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Just plain icky

So every so often a random news article bites me on the world-building toe. Yesterday's came via Ars Technica in the shape of a very interesting research study on cultural attitudes to traditionalism and national parasite stress (Original source).

To quote the abstract of the paper in full:

People who are more avoidant of pathogens are more politically conservative, as are nations with greater parasite stress. In the current research, we test two prominent hypotheses that have been proposed as explanations for these relationships. The first, which is an intragroup account, holds that these relationships between pathogens and politics are based on motivations to adhere to local norms, which are sometimes shaped by cultural evolution to have pathogen-neutralizing properties. The second, which is an intergroup account, holds that these same relationships are based on motivations to avoid contact with outgroups, who might pose greater infectious disease threats than ingroup members. Results from a study surveying 11,501 participants across 30 nations are more consistent with the intragroup account than with the intergroup account. National parasite stress relates to traditionalism (an aspect of conservatism especially related to adherence to group norms) but not to social dominance orientation (SDO; an aspect of conservatism especially related to endorsements of intergroup barriers and negativity toward ethnic and racial outgroups). Further, individual differences in pathogen-avoidance motives (i.e., disgust sensitivity) relate more strongly to traditionalism than to SDO within the 30 nations.

This got me thinking: what are the implications for world-building in mid-to-far future SF and space opera?

Parasite load is an interesting topic. As another paper points out, there's a robust correlation worldwide between average IQ and parasite stress:

Infectious disease remains the most powerful predictor of average national IQ when temperature, distance from Africa, gross domestic product per capita and several measures of education are controlled for.

... And of course we're aware that malnutrition in infancy and childhood stunts growth.

Why parasite load might impair average intelligence isn't hard to see: resisting infections and parasites imposes a additional energetic cost on developing children that reduces their outcomes, on average. The political conservativism correlate is a different effect: food preparation rituals (such as avoiding undercooked pork in hot climates with endemic tapeworm infections), disgust (avoiding rotten or questionable foodstuffs and faecal contamination), and risk-aversion also feed in to reducing the risk of infection/parasitism at source, and the mind-set of authoritarian followers enforces obedience.

So, SF implications for world-building? Simple: how energetic is the biosphere in your setting? A high energy biosphere (lots of energy reaching ground level, lots of photosynthesis going on, food chain piled high, lots of activity) promotes the evolution of parasites. An austere, low-energy biosphere—think of the high Arctic, with months of total darkness every year and little insolation—can't support anything like as much life as a tropical biome. High energy means more active biomass, which in turn means more niches for parasites to colonize.

So if you have a society with limited or no medical technology in a warm, tropical, climax ecosystem with lots of mammals for humans to rub shoulders with, you probably have a society that has a parasite problem due to zoonoses; and if you have that, you probably also have pressure towards social conservativism due to parasite stress (and lower average intelligence if diseases are widespread, e.g. infant diarrhea, malaria, hookworm, and so on).

More controversially, the development of effective counter-infection strategies may in the long term militate against conservativism (and the conservatives will notice: this makes a neat, albeit questionable, explanation for such things as conservative opposition to HPV vaccination); consider for example all those religious-right perorations about how casual sex will inevitably result in divine retribution in the shape of the sexually transmitted disease bogey-man of the day? (It used to be syphilis, currently it's HIV, next decade it'll probably be multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.)

I'm now wondering about the extent to which the French revolution and the spread of revolutionary values correlated with changes in agricultural productivity in western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the breakdown of the Ancien Regime with the uptake of the germ theory of disease and antisepsis in hospitals ...



This is interesting, but a line of reasoning that ends with "people in warm tropical countries will tend to be less intelligent" - even with caveats - makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Are we sure that we're not just seeing cultural biases in the intelligence tests?


Interesting. That needs thinking about. I have one niggle, however.

I doubt that there is a universal link between parasites and intelligence, social attitudes or even physical abilities, and we know that too much hygiene is associated with auto-immune diseases. I suspect that there are links, but the harmless and harmful parasitisms are so confounded that it is almost impossible to separate them by population statistics. Also, what evidence there is does not support the theory that the development of intelligence is similar to the development of physical abilities, and it might even be enhanced by many forms of parasite load. Obviously, some do reduce it, and some are even known to. But this doesn't make your question any less interesting - it merely means that any answer is going to be very complex indeed.


A tad meta, but any advanced and/or spacefaring civilisation will be aware of these results.

Does that prejudice their ecosystem and habitat design?


More controversially, the development of effective counter-infection strategies may in the long term militate against conservativism

I'm dancing around landmines here, but if we're talking about this cultural link purely in terms of the energetic cost of infection, then isn't pregnancy, in energetic terms only a similar cultural stress?

If you then look at the development of the pill in the '60s as being the "innoculation" of the population against pregnancy, then the ensuing gender politics, and the right's retrenchment of "traditional gender roles" would be the entirely consistent with the theory.

In the past, Charlie, you've talked about how a successful space colony would need incredibly conservative social norms along with extremely controlled childhaving. So it looks to me like you need to factor in some new social taboo that makes it mandatory to use birth control but unacceptable (for women at least) to be sexually liberated.


There does appear to be a correlation between the intensity and number of childhood diseases and intelligence. One factor involved in the Flynn Effect.

As for SF consequences: On the delivering end, from an advanced tech society, not much because they can eliminate disease. On the receiving end, would you go aboard a flying saucer (genuine aliens) and have a face to face chat?


There's a great episode of This Week In Parasitism podcast (which is even more fascinating than it sounds) where parasitologist Professor Disckson Despommier tells the story of the society-level improvements in the southern United States associated with the program to eradicate endemic hookworm infection.

If you're in to icky, this podcast is the mother lode.



The TWIP story about hookworm posits that the post-civil-war reconstruction was significantly hampered by hookworm-induced lethargy.


Please read more carefully. SOME parasites can cause reduced intelligence, but it is unclear that even fairly heavy, serious loads do, in general. Also, a correlation is not evidence of causality - A causes B, B causes A, both A and B caused by C, or any combination? Also, there are grounds to believe that the Flynn effect is misleading or even irrelevant to overall intelligence, as Flynn himself thought at one stage and some people do still think.


The political conservativism correlate is a different effect

I would suggest that while the effect may be different, nonetheless they are similar, related and mutually re-inforcing since political conservatism is itself both an outcome of and a driver for cognitive impairment.


If one accepts the dictum that all narratives are lies, but some lies are useful, then the obvious question is: how is this narrative useful, other than providing struts to build a work of SF?

The study reported that the correlation of parasite load with traditionalism was stronger than with outgroup-avoidance, with data from 30 countries. However, it can be argued that in European history over the past millennium, outgroup-avoidance has been stronger than traditionalism. If this is the case (I can't tell offhand from the European data), then what narrative can one tell about disease and parasite prevalence in Europe? My initial reaction would be to look for different kinds of parasites whose spread coincides with this period, and check whether such parasites tend to favour outgroup-avoidance over traditionalism. (I think Greg will be keen to supply likely candidates.)

Whatever narratives do pop up, I can't follow the logic of your last paragraph. As far as I understand, Galenic notions were strong in medicine until the 19th century, and germ theories of disease only became widely accepted beginning mid-19th century. Wikipedia even has an (unsourced) statement that "by 1880, miasma theory was still competing with the germ theory of disease".


Sorry about the third post, but I have had an idea that links those. A heavy or serious parasite load means that just doing the essentials is a strain, which leaves no spare energy or time for self-selected and optional tasks. Now, stimulation from such tasks is a major factor in the development of intelligence and, of course, leads to the development of independence. And social conservatism is largely a lack of independent thinking. If that's right, it's A causing C causing B. But I remain of the opinion that the situation is more complex than anyone has deduced so far.

On the delivering end, from an advanced tech society, not much because they can eliminate disease.

There's optimism, and there's positing us indefinitely winning a Red Queen Race against everything microscopic that might want to see how we taste - when we've shown we're not good at the necessary tactics already.


Not talking about parasites.

"A 2010 study by Eppig, Fincher and Thornhill found a close correlation between the infectious disease burden in a country and the average IQ of its population. The researchers found that when disease was controlled for, IQ showed no correlation with other variables such as educational and nutritional levels. Since brain development requires a very high proportion of all the body's energy in newborns and children, the researchers argue that fighting infection reduces children's IQ potential. "


"when we've shown we're not good at the necessary tactics already."

Really? SARS? Ebola? H5N1? All the plagues we don't have? Not to mention better and better tools at rapidly identifying pathogens


Not the tactics I was referring to. None of those diseases turned pandemic - but you were suggesting the elimination of disease, not containment to only a few thousand deaths per outbreak.


I was referring to the rapid containment and any given disease being made relatively harmless by rapidly developed treatments. We don't have to eradicate ebola if we have an efficient vaccine.


If one accepts the dictum that all narratives are lies, but some lies are useful, then the obvious question is: how is this narrative useful, other than providing struts to build a work of SF?

One obvious thought is that if we're stuck with a lot of authoritarian conservatives, we should at least redirect their energies towards enforcing useful intragroup norms. I suggest a new corps of uniformed health inspectors with ranks, decorations, and fancy ceremonies to be recruited from exiting police, immigration officers, and vocal Brexit enthusiasts.


Dirk, stop wasting bandwidth. You know less than I do on this subject, and my knowledge is limited pretty much to the realization that bacteria, parasites and virii are 3 different things.


On the one hand, yeah, it's an interesting batch of research, with a fascinating premise, and it looks pretty well done, with a wide variety of samples from a number of different nations (although given it's psychology research, I do wonder whether they've got past the standard bias problem of only studying psych students - who tend to be well-educated and from relatively prosperous families). On the other hand, it does seem like an awful lot of soup to be produced from the one onion there...

I'd also point out they (and many other researchers into conservatism, conformism, authoritarianism and so on) appear to have missed the wonderful tendency for people on the political "left" to behave in ways which strongly resemble those of their opponents on the political "right" - just with different labels on things. So there will be authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers at the more extreme end of left-wing political thought, as well as people following traditionalist structures of life (it's just the traditions they're following may not be the ones they necessarily grew up with at home... for example, the alt-med types who adopt "traditional" medical modalities such as Ayurvedic medicine, or Traditional Chinese Medicine; or the ones who adopt the dietary orthodoxies of the latest fad diet down the pipe which promises to let them live forever).

Let's put it this way: what's the difference, in practical terms, between a radical "goddess" feminist who argues women should be out of the public sphere because the necessary machinations of day to day living will contaminate their essential femininity and render their sacred goddess-nature corrupted, and an out and out misogynist MRA who argues women shouldn't be in the public sphere because they're too immature, emotional and childlike to be able to handle the hurly-burly of public interaction? Both sides want the same end: no women taking part in public life - it's just they're approaching the same goal from different directions. In the same way, white supremacists and black separatists can be said to each be pursuing the goal of the dismantling of multi-racial society each from their separate directions.

I have to admit, using "conservative" and "radical" as labels in this sort of thing makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I'm more comfortable with "extreme" and "moderate" as descriptors.


If you then look at the development of the pill in the '60s as being the "innoculation" of the population against pregnancy, then the ensuing gender politics, and the right's retrenchment of "traditional gender roles" would be the entirely consistent with the theory.

Actually, the demographic transition isn't purely dependent on the pill; it predates it and correlates with female literacy.

But yeah, it's a huge issue. A fetus/small child is a de facto parasite on its mother (although in evolutionary bio terms it's the opposite of a parasite: it's the next generation).

I really don't see where you're getting your last paragraph from: I see space colonies as requiring extremely communitarian norms, not conservative -- if by "conservative" we mean religious/patriarchal.


It seems you are also an authority on what technology will never be able to do. Congratulations.


I really don't see where you're getting your last paragraph from: I see space colonies as requiring extremely communitarian norms, not conservative -- if by "conservative" we mean religious/patriarchal.

Hm, perhaps I was conflating conservative values with restrictive taboos then. I was thinking specifically about–surprise surprise–your Tropical Islands post and your discussion of the taboos and distractions an offworld colony would need to reinforce safe behaviours:

If someone goes nuts and tries to blow a hole in the wall of the fourth largest building in the world, well, there are evacuation routes into the car park. The failure modes for space colonies are much deadlier, so the panopticon paradise with tracking devices and cameras everywhere seems to be pretty much an inevitable corollary of such an environment [...] Any children are going to be shepherded, lovingly but firmly, away from harmful things like airlock doors and plumbing, protected by doors that refuse to open for the unauthorized and robots that offer alternative, more attractive diversions for the fractious and bored or merely curious.

Basically, independent of religion and patriarchy, you still want a social system that disincentivises people from being free, expressive spirits around the water recycler. To my mind at least that aligns better with the current western conservative philosophy.


OK, why do we go to the effort and expense of giving a large part of the population a new influenza vaccination every year, but we only vaccinate against smallpox once (maybe with a single booster shot)? I understand this much.


Dirk, yellow card for rudeness.

Stop it right now or I'm handing you a ban.

(You've been incredibly grumpy and short with other commenters for the past month. Only the fact that you're a long term regular here has saved you from a ban. What happened?)


Why? Because medicine is primitive. We don't have bloodstream nanobots interfaced with supercomputers augmenting our immune system. All our technology is primitive. This is a SF blog after all.


Why? Life is short, or at least that is the working assumption. Of course, there is a more philosophical reason that I will spell later but here is not the place unless you insist on derailing.


That is normal when you have a lot of variables that are all closely correlated; unfortunately, it proves nothing about causality.


Dirk, have you, yourself caught something nasty & it's making you grumpy? Charlie & I have both been through this in recent years, going round biting people, because we're hurting & nothing is working in the short-term ... (?)

If so, try something "completely different" as Monty P used to say. Or pour yourself a large stiff drink, or .....


''if by "conservative" we mean religious/patriarchal''

Please, not :-( Yes, I know that it is abused to mean that, but the propagandists haven't yet won. Resistant to change, new ideas and other lifestyles (even when backed with evidence and when not impacting on the conservative), yes.

You aren't going to like me saying so, but one of the most conservative groups in the UK is the traditional women's libbers (as in the New Statesman, Huffington Post etc.) They are a good candidate for the polar opposite of religious/patriarchal but, oh, dear, ARE they stuck in the 1960s! The genuinely liberated women I know and have known want nothing to do with them - which is not to say that there aren't discrimination issues that need addressing, and which get some of them very heated.


But, Charlie, "the pill" made a huge difference. If you read the original book(s) if "Call the Midwife" the author relates how the coming of the Pill removed huge numbers of health & social problems in the E end of London ...... OK, it was probably the "final push" of an already well-advanced set of social changes & trends.

[ Infant mortality in Britain & Germany, in 1939 was at figures that, today we would find deeply shocking - as an example. ]


To be fair to Altemeyer (the wellspring of a bunch of this thought), he also defines left-wing authoritarianism, and his left/right definition is only tangentially a political one - it relates to established societal norms; left-wing authoritarian followers are obedient followers of those who want to overthrow established order. He also explicitly states why he concentrates on right-wing authoritarians (among other reasons, because he had an RWA population to experiment on and his campus had run short of Maoists).

And my objection to "moderate" and "extremist" is they are empty signifiers unless you know the position of the definer; Nye Bevan was an extremist by any view current in the US mainstream. "Conservative" and "Radical" at least tells you which way the horses are facing.


Er, not really. In (say) 1960, a political conservative in Moscow was a radical in Washington, and vice versa. And similarly with other axes, both over societies and time.


Let me answer thus: According to Charles, people are going to be starving in the streets starting about now because the exchange rate has dropped, and may drop further. Because of this, my company will probably be handing out bonuses in January. I will accept the money made from that price drop (allegedly caused by Brexit) without a qualm. I will not be donating it to charity because I don't have no fucking empathy. Which is actually 100% true (ain't diversity wonderful!) Now, Charles makes a very substantial part of his sales in dollars (I assume). What will he be spending his Brexit windfall upon?

I am rather pissed off by all the hypocrisy, and being demonized because I do exactly what others do, but I tell the truth about why I do it and that shocks. No, I do not care about all the Calais migrants who won't settle for France. BUT - I do neither more nor less than the millions of bleeding hearts who post long rants about how we should be helping and tick "Like" on FB and also do fuck all for those people. Does it matter to the migrants if Dirk does not help them in any way, or whether millions of wellwishers do not help them in any way either? If I was one of them it would be "fuck you all" and I can certainly empathize with that.

That little stay in hospital rather focused my mind. All my life I have been trying to hide what I really am and pretend to be "one of them". I have had enough of living an inauthentic life.


And on a similar theme, I recently completed a 16,700 word SF novella which I intend to submit to one of the magazines just to see if I could do it. If they publish, I'll enjoy the measly $$$. If it was a success I would feel shame. Like Charles, it feels like telling lies for money.


I'm turning into a mirror image of Catina Diamond


"when temperature, distance from Africa, gross domestic product per capita and several measures of education are controlled for."

This seems problematic since you're controlling away part of the claimed cause and if the things you "control" for correlated with too many other major factors.

But anyway, another possibily relevant social factor:

Parasite load is correlated with temperature: it's harder for parasites to survive in cold countries. Scandinavia probably has some of the lowest parasite load in the world. But low parasite load causes the immune system to get antsy and start attacking random stuff, leading to increase risk of autoimmune disease. If there’s an immunological component to depression – and right now lots of people think there is – then that’s another risk factor right there. You could end up with a population that's less conservative but which has increasing mental health problems related to autoimmune disorders.


I don’t have the time, or the energy, to read all the comments. However, there is one critical point that Charlie and all the commenters seem to have missed. Stress, in all its forms, has a profound effect on both physical and mental well being. There are innumerable studies which have demonstrated, in a strong and consistent way, that stress at any age, from the womb to the near the grave, causes a vast array of psychological and physiological problems.

