanatical belief in the unwavering support god is bestowing on you can augment the will power, propose and ability of humans and give them a selective advantage over non believers.

However religion does hold massive disadvantages as well, the number of people that die annually because of faith healing is a good example of this.

Its just ironic that in certain circumstances religion out Darwin’s Darwin.

The original hipster

 

 

 

Throwing bones: The role of punching in human evolution

So I’m going to ruin everyone’s festive mood like a giant green Grinch bastard with an aggressive/depressing article.

Recently Conor McGregor unified the UFC feather-weight belts by knocking out Jose Aldo with a precise and perfectly timed left hook.

This brings me to the topic of the article, the relevance of the punch in human evolution.

A closed fist is a universal sign across all human cultures signifying aggression – no matter where in the world you are a closed fist has the same meaning to the native people. A study found that a closed fist can deliver up to four times the power of an open palm, although injuries to the person wielding the fist are common it is easy to see how the ability could help our ancestors survive a hostile physical encounter.

The idea that we evolved the ability to make fists as a direct result of hand to hand combat is referred to as ‘Fist Buttressing Theory’ and is closely associated with the idea that human beings like chimpanzees – our most common ancestor are innately violent.

This theory is supported by the apparent discovery that the skulls (particularly the jawbone) of early human ancestors evolved to be thick and therefore resistant to strikes and not for chewing nuts as was previously thought.

The human fist is not that dissimilar to a cat’s retractable claws – we can make it on demand to augment our combative ability. What is unclear is that if our ability to make firsts evolved to make us better fighters and therefore survivors, or it is simply an advantageous side effect of our hands adapting to manipulate tools.

Considering the power advantage of a closed fist and the protective adaptations of our skulls at first glance this theory seems very credible, but there are some other things to consider.

As I mentioned before, punching bear knuckle can cause severe damage to your own fist, boxers hands are wrapped, padded with foam and their opponent wears a mouth shield to try to limit this damage as much as possible and for a case in point – Connor McGregor actually broke his wrist when he knocked out Jose Also. A broken hand in the wild could easily be fatal as it would severely impede the individual’s capability to hunt and fight.

Also human fists are almost useless when fighting other animals, could you imagine fighting a bear, or a tiger with your fists?

Thought not, you would get fucked up bigtime, human fists come up short against teeth and claws.

There is another animal besides humans that can make fists and they make mike Tyson look like Justin Bieber.

Gorillas are the very embodiment of strength and the list of land animals that could take a punch from one of these guys and survive is short.

slightly more intimidating than john Prescott

New labours PR strategy in full effect

But humans are no where near as powerful as gorillas and our lack of strength limits the effectiveness of our punches, however even the closed fist of a gorilla comes up short to spears, rocks and clubs which would have almost certainly been employed by warring species of early humans in both fighting, hunting and defending themselves from other animals.

In short it does look like our hands have evolved for dual propose, deftly manipulating objects and making a fist to augment striking power. In my opinion though our ability manufacture and wield weapons is much more useful and has played a much larger part in our evolutionary success.

In response to the more philosophical question at play of whether human beings are innately violent it has to be accepted that humans only came out of the untamed chaos of the jungle very recently (in evolutionary terms) and if we were not violent we wouldn’t have made it out. Albeit this does not mean we are doomed to live in state of perpetual war, accepting our violent nature may be the best way to mediate it and avoid it.

A quote from Prof Carrier and Michael H Morgan from the University of Utah’s school of medicine who lead the study I referenced earlier might be the best way to finish here.

“I think we would be better off if we faced the reality that we have these strong emotions and sometimes they prime us to behave in violent ways. I think if we acknowledged that we’d be better able to prevent violence in future.”

And to lighten the mood a bit – here is a clip of an orang-utan babysitting tigers, enjoy.

Animal rights and Nazis : An ethical paradox

I would like to introduce the first guest blog post written by Chris Magee who is head of Media and Policy at Understanding Animal Research but is writing here in a personal capacity.

