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Member since: 2002
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Harvard, Monsatan Scientists Create New Technology Against GMO-resistant (Bt) Agricultural Pests



Thanks to Harvard professor David Liu's phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE) technology, Harvard and Monsanto scientists evolved new forms of a protein known as "Bt toxin," which can assist in controlling Bt toxin-resistance in insects. Bt stands for Bacillus thuringiensis.

With typical processes, it can take a year to engineer the insect-killing protein in a laboratory, but using the PACE technology, it can take only a month, said Thomas Malvar, lead of the insect-control discovery at Monsanto.


As the collection of proteins, evolved with the help of PACE, become more diverse, Liu said he hopes scientists will continue to use PACE to take on problems that are difficult to solve through traditional methods. In fact, if it took PACE 22 days to pull off 500 generations, traditional stepwise methods might take a decade.

PACE could also be used in a variety of fields that would benefit from the quick evolution of proteins. For instance, in health care, PACE could speed up the discovery of new therapeutic proteins, researchers said.



Harvard may wear uniforms that look like those of Gryffindor, but it is clearly in the house of Slytherin.

How George Plimpton’s Sports Books Presaged the First-Person Media Age

The late author’s seven books of participatory journalism, recently reissued, put the writer in the middle of the frame, auguring much to come.


Everyone knew Muhammad Ali’s name, especially after the Terrell fight. And everyone seemed to know Plimpton’s name, whether they read his books or not. Plimpton was an omnipresence for much of American cultural life—both high and low—in the last third of the 20th century. He appeared in commercials for Oldsmobile and Intellivision, and appeared in the movies The Bonfire of the Vanities and Good Will Hunting and on TV’s Married with Children. He was present when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, helping to tackle Sirhan Sirhan. He turned up as a character on The Simpsons. In a New Yorker cartoon from 1967, a man about to undergo surgery looks up at the doctor wearing a mask and asks, “Wait a minute! How do I know you’re not George Plimpton?”

That Zelig-like identity rested largely on a series of seven books in which the New York–born, Harvard-educated Plimpton threw himself both physically and intellectually into the professional sporting life. Decades before the onset of reality TV and the Twittersphere, Plimpton starred in his own Everyman story. And this year Little, Brown is reissuing all seven stories on the 50th anniversary of the most famous of the series, Paper Lion: Confessions of a Last-String Quarterback.


Paper Lion, like the other sports books, came out of articles he wrote for Sports Illustrated, and here Plimpton, after approaching several football teams, convinces the Detroit Lions to take him on. He describes showing up at the private-school campus where the Lions are training. The 36-year-old writer pulls into the driveway of a boys’ boarding school called Cranbrook in a rented convertible. At the registration desk he is mistaken for a member of the other group dorming there—Episcopalian bishops, in town for a convention.


“Plimpton wrote Paper Lion,” Nicholas Dawidoff says in the book’s introduction, “in what was still a Walter Mitty era of armchair fandom when from the bleachers all reveries were plausible.” The private-school setting of Paper Lion, according to Dawidoff, highlighted “that central juxtaposition of an amateur among professionals, elitist intellectual amid hard-hat muscle.”



Great stuff. Plimpton was fantastic.

RIDE ALONG WITH THE COW POLICE (There Are Modern Day Cow Rustlers)


"Late one winter night, under cover of darkness, two young calves were stolen from a ranch in Alvarado, Texas. Someone cut a wire fence bordering the property, allowing a four-wheeler to trundle onto the pasture. The calves, an Angus and a Black Baldy, were loaded into a goat cage and driven seventy miles west, along Highway 67, to a cattle barn in Stephenville. Witnesses recall seeing two men collect a claim ticket for the animals. One of the men, wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, kept his chin tucked to his chest, concealing his face. His partner, hatless, presented the clerk at the cattle barn with a driver’s license in his own name. Several hours later, the calves were sold at auction—the Angus to the agent of a dairy barn in Blanket, the Baldy to a rancher in Bluff Dale, who planned to use the animal to practice roping. By sunset, before the calves’ rightful owner had even noticed their absence, the men had already received a check for the sum of the two sales and disappeared into the dusk.

Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas. Rates of cattle theft in the state have risen fivefold in less than a decade. The thefts take many forms. Some resemble the Alvarado case, in which cattle are carried off and sold to a third party. Other times, rustlers will shoot and field strip the animals, then sell their meat to an unscrupulous abattoir. There also exist white-collar variants, whereby cattle are acquired fraudulently or invested in byzantine Ponzi schemes.

Lawmen and rustlers now find themselves reenacting a centuries-old drama, one central to the creation myth of the American frontier. If the cowboy was the great American folk hero, the cattle rustler was his villainous twin. They were both lone figures seeking their fortune in the hinterlands, unbound by government or caste. But the rustler lacked an essential sense of nobility and fair play—he stole what the cowboy earned.

In Texas, when a cow or bull is reported stolen, the case is assigned to one of twenty-seven men, the employees of a trade group called the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The TSCRA traces its origins to 1877, when forty ranchers, plagued by rustlers, gathered outside the courthouse in Graham and pooled their money to hire men with guns to protect their herds. The group now serves more than 17,000 businesses and ranching families who collectively manage 4 million head of cattle on 76 million acres of range and pastureland. The armed men in their employ are no longer mercenaries but peace officers, deputized by the Texas Department of Public Safety as Special Texas Rangers, with full, state-sanctioned powers of investigation and arrest. The organization’s central mission, to prosecute cattle theft, remains unchanged.



Interesting stuff.