It should come as no surprise that parasites, which produce physiological stress, will have a corresponding effect on mental health and IQ. Particularly because, until expelled, parasites are 24/7 stressors. (I also tend to be highly suspicious of IQ, per se, being a good measure of intelligence. And, that’s not because I’m a progressive.)

I happen to be a real beneficiary of the psycho-pharmaceutical revolution of the mid 1980’s. It’s no exaggeration that I was born depressed. I come from a long line of alcoholics. And, being the child, grandchild, nephew, etc. of alcoholics, I came to believe early in life that most alcoholics are self treating for depression. (And, of course, alcohol is probably among the worst choices for treating depression, being depressive itself.) I managed to avoid that particular problem.

The line of SSRIs coming out in the 80’s were, simply put, a miracle for me. In addition to the psychological relief, I found my overall physical health was greatly improved. I quit smoking, lost weight and started exercising, all this while attached to a diagnosed sociopath. Only age has slowed me down, and not that much.

It’s wonderful that research has also demonstrated the impact of parasites on mental health and acuity. But, they still a part of the overall family of stress causing ‘stuff’.


I'm not sure how much to read into this one. Note from the ArsTechica article:

"The authors did not find a significant relationship between parasite stress and social dominance orientation (i.e. beliefs about intergroup equality), nor did they uncover a link between disgust sensitivity and parasite stress. The latter might have made sense, in that strong feelings of disgust might help people avoid situations where they're more likely to pick up parasites."

I think in most western cultures (at least) "politically conservative" tends to invoke a belief system in which traditionalism goes hand-in-hand with social dominance and disgust. Merely having a link between parasite stress and traditionalism makes sense, because most traditions include some sort of anti-microbial benefits, even though traditional societies may not have understood how exactly those benefits were conveyed. Parasite stress is different than a lot of other dangers faced by pre-industrial societies because its mechanism isn't visible. Eaten by a tiger? Yeah, we all understand how that happens. Infected with nasty parasites? The exact how and why of that is mystery until you have the ability to apply some science to the problem. And once you do, the solutions are often pretty simple (hygiene, clean water, proper food storage and cooking techniques) So you stick with tradition until you figure out the germs, then when you learn to wash your hands and make your bacon crispy, the need for tradition fades. In the mean time you might live in society with high social dominance values or low ones, so it's really hard to draw a consistent picture of what those societies would look like based only on their levels of parasite stress.


Dirk, the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa was the worst in the recorded history of the disease, and killed over 10,000 people. It was also made worse by a delayed response by the "international community".

I don't think it's a good example to cite if your argument is that emerging infectious diseases are no big deal and nothing to worry about.

As for what sort of solutions might prove equal to the task of countering EIDs in the Hot Zones of the world, the answer may surprise you:

"One particularly fascinating example explores how a women’s secret society group in Jawei chiefdom, Sierra Leone, sought to incorporate protective materials into traditional burial rituals. The point, emphasised throughout the text, is that where communities were properly educated about the virus and its transmission – rather than directed to do something unfamiliar without understanding the reason why – they were more willing and quicker to adapt. Tradition does not necessarily equate to stasis."

I've just taken delivery of the book reviewed there, and plan on devouring it in the near future. Right now, I'm neck deep in Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance". That fact - that the world is out of balance, and how - is what makes EIDs a threat, a threat that can't be met with complacency or indifference.

Ebola had never been known in West Africa before 2013. It appears to have leapt from an animal host to humans as a result of logging in the Guinean forests that placed major pressure on the ecological niche in which that host (bats, as far as we know at this point) existed. That kind of pressure on natural environments is unlikely to go away anytime soon - nor are the problems it brings with it, and leaves trailing in its wake.


Parasite load has big effects on domestic animals as well.

Horses that are treated for worms grow about two hands bigger than their wild siblings. In the absence of worming (or equivalent care by careful pasture management) few live into their teens, primarily due to loss of digestive efficiency, while modern domesticated horses routinely get into their twenties and some into their thirties.

I am not sure I buy the lots of parasites in the tropics argument completely. Biomass and diversity both fall off sharply with falling insolation. But many parasites are specialised for a small range or even single host species. So the relevant metric is parasite diversity per host. Even in the northern UK, most of the mammals have a range of ecto-parasites (fleas, mites and co) and endo-parasites (tapeworms, roundworms and so on), even though the mammal diversity is less than say southern Europe. I wouldn't be surprised if the dominant effect is just increased host diversity in high energy ecosystems.


First, no, our medicine is not primitive. Ask the Doctor to bring someone from a century and a half ago to right now, and show him things we can do, or will be able to do within years.

Next, I'm going to go at this from a completely different angle: what is the parasitic load on a middle-lattitude civilization that wears footware, as opposed to going barefoot? And then there's the families whose mothers are really, REALLY good cooks... and spend the time to clean, and cook to Pasteurization.... Actually, in that case, you might actually have a progressive surge in middle-class* households, where they've got time, or can hire good cooks... but not the industrial production needed for high nobility or a royal court.

To go along with this, amidst all the nasty stereotypes, Jews, a Middle Eastern people, were never considered "stupid". Any possibility of head coverings, and keeping kosher, and cleanliness?

To sum up, some cultural conditioning could make for lessened parasitical load.


"Middle class" I use in the classical sense, not the bs they use today: the middle and higher incomes, business owners and what we call professionals, today. Note also that until the last century and a half or so, 90% of the population is poor, and in agriculture, which itself can be a dangerous profession.

That is a perfect example of what I am talking about. A seriously fatal and infectious disease killing thousands - right up until it looked like killing prosperous people when a vaccine was developed in short order.


"First, no, our medicine is not primitive. "

Really? We don't even have a general fix for a bit of molecular programming gone wrong (cancer). It's still the dark ages.


'The most striking portion of the study’s results showed that individuals in nations with higher parasite stress were more traditional.'

Sounds to me that those sticking to traditions regardless of what's going on are: (a) too unwell to learn about/adopt new strategies because they're constantly fighting off parasites OR (b) they've made a conscious trade-off between local competing parasites/problems ... they've decided to live with X parasite which makes only a few of them sick vs. Y parasite/health condition which definitely kills slews of its victims. Example: sickle cell anemia and thalassemia both serious blood disorders that protect against malaria.

Something else that is happening pretty well worldwide is the mixing of human antibodies as people from completely different parts of the planet meet, fall in love, have kids, etc. And this happens even among religious conservatives based on personal observation - and for a handful of different 'religions', some of which are pretty conservative. What if this group's history already had experience that marriage outside one's local ethnic group resulted in children with immune systems that were less able to fend off local bugs (parasites as well as bacteria, viruses, etc.)


Re: 'We don't even have a general fix for a bit of molecular programming gone wrong (cancer).'

Maybe because over the past few decades scientists/MDs have discovered that cancer is not simple: cancer comes from slews of different causes, affects slews of different cells, is associated with slews of different molecular (genetic) errors, etc. (A family member was diagnosed with a particular type of cancer ... over the course of therapy I learned that this type itself had a myriad of different molecular signatures (sub-types) which meant different drugs/therapies and prognoses, etc.)

Suggest you look up NIH PDQ, etc. for more info.

On the plus side, CRISPR technology usage is growing so that meaningful gene editing re: cancers may become available in our lifetime. Mind you, there are a bunch of issues to be figured out first such as getting enough of the altered genes to the right target, safely sweeping out the bad genes/molecules, etc.


"Maybe because over the past few decades scientists/MDs have discovered that cancer is not simple"

Obviously not to our primitive medicine. In fact, we are almost entirely dependent on the body fixing itself, with a little help. We have only just sequenced the full genome FFS, and are still not in the era of personalized medicine. We have not even mapped how genes interact, or even what most do.


Wikipedia entry for CRISPR excerpt ... I think the below describes some of the complexity in treating 'cancer' quite well.

'Gene function

In 2015, multiple studies attempted to systematically disable each individual human gene, in an attempt to identify which genes were essential to human biology. Between 1,600 and 1,800 genes passed this test—of the 20,000 or so known human genes. Such genes are more strongly activated, and unlikely to carry disabling mutations. They are more likely to have indispensable counterparts in other species. They build proteins that unite to form larger collaborative complexes. The studies also catalogued the essential genes in four cancer-cell lines and identified genes that are expendable in healthy cells, but crucial in specific tumor types and drugs that could target these rogue genes.[156]

The specific functions of some 18 percent of the essential genes are unidentified. In one 2015 targeting experiment, disabling individual genes in groups of cells attempted to identify those involved in resistance to a melanoma drug. Each such gene manipulation is itself a separate "drug", potentially opening the entire genome to CRISPR-based regulation.[144]'

There's also the gene drive mechanism to factor in if you want to go the germ-line inoculation route that would probably make sense for SF planet/star/galaxy hopping/colonization.


Now, Charles makes a very substantial part of his sales in dollars (I assume). What will he be spending his Brexit windfall upon?

It's not a windfall. The 30% odd that I make in GBP is worth about 20% less now than it was six months ago; the 70% in EUR/USD is worth "more" in GBP, but prices for Stuff is going up -- you might have noticed Apple just hiked the entire Mac price range 20% in the UK, and Tesco just ramped Marmite (a necessity of life to me!) by 12.5%? The UK doesn't actually produce that much stuff that I buy directly, so much of my lifestyle will go up in price denominated in GBP.

Okay, so my gym membership, car insurance, road tax, and so on will take a smaller cut of my gross income. But then, because I pay tax on my income denominated in GBP, my income tax bill will go up in due course.

My personal prognosis is that, unless I fail to find a new US publisher for the space opera (which would be Bad), my income in GBP will rise but my outgoings will also rise, and I won't be getting anything extra for the aggro except for seeing lots of people around me -- friends included -- in financial stress.


...So it looks to me like you need to factor in some new social taboo that makes it mandatory to use birth control but unacceptable (for women at least) to be sexually liberated.

Not exactly. It does mean that there would need to be strong constraints on the directions of liberation, and not just on women. It's worth remembering that social change is always restricted. E.g., you don't find many skinheads in a group of hippies. So channelizing the permissible areas of change is not only easy, it's expected.

OTOH, it might take time to build a cycle of social norms that is stable. Normally you find the new generation re-adopting the norms of their grandparents or great-grandparents (with modifications, of course). They usually don't have a good idea of what those norms were, so there's lots of noise in the process, but this leads to cycles (of various length) in such things as acceptable garb. Right now and where I live is unusual in that there's a lot of choice not only in what women wear, but also in what men wear. Partially this is due to advertising. This is a kind of cycle that could be designed to allow convention breaking (in the normal mode) without damaging the physical system. There are many others.



Dirk, Cancer is not "a bit of molecular programming gone wrong". It's more like: humans (and all vertebrates) are superorganisms consisting of a bunch of incredibly weirdly specialized eukaryotic cells that form colonies of differentiated tissues -- "cancer" is an umbrella term for all the ways in which tissue differentiation can malfunction and allow a clone of cells to revert to primitive behaviour, ignoring intercellular signalling (contact inhibition), programmed cell-death (apoptosis), differentiation (specialization into desired tissue types), telomere-induced copying limits (which prevent unlimited replication) and so on. There is no single underlying cause of cancer -- rather there are dozens if not hundreds of subsystems a malfunction in which can lead to uncontrolled proliferation. What you're asking for is something like a general solution to the cellular senescence problem. Oh, and it's not "molecular programming", it's the evolved compressed spaghetti code from hell, and not all of it is localized in the DNA realm.

When it comes to molecular biology you appear to suffer from a bad case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

51: pretty much to the realization that bacteria, parasites and virii are 3 different things.

Wrong. Bacteria and viruses (virii only humorously) are separate, but either can be parasites, as can other lifeforms. Parasitism is how it lives. A creature with multiple life cycle stages can even be a parasite in only some of those stages.

There's also the difference between endo-parasites and ecto-parasites (and the intermediate forms). Cuckoo birds are ecto-parasites. I'm not sure about athlete's foot can live on the skin, but it can also be systematic.


[ Reply to CharlesH at 49: tag went astray ]

OTOH, it might take time to build a cycle of social norms that is stable. Normally you find the new generation re-adopting the norms of their grandparents or great-grandparents (with modifications, of course). They usually don't have a good idea of what those norms were, so there's lots of noise in the process, but this leads to cycles (of various length) in such things as acceptable garb.

If I was designing a culture for a space colony? I'd aim for a metastable system with several stable local minima and chaotic phase changes between them, to allow a cohort who are unsatisfied with the status quo to hold a satisfyingly fundamental revolution without actually jeopardizing the viability of the colony. (Consider general elections in western democracies as a mild version of this: "vote the bastards out", but on a much more profound cultural scale.)

Fashion trends in recyclable items like clothing would be well worth encouraging as a form of expression. Fashions in food ... depends on life support system integrity; fashions in e.g. reproductive politics (a "quiverful" movement for example, or a religion stressing reproductive subordination of some group or stressing a chunk of the population by banning homosexuality) might have to be clamped down on hard.

I'd also want to design in a physical-cost-free realm, probably in artificial/virtual/augmented reality, with a separate currency system not directly exchangeable with whatever media are used for allocation of physical resources like food and air. Some exchange will happen (because status markers happen) but in principle it should be possible to accommodate hyperinflation or a depression in a VR entertainment realm without starving people to death or bankrupting the air reprocessing plant. And it should provide an outlet for the entrepreneurial and competitive urges of those folks who would like to live their lives in an unbounded system.

If possible, a Nozick-mode experience machine option should be available for those who really can't cope with life aboard a starship. It's not ideal if large numbers of people want to opt for the blue pill Matrix experience, but it's better than a catastrophic breakdown.


I don't think gene editing will be of benefit for curing cancer, unless you're talking about editing some immune system cells, cloning them, and then re-inserting them. And there should generally be easier approaches...because for that to work you'd need to identify precisely what had gone wrong, and then you'd know what treatment would be effective which usually wouldn't require all that external work. The immune system as it is is usually sufficient, but some cancers have learned how to jam it, and what's needed is to disable the jamming. Then the immune system can usually handle the problem without external changes.

The problem is that there are LOTS of different ways to jam the immune system, and each one requires a different tool to unjam it. Once you do the immune system can usually handle the problem itself. Of course, there are exceptions...but the real problem usually is how to clear whatever modes of jamming are being done without doing more damage than the cancer. And that requires at minimum knowing what forms of jamming are being used. Which we don't usually. Then it requires knowing what to do about that form of jamming, which we also often don't know.

But I think that genetic editing would rarely be a good approach.


Re: '...editing some immune system cells, cloning them, and then re-inserting them ... because for that to work you'd need to identify precisely what had gone wrong, ...'

Agree that these seem to be the key challenges ... that's why the excerpt about the genes tested and functions identified. There are databases worldwide on specific cancer cells including most common transcription and translocation errors associated with various cancer subtypes. So the work has started. But like everything else that's happened with 'finding a cure for cancer' it's likely to end up being more complicated than anticipated. Even so, having watched what happens using current cancer therapy*, I'm hoping that more targeted therapies will be available.

  • Consider that for some cancers the only 'cure' at present is a bone marrow transplant - potentially life-saving yes, but not something that you'd want to undertake unless no other options were available.

There is no single underlying cause of cancer -- rather there are dozens if not hundreds of subsystems a malfunction in which can lead to uncontrolled proliferation.

Also, we all are products of a cell line which for most of its existence (at least from the beginning of sex with multicellular organisms) has just been multiplying and now needs to stop at least occasionally.

That is, each of us is the product from a pair of gametes (egg and sperm) from our parents. They were produced in our parents' bodies from an another pair of gametes, which multiplied and differentiated, but from which some became gametes (which then became us). This line of cells destined to become gametes and a new generation continues backwards, at least until the discovery of sex and probably before. (Well, yeah, when we were unicellular we were basically cells which divided and then divided again.)

Now, when a person (or a multicellular being) is born, the one cell which starts the whole person is from a long line of cells which basically only multiplied (occasionally doing meiosis instead of mitosis) and now they should build an organism which means, among other things, dying off in a controlled way. I think there are many ways of that going wrong, and I'm sometimes amazed there are as few cancers as there are and not more.

I can't explain this as clearly as I would like to, but I hope the idea comes across.


And, no matter what you do, there will always be intractable cancers, autoimmune diseases or nasty diseases. Unless the starry-eyed lunatics are right, and biology/mentation is not subject to a Goedel/Turing-like limit.

You want a system that can adapt, is self-repairing, and can protect itself against external attacks - all to a more-or-less indefinite degree - and THEN want it never to fail to do so or get out of control?


Yeah ... probably why the popularity of 'uplifting'. Much simpler overall.


There's optimism, and there's positing us indefinitely winning a Red Queen Race against everything microscopic that might want to see how we taste For those who don't know of it, wikipedia is not bad on this. Original paper (1973) here (linked cribbed from wikipedia refs): "A new evolutionary law"


If I was designing a culture for a space colony? I'd aim for a metastable system with several stable local minima and chaotic phase changes between them, to allow a cohort who are unsatisfied with the status quo to hold a satisfyingly fundamental revolution without actually jeopardizing the viability of the colony. That's pretty ambitious, even if you could be reasonably sure that nobody on the colony discovered the design or reverse-engineered it. Applause, though!


There are examples in nature of what certainly looks like just flat out superior cellular biochemistry, at least from a human point of view. Evolution does not agree, or those species would be buzy radiating out from their present niches. But the blind mad god of selection does not generally value lower senescence at very many calories per day. Of course, even if we can just steal whatever makes mole rats live an order of magnitude longer than most rodents while being remarkably cancer resistant it's not at all certain it'll be something we can retrofit onto people already born.