I was recently visiting a friend in Stockholm. We were wandering across the Djurgårdsbron and chatting about how my work was going when we came across a police poster warning of a demonstration march to Djurgården. “It’s the local Nazis” said my friend as we both looked at my dark-skinned wife and all silently resolved to give the march a wider berth. “Did you know the Nazis were against animal research?” I asked, tying the strands of the conversation together and remembering a poster on the topic.

guring

Lab Animals saluting Göring in the satirical journal, Kladderadatsch 

Although Hitler’s regime failed to fully abolish animal research (a law imposing a total ban on vivisection was enacted on August 16, 1933, by Hermann Göring as the prime minister of Prussia, but it only lasted 3 weeks and wasn’t attempted again), modern Nazis are also beginning to recognise what they see as “animal protection” as part of their credo.

A couple of days later, my friend sent me a link to a Rolling Stone article about Nipsters – neo-nazi hipsters. Apparently, there’s more than one neo-nazi vegan cooking show. Vegan Nazis. Checking one out, I noticed that they also boycott Nestle products and Coca-Cola in line with every one of my most “right-on” friends.

And this stuff has form. One of the founding members of the Soil Association, for instance, those who give the stamp of approval to ‘organic’ food, was Jorian Jenks, a former member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and closely associated with Oswald Mosley. Jenks was for years the editorial secretary of the Association’s journal (“Mother Earth”) and was a contemporary of Hitler’s food minister and leading ‘racial theorist’ Walter Darre, both of whom you’d find at an anti GMO rally if they were around today.

What’s weird about all this is it’s such an unfamiliar combo. I know plenty of people who thoughtlessly subscribe to off-the-shelf philosophies which seem to come in a multi-pack with certain common other ones (Buy “No to GM”, and get “No to TTIP” and “No To Fracking” free!) but a pick and mix approach is also completely possible so long as you don’t think too hard about the inconsistencies. I realise that newspapers and magazines have monetized confirmation bias and use this sort of batch profiling to essentially sell people’s opinions back to them, so modern Nazi magazines must be a really weird read.

caravan

To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying that all vegans are Nazis – quite the contrary: veganism is a good thing and I even know vegan animal researchers.  Nor am I saying that people opposed to animal research are Nazis. I feel I must clarify this since, despite making this clear in the past, anti-research protesters have nevertheless taken umbrage, which either means they weren’t listening or are so used to straw-manning everything I say the outrage was reflexive.

What I am saying is, people can consider themselves ethical, yet simultaneously hold unethical views because a small twist on an ethical principle can make it unethical.

Take water conservation for instance. In principle it’s a good idea, but if the principle is calibrated to mean that no water is to be used for any reason, we find ourselves in a bind if our house catches fire. So it is with medical, veterinary and environmental research using animals. There’s a crucial ethical difference between people who wish to see animal research gradually phased out where alternatives exist, and people who want it to end tomorrow. Of course one can have compassion for research animals, but when it’s at the expense of compassion for humans (which are also animals) or other animals (like testing  a vaccine for pet dogs) there’s been no attempt to answer a difficult ethical problem of allowing limited suffering to prevent more widespread suffering. The suffering is also often not on the same scale. The breast cancer drug Herceptin, for instance, is based on a mouse hormone. A blood draw to create a drug that can treat 10,000 new cases of breast cancer in the UK alone cannot be considered unethical. Allowing tens of thousands of cancer sufferers to perish because of a principle of not using a mouse cannot be considered ethical. What begins as an attempt to protect research animals, can sometimes ultimately hurt more animals and of a higher order.

I imagine this is partly why there has been a surge in campaigners turning to pseudoscience, and undermining the role of animals in medical history. A couple of groups even try to claim that animals weren’t essential for insulin therapy because Langerhans noticed his eponymous islets on a human pancreas (not that he knew what their secretions were). Even a cursory reading of history tells us this is an intellectually dishonest account of the journey.

