Blaming the Wuhan Scientists

The 511 / June 29, 2021

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or my take on a science-y news item
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Please pardon my absence, as I’ve been working on some fun projects in AR/VR and carbon exchanges in recent weeks — in the role of a subcontractor and, with discretion being the better part of valor, I can’t ID these fantastic companies via my blog or portfolio. (If you’re really curious, let’s talk.)

Still, a big welcome to the folks who started following my blog over the past few weeks.

First, cool things about the pangolin

“Pangolin” means roller in Malay. This scaly anteater responds to threats by rolling into a ball and showing predators a spheroid of protective scales.

Ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii) curling up to rest on a termite mound in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.
The pangolin defense: not an option for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

Pangolin meat is a delicacy in China, and traditional Chinese medicine uses derivatives of pangolin scales to treat asthma, rheumatism, and arthritis — but not, it seems, the flu.

While snacking on anthills with a tongue that can be as long as 16″, the pangolin can voluntarily constrict its ears and nostrils to keep out stray ants.

Folks who don’t learn from history …

are, of course, doomed to repeat it.

And maybe some of them folks are us, considering that the best means to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus are the same means used to limit the spread of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.

Still, we are hardwired for curiosity, so the current effort to determine the source of the COVID-19 virus — which originated by most accounts in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is proximate to wet markets of live animals, the Wuhan Center for Disease Control, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology — is understandable and noteworthy.

One key hypothesis is that scientists in Wuhan collected SARS-CoV-2 from an animal, or created it using coronavirus genomes, and an unlucky scientist became patient zero as a result of human error.

In these scenarios, a person in the lab might have then been accidentally or deliberately infected by the virus, and then spread it to others — sparking the pandemic. There is currently no clear evidence to back these scenarios, but they aren’t impossible.

“The COVID lab-leak hypothesis: what scientists do and don’t know.” Amy Maxmen & Smriti Mallapaty, June 8, 2021, in Nature

The rival hypothesis implicates a bat, and maybe a pangolin (a key commodity in Wuhan wet markets), in passing the virus across the animal-human barrier to patient zero.

At this point, there’s no data that implicate the virologists of Wuhan — and there’s plenty of data that implicates the wet markets so prominent across China. “Most emerging infectious diseases begin with a spillover from nature,” note Maxmen and Mallapaty, “as was seen with HIV, influenza epidemics, Ebola outbreaks and the coronaviruses that caused the SARS epidemic beginning in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak beginning in 2012.”

the-coming-plague.jpg

And, along those lines, check out this entry from the timing-is-everything box: Pulitzer winner Laurie Garrett, author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (from 199-bloody-4!). Her description of the regular vaporization of the cocktail of effluvia at Wuhan wet markets will make you shudder. Ms. Garrett appeared this past week on This Week in Virology (see here).

The threshold for rejecting the null hypothesis can get political, and not simply in terms of quelling the uproar of a political faction here in the US. I think it has to do with American exceptionalism and American notions of individualism. We believe, in some fundamental way, that we control our own destinies. See, for example, a prompt from a recent GRE exam:

“The concept of ‘individual responsibility’ is a necessary fiction. Although societies must hold individuals accountable for their own actions, people’s behavior is largely determined by forces not of their own making.”

The stickiness of the Wuhan Lab hypothesis reflects this idea, and our faith in this fiction. (See Yuval Harari on the many fictions that constitute our world.) In school, work, and the justice system, the individual bears responsibility. It’s difficult in the US to imagine how things might be otherwise.

That fiction depends, too, upon our taming of nature — whose nature still runs wild, despite our best efforts. Check out the California wildfires. Check out the flash floods in Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana, and Alabama. Check out the record high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

Chaos thrives. Things fall apart. Our vision of individual responsibility — when it comes to climate change, disease, and racism, to begin — cannot hold. Still, we’re stronger together, and we have few options but to think anew this time to avert doom the next time.