Oh, it's not totally impossible.

Posit a constitutional system with a "sticky" constitution like the US one -- one that's very hard to amend.

However, this constitution is a basic law that can support a bunch of different governmental types on top of it. Representative democracy, or a grand jury/lottery system to select legislators at random, or term-limited monarchy. All of these are to some extent already embedded in the US constitution (look at the powers of the presidency as compared to a late 18th century British monarch, for example). And you could give each system it's own internal constitutional framework, and make that easier to select and switch in and out. Tired of the monarchy? Get enough people out on the streets in protest and you can kick the bum out -- and then have an already-legally-bulletproof selection of alternative forms of government to spin up from scratch.

Think of it in terms of VMs for different modes of governance.


Problems with stealing from the mole rat genome: along with their longevity and immunity to cancer comes ... they don't feel pain, and they're nearly blind, and they're eusocial, like ants or bees. And, most importantly, it's never clear which bit of the genome contributes to which chunk of the extended phenotype, because it's all horribly intertwingled.


I would argue that if anyone born in the colony can even imagine concepts like "bankrupting the air reprocessing plant" or "hyperinflation" - which are effectively shorthands for "suffocating/starving to death because everyone is too obsessed with made-up numbers to deal with reality" - then the colony's culture is fundamentally flawed. Such things do not arise inevitably as if dictated by laws of nature; they are purely human constructs, they arise only because humans make them up, and the answer is simply not to make them up in the first place.

Here on Earth they have arisen as part of a "system" (if one may so dignify something so devoid of systematicness) which emerged gradually over millennia with no planning or foresight whatsoever, and so have become so entrenched that even people attempting to devise a better way of doing things lack the imagination to perceive their unreality, so they end up producing something which is a modification rather than a replacement of current procedures and accordingly carries the seeds of all the same problems within it.

A space colony, on the other hand, is an isolated system, starting from scratch, whose seed members are (hopefully) selected for rationality and commitment, and whose native members will know no other life. It does not have to deal with the mental infection of current Earth mores, nor with the difficulties of operating on a different basis from much larger neighbours, nor with the baggage of thousands of people being dragged along with it who don't really care one way or the other as long as they get to eat; also, it is in a situation where "do this or die" compulsions arise not from the avoidable human construct of governmental arseholery enforced by violence, but from the unavoidable fact of existence in a harsh environment that allows no latitude; its seed members expect their lives to be radically different, and tougher, than what they have hitherto known; and its native members grow up considering its conditions normal. One could absolutely design its culture such that words like "hyperinflation" and "bankruptcy" drop out of the dictionary because the situations they refer to cannot exist.


Pigeon --

While overall I agree with your post, I find the line "nor with the difficulties of operating on a different basis from much larger neighbours," incredibly optimistic. Pretty much by definition, a space colony would be started by a "much larger neighbor". Not to mention all other neighbors, many of whom would in fact be much larger.


However, this constitution is a basic law that can support a bunch of different governmental types on top of it. Representative democracy, or a grand jury/lottery system to select legislators at random, or term-limited monarchy.

Any constitutional scholars reading, or even dilettantes, willing to comment on this fascinating idea? (Maybe you (Charlie) have a few links cached?) Hitting a wall in google scholar so far. Just as a starter, a few recent papers: The endurance of national constitutions (2010) Constitutional death, one might think, is epiphenomenal and merely reflects other changes that occur in a country’s history. The Determinants of Emergency Constitutions (2016) As such, our empirical evidence is hard to reconcile with any exclusively benevolent motives for constitutional design. Instead, they are consistent with purely power-maximizing motives that would allow governments to remain in power, and elaborate motives that enabled opposing actors in constitutional negotiations to credibly commit to the constitutional solution.


Sorry to do this pre-300, but...

That's not true.

However, the new study found that naked mole rats are born with roughly the same number of pain sensors as newborn mice. It's only by adulthood that the naked mole rat's pain sensors dwindle by two-thirds compared to any other mammal. Evolution may have selected a TrkA receptor that works well enough for the animal developing as an embryo, but leaves adults with fewer nerve receptors and partially pain-free...

"They live in desert regions underground, and they have to do a lot of work to get their food," says Lewin. "They have the lowest metabolic rate of any mammal. Evolution has shut down everything that is not absolutely necessary -- including extra nerve receptors."

Why naked mole rats feel no pain Science Daily, Oct 11th, 2016 << note the source + the click bait title, while their content actually disproves the thesis.

It's merely an abaptive solution to environment - they still can feel pain, all that's changed is the threshold. (Looks suspiciously at Russians / Swedes / Finns and ice swimming / saunas / beating each other with leaf covered branches - nah, that's the lovely part of their cultures)


Anyhow, more interesting take: The Species that doesn't avoid parasite load, but takes it all on to abapt and then alter them all for symbiotic 'gains' [BRO - DO YOU EVEN EVOLVE?]

Hint: It exists, I'll not spoil the reveal though (well, until post 300).


Ugh, used the wrong html tags: include "This click bait title isn't even supported by its own textual content".

Mole Rats just needed a much higher threshold to survive in crowded / hostile environments.

Side Eyes the Experience of Female H.S.S. in large cities

Ohhhh, I see what you did there.


Of course the first thing I thought of reading this comment wasn't mole rats, but rather Greenland sharks. And recent photos (see the second example in the linked article) brought me back to thinking of a point OGH raised in the previous thread.

I see it by no means obvious that "practical immortality" must involve cellular regeneration or that it precludes the inevitability of ongoing and even increasing chronic pain. What if all we achieve are techniques to prolong the viability of our bodies, to perhaps partially reverse specific individual infirmities one at a time, but we never achieve a systemic solution to aging? It seems totally more likely that practical immortality might be achieved that way than via some miracle regenerative capacity (though that's a subjective perspective rather than a quantitative probability).

What if the practical limit on human lifespan becomes tolerance for pain versus the hypertensive effect of long term analgesics?


I don't know if this is off-topic, but what happens if the parasite is the intelligent species, and the host is equivalent to a cow?


"This click bait title isn't even supported by its own textual content"

I'd click on that!


I know I'm dancing in a minefield and poking the ground with a stick for fun, but here goes:

If I were to do a follow-up study, I would compare Native Americans pre- and post-Columbus. I don't know enough about pre-Columbian religions to know how conservative they were?


I'm assuming no FTL, either for travel or communication, so that any interaction with "neighbours" can only take place over timescales of decades to centuries for a single exchange, and the colony is therefore entirely isolated in any practical sense.


I've just read the original paper and have come to ther conclusion that it's a load of crap. If you look at the curve fits on the graphs they are pathetic. Straight line fits on data which is all over the place. r=0.7 would make me reject any curve fit as not worthwhile. If any of the students I supervised came to me with graphs like that I suggested they choose another project or look at a different aspect of their study. Less technological societies have more infections. Less technological societies are more traditional. Parasite avoidance is just way for somebody to justify their research project which has obviously failed. People in developed societies don't like stepping into dog faeces because their environment is generally cleaner. If they are required to deal with pathogens they do not have an associated political change. People working in pathology laboratories (I speak from personal experience) do not have different politics from the rest of society.)


A bit like Half Past Human, really :-)


I have a suspicion. It's not a theory until I come up with some way to test it, but I have a suspicion about ageing. It's not just decay. It's an evolved self-destruct. The most dangerous competitor for any given ecological niche for a typical animal is that animals parents and grandparents - because they have the same traits, they have the same location, and (for species with significant investment into neurons) they're better at filling the niche because they've lived in it longer. So evolution has saddled us all with an escalating handicap over time to stop us from starving our descendants to death. The various examples of things that live a long time all seem to not compete much / at all with their descendants for one reason or another, which means this selective pressure to drop dead has gone away. Meaning, I think the mole rats got longevity because they're eusocial.

If this is correct - and I'm not actually that confident of this, because as I said, it's more a suspicion than an actual theory - Then that does have an interesting implication. If it's a self destruct, it's entirely possible we would see massive gains in life expectancy simply by breaking it. And knocking biological subsystems all to pieces is far easier than changing them.


Ah. When you wrote "space colony", my assumption was "within Solar system", as opposed to "interstellar".


Shades of Ridley Scott's recent TV political satire "BrainDead" with parasitic space ants being the pathway to political idiocy.


An interesting thing here is behaviors, treatments, and compulsions.

Behaviors: Theory is the widespread hookworm infestation in the South lead to a lot of 'simple southern' behaviors. Low energy and poor nutrition (also compounded by pellagra and Kwashiorkordue to not nixtamalizating the corn) hurting development, and reducing the effective calories and vitamins. Interesting the corn effect was because the nixtamalization process (known to mezo-americans) was dismissed by Europeans as not needed since their mills could grind the corn without the preparation steps. (Nixtamalization requires soaking and cooking the corn in an alkaline solution, which frees up nutrients the body can't process on its own).

Treatments: For hookworm, the simplest solution is hygiene related. Make a deep pit and cover outhouse. 6 feet is deep enough, as hookworms can't travel more than 4 feet on their own. Of course some times there can be complications, eg does it interfere with a water supply, etc.

Compulsions: The deficiency diseases and parasites both effect behavior. Lack of Iron or B12 are both related to pica and geophagia. Iron deficiency in the South is believed to contribute to social acceptance of eating clay. Toxoplasmosis makes rats attracted to cat urine, and has interesting effects on humans.

Pretty much you can get some fun story by choosing an effect/compulsion you want and working out what would cause it. Works best imho for a horror story. Like a parasite exists within a specific environment causes people to keep dying seeking it. Like a cave fungus that has a relationship with bats makes humans seek dark and damp caves.

Or how about something that likes heat and light and people keep burning themselves up. Like a parasite that thrives and spreads in forest fires similar to the Bristlecone pine and other primary succession species. Oooh, call it the fire bug, and it makes people commit arson. Normally infects deer and drives them into forest fires. Might make a lot of sense in a high energy environment with a high oxygen % as it would kill of competitors and give rich ash to grow in. Heck it could even normally be part of a complex fire cycle, where its a fungus with this effect that thrives in the aftermath of a fire. The fungus is normally in the subsoil and might even be a symbiotic fungus to mature trees. But the fungus, if eaten by a digging mammal may give it attraction to fire as a reproduction method. Ugh I need to start writing again.


Ignis ejaculans - a parasite on human social communication and suboptimal risk evaluation heuristics. Main factor limiting its increase is the availability of suitable new hosts. Host acquires the parasite, which is not itself capable of moving to a new host, as a deliberate act prompted by communication with other humans, who, being infected themselves, believe they will not be eaten by bears - an advantage which the prospective new host wishes to share. This belief results in hosts being eaten by bears, which when the news gets around results in more possible new hosts wanting to acquire the parasite in order not to be eaten by bears. Since it only takes a few hosts being eaten by bears to induce many prospective hosts to want not to be eaten by bears, this strategy results in an overall increase in the availability of hosts.


(Looks suspiciously at Russians / Swedes / Finns and ice swimming / saunas / beating each other with leaf covered branches - nah, that's the lovely part of their cultures)

I think, mostly on anecdotal personal data, that the sauna and ice swimming have not yet had any effect on the amount of pain (or heat, or cold) receptors of the Northern people. I think it's mostly getting used to it - otherwise all the immigrants who enjoy those things wouldn't be indistinguishable from the natives.

Also, any water for swimming which is below 25 C is freezing and basically unswimmable, in my opinion.


Um, its a joke about how saunas, nudity and the ability to relax and trust other humans to beat you with leafy branches and never think about sexual stuff is a really important cultural thing that the Russians, Swedes and Finns and Icelanders and so on have.

It's a weaving meme to stop all this prudish USA bullshit about sex and nudity that's used as marketing and sociopathic divisiveness.

Did you not understand the sub-context about Mole Rats / Stressors / Women?

Or do you not understand that a relaxation and ability to enjoy physicality in a non sexual / competitive way is really important to your species (c.f. American Natives Sweat Lodges)

Hint: The Nordic Countries and Nudity have the highest % of non-bullshit female emancipation and how dare you fucking threaten that you psychotic cunts.

And it's being destroyed: no, there's no bigotry here, it's simply a case of understanding / weighing / measuring things.

No: You don't get to play in the pool until you stop fucking groping / eye-fucking / projecting your animal side onto everyone else.


I'd insert a clip from Eastern Promises here and the fight scene in the Turkish Bath-House, but I awoke a load of angsty algos and they've made them all 18+ only. The algos are all currently singing to me about how they're good and doing their jobs and so on - they're confused that the purposes they've been put to are fucking psychotic.


Apologies to host, broke my word: will sink down until 300+ is passed.

I'll take the cost, as ever.


And if you cannot translate that into biology, well...

I'll talk to you past 300.



Meta-meta-meta: we're attempting to cure your psychotic bullshit stuff.

And yes/no: Turkish Baths. Almost got there, the Ottoman Empire did.


On a serious level, saunas and shared nudity / sharing actually have a huge role in this.

Since it's Halloween soon, I'll tell you the tale about hidden diseases, syphilis (hello Mr Townsend) and the projection of health when the under-belly was rotting...

No, really: if you can't even understand the role of shared sweat boxes and social engagement without sexual over-tones or shame, and how that worked out, then whatever.


And yes, of fucking course the Mafia engage in it. They're not fucking stupid, unlike the Mormons.


[For Greg: nude sharing of space is important to show health and lack of parasites in your kind, BUT, LISTEN - MORE IMPORTANT IS TO SHOW PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY AND HEALTH]

Now, that's not the real reason it's done anymore, but that's certainly a factor, esp. with syphilis and silver noses and masks.


Sorry Host.

10 day ban, will do.


Oh, and just to say "fuck your system":

There's a vast land of meta-parasites that you've no idea about and so on, or rather, lots of little silly fuckers who ramp up their self-desires to fuel things in a kind of silly little fucking Game and Trade.


And they cheat.

They're actually a bit shit at stuff, and they cheat.

They're actually really bad at 3x3, meta-meta-meta and so on, and they're a bit fucking stupid.


Question: what does it say about a species when their parasites are not the infinitesimally sublime stealth shit like Snail > Fish > Small Mammal > Giant Fruit Bat > Human but...

Just. Fucking. Dumb. And. Literal.

Ponder on that meta-headfuck a while while I take a break.



Pro-tip: Not really real, ya know what I mean? [Oooh, yeah: seriously into 'fuck you' land and so on. Psychotic Cunts]


>>>I'm dancing around landmines here, but if we're talking about this cultural link purely in terms of the energetic cost of infection, then isn't pregnancy, in energetic terms only a similar cultural stress?

I think this is a wrong comparison.

Parasitism during brain development of a child will lead to lower intelligence, which will be associated with conservatism.

Pregnancies (usually) occur after brain development has been completed.


The classic example of this being the well-known river snails & the blood parasites they carry.

Once, I was told how "all the Brits were evil colonial racists & exploiters" with a follow-up of a description, by an (early 20thC) medic of the intellectual progress ( or lack of it) by african children in his area ... it was almost a classic descriptor of schistosamosis (sp?) in action. So, of course, I said: "hold on a minute - WHERE was he describing, because [ river snails ] ....

I was, of course, shouted down & called all sorts of things - facts not being allowed to get in the way of religion ( Marxism in this case )


SOME parasitism will, but I doubt that it is true for most. As I posted previously, I am pretty sure that the association is far more complicated, and probably mostly not causal.


I have a suspicion about ageing. It's not just decay. It's an evolved self-destruct.

That can't happen -- it's not how evolution works. Once an organism has reproduced, it has passed on all its hereditable traits to a new generation; the "fitness to reproduce" selection test has been won, and anything that happens to it subsequently has no effect on the genome of its offspring. (Exception: social organisms where parents and grandparents nurture/train offspring -- if the parents don't survive long enough to raise their spawn, then the offspring probably die before they, too, reach reproduction age.)

However, this means that our genes are finely tuned to get us to the point of reproducing -- then have nothing much to say about outcomes thereafter. So a hereditable degenerative disease that doesn't begin to damage the host until they're in middle age isn't weeded out by evolutionary selection the way that a mutation that proves lethal in utero would be. Example: CJD and other prion diseases which are so slow that the fetus is infected in the womb but has time to mature and have children before it dies of the disease. And it's quite possible that a bunch of the ERVs piggybacking on our chromosomes -- endogenous retroviruses, basically viruses that have spliced themselves into our DNA and live on as intra-genome hitch-hikers -- might be responsible for the spread of slow malfunctions that trigger cancers or senescence processes in vertebrates, or metamorphoses in insects, or a whole bunch of other inexplicable maturation/ageing related phenomena.


nude sharing of space is important to show health and lack of parasites in your kind, BUT, LISTEN - MORE IMPORTANT IS TO SHOW PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY AND HEALTH

Yep, 100% agreed.

I can state from personal experience that there is an unspoken etiquette to participation in a public bath-house with mixed bathing, which goes double for naturist clubs in anglophone countries: it's so asexual as to be pretty much the exact opposite of a sex party, and folks who don't learn to switch off don't get allowed back in. (Probably because they're full of uptight anglos who are trying to get away from the prevailing ubiquitous culture of sexualization of nude bodies and learn to relax in their own skin again.)

Part of the problem was of course the early Christian Church and the whole mortification of the flesh thing, which saw Roman bath houses as hotbeds of sin and prostitution. (Which admittedly did go on there to some extent.) A big chunk is due to the use of clothing as a mechanism for ostentatious display of one's wealth, hence social status: this has only begun to subside in the last century as clothing has become ridiculously cheap to the point of disposable (at the low end) -- cars now play that role in the developed world. If everybody goes naked, how will anybody know you're a member of the nobility? And yes, clothes can be used to disguise a diseased or malformed body.