Several campaigners again, some of them MDs or PhDs, exploit the general public’s lack of specialist knowledge using variously unrepresentative examples, made up percentages, rare failures, tiny sample sizes, incorrect formulae and underlining genetic differences. That way, a fundamentally misanthropic viewpoint can be dressed up as doing the public a favour – “I don’t care about the animals, I just want better science!”. Yeah, right. Actually what you were doing when underlining genetic differences is forgetting that most of them don’t matter. Take pig insulin. How many differences there are between me and the pig! I have no trotters, no curly tail! Of course, pig and human insulin is almost identical and the former was used to treat diabetes for most of the 20th Century, but look at the tail! You don’t have a tail!

To me, binary yes/no debates about using “animals” are a huge distraction from what we really need to be focusing on. Are we regulating research the best we can? Are we licensing the right kind of research, for the right reasons? Should pigs be given the same protections as dogs, where they can only be used when no other animal will do? Our understanding of their capacities has rather moved on since 1876 when the dogs’ special protections were specified. It is plainly ludicrous to suggest that animal research hasn’t been vital to reducing suffering, or that no suffering is incurred in the lab so can we just move on? How can we determine value if we’re only looking at the costs or the benefits?

In some ways the example of water conservation is the corollary of those who, on principle, wish to forbid the use of animals and people for research. It sounds pretty wacky if you transfer the principle to other situations. It sounds downright cruel if you think of it as tantamount to visiting Great Ormond Street Hospital to tell the kids there they’re worth less to the world than a mouse. To stretch the analogy to breaking point, the trend towards claiming that animal research is “bad science” is like claiming water isn’t best for putting out fires, by cherry picking those incidences in which foam is better.

Other anti-vivisectionist worldviews, however, seem to see a somewhat Victorian separation of humans and “animals”. “Don’t use animals, use humans” they say, but humans are animals. We suffer too. We often suffer more and, as I mentioned, studying a human doesn’t tell you why a zebrafish regenerates perfectly after injury.

I’ve also come across people in this job who see no difference between animal species on principle: none should be used.  In this case, one can ask “Is there a difference between using a fruit fly, a dog or a monkey?” because if there isn’t you may ask well use the monkey since it’s all ethically equal.

However if there is a difference between using those different species we end up with a more useful paradigm, where instead of creating a rift between living things, we see them on a continuum which doesn’t need to be limited to animals and can be used to consider the suffering of, say, plants, Martians or even computer-based intelligence. It’s the chimp’s greater capacity for suffering which means they are never used in research. Suffering and types of suffering must be the benchmark by which we judge the cost side of the equation.

Of course, this is basically the system we’ve adopted in the UK. We exclude from research those animals with the greatest capacity for psychological suffering.  We don’t allow research to take place if there’s an alternative method. We minimise suffering. We use anaesthetic when it doesn’t cause more suffering.  We put the dog above the fruit fly every time. We conduct research because we want to end the widespread suffering of various life-forms, and to know how they work so we can treat them.

That’s not enough for some who won’t use animals on principle, but what’s fascinating is, it doesn’t take much of a twist to an animal protection philosophy to entirely reverse its ethical polarity. To let the widespread suffering continue. To leave the cancer patients without a treatment. To let the house burn down in the name of conserving water.

 

 

The aquatic ape theory : Not quite nevermind

The aquatic ape theory (AAT) or aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH) is a fringe theory claiming to explain a large part of the evolutionary heritage of human beings, it is certainly controversial and is rejected by the majority of the academic community.

However AAT may hold more weight than the scientific community would like to admit and it could potentially be a large piece of the puzzle for the genesis of the cerebral ape: Homo sapiens.

So what is AAT all about?

AAT holds the view that our ancestors thrived and adapted to life in a semi aquatic or even fully aquatic environment. You may be forgiven for instantly thinking that this is weapons grade pseudoscientific bullshit when you hear this but when you look at some of the claims within AHH it can become a compelling scientific argument.

Here is the thesis of marine biologist Alistair Hardy (one of AAT early proponents)

“My thesis is that a branch of this primitive ape-stock {hominoids} was forced by competition from life in the trees to feed on the sea-shores and to hunt for food, shell fish, sea-urchins etc., in the shallow waters off the coast. I suppose that they were forced into the water just as we have seen happen in so many other groups of terrestrial animals. I am imagining this happening in the warmer parts of the world, in the tropical seas where Man could stand being in the water for relatively long periods, that is, several hours at a stretch”

As far as fringe theories go it’s not the most outlandish you might come across, but is there any evidence?