5(1)1 — On friendship

“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I’ve made.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt
51(1) — In rotation: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”

When Karl Marx was diligently compiling the 2,000+ pages of the three-volume Das Kapital, he was responsible for various assignments for the New York Herald-Tribune. The details are foggy now, but his editor wanted the master’s take on the specter haunting Europe, the specter of communism, and the ways it inspired strikes and rebellions across Europe in the mid-19th century. Marx, bless his heart, couldn’t be bothered. What did bother him, though, were his carbuncles (since it involves pus, I’ll let you Google it). And, often when he faced a Tribune deadline, he didn’t dare set aside his magnum opus, and enlisted comrade Friedrich Engels to ghostwrite it for him.

There She Goes …” is the only song I know of that cites this part of their relationship. It’s a brilliant take on what to do when inspiration doesn’t come and — given the odds faced by Marx and Engels, Dylan Thomas, and Johnny Thunders — how to muster the energy to keep going.

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in science, cool tech, and inspired tunes.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

I have capacity for a new client starting in mid-August. If you want to talk about branding and marketing, or a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.

Cheers!

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The Envelope, Please: Prepping Your Brain for College

The 511 / April 5, 2021

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the nine people who started following my blog these past couple of weeks. Please pardon the late delivery of this one. Someone turned on the client-work spigot, and I’ve been keeping delightfully busy.

The fully fraught first-year experience

In my years as a college dean, I got wise to a strange, right-there-in-front-of-G*d-and-everybody secret about the end-of-summer drop of kids by parents at residential colleges: outside of joining the armed forces, this was likely to be the most disruptive life transition for these kids ahead of adoption or reproduction.

When else will these late adolescents have the opportunity to pack up, say, eight boxes of their belongings, move anywhere from 30 to 3000 miles away, and toss their lot in with 100s, even 1000s, of strangers? Never, I figure — unless college doesn’t work out, and you end up enlisting.

This year, this rite of passage is bound to be even more disruptive. In my senior year of high school, once school let out, my friends and I kept as busy as possible doing nothing much at all, because we were much more wrapped in each other’s lives than our family’s lives. With 16 months’ worth of adolescent energies (you know the ones) hemmed in and pent up, this year’s first-year experience is bound to be fraught, fabulous, and full of epic hi-jinks. I wish the parents, my former fellow deans, and the class of 2025 the best of luck.

With thousands of students arriving, colleges in Connecticut are hustling  to get students tested for COVID-19 - Hartford Courant
Don’t forget the mini-fridge.

The technology angle today is email, and Cal Newport’s most recent book: A World Without Email. I’m not going to TLDR this one for you, since nearly everything Newport writes is worthy of your undivided attention. And, in fact, that’s what Newport invites you to recover: your undivided attention. Some of my favorite of Newport’s ideas are on college, time management, sanity, and success. In fact, I think his How to Win at College should be titled “How to Avoid Strategies of Self-defeat at College,” but there’s no wonder why the publishers opted for the former.

Here’s the lowdown on College: 75 chapters in 189 pages. These chapters are insufferably practical, and include the kernels of ideas for later books. The two-page “Study in Fifty-Minute Chunks” morphed into Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. His counsel here is scientifically sound:

“periods of roughly fifty minutes, divided by short breaks, will maximize the amount of material you can successfully learn and remember in a given sitting.”

In “Build Study Systems,” Newport offers another bit of empirically testing advice: subject your study system to empirical testing. I heard the following response from a super majority of the college students I polled: “I write my best papers between midnight and five a.m.”

“I don’t doubt that,” I’d reply. “But tell me: do you write all of your papers between midnight and five a.m.” After they’d respond with a shrug and break eye contact, I’d say, “Please: test the null hypothesis. Try writing your next paper between 8am and noon.”

5(1)1 — On learning

“You suddenly understand something you’ve
understood all your life, but in a new way.”