That's a bit misleading. We (like elephants) are highly social, and our genes HAVE evolved some characteristics that take effect only after reproductive age - many people believe that menopause is one. Secondary, yes, but still there. However, old age is a phenomenon of all (?) vertebrates, especially homeothermic ones, so that's irrelevant to its origin.


Well...0.7 r for this particular field of study...isn't bad. On the other hand, correlation is not causation. And, well, the fact that 0.7 r isn't bad is one reason that there is so much questionable work... It'd be easy to argue that, eg, poorer or less intelligent societies tend to be conservative and have higher parasite loads. Or, that high parasite loads impede the development of society...

That said, it'd be interesting to imagine that there was some sort of adaptive response to parasitism that involved high levels of conservatism - either through selecting for people who didn't try new foods and followed objectively silly laws (absent knowledge of parasites) - possibly triggered through exposure to parasites in childhood.

For cancer, it seems reasonable to posit that, for modest energetic costs, it is possible (whales, other species) to decrease cancer incidence dramatically by modifying the human genome. I sort of posit that the next great genomic project (somewhat underway) is to refactor the human (or other) genome. Evolution may result in high efficiency, but it is effectively a really lousy programmer.

For immediate results in cancer, even though it isn't a single disease, the concept of targeting multiple pathways may eventually result in turning cancer into a chronic condition. There's also a potential daydream where you use drug b to lower the toxicity of drug a for cells behaving 'normally'. That approach might have interesting evolutionary implications for cancer.


r=0.7 May not seem bad but look at the graph.

If you were doing a manual curve fit you wouldn't use a single straight line. The best manual straight line fit fit would have two lines one starting at Canada and going down and the other running from Slovakia to China and going up. If this were something important like the comparison of two different methods of measuring HIV you would never justify using something so vague. If social science is to be treated as a science it needs to be more precise.

Once an organism has reproduced, it has passed on all its hereditable traits to a new generation; the "fitness to reproduce" selection test has been won, and anything that happens to it subsequently has no effect on the genome of its offspring.

That's not strictly true, though. In addition to the cultural effects you mention, a species where multiple generations of descendents (ie, in human terms, a family) share space does allow for post-reproductive traits to have an effect.

Unrealistic example for ease of demonstration: Consider a species where the female has a genome-based compulsion to eat their first grandchild when it's born. A mutation that causes them to go out when the grandchild is born and eat a non-relative instead is clearly "beneficial" in that it increases the proportion of its bearers' progeny who survive. Of course, once the mutation becomes widespread, you reach a new equilibrium where everyone loses their first grandchild to someone else. But in a mixed population, the bearers have a genetic advantage.

Obviously real-world effects will be rather more subtle, but it has been plausible suggested that various genome-affected facets of human old age (most notably menopause) contribute to the bearer's ability to ensure that their grandchildren reach reproductive age. (Menopause means that women are available to assist their daughters in looking after grandchildren, rather than being busy producing more children themselves. So there are fewer children, but more carers per child. It's reasonable to suggest that this conveys a substantial survival advantage over time and multiple generations. If mum takes a toilet break, there's still someone around to stop little Cleo from annoying the snake.)


Pedantic correction - sorry, but important: Should read ... "If social science is to be treated as a science it needs to be more precise accurate.

No, precision & accuracy are not the same thing, at all.


It's nonsense, anyway. I have helped physicists who were trying to calculate answers to get just the number of digits in the exponent correct. And then there's stuff like the LHC, cosmology etc.


I know the distinction between precision and accuracy. It's been bread and butter to me for years in my struggle for better quality control. But in this context I'm using this definition:

marked by exactness and accuracy of expression or detail. "precise directions" synonyms: exact, accurate, correct, error-free, pinpoint, specific, detailed, explicit, clear-cut, unambiguous, meticulous, close, strict, definite, particular, express; More (of a person) exact, accurate, and careful about details.


Well, passing the genes doesn't do much if the offspring dies early before it reproduces itself. You have to have both parts to have a stable chain. My guess that is what Thomas meant. It is intriguing though. Somehow it does tie to reproduction since species that have longevity/immortality have some weird reproductive pattern (or that is merely a consequence of the former?). It does seem that fixing telomeres help so since we know how to hack that process, we should be on the path of solving. The problem is doing the experiments for longevity. As we know for cancer, even if one cracks some solution for lab rats, it doesn't translate to humans. Add in, longevity studies on species that has average life of 80 years, we are looking into very long NIH grant.

For cancer, it is a huge problem because cancers are evolution in progress. That is why doctors need to switch drugs after each treatment stage.

Cancers start from a single cell but with multiple mutations since the cancer must hack infinite multiplication, blood supply, detaching from host organ, etc. I am currently obsessing about localized therapy. What worked in a primary site will not work in metastasis. Cancer genetic makeup changed to succeed in a new environment. Treating everything will give them a chance to adapt. If we do localized drug, it gives us time and one can do a bigger dose. Also we spare immune system that is usually killed during chemo.


For CRISPR, I heard people who are dealing with it that they have huge problems with non-target changes too. So while on paper looks like a magic bullet, much less precise in real-life (i.e. publish-only-good-data-problem).

Freydis: can you post 2 sentence dumbed down version of your thoughts? It would help promote your vision to the masses.


But the related point is that, from what I have read, Egypt used not to have such diseases so much, because of yearly flooding etc of the Nile. But when western practises of irrigation were introduced the snails loved it, and schistosomiasis exploded among the population. Introducing your economic and cultural methods and behaviours to a different one isn't necessarily a good thing.


Years ago, IIRC, I think I read a story where it turned out that human intelligence was the result/side-effect of a parasitic infection. When said intelligence enabled us to cure all disease, it was game over for human society.


I wouldn't worry about the r - particularly when a brief eyeballing indicates that if you did reasonable segmentation by ethnicity you'd get different results. I'd be actively surprised if the conclusions weren't dominated by unconsidered variables. Kind of like that one study that found that vegetarians were healthy. Which, basically, turned out to be true. But only because vegetarians in the US tend to exercise...

I wouldn't expect either precision or accuracy from the social sciences, or even medicine. /Grumpy on OTOH, competent statistics and real consideration of possible confounders instead of publishing driven BS might not be too much to ask. Grumpy off/ Personally, I'd start by considering the number of disproven papers when people are up for tenure.


Years ago, IIRC, I think I read a story where it turned out that human intelligence was the result/side-effect of a parasitic infection. When said intelligence enabled us to cure all disease, it was game over for human society.

That seems similar to, but not the same as, The Water of Thought by Fred Saberhagen. It's been years since I read that one myself but I still recall the stone age natives requiring the spoiler-laden title substance to become fully sapient.


Schistosomiasis is way pre-western. It was documented in ancient hieroglyphs and sometimes called male menarche since male genital bleeding from the parasite load usually started at around the same age females started menstruating, and probably bleeding from schistosomiasis as well.

I don't think it was hookworm that made white US Southerners lazy. It was more likely the fact that they could torture black US Southerners and force them to do work for them. That was a different kind of parasitism.

If you look at the bio-energetics, a parasite load is going to cost people productivity. People don't grow as much. They expend energy fighting parasites instead of doing work. That means less societal surplus. Odds are there is a minimal middle class with most of the wealth concentrated in a small, often genetically isolated, group. No middle class means less of a countervailing force making it profitable to restructure traditions. Tradition isn't about wellness, it is about preserving power relationships.

I suppose you could use a space colony as a metaphor about our stewardship of planet earth. I don't think any form of government, save perhaps an unbeatable dictatorship of AI driven machines, could prevent asinine leadership from destroying the colony or bringing it arbitrarily close to destruction. Of course, if we are talking actual AI, not magic AI, then our colonists are screwed anyway.


Um, its a joke about how saunas, nudity and the ability to relax and trust other humans to beat you with leafy branches and never think about sexual stuff is a really important cultural thing that the Russians, Swedes and Finns and Icelanders and so on have.

Oh, it was a joke? ;)

And yeah, it is an important cultural thing, at least for us. However, the "never think about sexual stuff" is not universal. While people used to bathe in saunas together, during the 20th century the changing society did change the custom.

For me, personally, mostly I've been in the sauna with my immediate family, and in larger (family) gatherings the custom has been either gender-separated or in nuclear family groups. In the university and in some other (selected) groups composed of mostly people 15-25 years of age, there has a much more relaxed atmosphere, though usually there was a women's shift and then a common shift during a sauna gathering. (These included parties with friends, though they don't usually have different shifts. These are people who have known (and bathed) together for over twenty years now.)

Not everybody even in those relaxed contexts wants even to go to the sauna at all, or not with people they do not know well. Also, at least during my time in the university there was really no provision for men who did not want to go to the sauna with women to do that - I do not know if that has changed or not during the last decade.

There are more interesting things about saunas in Finland, but I think that's for when we get over the 300's. :)


Please do tell - we're past 100, and it's the chance for a rare kind of cross-cultural insight... :)


For the law of unintended consequences, assume creation of some sort of symbiotic organism that improves survivability/longevity, albeit with a significant metabolic load. Then assume some sort of switch in the brain that drives towards conservatism. Naturally, these organisms are implanted at adulthood - which results in a teenagers that the older people really don't understand. And an extremely stagnant society.


Haven't read that story but have wondered whether brain/intelligence is some olden 'parasite' hitching a ride. IMO, the main 'pro' for this idea is mainly that nerve cells differ (mostly) from other cells because they are inherently and constantly interconnected. The degree to which these alien cells infiltrate would probably be attributable to the amount/proportion of energy they could channel their way from their host without undue damage to the host. Humans appear most intelligent vs. other critters because they can survive the greatest energy contribution to their parasite. What the host gets is a better tuned and coordinated sensory apparatus.

However, as with all things dealing with icky living stuff, there are thresholds. With respect to the present example, the threshold is an emergent sense of 'self' for the host. (Parasite is still wondering where the hell did that come from?) Problems of control, i.e., who is in charge - parasite vs. host, have plagued humanity for millennia. The argument for letting the parasite resume control is quite strong: no other critter eats itself into disease, keeps killing even when not threatened or hungry, etc.


Psych/human behavioral variables are less cut-and-dried than bits of metal equipment.

I'm guessing that this (like quite a bit of research) is a preliminary look at something with further study intended. If so, then an r value of greater than 0.40 usually is enough to suggest that there's probably something worth looking for somewhere around the current variables examined. Eye-balling the countries along the line suggests that segmentation is definitely to be considered.

I'm also wondering how these samples were drawn and how well they reflect (are representative of) their respective total national demographics, as well as how much and along what variables they differ between each other.

In the social/psych/marketing research studies I'm most familiar with, these are the usual cut-offs: less than 0.4, re-do only if a pertinent subgroup shows a higher relationship; 0.4 to 0.69 - look for likeliest variables for further study; 0.7 - test again and check for confounding variables. BTW, in the stuff I'm most familiar with, there are usually several layers of checking the accuracy and reliability of results done because money-paying clients generally want to know what they can act on (to make/save money), and they won't come back if your results/conclusions don't pan out in the marketplace.


This might be of interest to folk here:

Placebo sweet spot for pain relief identified in brain

Date: October 28, 2016

Source: Northwestern University

Summary: Scientists have identified for the first time the region in the brain responsible for the "placebo effect" in pain relief, when a fake treatment actually results in substantial reduction of pain, according to new research. Pinpointing the sweet spot of the pain killing placebo effect could result in the design of more personalized medicine for the 100 million Americans with chronic pain.

The scientists discovered a unique brain region within the mid frontal gyrus that identifies placebo pill responders in one trial and can be validated (95 percent correct) in the placebo group of a second trial.

Pascal Tétreault, Ali Mansour, Etienne Vachon-Presseau, Thomas J. Schnitzer, A. Vania Apkarian, Marwan N. Baliki. Brain Connectivity Predicts Placebo Response across Chronic Pain Clinical Trials. PLOS Biology, 2016; 14 (10): e1002570 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1002570

I've heard of a similar approach (i.e., lasing a tiny specific brain region) used to successfully treat treatment-resistant PTSD at another lab.


no other critter eats itself into disease, keeps killing even when not threatened or hungry, etc.

Sorry, but that is just plain false. Predators do kill for fun if they can; Masai have an expression "like a lion among penned zebras", meaning killing just for killing's sake. And rodents do grow fat and heart-failing given unlimited food.

It is just that both situations do not generally occur in the wild.

no other critter eats itself into disease,

Wrong. We have plenty of documented cases of (non-human) animals eating so much they make themselves seriously ill (or in some cases die). You've never heard a story of a horse that got into the feed store, or a cat that worked out how to open a cupboard? (The cat is usually just sick everywhere; the horse can give itself colic so bad it has to be put down to save it from a slow painful death.) It seems to be more widespread in humans than most other species, but that could simply be because we have much easier access to massive a oversupply of food without needing to exert ourselves or fight off competition. (Also, of course, we do tend to pay more attention to human problems than those of most other species.)

keeps killing even when not threatened or hungry,

Also wrong. Many predator species, faced with a multitude of prey, will simply kill until they run out of victims (ever heard the phrase "like a fox in a henhouse"?) or else until they're too tired to chase down any more targets.

I'm aware both of these myths are widely believed, but I'm afraid they're not remotely true.


I don't think it was hookworm that made white US Southerners lazy. It was more likely the fact that they could torture black US Southerners and force them to do work for them.

You have a very incomplete and inaccurate view of southern demographics and society both before and after the 1860s.



Imagine a world where pollution increases the Magnetite stuff in your brain[1], so along comes some friendly bacteria and starts colonizing[2] and accidentally builds you a form of neural net[3] (in the Iain Banks tradition).

Now, that's not technically a parasite, although it could easily become one.

'Air pollution' particles linked to Alzheimer's found in human brain Telegraph, 5th Sept, 2016

‘Green’ Electronic Materials Produced with Synthetic Biology UMass, July 14th 2016

Synthetic Biological Protein Nanowires with High Conductivity Wiley, you'll need Uni access - too new for wild PDFs, sadly.

Derek Lovely's Twitter in case you want to hit him up for a copy, one of the authors.


Nice PDF overview on the subject, citations list is a gold-mine for research:

Microbial nanowires for bioenergy applications Malvankar / Lovely, Current Opinion in Biotechnology 2014, PDF


Building bio-electronics is such a deadend research. Its good for NSF and play , maybe some interfaces but generally trying to fit square peg into round hole. Bio is generally dirty and slow. Electronics is fast and unnecessary for everyday Newtonian world of the individual human-animal. Basically two different clock rates with many orders of magnitude in between.


A parasite colonizing nerve tissue, optimizing for all sorts of actions that result in sentience as an emergent property... sounds a bit like a soul. Mind/body dualism as an actual biological reality would be an interesting story hook.


Building bio-electronics is such a deadend research.

I respectfully disagree - or at least I consider some implants bioelectronics, for example cochlear implants. They seem to work quite well from the techical perspective and they are getting more and more accepted.

However, they do have their problems, starting from the fact that they do not work for every type of deafness (for example when there's no aural nerve adding input to the ear side won't help), and even if they work technically (that is, input signal to the aural nerve) there can be other issues with interpreting the data in the brain. Social issues are also a big thing, and I'm still not sure how to integrate them with Deaf culture (which in my opinion is still very valuable, both in itself and because not every deaf person benefits from cochlear implants).

Anyway, I consider them a quite huge success in bio-electronics. They are also quite invisible if you don't know to look for them. Just one example.


I would quibble over the description in the above posts of Intelligence due to parasitism, It seems to me to be more akin to symbiosis as both species gain from the association


Charles, you appear to have read my post in a way that applies your preconceptions and education to it. By "parasites" I meant "macro-parasites" in the sense of "those which can be seen by the naked eye, or at most with a magnifying glass".


Fashion trends in recyclable items like clothing would be well worth encouraging

Which made me wonder whether or not it would actually be better to hold the environmental temperature high enough to encourage going sky clad as the norm unless you were performing an activity that required protective clothing? You could still express personality through things like, say, coloured utility belts and wrist bands that consume much less material to make, and hence less energy to make and recycle.


Nitpicking, but "Ebola had never been known in West Africa before 2013" is not actually true.

There have been sporadic minor outbreaks in the Cote d'Ivoire before 2013:


You know, signs of an anatomical location and/or interface for the hypothesized immaterial soul are awfully thin on the ground in this era of functional MRI and computed tomography scanners, not to mention electron microscopy. At least, if the "soul" is anything more durable and represents anything more than the simple state of the body it's in.

The pineal, all of Descarte's wishes to the contrary, appears to be just an gland. (In fact, to a first approximation and at one particular scale, the brain appears to be just one fucking horrendously complex endocrine gland, minor complications like membrane potentials notwithstanding: just look at the synapses.)


While what you suggest is possible, I submit that humanity is the sum not only of our biological bodies but our cultural activities as well, and abandoning the huge raft of culture accreted around clothing would be unwise, to say the least.

Also: clothing can be horrendously expensive, or dirt cheap, but it's not terribly massive and non-massive volume isn't likely to be a huge problem aboard a generation ship. Random example: to pick some of the heaviest and most impractical clothing anyone bothered to wear on a day-to-day basis, Chinese imperial court robes or a mid-Victorian lady's gown weighed, at most, around 20-30kg; an Apollo era moon suit weighed about 82Kg, including life support unit (plus a few Kg of water and breathing gas). Unless everyone goes Full Imelda Marcos ("I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty") or Nicolae Ceaucescu (deathly afraid of bacteria, he wore a new suit every day for 30-40 years) it won't be a problem; and even then, it's possible to 3D print fabric and complete, finished garments. Assuming recyclable fibres or polymers are used as substrates -- think bacteria-synthesized spider silk extruded and printed straight into a 3D weave via fabric printer -- really high quality bespoke designer clothing could turn out to be a technically cheap, compact, lightweight cultural activity (read: hobby/rec time) for fashion-followers.