Well no, nothing solid.

But AAT proponents point out that hard evidence is rare in planetology and it does cite a host of anecdotal evidence in offering explanations to why we have evolved certain parts of our anatomy evolved differently from the other great apes (chimps, orang-utans, bonobos and gorillas).

Here are a few of AAT claims

Bipedalism: An obvious difference between us and the other apes is the back that we walk upright and ATT proposes that this was due to apes being immersed in a shallow aquatic environment and wading through the water on two legs (possibly while wielding a spear to hunt with) was the most efficient from of locomotion. After millions of years the apes evolved to be bipedal leading to early human species such as (Australopithecus).

Hairlessness: So compared to other apes we have very little hair, why is this?

There are two main reasons other animals have evolved to be hairless, the first is adapting to life in a subterranean (underground) environment just like this handsome bastard pictured below.

404090

He may look like a fucked up mutated sausage but this hairless gangster is immune to cancer, cant feel pain and lives for over 30 years

And the second is reason for animals to loose hair is adapting to a marine environment, the ancestors of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) lost their hair in favour of blubber as it is much better at insulation in water. Humans have the highest natural fat content of all the great apes and the AAT crew propose this is an adaptation to a marine environment just like cetaceans.

Noses: Ever wondered why we have noses and other apes don’t have noses and just have snout’s (essentially just holes in their faces) well AHH proponents think that it is simply to stop water splashing in it, if you think about it swimming front crawl would be kinda hard if you didn’t have a nose.

vernix caseosa: Nope this aint a harry potter spell – It’s the layer of cheesy waxy gunk that new-born babies rock with their birthday suit. This substance is only found in new-born human babies and seals.

Water babies: New born babies are shit at getting about on land but they are surprisingly able in water as this clip shows.

They also have a built in dive reflex that stops them inhaling water when submerged, it even slows their heart rate and reduces blood flow to extremities. This reflex disappears when the babies reach 6 months of age.

Long hair: ATT proposes that females have long hair so babies can hang onto it while the mother is half submerged in the water.

Skin ridges: after being immersed in water human skin starts to wrinkle, this actually makes it easier to grip wet tools such as a spear.

At this point you may be on the way to being convinced on the legitimacy of this theory but it’s time to put the brakes on a bit, many of these adaptations have other theories explaining them which are supported by evidence from the fossil record and the academic community.

For example being hairless, bipedal and having a nose are all adaptations for endurance running hunting in a desert environment which is the current widely accepted theory and although the majority of the scientific community does get things wrong from time to time they are usually on the money.

However it is definitely not right to throw the AAT on the pseudoscientific band wagon along with the homoeopathy and flat earth society bat shit crazy theories because the underlying logic of the theory does follow a scientific narrative.

And this is the problem with scientific debates – there is pressure to align yourself with a side and everyone viciously argues and undermines each others arguments, career and even personality.Because of this it’s hard to maintain a position that’s somewhere in the middle – the scientific community often scoffs at the ATT without even considering that although it reaches too far with its claims  one thing is irrefutably true.

We are the aquatic ape.

Chimps, Bonobos, orang-utans and gorillas can’t swim for shit, in fact they unfortunately often drown in zoo moats after falling in. We are by far the most capable in the water out of all the apes (It should be noted that compared to other animals we still suck at swimming, for example – tigers can swim 18mph and humans swim about 3mph).

But the fact remains, human beings ability to traverse and survive in water has undoubtedly saved millions of human lives and although our aquatic ability may be almost a side effect of evolving bipedalism for running long distances it is still a favourable trait that gave our species an advantage over other apes that couldn’t swim.

It is also perfectly plausible that some of the more outlandish AAT claims are true and that early human species habitually employed aquatic environments as nurseries and this had a substantial impact on our physiology. Opponents of AAH like to point out that this would be impossible because the water would be full of crocodiles but the jungle/desert would be full of all kinds of predators and crocodiles are actually quite easy to restrict access to with natural barriers like dams and secluded water areas may well have been the safest place for young humans.