Doris lessing
51(1) — In rotation: The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”

Yasi Salek, host of the brilliant BandSplain podcast, talked for hours with Mats’ historian Bob Mehr, and this two-episode, um, episode is an absolute treat. Ms. Salek’s great, and Bob knows just about everything about one of my all-time fave units. (You can even find a pic of me in another big book about the Replacements. No, I can’t remember the title.)

Can’t Hardly Wait” is the gem that closes Pleased to Meet Me (1987), and leaves me feeling wistful for the blazing hot cloudless days of summers in the San Joaquin Valley. And, for the nutters, check out Spotify for the Jimmy Iovine mix of this track: the difference is subtle, but worth hearing at least once.

The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me cover.jpg
Not the image the title conveys, but that’s a tale for another day (or Google).

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in health, leadership, and music.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

If you want to talk about branding and marketing for start-ups and medtech, or about a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.

Cheers!

Sources: see links embedded above.

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Step by Step: New Research on Running High

The 511 / March 12, 2021

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the seven people who started following my blog these past couple of weeks.

This your brain on marijuana—I mean, running

“So I hear you’re on the track team,” Jimmy asked me, back in high school.
“That’s right.”
“And when we played baseball together,” he noted, “what was the worst part of practice?”
“Batting practice,” I said. “Especially when you were hitting.” I smiled.
“Funny,” Jimmy snorted. “Besides batting practice, then.”
“Jogging, I suppose.”
“Exactly,” he snapped. “And what do you do all practice for track?”
“We … run?”
“And that’s what I don’t get,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “I’ll never understand runners.”

Even if Jimmy was a total ass (which he was), he had a point. I ran track for two years and, in my junior year, I blew out my ACL. I was a sprinter, and we used to poke fun at the guys who ran x-country in the fall, and did distance events in the spring. We referred to Rob and Greg, with a nod to the song by the Rolling Stones, as “the boys with the far away eyes.” (The girl of the song hailed from Bakersfield, at the other end of the San Joaquin Valley from Stockton, my hometown.) New research explains that glassy-eyed look.

In a smart piece in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds explains the chemistry behind “the runner’s high.” For years, we attributed that look to naturally produced endorphins. Endorphins, though, don’t cross the blood-brain barrier.

In the study, runners developed a gentle intoxication, known as a runner’s high, even if researchers had blocked their bodies’ ability to respond to endorphins, suggesting that those substances could not be behind the buzz. Instead, the study suggests, a different set of biochemicals resembling internally homegrown versions of cannabis, better known as marijuana, are likely to be responsible.

Getting to the Bottom of the Runner’s High

While I understood the difference between my brain in season (calm-ish, focused-ish) vs. out of season (oh, goodness), this study reveals what happens when we lace up our running shoes (or light up medical Mary Jane): “Similar in chemical structure to cannabis, the cannabinoids made by our bodies surge in number during pleasant activities, such as orgasms, and also when we run, studies show. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, too, making them viable candidates to cause any runner’s high.”

Pain modulation, anti-inflammation, and other contributors to well-being (source: Cure Pharmaceutical).

Dogs served as test subjects in this study, and they derive the same effect from a good run. Over the winter, here in Ohio, I run intermittently with Seamus, our Wheaten Terrier, and sometimes attach his leash to my bike for a 1.5 mile loop. On occasion, he’ll surprise me, and set a blistering pace. Researchers tested human runners with a 45-minute run, so I’m uncertain whether interval training, or shorter workouts, can flood the mind and body with naturally occurring cannabinoids and, in turn, increase euphoria and decrease anxiety. (I wonder, too, if say California hit peak marijuana use during 2020 — for a host of reasons — and whether there’s a downturn in that market.)

One more note on fitness and FitBits (and equivalent): they may come in handy for early diagnoses of neurodegenerative disease. A recent study in Canada finds that “Increased gait variability may reflect the progression of cognitive impairment in neurodegenerative diseases, and potentially with specificity for Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” If they’re not designed with this feature now, they may be soon.

5(1)1 — On key opinion leaders

“Crank — a man [sic] with a new idea until it succeeds.”