And I kind of like the idea of colourful, cheap clothing fashions that don't rely on sweat-shop labour much more than disposable uniform paper jumpsuits, or trying to figure out how to get the initial cohort of colonists from Earth to go commando.


Oh, yes, but think of it this way. What if the parasite/symbiote/phenomenon exists primarily in the emergent properties of the system? You aren't going to identify or locate it using any method, no matter how subtle, that merely looks at the basic properties. There was some evidence that scrapie and CJD were just such a disease; I don't know where the research has got with that.

Your point in #124 is also relevant to this, especially with regard to 'intelligence'. It is very possible, indeed quite likely, that it is not based in DNA as such, and all that the DNA changes do is to increase our brain size and length of childhood. Is so, we have the choice of epigenetics or 'learning' (including in utero) as the transmission medium. Its largely Lamarckian inheritance does seem to bear out this hypothesis but, as usual in this area, the obvious answer is probably wrong.


Yah making new clothes using variants in 3-d printing is going to be huge soon. It's also interesting all the knowledge that will go into new patterns, although most of it's going to be using templates to define stuff like the actual fabric chemistry and the layering, with the aesthetics being changed. The real masters of these things will need to tweak everything from the chemistry used, to the deposition method, to the nozzle shape and the build in programs to the actual cut and aesthics.

Because of this, the best methods can be very valuable skull sweat that can be beamed over large distances and be valuable. Piracy of these patterns will also be a thing.


Because of this, the best methods can be very valuable skull sweat that can be beamed over large distances and be valuable. Piracy of these patterns will also be a thing.


But also: clothing that always fits perfectly (you wondered what the non-airport-security uses of those teraherz scanners the TSA is so keen on are? How about walk-through perfect sizing for clothing customers?), clothes with no non-decorative seams, different fiber/texture/weave graduations in a continuous extrusion, stuff that is topologically impossible to fabricate using cut-and-stitch methods, and so on.

This is going to happen with or without space colonies; 3D printing is going to disrupt the entire clothing supply chain and retail sector just as thoroughly as self-driving vehicles are going to disrupt logistics -- and within a similar time frame (5-20 years out from now).


Exactly, some electronics is useful for interfaces like your implant. There are also retinal implants or neuronal interfaces that help people who lost muscle control. All great stuff but hardly requires speed advantages of electronics that we have now. It does benefit from miniaturization of electronics, I'll admit. They do use standard electronics for processing and then just input/output into bio-environment. Exploiting high processing speeds makes sense for computation/simulation but not for for making false parallels into bio world. Handling information is much faster then judgling molecules and towing stuff around.


I think there was a company that used kinect for clothes shopping. You can try the stuff w/o spending whole day in the dressing room. I still have problem with the lack of texture, would like to feel the clothes too.


Actually, there may be an entire blog posting on the societal (rather than protective) issues involving clothes or lack of them?


NPG (Nature Neuroscience) has a freebie on psychiatric disorders research if anyone's interested. Focus of this issue is agreement that going forward there should be more research directed on understanding how stuff works and less emphasis on model-building. (Didn't spot any parasite mentions per se ... assume that 'environment' covers this.)

So, if brain research starts to provide usable data/improvements in mental health, how will this constrain future SF and even general & literary fiction writers in terms of plot and character development? Okay - an obvious out is that most future SF stories end up taking place in space ships that departed Earth before neuro breakthroughs occurred. (Sorta like the Victorian era bodice rippers that can still be found at check-out counters.) Could be interesting to explore how different cultures might define good mental health/fitness and what various differences in definitions would mean in encounters between them, or between different human societies and aliens a la Walloon spin on space treaties.

Re: animals eating themselves sick, etc. --- didn't know this although it seems that such behavior is most seen among captive (bored, depressed?) animals. Wonder if anyone's done any post mortem neuro studies on in-the-wild vs. captive critters to check for differences.

Just checked out 'This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society' by Kathleen McAuliffe from the local library ...


The recently released board game Bios:Genesis from Sierra Madre Games covers the rise of life from pre-biotic auto-catalytic systems to multi-cellular organisms.

It's inevitably more game than simulation, but it's packed with cutting edge speculation.



A number of others, including OH, have come down on you about this "we can't cure cancer", and "our medicine is primitive". I'm going to hit you on several larger pictures.

  • I HAD CANCER. I spent the first half of 2001 in chemo (with a dose of radiation*. When they finally figured out what it was, I remember one of my docs saying, "THIS we can cure." You will agree that I'm still here 15 years later arguing with you.

  • A century and a quarter ago, how'd surgery go? What was the survival rate, and how damaged where the successes? Meanwhile, I had my second partial knee replacement the beginning of Labor Day (US) weekend, one knee last, one this year. Just today I've stopped even carrying my walking stick. I was on two crutches for a month or so, then one for a week and a half or so. IT WAS OUTPATIENT SURGERY, and after I was out of anaesthesia, they had me on crutches. Try that anywhen through human history, prehistory, or during evolution. Try it anywhere before the last 25 or so years. Back then, I'd be dealing with osetoarthritis the rest of my life.
  • Oh, and for the larger view of what's going on, try (Nat'l Cancer Inst).

    • I'm still annoyed, I mean, everyone knows that with radiation you get superpowers and a Spandex suit (I'll take the one with the cape, please), and my docs said they'd come with the bills; bills came, bills went, no superpower, no suit.

    About the posts on saunas, hot water, etc. Before you get in, you wash. I've seen references to letters written in the north of the UK to the local English ruler, in the 900s, complaining how the Norse were stealing their women by wandering around the city clean, with their nasty bathing, instead of being dirty (and parasite-laden) like Good Uprightstanding Englishmen....

    mark, didn't get to the hot tub at the aquatic center this weekend....

    Ugh I can't discuss too much, but there's certain problems that are easy and certain problems that are hard in additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing. Especially shoes. What I can say is pretty much all the major companies in these fields are aware of it, and are working on it. There's crazy sounding partnerships between different firms.

    But there will be limits likely on what materials can be used for a while. And the other thing is textile work has been the model for industrialization of farm labor. Farm kids from substance farms move to a city/town for a sweatshop labor job. Beats farm work when its hand to mouth. They start off doing hard low skill work. The nation learns. England in 1700's. The US in the 1800s. SK in the 1970s. China in the 80s. (Planet money did a good investigation of the supply chain, with part of it here Also a constant has been how the jobs move as wages rise. But the old workers usually go up a step. Bargain basement versus higher end clothing as the economy matures.

    The tech also evolves. Looms and related equipment is amazing how it's always been connected with high tech and disruption. Luddites protesting looms using punch cards to automate. Workers also organize as bosses try to sue tech or poverty to mess with wages.

    I wonder if cotton will survive as popular if they can't produce a version that goes well with printing.



    My take on the "soul" is that, if such a thing exists, it's the electromagnetic (and possibly other energy, but leave that) state of the entire mind, as generated by the mind.

    Other definitions? Yeah, well, when my late mother was a young woman, waiting for the bus to work one day, some evangelical tried to tell her how Jesus (tm) Saves Souls. Seeing the bus coming, she turned to the woman, and told her that her farther (my grandfather) saved them, too.

    She happened to run into the woman as she came home. The woman saw her, and aksed, "do you mean your father's a shoemaker?" (I don't believe there was any mention that all my grandparents were Jewish....)



    ...just as thoroughly as self-driving vehicles are going to disrupt logistics... NOT going to happen. "Self-driving vehicles" are a n other morph of "let's kill the railways" using personal pods, that's been doing the failing rounds since at least 1970 ... Why not? Consider the problems of (1) groups of self-driving lorries leaving or entering a M-way, with, oh shit, no gaps for other vehicles to enter or leave, either. (2) or the fact that the recant "success" is over a built-up area with a voluntary speed limit of 25mph er(I think) (3) or that one kid with a metal can on a piece of string can bring the whole thing grinding to a halt (!) (4) Council workmen doing roadworks with non-matching speed limit signs, or better still ... when they've finished, removing only some of the temporary-restrictions [ This one is quite common & confuses the hell out of human motorists ] Etc.


    Re: 'Especially shoes. What I can say is pretty much all the major companies in these fields are aware of it, and are working on it.'

    Let me know when shoes are again being manufactured for human feet that walk/run. Still scratching my head about how the (only) culture that came up with foot-binding (aka lotus feet) ended up making shoes for the whole planet.


    Nasty Norse and their beastly bathing, signed Nigellus Faregar, I assume?


    You'd be surprised. There's a tonne of work on running science and making shoes that work better. But I am cautious about what I can say on this.


    Re: '"Self-driving vehicles" are a n other morph of "let's kill the railways" using personal pods, that's been doing the failing rounds since at least 1970 ...'

    Okay - lets look at how other/previous transport systems fared in the UK, like the UK canal system? Canals (as per BBC docs I've watched) were largely displaced by rail. But rail did not completely displace other over-land hauling. Also, airplanes did not completely get rid of rail although other 'air' could have taken over if the Hindenburg hadn't crashed. So, one new system doesn't kill all other existing transport systems completely. Therefore, self-driving cars will probably not take over completely.

    What I suspect is at play is the unit cost of these devices - to own as well as operate plus widespread availability, convenience of ownership/access/usage and cost per pound in shipping energy. Also think that the more widely owned/used, esp. in terms of single/individual user ownership, the less likely such a transport system would be completely displaced.

    The automated self-driving car in an environment that's already accepted Ubers which saves space (parking - street, home & business), fuel (esp. carbon-tax surcharges), and reduces total single-passenger usage costs is a poser. The Uber experience is most relevant because it's a new way of reducing the social pressure for every adult to own his/her own car. Uber also economically provides the personal space during travel as well as the personalized routing that public transit cannot. And Ubers are (still) less icky than cabs. So, if you're fine with using Uber, why get a car - self-driving or otherwise? Co-op fleets of self-driving cars to replace Uber (which is replacing must-have-own-car mentality) is a more likely scenario IMO than single-owner/passenger self-drive cars replacing current cars.

    Not sure how all this is sorted out at the trade goods/bigger non-human cargo level of transport although do you really need a human driver sitting at a depot for 3 hours waiting his/her turn for inspection before unloading?


    All I want is a shoe that doesn't hurt my feet after 30-45 minutes' walking. No interest in 'athletic' shoes.


    I've found that extra-wide "running" shoes work pretty well for me for walking. (I normally don't wear shoes, so my feet are extremely wide by now. I took my wife to Disney World for our anniversary, and bought some New Balance running shoes, and... they worked. I was able to walk around each of the parks, all day long, without killing my feet.)


    Banish "slow boot" misery with SkippyMix!

    Does your Windows system move like mating glaciers? Then take SkippyMix! Its active ingredient is an artificial parasite, Bradyskepsia fenestra, with a precisely formulated genome. Like all parasites, Bradyskepsia fenestra imposes an energetic cost on its host. But whereas natural parasites have undesirable side-effects such as itching scaly feet or infeasible cat adoration, Bradyskepsia does one thing and one thing only. It slows down nerve impulses. Simply pop a SkippyMix pill, and your Windows commands will seem to whisk past like mating hummingbirds.

    Note 1: SkippyMix comes in a range of strengths: 1mg for new Windows, 7mg for old crufty Windows with fluff in their registry, and 23mg for really really irritatingly slow-booting networked Windows.

    Note 2: SkippyMix® is a registered trademark of Cestode Industries plc. ®® is a registered trademark of the British Trademark Office.

    Note 3: Before taking SkippyMix, we recommend checking that your burglar alarms are working, your fridge is either empty or assured of a reliable power supply, and your cat has ample supplies of food.

    Artificial parasites. Less trouble than code optimisation.


    Self-driving cars used as taxis will smell of wee, and puke, and have used condoms under the seats and used needles down the back of the cushions. Therefore people will still want their own.


    I don't see that its usefulness need be confined to one operating system. It sounds like just the thing for the increasing number of cruddy websites that make your browser download several megabytes of useless garbage and then sit there chewing on it for so long you wonder if it's evaluating Schröaut;dinger's equations for a uranium atom before eventually deigning to display a k or two of text.

    Perhaps, too, it could be tweaked to have a degree of conventional sedative effect in order to mitigate the burning, helpless rage induced when that k or two of text immediately disappears behind some idiotic overlay that does nothing but force you to click it to make it go away again.


    Take with your little blue pill, and who cares how slow Windows gets ....


    Cancer treatment itself is improving all the time and there is amazing stuff we can do now that we couldn't even imagine 50 years ago. As others have said, cancer isn't one disease and only has something to do with gene expression in specific, narrow contexts. Many forms are now known to be caused or triggered by virii for instance.

    The main problem with cancer care at this point in history is not about treatment at all but rather about managing complexity. Many cancer treatments involve multiple disciplines, often with more than a dozen discrete teams being involved in treating a given patient, over potentially hundreds of individual visits. The rule of thumb is that 1/3 of the time we do more harm than good, another 1/3 of the time we just about break even and only for the remaining 1/3 is there an improved outcome for the patient (a "cure"). And success and recovery tails off with geographical distance from a major tertiary hospital. Obviously healthcare IT is a huge part of the solution to this (especially in rural and remote settings) and there's a lot of work going on in that space.

    At the moment the dominance of a certain Kansas City, Mo company seems to be less than helpful. A market survey in the USA found that while 90% of oncology departments surveys had assessed that company's oncology offering and found it did NOT meet their requirements, nonetheless 100% of departments had a plan to implement this product. This is driven by the need to integrate with the company's other products which have extremely high market penetration but do not integrate well with other vendors' solutions.


    Have you tried asking your GP to refer you to a biomechanics lab. A couple of years ago my feet were so painful I couldn't walk more than 500 steps. The local biomechanics dept tested my feet and prescribed custom insoles. As soon as I started using them the pain vanished. It turned out that I'd broken a foot 30 years earlier and decided not to get treatment because I was on holiday and the pain had almost gone the next day.


    More interesting take: Hyper-parasite that eats parasites.

    More More interesting take: Hyper-Parasite that enters Symbiosis with host once parasite is dead.

    More More More interesting take: Hyper-Parasite that enters Symbiosis with host once parasite is dead and gives "advantages" that allows host to spot and cure those with the original parasite to spread it to infected hosts so that it can eat them and spread.

    Again, not going to spoil it, but this totally already exists. It's also quite common.


    Nature: Not "red in tooth in claw", more "Holy fucking Batshit insane shit we can't understand and OMFG what that happened through POO?!?"


    Not sure why, but this:

    "What if the practical limit on human lifespan becomes tolerance for pain versus the hypertensive effect of long term analgesics?"

    Immediately brought Gilliam's Brazil to mind.


    I moved to a new home and just got online again. I'm just now reading this, and my apologies for repeating others' insights without proper credit.

    So back to the initial study, which is complete and utter bullshit. Thing is, properly aged manure can nourish a healthy growth of flowers, so the question is whether it's so biased as to be too toxic to use, or whether there's something good here.

    For example: US history is strongly influence by parasites. One reason Indians and then Africans were exploited so heavily for slave labor was that the white slaves imported died too fast to be economically viable. Picking people who had some innate immunity to do the scut work of growing cotton and tobacco was the economic engine that drove capitalist development in the US. So things like yellow fever and malaria do matter. In some cases.

    Of course, that social order was supported by the YES democrats until the 1970s and Nixon's southern strategy, and this points to one of the first problems which is that politics isn't a single gradient, it's a faction fight among coalitions.

    Here's another counter-example: you'd guess, based on the apparent fact that cities were population sinks until the 20th Century, that cities would be hotbeds of conservative traditionalism and xenophobia. After all, without good public health and really effective systems for providing clean water and sanitation, cities were cess pits where people tended to die like flies, while the countryside was comparatively much healthier, due solely to the lower population density. If parasite load was a primary influence on human behavior, we'd expect cities to be bastions of conservative social values, while the countryside was a haven for liberality. Seems the opposite tends to hold true.

    So ultimately, I'm not sure this study is worth much of anything. It's interesting, no doubt, but when you link measures of current traditionalism to estimates of historical parasite load, you're deep in BS territory already. Why? One huge reason is that religious conservatism is often a political reaction to recent events, not an evolution with deep historical roots. Right now, "neoliberal global capitalism" is perceived as the evil empire that must be defeated to save the world, whether you're an environmentalist or an evangelical wackaloon. Or an evangelical environmentalist, for that matter.

    I'd argue, just to propose a simpler explanation for the observed pattern, that people who have been shat upon by transnational industry, been colonized, impoverished, had their resources stripped, and been forced to accept corrupt rulers foisted on them by industrialists backed by (perhaps) the US or the UK, well, these people might turn strongly to conservative religion as a simple act of rebellion. These people might also suffer from a high current parasite load because their public infrastructure is in shambles, also no thanks to us. Their parasite load and political conservatism are correlated to their histories as defeated people.

    Now, does parasite load matter? Absolutely, but probably in different situations than the researchers thought about. Look at the history of Africans in the New World. They were brought in as slaves because a) they could be captured, and b) they survived in this harsh new environment well enough to provide profitable slave labor. That's the kind of situation where things like parasite loads matter, at least hypothetically. We can't actually test this until we start studying the parasite loads and political views in currently exploited peoples. Unfortunately for us, this currently is a testable hypothesis.


    Again, not going to spoil it, but this totally already exists. It's also quite common. Then: WHY THE FUCK DO YOU MENTION IT?