It may be a bigger piece of the puzzle than mainstream science would like to admit.

check this doc for more info.

 

Tardigrades: A life of 0 f##ks

Heavy chat on cancer last month so figured id go for a short and sweet post this month on the loveable tardigrades.

Tardigrades (also called moss gangsters) are tiny microscopic animals that live in a range of aquatic and non aquatic environments and are frequently found in samples of moss.

What is interesting about them is that they are nearly indestructible, here is a list of some of the things these little bastards can survive.

  • Temperature – tardigrades can survive being heated in boiling alcohol for a few minutes to 151 °C (304 °F) or being chilled for days at −200 °C (-328 °F) -Deal with that Vim Hoff

Pussy

  • Dehydration – They can survive without water for ten years.
  • Radiation – tardigrades could take a full on thermonuclear war no problem – they can with stand 5,000 Gy of radiation (10 is fatal to a human).
  • Toxins – tardigrades can undergo chemobiosis, a cryptobiotic response to high levels of environmental toxins. 

So as you can see scientists have had some fun over the years coming up with elaborate bond villain-esk plots to kill them with limited success.I can just imagine them in the laboratory……..

“What they survived being boiled in vodka? lets try  dropping them in liquid nitrogen!”

After a few years of this game someone said:

” fuck it lets put them in a rocket and launch them into space then throw them outside”

So they did, and after 10 days in open space around 30% of the microscopic bad-assess where still alive.

So what is it about these things that makes them able to survive being boiled,frozen,nuked, poisoned , crushed, starved and thrown out into space?

One of the keys to this hardy creature’s success seems to be the presence of a cellular sugar called trehalose which preserves the membranes that form their bodies., scientists are looking at trehalose as a viable way to preserve human eggs during freezing for later fertilization.

So overall, tardigrades = 0 fucks

 

 

Cancer: The cure fallacy

In 1971 Richard Nixon called for a concerted effort to find a cure for cancer, over 40 years on and this goal remains elusive, however, much of the perceived failure to find a cure lies in the very meaning of the word cure itself.

Cancer kills around 160,000 people in the UK each year; it is rare to find someone who hasn’t had it affect themselves or a family member at some point in their lives. What people don’t realise is the complexity, mechanics and diversity of the disease.

A common narrative for the modern media is reporting on the medical industry’s research into a potential cure for cancer, this sells papers but could be fuelling public misunderstanding on the diverse range of diseases we call cancer.

tabiloid

There are over 100 types of known cancers – effectively 100 different diseases – that all behave differently and what we currently have is an arsenal of specific tailored treatments including drugs, radiotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, laser treatment and bone transplants to name a few.

Thanks to these treatments medical science is now at the point where as many people survive cancer for 10 years as die from it – a massive improvement from 75 % mortality rates 40 years ago and as always research using animals remains to be an integral part of this life saving progress.

However, these methods are treatments not cures and this is an important distinction to make and labelling treatments as cures may be detrimental to public support and funding of research in the long term.

The word treatment was first recorded in 1560 and is taken to mean “the application of medicines, surgery, psychotherapy, etc, to a patient or to a disease or symptom”.

Whereas the word cure has been around since 1250 and holds the official definition of “a method of restoring an individual’s health”.

So if an individual has been diagnosed with lung cancer and undergoes the relevant treatment and survives you could argue that they have been cured. However, they will always have a greatly heightened risk of the disease returning so it’s not a cure in the true definition of the word. The HPV vaccine which protects against a virus that causes cancer may also be described as a cure but it is a preventative method so again it does not fit the dictionary meaning. You may think that I am being an overly pedantic ass-hole here but it is important that the correct terminology is used when communicating these things to the public to avoid misinterpretation.

What is perhaps even more troubling is that the public seem to have generated their own definition of the word cure that holds an almost magical essence to it. The perceived public definition seems to be that a cure is some kind of harry potter wonder substance that will end cancer forever; this is reinforced by the media’s irresponsible reporting of medical research and Holly wood turning the search for a cure into a pop culture reference.