Mark Twain
51(1) — In rotation: The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “May This Be Love”

Twenty years after the May 1967 UK release of this LP (August in the US), Rolling Stone magazine tallied its 100 fave LPs over the last 20 years. Hendrix’s debut album was in the top 6. I listened to it often as an undergraduate and after, but then it slipped away from me. “May This Be Love” shows the softer side of Hendrix, whose vision on this album — from virtuoso to arranger — still elicits awe.

The French LP cover, 1967.

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in health, leadership, and music.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

If you want to talk about branding and marketing in medtech, or a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.

Cheers!

Sources: see links embedded above.

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Coda: Notes on my essay on STEM education and racial health disparities

The 511 / March 3, 2020

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes:

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the 10 people who started following my blog since February 18.

Why I wrote this essay

Last time around, I featured my essay that recently appeared in Crain’s Cleveland (here). (Click the image below, though, if you’re not a Crain’s CLE subscriber.) Back in the day, I taught courses for 10 years at colleges and universities in New York City and Cleveland, and then I worked for 11 more as a dean at Oberlin College. So yeah: 21 years thinking about the different ways to help young people succeed at college. Some students, though, through no fault of their own, arrive at college less prepared than others. The different ways that colleges and universities address that question (or ignore it) was a key topic of conversation among my colleagues at Oberlin and elsewhere.

Today, as a B2B copywriter, I focus mostly on what the market will bear, in terms of products and services. I think, too, about what the market will bear in terms of acts of generosity, and how those acts can be harnessed to benefit, say, high-school students without access to a robust STEM education. (Foundations operate in a different type of marketplace, but it’s a market nonetheless.)

As you know, disparities and long-standing inequity along class and racialized lines inspired protests, op-ed pieces, and even social change in 2020. Protests commenced overseas, too. In the English Premier League, their “No Room for Racism” campaign continues apace. Is such a campaign be effective? Can lessons in math class help third graders be more “woke”? I do not claim to know the answers to this question.

Social scientists speak to this question in all sorts of compelling ways. One of the more fascinating analyses I found focused on the correlation between Recent social science research indicates that prosocial, inclusive behavior correlates positively with racially diverse neighborhoods. From a study by researchers at Singapore University:

“After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Globe newspaper set up a website where individuals could offer to host stranded visitors in their homes. Using a sample of 4,502 help offers posted on the website, we found that people in more racially diverse neighbourhoods were more likely to spontaneously offer help to complete strangers who were stranded by the bombing.”

“People in More Diverse Neighbourhoods are More Prosocial,” by Krishna Savani

I dig the design of this study. My own designs, though, compared to new legislation at the state and federal levels, were pretty damn humble, and boiled down to a single question: What could a group of three or more committed people do to help improve dozens of lives starting this June? A successful pilot in summer 2021 could, in turn, help hundreds in summer 2022, and maybe even more the year after that.

The money is out there, and filling in the details for the model, even in pandemic times, should be fairly simple in states that still endorse masking up and physical distancing and, in a word, science.

Please consider sharing this essay with a colleague. And let me know what you think!

Thank you!

Essay sources

Key sentences or fragments, with links. Hover over to find the blue link, please.

NBS Knowledge Lab – People in More Diverse Neighbourhoods are More Prosocial (ntu.edu.sg)

5(1)1 — On life’s tempo

“At best Americans give but a limited attention to history. Too much happens too rapidly, and before we can evaluate it, or exhaust its meaning or pleasure, there is something new to concern us. Ours is the tempo of the motion picture, not that of the still camera, and we waste experience as we wasted the forest.”

Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (1964)

51(1) — In rotation: Duke, Mingus, Roach

Ralph Ellison was one of our finest writers, and certainly one of our finest writers on jazz. Every track on this LP is a gem, and I’m confident he loved this LP. I hope you dig it, too.

Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (1962) UK United Artists | LondonJazzCollector

Enjoy!

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