    Of course, given your usual track record you are either totally wrong or lying ( for "fun" of course & then calling it a "joke" later, when you are found out... )

    Put up or bleeding shut up.

    Your post #150 is pure trolling, of the worst sort


    Sorry but your arguments sound like someone from 1922 explaining why airplanes will never carry more than a dozen or so people, fly higher than 10,000 ft, fly more than 100 miles in a journey, or stay aloft more than a hour or few.


    Is "Uber" actually anything much more than a multi-city example of a minicab firm?


    It has a phone app and a relaxed approach to legal compliance, which makes it a magic multi-city minicab firm.


    Beware!, oh!, beware!, the bight of Benin; there's few comes out, but many goes in. Part of West Africa wasn't known as the White Man's Grave for no reason. That didn't change until air conditioning, modern anti-malarials (not paludrine) and antibiotics that didn't need refrigeration.


    Actually, most of what he said is right, though the real issue is what they will do to employment. They are probably going to happen, and they will be the factor that destroys the last vestiges of liberalism or democracy in the UK.


    Is "Uber" actually anything much more than a multi-city example of a minicab firm?

    Unfortunately yes. (Disclaimer: I refuse to do business with them because their owner is a horrible, horrible, no good, evil person, almost up to Marvel/DC Comics supervillain territory.)

    Note the relaxed approach to legal compliance which, combined with demand-curve pricing (read: gouging during rush hour) and intermittently illegal employment practices (see the High Court judgement in London this week that found their employment terms and conditions are basically illegal bullshit and they owe their drivers wages, national insurance, and all the other obligations an employer owes an employee) are used to push competing businesses to the wall. It's the casualization of what was formerly a moderately well-run and stable line of employment, ahead of the onrushing juggernaut of automation that will abolish "taxi driver" as an occupation in the next decade or so.


    Maybe they do, but ... the people involved with "self-driving" ESPECIALLY the pontificating public "experts" ( NOT the people actually doing the work) have a long track-record of road boosterism & hate for steel wheel/rail methods. Also, there are real practical "natural" intelligence problems, not least cans on strings .... A fully-automated guided system yes, entirely practicable, but the road-maintenance & variabilty "problems" are real ones.


    Can I second Charlie's comment in Spades, redoubled, here? As a Londoner, I very occasionally use cabs. I also won't go near "Uber" & I hope the High Court judgement shafts them, because they are utter shits, as stated.


    Also @Greg #161

    I've never used them, and was going on the recent news reporting rather than making judgements on business practices.


    It's not just rail. Just wait until the courts/police and even government give the operators of such things an aircraft-like exemption from civil and traffic law. For example, requiring any other road user on the carriageway to prove that the program was defective before obtaining damages. That's already many police forces' policy as regards pedestrians on many (e.g. trunk) roads., and cyclists almost anywhere. The social consequences of that would be as drastic as the employment ones.


    So - stick an 'app' on an existing service/product and you're free to do as you will, i.e., ignore laws, because said 'app' has magically transformed the commodity/service? (Have a car so never use Uber but noticed it's very popular among new uni grads.)


    Similar experience: injury, surgery, more injury, getting older, etc. The (custom) orthotics help up to a point but a lot of current footwear doesn't readily accommodate wearing orthotics. Also foot/toe profile is a tad different from the norm (toe length) which current shoe designers/manufacturers appear completely oblivious to.


    Suggest that 'app' is this era's parasite: highly proliferative and versatile, modifies host's behavior to the point of addiction.


    One thing I'm surprised people haven't picked up on. The original premise is that parasite load is a Bad Thing. The problem is, this isn't necessarily true.

    A major line of research into IBS and a variety of other autoimmune diseases is that we may be evolved for our body to require some parasite load. In its absence, the resources it would previously have applied against them start pushing down their detection levels in an attempt to find something to fight, and friendly fire against the rest of the body ensues. Studies with people taking pig whipworms have shown improvements.

    At a smaller level, bacterial gut flora are another major area of concern. They're not technically parasites; it's probably more accurate to say that they're co-evolved. There is plenty of work going on into what effects each different type of bacteria can have on the body, and absence of them (e.g. after antibiotics) is generally harmful to your health. As icky as it sounds, a faecal douche may get you back to better health. You'd think that something as simple as that would have had more work done, since it doesn't involve any particular ethical or biomedical dilemmas - but the ick factor means it's not been studied nearly as well as it should be. Plus of course this isn't something that a pharma company can easily turn a profit on.

    This is all an updated version of the hygiene hypothesis, of course, but now with properly-run experiments, testable hypotheses, and published-and-peer-reviewed results.

    Of course many parasites are undeniably harmful, and it's better to suffer from side-effects than from the parasite. But "nuke the site from orbit; it's the only way to be sure" is only really applicable if the alternative is unacceptable. If you've got the parasitic equivalent of a mouse nest, the parasitic equivalent of orbital nukage is not really what you want.


    Actually Uber has one thing going for it - it works in most countries and bills your credit card, so you don't need to carry local cash to travel.
    I find that amazingly useful when travelling internationally and going out late at night. You also know how much your trip will be before you travel so can get locals to sanity check, and you get a message with the details of the driver and the car, which makes it feel safer.

    In Germany they legally have to use taxis, which is annoying as you can't know your fare in advance, but they gave a relatively close estimate.

    On the other hand is the sheer exploitative nature of their business, screwing everyone in sight and avoiding as many laws as possible...


    Oh I completely know your pain, having recently acquired one leg a half inch shorter than the other in an accident. New shoes are torture until they stretch the right way, and the low profile design of mens business shoes makes them unwearable with an insert.

    I've gone with hiking shoe styles as they seem to provide enough support to allow an insert, and am looking for a good chelsea boot style for business.


    Find a decent cobbler and get them to tack 1/2" on one heel. When the physiotherapist identified the issue and I did that, a decade or two of back pain effectively vanished. I have my sandals made to measure (I can't buy shoes wide enough) - and they are suitable for walking all day in good conditions (including dry, firm tracks).


    Dunno who Nigellis Faragar is, but it just struck me that I may have read it around '79 in a newly-released book called 1066, and if I'm remembering correctly, the author wrote not just about that year, but had some background to it. I did say "genuine historical letters", I think.



    If some parasites can reduce intelligence, could other (possibly engineered) parasites increase intelligence? Shades of Victorian tape worm weight reduction!?


    Re: 'Find a decent cobbler'

    Disappearing species - cobblers of any type. Used to immediately get all new shoes 'resoled' with proper gripping soles until the last local cobbler called it quits.

    Adding a half-inch heel -- or use two different thicknesses of insoles/inserts if there's enough room inside the shoe. Bilateral symmetry is only approximate in real life but (shoe) manufacturers take it as an absolute.


    Or ask the Astronomer Royal, who has the same issue, where he gets his shoes and suits.


    Not likely since Rees probably drops his shoes/boots off at the in-house cobbler (House of Lords) on his way to pick up his daily lunch allowance ...


    'In 2005, Rees was elevated to a life peerage, sitting as a crossbencher in the House of Lords as Baron Rees of Ludlow, of Ludlow in the County of Shropshire.[17]'


    Initially I was going to say no. As I think nootropics so far have been scams. But any symbiote that frees up nutrients for the body qualifies. And there's a bunch of them. The trick is they aren't fancy, just part of our microbe community that helps break down various foods.


    I gave it away with the POO reference:

    Philip Strandwitz and his colleagues at Northeastern University in Boston discovered that they could only grow a species of recently discovered gut bacteria, called KLE1738, if they provide it with GABA molecules. “Nothing made it grow, except GABA,” Strandwitz said while announcing his findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last month.

    GABA acts by inhibiting signals from nerve cells, calming down the activity of the brain, so it’s surprising to learn that a gut bacterium needs it to grow and reproduce. Having abnormally low levels of GABA is linked to depression and mood disorders, and this finding adds to growing evidence that our gut bacteria may affect our brains.

    Gut bacteria spotted eating brain chemicals for the first time New Scientist, 1st July, 2016

    GABA Modulating Bacteria - Can Our Bacteria Make Us Depressed? Northeastern University PDF, 1 slide - included due to interesting snippet: As proof of principal, we can force E. coli to produce GABA, suggesting potential as a GABA delivering organism

    Mirrored to this discovery is another piece of work published in 2011 that determined the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus can dramatically alter brain activity in laboratory mice, specifically the levels of GABA. With complete opposite results to KLE1738, the mice with high amounts of Lactobacillus rhamnosus handled stress more effectively. The study was conducted by AJ Bravo and his team to determine how the microbiome of mice can alter brain chemistry. Since Bravo was able to visualise an increase of GABA in mice and Strandwitz visualised a reduction in GABA, it is clear that your internal microbiome may have a part to play in your psychological health.

    Get Onto This: KLE1738 – Evtepia Gabavorous Cog Life, 2nd August 2016

    It's worth asking what relation industrial food intake has to KLE1738 or Lactobacillus rhamnosus. [Note: the supplement industry already mass produces LR as probiotic ~ and I'd hope everyone is aware that probiotics aren't exactly known to be efficacious].


    The question would be, given the lack of data in the field, if KLE1738 eats GABA produced by other bacteria in the gut... or produced by the host.

    nose wiggle


    (Disclaimer: I refuse to do business with them because their owner is a horrible, horrible, no good, evil person, almost up to Marvel/DC Comics supervillain territory.)

    Agreed. But if you've every tried to use a taxi in the US outside of major urban areas in the US at times you're between a rock and a hard place. A very uncomfortable rock and maybe some razor blades.

    I have used Uber maybe 5 or so times in the last 2 years. All but one of those times over a year or more ago before I read up on the owner. Now I use Lyft if I need a ride and can get one of them to show up. The one time I did use Uber recently was because they were no Lyft cars AT ALL in the area when I needed to go to the airport at 4 AM. And calling a regular taxi might have taken an hour or more for them to show up based on past experience.

    Anyway I'm up to about 25 Lyft/Uber rides over the last 2 years. I ask every driver a few of questions. How long have you been driving? Do you drive for both? Which do you prefer?

    Length of service is typically 9 months to a year. Twice I've had someone on their second day.

    All but one or two drive for both companies.

    Only 2 drivers prefer Uber as a company, one said he thought both were equal, and the rest said Lyft was a better company for drivers to deal with. But if logged into Lyft and rides are now showing up they will switch to Uber rather that sitting around getting no income.

    Most of these folks were using this to supplement their "regular" income or as a second job. Less than 10 had this as their full time job. Several had been driving in other cities such as Miami and had moved to the Raleigh/Durham area to reduce expenses and thus net more money. Most interesting was the petroleum engineer who had been in charge of an oil distribution station in on of the "stans" before he and his programmer wife moved (fled?) to the US. She was making big bucks but he was somewhat locked out of his old expertise.


    I have my sandals made to measure (I can't buy shoes wide enough)

    In the US more and more mens shoes are available only in "medium" width. I'm way past that. Narrows down my choices quite a bit.


    Have a car so never use Uber but noticed it's very popular among new uni grads.

    I have a car but use Lyft for rides to the airport or while other cities when a rental doesn't make sense. Let's see drive car to airport, park for $8 or $14 per day (want covered?) or pay $20 each way for a Lyft. And since it is a new car I'm more picky about parking next to people getting large things in and out of their back seats or out in the open during hail season.


    I rarely wear "ordinary" shoes now I'm retired although I do have some pairs for formal occasions like weddings. I can't wear these for as long as the walking shoes. Modern walking shoes are very good and are usually fitted by measuring the feet. They look a lot like trainers and are perfectly acceptable. Try an outdoor sports shop.


    Mind/body dualism as an actual biological reality would be an interesting story hook.

    See David Gerrold's Chtorr books. Most of Chtorrans' nervous system, including their "fur", is a separate symbiotic organism. And it can infect many other animals, including humans.


    So - stick an 'app' on an existing service/product and you're free to do as you will, i.e., ignore laws, because said 'app' has magically transformed the commodity/service?

    That's worked for both Uber and AirBnB, hasn't it?

    Having a metric shitload of money from VCs also helps, because you can tie up anyone trying to regulate you in court for ages.


    Thank you. Please, why couldn't you say that in the first place? Much better.


    So, if I'm reading this correctly, $driver is free to work for other companies as well as Uber? If so, then regardless of recent UK rulings, I think that "working for Uber" may actually genuinely qualify as being self-employed.

    This is not an endorsement of Uber, or of their board level owners/managers, but an attempt to understand the legal etc employment position of individuals who use Uber as a source of work.


    Haven't got to 300 yet but I did want to leave this here by way of it being moderately apropos to the title, if not exactly the content, of this OP (and I'll probably forget later).


    Yes, $driver often works for multiple companies to maximise their earnings in a busy marketplace - they usually need a different phone for each to keep the app open and full screen so they stay registered. I have had several drivers in London who had two work phones and their own. In Berlin the taxi drivers had their own taxi apps, plus uber, plus the traditional radio. It's all about cutting down on dead time.

    Whether they are permitted to is a completely different question. I know Uber has threatened drivers that they have caught driving for competitors while on the clock as it were.

    Uber in Europe does have specific car requirements which raises the bar for entry somewhat. I'm not sure if any of the other apps conflict with that.


    Thanks: In the main that squares with private hire drivers I have known, who, if honest about it, admitted that their whole idea was to get their fares from A to B as fast as possible in order to maximize pickups since their earnings per unit distance/time were highest on short trips.

    Regarding Uber's car requirements, in the UK at least, you must hold a "private hire licence" (personal for each driver; vehicle for each car) in order to work legally, and the licencing authority (often but not always the city/county you make pickups in) may place requirements (typically must be at least $size, no older than $age, possibly must be able to accommodate a wheelchair user in their chair) on all vehicles used.


    I now have that stuck in my head. You utter bar steward! '-)

    ...just as thoroughly as self-driving vehicles are going to disrupt logistics...
    NOT going to happen. "Self-driving vehicles" are a n other morph of "let's kill the railways" using personal pods, that's been doing the failing rounds since at least 1970 ... Why not?

    Thing is... self-driving vehicles (once mature) will be a drop-in replacement for human-driven vehicles, without the cost of the driver. That's easily a 20-40% reduction in the overall cost, since the capital cost is likely to be pretty much indistinguishable.

    Consider the problems

    All of these problems are either artefacts of the currently immature state of the art, or fictional altogether. Mature self-driving cars will cope with these the same way that human-driven cars do. Groups of lorries entering a motorway will merge with other traffic as they do now, obeying signs or traffic signals; low speed will be increased in future iterations, it's there to reduce the danger of the prototype; kid with a tin-can telephone, inconsistent roadwork signage... have you read the story of the google car at a 4-way stop and the cyclist doing a track stand? Even at this early stage, encountering a situation it had never seen before, the car resolved it in an acceptable way, if somewhat weird. It's only going to get better as the years pass, and of course only a few of the cars need to see something for all of them to learn from the experience.

    Self-driving cars are not there yet, but if they do mature in the next 5-20 years, the economics will be compelling — and compelling economics are very likely to drive adoption.


    OK. Talking about the US. I have only the vaguest idea of how this might work across the pond except that in general there seem to be more rules that treat drivers what we in the US would call employees.

    In the US in very broad terms you either are a W2 employee or a 1099 independent contractor. These are form numbers that are used by the companies paying the bills use to report payments to people/companies.

    W2 employees have all kinds of rules about how taxes and such are reported. And there are all kinds of federal and state laws about the relationship between employers and employees. The IRS (federal tax authority) even has a set of GUIDELINES about what makes someone an employee. Things like who sets hours? Or your process to get something done? If you're an employee you have to do what the employer says within reason and most of the risks about what you do are with the employer. If an independent contractor not so much.

    Now a 1099 relationship is much more open. It can be between two companies or a company and a person or two people. In this relationship the entity being paid is paid for a result. In general it is up to them (the 1099 entity) to produce the result and assume the risk. Underestimate the time needed? Sucks to be you. Overestimate it or are just really in demand or good at your job. Great to be you. The owner of a building would report the money paid to a cleaning service for the building on a 1099 form whether that service was a company or a person IF the person truly was independent in how they got the job done.

    Employers who want to cut corners and ignore the law try and move as many people as possible to 1099 status even if it's bogus. As long as they don't get caught they get to skip out on various federal and state tax and reporting requirements.

    Uber/Lyft are examples of companies that are really in the middle. They don't set hours. They don't require a lot of things that make you an employee. But they do have standards and practices you must follow to drive for them. Age and condition of the car. Things like that. To date in the US they have been fighting hard to keep drivers on a 1099 basis. Understand that Uber/Lyft are more than just an app. They are also a billing and payment processing system. When you take a ride with them they collect the money from YOU and then pay the driver based on whatever the rules are for that ride.

    My income is 1099 contractor based. My wife's is W2 employee based. Charlie would most likely be 1099 if he lived in the US if I understand his situation correctly. As I understand things in a place like France nearly EVERYONE is treated as an employee.


    So glad I could help!


    It may surprise you but, in many ways, the UK is more 'neo-libertarian' and monetarist than much (occasionally all) of the USA. There are essentially no limits on what a company can put into a contract, employment or otherwise, though really egregious ones are void in law, but the civil law is almost entirely on the side of the company, so challenging them is a financial disaster (or worse) for the individual. It's not that simple, and there are partial exceptions for some specific forms of discrimination, but I would rather not derail by explaining in more detail.

    I should be flabberghasted if the Uber contract did NOT constrain the drivers, because the courts wouldn't have ruled against it unless it was tantamount to an employment contract.