While KFC should be commended for this cancer research campaign there terminology is indicative to the problem at hand.

kfc

Colonel – you fucked up.

The oversimplified and unrealistic public perception of the word cure may create frustration and mistrust in the general public at the medical research community’s failure to find a cure to what could be argued as the biggest plague of modern western mankind. This mistrust creates a breeding ground for elaborate conspiracy theories proposing that the cure for cancer is hidden in the bunker under the pentagon or that cancer is really a fungus. I like to put my tinfoil hat on sometimes but the cancer conspiracy theory’s seem to be bullshit.

Another result of public frustration is the emergence of infective pseudoscientific “cures” such as homeopathy which even the innovative CEO of apple Steve Jobs was tragically duped by.

The medical industry needs to be proactive in educating the public on how diseases work and take a careful and responsible approach to reporting developments and generating funding. Cancer Research UKs re-brand from “together we can find a cure” to “together we can beat cancer” is a step in the right direction.

For more information on cancer treatments please click here.

Vaping Bad: The misdirection of public health concern

I know I was supposed to write about Tardigrades  this month but something has pissed me off enough for me to push them back a month and talk about something else.

I read a BBC article that they are introducing a ban on E cigarettes in public places in Wales and the rest of the UK will soon follow suit. Despite most health officials agreeing that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking it is increasingly being subjected to unreasonable public scrutiny.

Everyone from medical research charities to education officials are all jumping on the vape hate hype train.

Worse than hitler.

I guess I can kinda see where they are coming from. Vaping is a new technology and although all the research  has indicated that it is no where near as damaging to the human body as traditional smoking, the long term health effects are unknown.  So concern here may be justified, but lets step back and get a little bit of context here.

Oxford street in London is more than three times over the EU legal limit for air pollution levels due to motor traffic, surely the fact that the UKs largest citys air is poisonous is a bigger concern than vaping?

In the same week the vaping ban in Wales was announced it was revealed that the working figure of 30,000 people per year that die due to respiratory problems caused by motor vehicle pollution may be grossly understated because they do not factor in the lethal effect of nitrogen dioxide (NO2).  The real death toll could be much higher, could you imagine if vaping killed well over 30,000 people a year? the industry would be shut down faster than Stannis Baratheons father of the year status.

Its not just respiratory  problems that we have to worry about either, a study looking at the effects of air pollution on children’s cognitive development published their paper in PLoS Medicine. The study found that children in Barcelona attending schools where air pollution is heavier did less well over time in memory and attention tests than their peers elsewhere. So there is good evidence to suggest that motor vehicles in cities are damaging the quality of thinking for future generations – that’s a big price to pay for a fast commute.

The whole issue is worryingly familiar to the theory that the fall of Rome was caused by mass lead poisoning that lead to a sharp cognitive decline in the ruling classes (everyone’s IQ dropped).

I know you cant really compare vaping to motor cars as people rely on cars to get to work .But lets just quickly look at the human cost of motor transport here in the UK.

Cars kill over 2,000 people per year directly in crashes – that figure is actually pretty low considering we have a population of over 65,000 000 people but it is still a tragic waste of life.

Well over 30,000 people die every year due to air pollution

Motor traffic produces lots of CO2 and therefore causing rapid catastrophic climate change and ocean acidification to the point that we are now entering a mass extinction event.

Lets face it cars look cool, are fun to tear around in and make our day to day lives possible. But if you really think about them they are kinda shit.

A bit like this guy.

So if vaping becomes marginalised by the health community – so should cars.

I don’t see the motor industry letting this happen any time soon though.

I have had people suggest I should go full on Bane/Darth Vader and rock one of these as I ride to work to filter out the pollution.

Sad thing is that these masks do fuck all apart from make you look like a dickhead. The harmful particulates are termed as PM2.5s which means they are too small for the mask to stop and still allow the harmful particulates in.

Dont get me wrong – im not saying we should ban cars completely – we need them to function in modern society, however urgent action to reduce air pollution is required. Safer cycling infrastructure along with hybrid vehicles seems to be the best way to drop air pollution in cities.  You would think Boris would be on top of this issue as he is a known cyclist.

0 fucks given.