Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for February 19, 2020

in rsslog •  6 months ago  (edited)

An article suggests reasons why disease outbreaks frequently start in China; A mundane retraction spurs questions about the review process; Suggestions to make the study of consciousness tractable, scientifically; Disclosure of a WordPress bug that impacts 200,000 sites; and a Steem post with an embedded video discussing the science behind hypnosis

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Links and micro-summaries from my 1000+ daily headlines. I filter them so you don't have to.

First posted on my Steem blog: SteemIt, SteemPeak*, StemGeeks.


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  1. Why Do New Disease Outbreaks Always Seem to Start in China? - Virus outbreaks from the Asian Flu in 1956 through today's Wuhan coronavirus have begun in China. This article suggests several reasons why. China's "wet markets", which trade live animals, offer opportunities for viruses to swap between animals and mutate rapidly. Many citizens in China prefer freshly slaughtered meat instead of frozen or refrigerated meat, and when they get sick, they often go for ineffective traditional remedies before seeking help from a doctor, which gives the viruses time to spread among humans. And finally, as a matter of policy, the Chinese government is known for misinformation and secrecy, which also gives the virus time and opportunity for spreading.

  2. Authors retract Nature paper on dramatic increases in streamflow from deforestation - This was a run of the mill retraction. Researchers made a mistake, then readers noticed the mistake, then the researchers retracted the paper. But the article then goes into the question of whether peer reviewers should have caught the mistake, and it concludes that because of the difficulty involved, it's probably not realistic to expect the reviewers to catch every mistake of this sort. Discussion questions: Perhaps in conjunction with pre-print servers like arXiv and/or bioRxiv, how could one or more Steem communities be launched in a way that would incentivize the discovery of errors in scientific publications? How could Steem's "Communities" feature be used to change the incentive structure for reviewers from scientific journals - who I believe are often/usually unpaid? Can Steem communities help with mitigation of the so-called replication crisis?

  3. How to Make the Study of Consciousness Scientifically Tractable - This essay begins with a discussion of behaviorism, the idea that in people the only things that can be study are things that are objectively observable, and the contents of thoughts and intentions should be disregarded because they are not measurable. It claims that this school of thought has been largely discredited, and the notion of objectivity has been replaced by intersubjectivity, which is sort-of a subjective truth that is intuited and believed by a large enough group of people. Following on this, the author argues that it's reasonable to begin making "reasonable inferences" about consciousness and using those to develop new ways of observing and measuring the phenomenon. The author also links to Where’s My Consciousness-ometer?, another essay that describes some of the tools and methods that are emerging out of the use of intersubjectivity and reasonable inference.

  4. Bug in WordPress plugin can let hackers wipe up to 200,000 sites - A WordPress vulnerability has been disclosed in the ThemeGrill Demo Importer, and site owners who make use of commercial themes from ThemeGrill are advised to update. According to the disclosure, the vulnerability enables remote users to reset a site's content to zero, effectively wiping the site without requiring any authentication. Additionally, if the site configuration includes the user, "admin", the remote attacker can take over all administrative functions. It is believed that 200,000 sites are potentially susceptible to this form of attack. The bug was fixed over the week-end in ThemeGrill version 1.6.2.

  5. Steem @answerswithjoe: Is Hypnosis For Real? | Answers With Joe - This post contains an embedded video where @answerswithjoe discusses the interesting history of hypnosis. Hypnosis began as "mesmerism" in the late 1700s, but fell out of favor as a medical concept and was relegated to entertainment for another 80 years. Then, skeptic James Braid, stormed a stage during a mesmerism show in an effort to discredit it. Instead, he was convinced that the subjects truly couldn't open their eyes, and began to research the possibility. In order to distance himself from the widely discredited concept of mesmerism, he renamed it "hypnosis", named after the Greek god of sleep. Subsequent research has found that hypnosis is more like a state of hyperfocus than like sleep, and that some people are more susceptible to hypnosis than others. Hypnosis has now been used for relief of PTSD, chronic pain, substance dependence, and more. It has also been abused, however, with many false convictions based upon unreliable memories that allegedly resurfaced during hypnosis. Additionally, skepticism remains, and some critics still insist that the technique is nothing more substantial than the placebo effect or the power of suggestion.

    Here is the video but click through and give @answerswithjoe an upvote:
    (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @answerswithjoe.)

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I must note that China has political and economic power that comes with enemies. The world is beset by malignant actors, and for most of a century that malevolence has included biological pathogens. While it is impossible to prove any particular provenance of some pathogen China has suffered, it is undeniable that the present circumstances in China involving not only the Kung Flu, but bird flu and swine flu, as well as the constant threat of a resurgence of plague, and now the arrival of a swarm of locusts on it's border, have generated much speculation that some of that pathogenicity results from malice, and not natural sources.


Good point. Thanks for the reply!

In addition to malice, there's also speculation that this most recent pathogen resulted from carelessness or incompetence at a biomed research facility near Wuhan. Again, impossible to prove or disprove at the moment, so I'm not drawing any conclusions, but it does seem plausible.

I have another article on a different topic that involves China in tomorrow's post. I don't go looking for articles about China, but I was just thinking this morning that it's surprising to realize how often China comes up in this series. In STEM, it seems that all roads lead to China.

In regards to an 'own goal' by China on the Wuhan epidemic, I have read several papers that all have found animal trials of SARS vaccines are disastrous. The vaccines for virii with the SARS spike protein all cause deadly pneumonias in subjects when the subjects are challenged with the infection.

China nonetheless human trialed SARS vaccines. Unbelievable, but they said they did themselves. If they vaccinated a lot of people in Hubei Province, it really explains well why China is suffering such terrible pathogenicity, but no other country in the world is.