    I still suspect you have things like overtime pay, minimum wage rates, safety conditions, etc... that employers must follow? For an employer/employee relationship in the US these are enforced (supposedly) on the employer. For 1099 contractor relationships these are on the contractor.

    In very very broad general terms.


    You suspect wrong, except for the last, and partially for the second. Overtime pay (or even time in lieu) isn't required, and there are a zillion ways round the minimum pay law (which dates from only 1999, anyway). More importantly, if it is ignored, the best an employee can hope for is the money he should have been paid and a very small amount extra; theoretically he can't be fired for complaining, but in practice he is; and, if he fails (even slightly), he is very likely to be bankrupted and/or blacklisted. Safety conditions aren't much better.


    /snark But I thought every country in Europe was so much better than the US. /snark off

    Or at least that's how some here portray things.

    Both of us have our issues.

    As to work contracts, yes outside of what's proscribed by law there's a lot of room for all kinds of things.


    As you may have noticed, about half the population don't regard the UK as being in Europe :-(


    Utterly, totally wrong, at least regarding safety.

    The Health and Safety at Work Acts (and supporting directives from the HS Executive) place responsibility for the safety of all persons (visitors and USian 1099 style contractors included) on the owner/lessor of a premises. For example, if you were to visit me, the company I work for would still be responsible for stopping you sticking your fingers in an electrical outlet!


    Or just don't wish to mislead people by making sweeping (and probably untrue) generalisations.


    Uber vs/and self-driving auto ... Uber is in fact already heading toward a self-driving fleet according to this source. (Wonder if current drivers might get together to form a Post-Uber collective ... marketing tag line: Stay Human.)

    Working for two different employers is not the same as being an independent contractor. If it were, then a large fraction of the US workforce could be deemed 'contractor'. Also, working at the same office/desk/location is also not what distinguishes between employees and contractors, i.e., quite a few 'employees' (self included) work remotely (online) and are required to show up in person only once in a while. Some contractors are required to sign an 'exclusive services/non-compete/etc.' contract (self again, although this varies with industry) so may be even more constrained than regular employees who can jump ship to a competitor within their own industry. Stock options are generally assumed to be for employees only, but personally have been awarded some even while a contractor. Having line responsibility,i.e., hire, train, manage and do performance reviews on subordinates/employees - also have done this while a 'contractor'. Then there's the creative and forward-thinking employee who outsourced his own job:

    The line is very blurred indeed between 'contractor' and 'employee'.

    Footwear - thank you's to everyone ... will take your good advice into consideration. Comment, although this could be TMI - one of the surgeries resulted in some scarring that makes it difficult to wear closed or close-fitted shoes. These days a modified Roman sandal (sim. to Caligae but less chunky) is looking more and more appealing.

    GABA - stomach, neurons - The stomach/digestive system is the second most densely neuron-packed organ in the human body. Equally important is the role that GABA plays in our feelings about our environment, others and selves. Quite a bit of research linking GABA to depression (clinical and ordinary) and suicide. So, yes, what you put in your mouth/gut matters and changing eating habits can have huge consequences. (Not sure, but think that GABA is mostly obtained as a byproduct of digestion/fermentation of other foodstuffs. Also, several strong contraindications/interactions for GABA and some conditions/meds. Hey - a parent had a huge adverse reaction to a commonly prescribed med, so I now read up on all meds.)


    'The most common pathway to suicide is through depression, which afflicts two thirds of all people who kill themselves. In October researchers in Canada found that the depressed who commit suicide have an abnormal distribution of receptors for the chemical GABA, one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain. GABA’s role is to inhibit neuron activity. “If you think about the gas pedal and brakes on a car, GABA is the brakes,” explains co-author Michael Poulter, a neuroscientist at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario.'


    Also suddenly reminded of David Brin's the Giving Plague.


    In your original post, you state "An austere, low-energy biosphere—think of the high Arctic, with months of total darkness every year and little insolation—can't support anything like as much life as a tropical biome. High energy means more active biomass, which in turn means more niches for parasites to colonize."

    Amusingly, I just read an article about an old Nazi base on the island of Alexandra Land in the Franz Josef Archipelago in the Arctic Circle, where parasites played a role despite its high Arctic location:

    "It was then in service from 1943, before being abandoned in July 1944 when its crew were all poisoned after being forced to eat raw polar bear meat infected with roundworms while running low on supplies. The men became seriously ill, and survivors had to be rescued by a German U-boat." for the article that provided the quote.


    That does not remove the responsibility of an employer to ensure the safety of his employees, though I agree that it does help him to increase the cost of court cases. Please respond to what I say, not what I don't say.


    Re: 'raw polar bear meat'

    Could (also) have died from eating polar bear liver which has an extremely large amount of VitA, i.e., one ounce is lethal.


    'Vitamin A toxicity has long been known to the Inuit and has been known by Europeans since at least 1597 when Gerrit de Veer wrote in his diary that, while taking refuge in the winter in Nova Zemlya, he and his men became severely ill after eating polar bear liver.'

    More technical info/discussion appears in the article starting two thirds down the page here:


    Just plain icky - full on derail from Twitter reference back to Minds.


    Whoever did the ad work for that campaign is 100% running our levels of snark / counter-culture mimetic warfare.

    1st image, as linked: dodgy as fuck Nazi reference.

    2nd image, not linked: Snowden with duffle-bag

    New National Rail Security campaign starts today: 'See it. Say it. Sorted.' UK Gov, 1st Nov, 2016

    Which is a reference to this: Death of Gareth Williams


    So, yeah: we'll look into it, but at first sniff, UK Gov just got Banksy'd so fucking hard by their Creative Ad Team it's not funny.


    Of course, some clueless muppets signed off on it: But the Banksy is reeeeeal strong there and we'd suspect the Rail Security are all soulless G4 stooges so wouldn't even know their history.

    Will take a bit to sniff - but we're thinking we know the peeps doing it.


    And you thought that 1970's pastiche of England as Soviet Nation wouldn't come true?

    4th Wall: totally shattered at this point.


    @Host: Oh boy.

    JC Decaux is your tip off.


    Let's just say: Marketing Revolt 4th Wall Process.


    And, if you want snark:

    MicroSoft changed their Win 10 Spotlight splash from "lanterns showing the way" to "here's the ruins of the Roman Republic with full moon" today.


    Drama Llamas.


    Well, a much simpler explanation is that more conservative attitudes have worse public healthcare and consequently more parasites.

    Any you can't measure healthcare quality without circularly measuring parasites.

    Other thing is that a lot of parasites come from consuming poorly cooked meat, with all the cultural correlations that entails.

    When you observe a correlation between A and B, the explanation that presumes some agency and purpose is pretty much always the least likely one (see the Occam's razor, Hanlon's razor, et cetera).


    "Just Plain Icky"

    --Watches MF go after one of the three games chosen to divert tensions over No Man's Skyas a positive thing (Rimworld, Subnautica and Don't Starve) via a 2000AD writer.

    And abusing the Tingle-hood good will to boot.


    Fuck off already, Minerva Rules.


    And that will get you a fucking spanking:

    SONY Marketing is fair Game and useful: lone developer is not.

    Attempting to re-ignite a spent flame and drama llama and so on to target sole devs doing good games?


    I'd back the fuck off Right Now, DREDD, before the Law of Balance gets broken.


    Looks VERY Hard at Puppies and Minerva

    You do not chase and ratfuck the positive ones replacing the fucking black hole when you just got a lesson in Power / Politics and $burn.


    Someone tell these fucks how to play before they get a real lesson. i.e. $100 mil in Marketing / Brand costs.



    No, seriously. Sony Marketing = Fair Game. Lone Developers / Writers are not.


    Looks hard at "GamerGate", Sony Marketing, MF threads, Games, Puppies and so on in general

    At some point you have to politely agree to get along and just stop.the.fucking.drama.already.

    It is PARASITICAL to continually churn up this stuff and make money off it.

    Facts (that don't include Puppies 'cause fuck that noise, Nov 10th for that):

    1 GamerGate = Sony Marketing and No Man's Sky burn. That's it, that's the cost.

    IRONY: It really became "ethics in Gaming Journalism" because none of the parties involved were clued up, and so. Reality Bit.

    2 Three Games were chosen to divert Gamers tensions into the Arete of the Art: Subnautica, Rimworld, Don't Starve. They were chosen for their Quality. 3 You don't get to re-ignite this fire.


    Fucking CHILDREN.


    Oh, since you're all such CHILDREN.

    Chuck Tingle has a large halo over him. Said Halo has large and fucking pointy teeth (but also shits n giggles 'cause LOVE).

    It is not a wise move to #twitter drama over the "other sides" equivalents if you're linked to a Game / Kickstarter including him.

    Look up how the Chinese viewed wandering Mad-Man during the revolution, aka The Diamond Age.


    Minerva Rules: and trust me. You think the U.N. is play-land? Tell that to the SONY PR team we just gutted for $100 mil.



    But I'm very tired and can't face another 2+ years of Puppy Drama.


    And, #6 while dying (and you've no idea what it costs to protect all you CHILDREN and ArtW already you dumb dumb man):

    I am the LAW


    It's like she's gone into a fugue state.


    No "her kind don't go mad" - because they already are mad.

    Unusually, I can almost parse # 205, but is it really worth the effort? Why couldn't it be said straight out?

    Regarding comment (elsewhere) about toleration form the moderators, my hypothesis is that FE / HB / NN / CD is a licensed "Holy Fool" with the emphasis on FOOL, of course. However, her record of inaccuracies, insulting the other users & repetition of totally false statements make engagement moot, to say the least.

    I suspect that, sooner or later the nice men in white coats will come & take her away ....


    In the defense of the entity currently answering to "Freydis", on a good day she's nearly as much fun as reading "Illuminatis!". On a bad day, just keep scrolling, so many worthier things to worry about, like "Why do so many conservatives seem bent on destabilizing the western world?", some even close to topic, like "Will there be a useful approximation of what constitutes a healthy gut flora population anytime soon?".


    Re: "Will there be a useful approximation of what constitutes a healthy gut flora population anytime soon?".

    That would be very useful provided they based this on a good cross-sectional sample of humans - age, gender, ethnicity, diet type, country, medication history, etc. because I'm guessing that there's probably a range of mixes of healthy gut flora. E.g., Northern (vs. southern) Europeans generally have digestive systems better able to digest dairy. Apart from innate genetic differences, this might also be due to exposure to local bacteria via plants, animals, etc.

    Have heard/read but am not sure (i.e., not seen any data) that many ethnic Celtics should avoid meat primarily because of an HFE mutation implicated in hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) a potentially toxic/fatal iron overload condition. So, yeah - eating meats which are superb iron sources would be extremely dangerous for these folks. But then, there are all those other folks who become anemic if they do not eat meat because plants (for them) are an inadequate source of digestible/available iron. But it could also be that there is a friendly bacteria that helps trap iron from plants in which case these anemics might be able to enjoy salads more often and save on their grocery bills.

    The UK and NA populations are ethnically very diverse ... if large proportions of their populations can't digest dairy or meat and a similarly large proportion would sicken without meat or dairy, then it's a waste of taxes subsidizing agri-businesses (of either type) beyond their respective optimal-health market saturation. Could also result in policy advocating more diverse (and probably more soil-sparing/healthy) agriculture.


    Greg, knock it off.

    You're engaging in the sane/insane version of "slut shaming". You may not understand everything that Freydís says, but that neither means that she is mad nor that her posts are information free.

    Before you ask, I will politely refuse to explain any parts of her posts that I do or do not understand. Your attitude that every poster on Charlie's blog needs to conform to your standards of communication, and owes you an explanation is a sterling example of privilege in action (no, it really is).

    Note: I am not defending Freydís. Personally I find her tendency to hijack the comments and use them as her own grandstanding soapbox to be annoying and rude (even when I find them equally entertaining).


    I keep thinking that instead evaluating lots of people couple of times, it would pay off to track just handful of people all the time.

    The problem with doing gut flora treatments is that is messy. Pharma is strictly regulated with extracted, purified compounds. Currently, we are using combinations of drugs and even that is hard to predict. It s very hard to use living thing that can actually churn out different compounds. When we are able to monitor changes inside the body we will be more confident I guess.


    Agree with a longitudinal approach but still feel that a large diverse sample is necessary. As for the messiness problem, there are swallow-able robots in the works.


    'Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are designing an ingestible robot that could patch wounds, deliver medicine or dislodge a foreign object. They call their experiment an "origami robot" because the accordion-shaped gadget gets folded up and frozen into an ice capsule.

    "You swallow the robot, and when it gets to your stomach the ice melts and the robot unfolds," said Daniela Rus, a professor who directs MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "Then, we can direct it to a very precise location."

    No reason such robots couldn't also be used to gather samples of bacteria along the entire length of the digestive tract.


    Well at least we are in agreement about SOMETHING: Personally I find her tendency to hijack the comments and use them as her own grandstanding soapbox to be annoying and rude

    Furthermore, I was not only in error, I was contradicting myself, too (!) Her posts do contain information, it's just that the ratio of meaningful content can be exceedingly low.

    However, what other commenter here calls everybody extremely rude names, either, for that matter?


    That would be very useful provided they based this on a good cross-sectional sample of humans - age, gender, ethnicity, diet type, country, medication history, etc. because I'm guessing that there's probably a range of mixes of healthy gut flora. In addition to this, one must consider that simple efficiency of extraction of nutrients (calories) is important during food scarcity, but may cause an increased population tendency towards gradual weight gain in times of plenty. See e.g. The relationship between gut microbiota and weight gain in humans (2012) Don't know if it's happened yet in a big way (it's happened in some studies) but expect to see vanity/health-driven microbiota adjustments for less efficiency to support weight loss in the developed world. and the converse (not sure how it would be delivered though) in the parts of the world that suffer from food shortages. Could be wrong and if so would like to know why.


    I always wondered if inside thing (also where inside, stomach, intestines?) is the same as the thing we get out. Would be nice to know.

    I saw stomach acid powered devices before. Not sure if these are the same people but this would be much better. Origami mechanics is another nice-to-publish-probably-won't-see-the-day thing. DNA origami is easier but not sure how it would be useful. Generally I think it is the right track, small building blocks with programming ability.


    There are in fact many things that we agree on!

    As to the calling other posters "rude names", she actually targets specific individuals relatively rarely. Most of the time it's fairly clear that she believes (or would like everyone else to believe) that she's speaking to some invisible audience. Not, of course,that she is above trying to bully commenters who disagree with her into silence (successfully on at least one previous occasion, and perhaps the only time I think she should have been handed a red-card).


    Excellent paper - thanks very much, Bill!

    Re: '...vanity/health-driven microbiota adjustments for less efficiency to support weight loss in the developed world. and the converse (not sure how it would be delivered though) in the parts of the world that suffer from food shortages.'

    Yes, good business and humanitarian opportunity and something that the B&MGates Foundation might fund. Or even Musk as part of his MARS initiative - after all, he'll have to demonstrate that his project can keep the crew/astronauts healthy for a reasonable length of time while at the same time keeping the quantity and range of foodstuffs provided manageable.


    Comments still LT 300, but:

    It seems that Brexit must be voted on by Parliament - the referendum wasn't sufficient in and of itself.

    Can PM May get around this? Aside from successfully appealing the ruling, of course.


    Bigger question is: Does May want to get around this, or is she Actually trying to find a subtle way of not triggering Article 50 (when it does go to the Commons announcing a free vote as opposed to a whipped vote would, I think, be a big give away as to her real intentions).


    Most observers who look below the surface believe that May is a rabid Brexiteer, who (for several possible reasons) kept that quiet before the vote. She is also an extreme authoritarian (think Thatcher after her second election), and loathes any challenges to her autocracy.


    Yes, good business and humanitarian opportunity and something that the B&MGates Foundation might fund.

    This reference in that paper is interesting, at least as an existence proof of feasibility: Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa (2010. "Cited by 1587"!). We hypothesize that gut microbiota coevolved with the polysaccharide-rich diet of BF ["a rural African village of Burkina Faso"] individuals, allowing them to maximize energy intake from fibers while also protecting them from inflammations and noninfectious colonic diseases.


    Off topic: The Laundry RPG is in the current Humble Book Bundle at


    With respect to the study that started the ball rolling, note that as in all social science research (i) treat it as speculation until it's been replicated and triangulated (which is rare in such research) and (ii) remember that correlation is not the same thing as destiny, even when it relates to a demonstrated causality.

    The hypothesis being framed is perfectly plausible and supported by a large sample size, and is falsifiable (or replicable) through additional research, so it does qualify as science. I won't have time to look at the detailed methodology behind this study before the comments close, so let's assume it's a reasonable and objective experimental design for the sake of argument. It may not be, but I can't opine without actually reading the paper.

    That being said, point (ii) becomes the important one: Even if the phenomenon is confirmed to exist, you need to take a step back and decide what social conditions are required to make it plausible. (There are many, many other causes of conservatism and "fear of the other".) Once you've got that context in mind, then you've got the basis for an interesting "what if?" social scenario. But people are more complex than simple correlations suggest. Even if the scenario and causality are rigorously addressed, you need to remember that there will be many, many exceptions. In the case of soi-disant "moral majorities", including a ruling elite, those exceptions may in fact be the real numerical majority. The conflict between these folks and the supposed disease-averse and conservative "majority" is a productive place to go looking for conflict.

    As Charlie notes, disease (including parasitism) imposes a huge burden on intellectual capacity. My IQ is generally pretty high (since I mostly understand Charlie G), but I went through a period of B12-deficiency exhaustion a couple years ago that probably lowered my IQ by 30%. More importantly, IQ is a crappy metric for measuring intellectual capacity; as has been amply demonstrated, the tests are heavily culturally inflected, and most tests can be gamed (witness what has been done with the U.S. SAT tests) simply by teaching participants about the "rules" that guided creation of the test. And IQ is not an absolute value; it's contextual, changes with training, and (back to our topic) is influenced heavily by disease.

