Friday, 24 February 2017

Replication Across the Science Nation?


Some interesting findings from the attempt to replicate findings from some cancer research projects (www.nature.com/news/cancer-reproducibility-project-releases-first-results-1.21304). The study started in 2013 and will attempt to replicate some 29 studies in the general area of cancer research. To date, the results of attempts to replicate 5 studies have been released with 1 failure to replicate, 2 partial replications and 2 studies which are difficult to interpret. The first thing to say, is that replication is a necessary element in the scientific method (although I have been asked in the past why it is necessary to repeat tests with more animals by people concerned with animal use). The difficulty is that science deals in probabilities rather than absolutes. Further problems seem related to a) the pressure to publish positive results (negative findings are difficult to publish); b) media desire for positive stories of 'cures' and 'major breakthroughs' and c) the need to encourage further funding of programmes (things that also have a direct impact on the individual's perceived worth by institutions and universities). These are all factors that encourage early (premature?) exposure of results. One must also note that scientists are often somewhat unskilled in statistical methods. I am certain that these issues are not limited to cancer research.

Mammoth Task?


The media reports of the imminent de-extinction of the Woolly mammoth seem just a tad premature (www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170221-reviving-woolly-mammoths-will-take-more-than-two-years). The idea is to incorporate preserved mammoth DNA from the ice into the egg of an Indian elephant and then to devise an artificial womb in which to raise the fertilised product. Anything generated (and the womb is a long way from completion) would not exactly be a Woolly mammoth and there might well be problems raising an animal that probably needs a social upbringing. This is the kind of story that causes a frenzied reaction in the media (it's a bit 'Jurassic Park'). I personally don't think that Woolly mammoths will be striding across the tundra anytime soon.

Deads for Reds!


The 'war' between the UK supporters of the endangered, 'indigenous' Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and folk who tolerate the 'invasive' Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) has been intensified with a call for 5000 volunteers (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/24/red-squirrels-5000-volunteers-sought-to-save-species-and-help-kill-invasive-greys). This 'Red squirrel army' would be asked to help monitor the 2  species and even assist (if they had no objections) with 'humane' destruction of the greys in a cull. The greys (introduced deliberately as novelties in Victorian times) generally out-compete the reds as they are bigger, not so picky in terms of diet and not so liable to die of squirrel pox. I personally think that it would be extremely difficult to eradicate the greys (with or without 'humane' techniques) but 'pest control' seems increasingly to be a feature of many 'conservation' attempts. This might well mean that the 'red army' would never be demobilised. One might also suggest that some of the existing, limited populations of persisting reds show signs of poor genetic diversity. This might well require moving stocks of reds around (perhaps even getting new stock from the continent) but that can also generate problems.

April Fools?


A somewhat weird story involving April, the giraffe (www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/39074831/giraffe-birth-live-webcam-back-on-after-complaints-it-was-sexually-explicit). The Animal Adventure Park in New York state arranged a live webcam of the birth but this was interrupted when some folk claimed it was sexually explicit. I suppose that some folk might have believed that baby giraffes were delivered by Giant cranes but surely most must be aware that giraffe sex can result in babies. All was well in the end as the link was restored.

Seeing the Changes 1137


Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) was blooming in Bynea.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Seeing the Changes 1136




In Loughor, Lesser celendine (Ranunculus ficaria) and Cherry (Prunus spp) were both in bloom.

Friday, 17 February 2017

D Day?


A recent meta-analysis (where a collection of studies are combined for analysis) has confirmed that daily addition of a moderate dose of the 'sunshine vitamin D' provides some protection against cold and influenza infections (news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/02/study-confirms-vitamin-d-protects-against-cold-and-flu/). The evidence seems pretty convincing and people have speculated that it would be beneficial to add the vitamin to certain foods especially for folk who don't get much skin exposure to UV light (the radiation causes the vitamin to be manufactured by the skin). So people living near the poles, who have pigmented skin or who largely cover their skin are unlikely to get sufficient vitamin in their diet (especially if they don't eat much fish or certain mushrooms). Given the fuss initially caused by adding fluoride to water to provide protection from tooth decay, I suspect that people would want to be given a clearly-labelled choice (in spite of accepting the addition of iodine to table salt).