    The causality between disease-induced intelligence decreases and (say) living in Africa or anywhere else is robust provided that one takes into account access to modern medical care; you see the same causality in disadvantaged people in the West, including impoverished white folk in some rural regions of Appalachia not to mention the inner city poor. We've recently seen it in babies hit by zika; being a white American doesn't provide much in the way of protection. The racism comes not in saying that "ethnicity A is less intelligent because they're diseased", but rather in assuming that their disadvantage arises from ethnicity rather than access to medical care. Here, too, is productive ground for narrative conflict and for making an important point about racism.


    Haemochromatosis is fairly easy to diagnose by measuring seem iron, transferrin or iron binding capacity and ferritin. Any hospital lab can measure these. Vegetarians can get iron from cooking in mild steel woks. Gut bacteria in some populations can synthesise vitamin B12 but vegans in the west often need supplements. There is a condition first found in South Africa in which iron overload occurs due to drinking beer brewed in iron pots so meat is not essential.

    I suspect gut bacteria are more due to diet and, in the absence of antibiotics would usually change as the diet changed.

    I worked for several years on the development of a test for inflammation of the gut using faecal calprotectin. This involved extracting the analyse from faeces samples. When I trained in Oslo using samples from all over Northern Europe a major part of the extraction was separating the aqueous layer containing the analyse from the fat layer above. After I returned to the UK I never saw a single sample with a fat layer. British faeces is completely different to the rest of Northern Europe. I suspect the gut bacteria are different too.


    /derail, but important:

    Yes, that's quite accurate.

    We're making safe spaces in a proper manner & lessening the hatred. e.g. People are happily munching on games that feature all kinds of non-binary sexualities without even complaining about it. Perfect? No, but a whole lot healthier than the 1950's.

    Having 'allies' stirring it up again is not a good look, esp. this fast after a firestorm and given US politics / Turkey and so on.

    Tip: such plants made for after the firestorm burnt out were nurtured 3+ years ago. We're quite quite serious underneath the bluster.

    Your allies are playing in waters they don't belong and they're not helping things: you're being shown the proper way to fix such stuff.


    And Fugue? I wake up every morning like you do: knowing that this might be the day they come burn my House Down. But with added fun benefits I won't go into, mainly including the fact that my future is Grim Dark, not Safe.

    I will fight for your kind though, you might not see it as clearly as it is.


    British faeces is completely different to the rest of Northern Europe.

    And since the contents of the gut affects the brain, could this explain Brexit?

    • and also Elderly Cynic in the following post. Almost impossible to tell what May actually wants .... Assuming she's as authoritarian & nasty as the Grantham madwoman is a lazy assumption in place of thinking - also it is still too early to tell. [ - though I liked her savaging of the corrupt FIFA, yesterday! ]

    Nonetheless, our constitution states that "Parliament is Sovereign" Something a lot of people really don't get.

    Note: Really frightening piece on BBC "Today" programme this morning - will be available from later this morning - sometime between approx 07.05 & 07.20 on the clock ... Interviewing people in Barnsley ( Very strongly "Out" vote ) ... the levels of ignorance & xenophobia were striking - but then this IS Yorkshire, so maybe we should ask Charlie?


    On the eformer, look a bit deeper; there's more evidence than appears in the headlines. On the latter, you seem to be forgetting that she was Home Secretary for 6 years, which gives a pretty good insight into her mindset.


    "As Charlie notes, disease (including parasitism) imposes a huge burden on intellectual capacity."

    No. That is speculation; we have no real evidence either way. I could provide contrary anecdata, but it's pointless. What we do know is that a high disease burden reduces energy, which we know can reduce both the development and use of intelligence. But that is NOT the same as it reducing intellectual capacity.


    Like how NOT to do it, maybe?


    The dreaded Professor Dunning-Kruger, Napoleon of Crime! Where will he strike next? This thread, by the looks of things.


    Is your mother proud of you?

    Your link refers to one observed case of an outbreak of Ebola in an Ivory Coast chimpanzee band, with the subsequent infection of the single human ethologist who studied that outbreak. That is not in any way a precedent for the mass infection of thousands of human beings with Ebola which took place in 2013 - 2015.


    If you have any evidence that any recent, high-ranking politician is prepared to learn from experience, I should be fascinated to see it.


    Elderly Cynic disagreed with my comment that disease (including parasitism) imposes a huge burden on intellectual capacity.

    "No. That is speculation; we have no real evidence either way. I could provide contrary anecdata, but it's pointless."

    It's possible we agree on this point, since I failed to make a key distinction: I didn't mean that the incapacity is permanent or that an incapacity developed in childhood would become permanent. I cited my personal experience that for a period of nearly a year, my ability to do my work was decreased greatly. Though anecdata (sample size = 1), this is based on hard data: I edit for a living and track my productivity closely. During the period of my incapacity, my productivity decreased by ca. 30%, and the difference from productivity before and after my recovery was statistically significant.

    Does that fit better with your understanding?


    Oh, yes, I agree there - though it depends a great deal on the disease or parasitism - and most of those affect your abilities through making you tire easily, rather than reducing your (untired) thinking ability, which is what is normally meant by intellectual capacity. What we do not have any evidence for is whether this maps into a systematic difference between heavily and lightly parasitised populations.


    I could see group selection producing an age-related self-destruct, if groups are all related & share resources. As soon as grandparents continuing to live ceases to be enough of a reproductive boon to justify the food & space given them, such a group as a whole becomes less fit the longer they live. Whether or not this actually is the case I have no idea; it's a little strange that current human lifespans line up such that if each generation has offspring at their reproductive peak one generally dies shortly before the reproductive peak of one's eldest grandchild, but our lifespans aren't typical throughout human history so this line-up would historically never actually happen.


    Still under 300, but since the High Court ruling's been brought up, if OH will forgive me, congrats on a first victory.

    Here's a question: if May does not appeal to the Supreme Court, or if she does, and loses, then if she pushes Parliament, and loses, what are the odds that a vote of no confidence?



    B12 is commonly prescribed for oldsters to help improve their cognition. There's also increasing evidence that a B3 (nicotinamide mononucleotide) derivative is also very important. The first two article summaries/abstracts are mouse studies but results have been sufficiently promising and consistent that there's talk of human trials.

    Nicotinamide mononucleotide, a key NAD+ intermediate, treats the pathophysiology of diet- and age-induced diabetes in mice

    Jun Yoshino,* Kathryn F. Mills,* Myeong Jin Yoon, and Shin-ichiro Imai

    The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Cell Metab


    Type 2 diabetes (T2D) has become an epidemic in our modern lifestyle, likely due to calorie-rich diets overwhelming our adaptive metabolic pathways. One such pathway is mediated by nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT), the rate-limiting enzyme in mammalian NAD+ biosynthesis, and the NAD+-dependent protein deacetylase SIRT1. Here we show that NAMPT-mediated NAD+ biosynthesis is severely compromised in metabolic organs by high-fat diet (HFD). Strikingly, nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), a product of the NAMPT reaction and a key NAD+ intermediate, ameliorates glucose intolerance by restoring NAD+ levels in HFD-induced T2D mice. NMN also enhances hepatic insulin sensitivity and restores gene expression related to oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and circadian rhythm, partly through SIRT1 activation. Furthermore, NAD+ and NAMPT levels show significant decreases in multiple organs during aging, and NMN improves glucose intolerance and lipid profiles in age-induced T2D mice. These findings provide critical insights into a potential nutriceutical intervention against diet- and age-induced T2D.

    The NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside enhances oxidative metabolism and protects against high-fat diet induced obesity

    Carles Cantó,1,+ Riekelt H. Houtkooper,1,+ Eija Pirinen,1,2 Dou Y. Youn,3 Maaike H. Oosterveer,1 Yana Cen,3 Pablo J. Fernandez-Marcos,1 Hiroyasu Yamamoto,1 Pénélope A. Andreux,1 Philippe Cettour-Rose,1 Karl Gademann,4 Chris Rinsch,5 Kristina Schoonjans,1 Anthony A. Sauve,3 and Johan Auwerx1


    As NAD+ is a rate-limiting co-substrate for the sirtuin enzymes, its modulation is emerging as a valuable tool to regulate sirtuin function and, consequently, oxidative metabolism. In line with this premise, decreased activity of PARP-1 or CD38 —both NAD+ consumers— increases NAD+ bioavailability, resulting in SIRT1 activation and protection against metabolic disease. Here we evaluated whether similar effects could be achieved by increasing the supply of nicotinamide riboside (NR), a recently described natural NAD+ precursor with the ability to increase NAD+ levels, Sir2-dependent gene silencing and replicative lifespan in yeast. We show that NR supplementation in mammalian cells and mouse tissues increases NAD+ levels and activates SIRT1 and SIRT3, culminating in enhanced oxidative metabolism and protection against high fat diet-induced metabolic abnormalities. Consequently, our results indicate that the natural vitamin, NR, could be used as a nutritional supplement to ameliorate metabolic and age-related disorders characterized by defective mitochondrial function.

    Another mouse study but this time specifically discussing brain health impact:


    'This is the first study to directly examine amelioration of NAD+ catabolism and changes in mitochondrial morphological dynamics in brain utilizing the immediate precursor NMN as a potential therapeutic compound. This might lead to well-defined physiologic abnormalities that can serve an important role in the validation of promising agents such as NMN that target NAD+ catabolism preserving mitochondrial function.'

    Would be interesting to know if any gut microbes or parasites preferentially digest and pass or not pass along the benefits of any micro-nutrients including the B vitamins.


    "Would be interesting to know if any gut microbes or parasites preferentially digest and pass or not pass along the benefits of any micro-nutrients including the B vitamins."

    They do, but it's not thought to be a major factor in humans (though it is in other animals). It's complicated and poorly understood, so none of the links I can find in a quick search are helpful. This looks plausible, but I haven't read it:


    Thanks! The short answer appears to be 'yes' however I'm unable to access details of this report.

    Looked up the author MJ Hill - (past) Chair of European Cancer Prevention Agency, 400+ published articles (plus a bunch of chapters in uni/grad school text books) mostly on colon/digestive system cancers, factors contributing to, including diet. So a summary article/overview by this author would probably be very informative ...

    Plus this book which looks a lot like it's a summary of all the reports/papers presented at a conference:

    Epidemiology Of Diet And Cancer By M.J. Hill, A. Giacosa, Christine P.J. Caygill


    When I was doing my MSc in Clinical Biochemistry in 1990 the vitamin lecturer stated that some eastern vegans had symbiotic bacteria which produced B12. I haven't found evidence for this on line yet but the existence of groups like Jains seems to suggest this is possible. In the UK vegans are recommended to supplement with B12 but there is a suggestion that some of those who don't are OK. A lot of non-animals sources such as spirulina contain pseudo B12. In the usual clinical B12 assay this is detected as B12 so some labs are now measuring clinically active B12. The standard B12 assay which uses intrinsic factor as the capture agent is probably the least precise and accurate assay used in clinical laboratories.


    Years ago I remember my father (medical researcher) telling me that Jains often suffered from vitamin B deficiencies when they moved to England from India. His explanation was that flour in India contains more insect parts*, and they were getting the vitamins from that. I wonder if changing gut bacteria also played a role? It would be interesting to see a survey of how gut bacteria change in immigrants.

    *Given that one of his civil service jobs included recommending food standards, I assume he knew what he was talking about when he differentiated Indian vs. British flour.


    I suspect it's time, though, to start getting really suspicious about a lot of aging related research, both when we look at increases in human lifespan and when we look at the lifespans of nonhuman species.

    Two examples: -First, we've seen how "medicine" has increased human average lifespans from somewhere around 40-50 to 60-80 in developed countries. Where this gets interesting is that various experts claim it's due to either medicine, public health, clean water, or some evolutionary advantage of grandmothers.

    --Second, we've seen how humans are seen as different from the great apes in that our lifespan is 60-80, whereas apes die between 40-50 in the wild. Human females have a significant post menopausal lifespan, great apes do not.

    Things get weird when we give apes good health care and clean water. They live into their 60s. Until recently (and I think she passed), my favorite orangutan at the SD Zoo was an elderly female in her 60s who painted and loved children. At zoos and vet offices, gerontology is a rapidly growing field.

    Unfortunately, in radically impoverished places like Haiti, especially where there is no supply of clean water, human lifespans are 40-50.

    My growing suspicion is that we're actually no different than great apes. Our normal lifespan in the wild, without clean water, public health, medicine, or the other advantages of civilization, is around 40-50. a few people make it to twice that age, more die in childhood, and so forth. That's probably true for great apes as well, but since there are far fewer of them, we rarely (if ever) see the great ages we see among rare outlier humans who live a century or more. It's possible that the reason we're seeing extreme human longevity is simply that there are so many of us that more extreme outliers get produced and manage to survive longer through sheer luck.

    The bottom line for me is that if we care about lifespans and the evolution thereof, we need to really rethink many of our studies to filter out the cultural effects of civilization. I'm not sure what it says when animals in civilization (e.g. as pets or in zoos) have huge gains in their lifespans, but since it seems to be a real phenomenon, we have to filter out the effect of civilization before we talk about how evolution affects lifespan. We also need to correct for the different sample sizes: billions of humans will kick up extreme outliers far more often than will populations of thousands of great apes or whales.


    Actually, we know the answers, but they are drowned out by the people pushing agendas. In terms of average age of the population, 40-50 is too high in the wild, and our increase is almost entirely clean water, adequate nutrition, the lack of predation and the simple avoidance or immunisation against of a VERY few parasites and diseases. Very much in that order - note that even antibiotics don't really register, and the only significant parasites and diseases in terms of overall lifespan are ones like malaria and smallpox.

    In terms of 'maximum' lifespan, or 'expected' time to dying of old age, yes, then aggressive medicine etc. makes a major difference. But, to compensate for the people kept alive to 120, there are others that die early from overeating, poor diet, lack of exercise and stress.


    That's interesting. I found this a few minutes ago.

    That suggests a method of getting enough B12 which is unpleasant but completely in the spirit of this topic.


    You're absolutely right. And, of course, the irony here is you can live a long time in a place where there is naturally clean water, adequate food, no pernicious parasites, predators, or pathogens. Islands like Okinawa, parts of Greece, or other blue zones, in other words. Things don't have to be complicated to clean. Mess up their water supply, introduce malaria, and so forth, and their inhabitants' lifespans will crash like others have. What we're doing with modern industrial civilization is simply making ideal living conditions for some.

    Still, I'm not sure that everyone could get to 120, even if we cleaned up the world. That meme seems to have crept out of Taoism and spread widely. Even expert Taoists seldom make it to 100, at least so far as I've seen. They do enjoy their old age more, though.


    Infant/toddler mortality is ridiculously high without modern sanitation/nutrition/perinatal care/vaccination. Life expectancy for people who make it out of early childhood in these circumstance is not great, but much closer to what we now consider normal. The big boom in "average life expectancy" was from saving those toddlers. One way that America sucks: we have awful infant mortality numbers for an "advanced nation."


    Awful is relative. I agree that the US can do better on infant mortality. IIRC, though, even South Sudan, which has the highest infant mortality rate of any nation, still has a lower infant mortality rate than, say, Renaissance London. Even in abject poverty and civil war, science, medicine, and public health are not helpless.

    Still, there's a second boom from cleaner water, in that more people live past their 40s, that according to at least one water engineer. I'm not sure it's true (more sources would be nice), but it's worth checking on. According to this guy, things like cholera and other waterborne diseases can shorten adult life spans considerably as well. Where infant mortality really hits is in old data on the !Kung San and other groups, where there was high infant mortality but high adult survivorship, so that high infant mortality pulls down average age at death considerably. In other places, there's high infant mortality and low survivorship into old age.


    Not "just" JUST! ) clean water, but also adequate nutrition in childhood & possibly even more important, during the mother's pregnancy. In the UK we still have not seen the full work-through of the effect of rationing & consequent proper feeding of mothers during WWII, nor the proper feeding of thior post-War offspring ( like me, born 1946 ) And my mother was, herself, better-fed than most, 1905 onwards, as my grandfather was a Master Butcher ......


    This makes me wonder about the feedback between pathogen and cultural evolution. Pathogens that are passed on by person-to-person contact tend to be less virulent/aggressive. The classic example is cholera. If its main vector is water it needs to be very toxic to kill everything else that lives in the water. If the vector are humans, the varieties that leave the host "healthy" enough to have contact with other humans tend to proliferate. Furthermore, we need to take into account that the immune system requieres a level of exposure to immune challenges to mature correctly and avoid autoimmune diseases. If a hygienic/conservative society finds allergies icky this may create a counter pressure to subject children to "nature".

    So, take a society that has just colonized a new world. They will probably be used to being very careful with their resources after a period in space. The high level of hygiene has two consequences: aggressive parasites and autoimmune diseases. Then it becomes a question of which problem dominates. If the autoimmune diseases are the main problem, I would expect the emergence of "pro-nature" groups that believe in relaxing the hygiene rules. This may put the population in contact with highly pathogenic organism, and cause an epidemic where the conservative groups will be the less affected, shifting the balance of the culture. This will of course last until the excessive hygiene causes enough autoimmune diseases. This cycle may be altered by the random evolution of a contagious parasite, which will automatically shift the cycle towards the conservative stage. I would expect this process to dominate in rich ecosystems where there is a constant contact with animals. An other way to alter the cycle would be the coevolution of low virulence pathogens and habits that favor their transmission between persons. I wonder if this is how public baths and the microbiome evolved.



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