Livestock and Climate Change: Facts and Fiction



One argument often made is that U.S. livestock GHG emissions from cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are comparable to all transportation sectors from sources such as cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc. The argument suggests the solution of limiting meat consumption, starting with “Meatless Mondays,” to show a significant impact on total emissions.

When divorcing political fiction from scientific facts around the quantification of GHG from all sectors of society, one finds a different picture.

Leading scientists throughout the U.S., as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have quantified the impacts of livestock production in the U.S., which accounts for 4.2 percent of all GHG emissions, very far from the 18-51 percent range that advocates often cite.

Comparing the 4.2 percent GHG contribution from livestock to the 27 percent from the transportation sector, or 31 percent from the energy sector in the U.S. brings all contributions to GHG into perspective. Rightfully so, the attention at COP21 was focused on the combined sectors consuming fossil fuels, as they contribute more than half of all GHG in the U.S.



Interesting stuff.

Natural versus Synthetic Chemicals Is a Gray Matter


A very good piece on the issue.

Save the Bees! Ban these two toxic organic pesticides immediately



Now the problem is that last week the European Commission concluded that azadirachtin, commonly used by organic farmers in Europe, is seriously fatal to bumblebees even at “concentrations 50 times lower” than the recommended levels for organic farmers. The study showed that only 30% of the bumblebees survived exposure at any dose level of azadirachtin. Azadirachtin may be natural and promoted for organic farming but it is deadly to bees (although perhaps in an organic way).

Why then do organic farming organisations think that using these toxins are OK? See a recent article that assures organic gardeners that azadirachtin (as neem oil) is safe, non-toxic and has no effect on bees. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has been lobbying the European Commission to keep azadirachtin on the market (with less stringent data requirements) because there are no other alternatives for organic fruit production. Uhm, how about safe, well-tested synthetic pesticides that do not wipe out bee populations?

I have written elsewhere how the organic industry lobby does not hesitate to use unethical practices to gain market share and public support. But if you are blinded by the belief that natural is always good, then you don’t see it as lying, you don’t see the negative consequences of your toxic pesticides and you don’t see the contradictions of your lobbying. You are just blind … and very vocal. But isn’t it sweet that the UK Soil Association has been caught supporting the bumblebee exterminator while they are one of the leading voices demanding a permanent ban on neonicotinoids “to save the bees”! Now the Soil Association say they need to retrain their staff … understatement of the year! I hope they train them to not be so blinded as to think natural toxins are better than scientific toxins.

And what do our jokesters at Pesticide Action Network have to say about azadirachtin? PAN recommends this organic bee-killer as an alternative to several neonicotinoids. So a toxic chemical used in organic farming that wipes 70% of bumblebees out at concentrations 50 times lower than the recommended organic farming levels is considered as a safer alternative than well-tested neonicotinoids. This type of lobbying should be criminalised (but large-scale bee deaths don’t count for much in a court of law).




"European activists opposing all forms of modern genetics have a new defector. The heretic is no other than Urs Niggli, for more than 25 years Director of the Switzerland-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (Das Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau, FiBL). FiBL is one of the world’s leading organic farming information and research centers located in Switzerland with branches in Germany and Austria. It is internationally respected for its research in the organic agricultural community and beyond. While FiBL has been among the first outspoken critics of genetic engineering in the past (and claims responsibility for the GMO ban installed in Switzerland), it’s director now has adopted a more balanced view. But when he spoke out in an interview in the German-language newspaper Die Tageszeitung taz, published April 6, Niggli found himself in the focus of a shitstorm by NGOs and lobby groups of organic agriculture. At present, he no longer speaks to the media. (article est disponible en Frenche ici.)

Niggli’s capital crime: He spoke in favor of CRISPR/cas, a violation of the central dogma of the European organic movement that all technologies developed by modern genetics are unnatural and inherently evil. CRISPR/cas, a novel, simple and very elegant method for precisely targeted interventions in the genome is a natural process discovered in bacteria. While it is not more unnatural than the process of cloning and grafting popular among breeders since ancient Greece (and probably before) and can be performed similarly cheap and easy, for anti-GMO NGOs and organic lobby groups this natural process is viewed as even more dangerous than traditional genetic engineering as it can be applied without leaving any traces.

In Europe, the EU is on the brink of deciding on how to deal with CRISP/cas, and the anti-GMO lobby is heavily campaigning against any regulation that would allow breeders to use the technology or companies to bring CRISPR/cas-generated plants on the market. To create a new and increased level of fear, the lobbyists have coined the term „extreme genetic engineering.“

They are very well aware that any differentiation between technologies allowing for genome interventions will destroy their narrative of „natural“ vs. „unnatural.“ Interestingly, when advocates of genetic engineering in plants educated the public about the chemical and radiation breeding technologies used in conventional and even organic breeding, organic breeders announced they would also abandon those technologies and stick to „natural“ mutations (they employ molecular genetic technologies for trait screening though).



Ruh roh.

No, 'science' didn't 'prove' that dogs hate hugs

According to numerous outlets, a scientific study has found that the majority of dogs dislike being hugged, based on cues of distress found in a random assortment of photos pulled from the Internet. We at are not here to argue that you should go squeeze the life out of a puppy. But we are here to squeeze the life out of this misleading science coverage.

"If you have an Internet connection, you've probably read at least one article in the past few days claiming that science has shown that dogs hate being hugged. We at are not here to argue that you should go squeeze the life out of a puppy. But we are here to squeeze the life out of this misleading science coverage.

According to numerous outlets, a scientific study has found that the majority of dogs dislike being hugged, based on cues of distress found in a random assortment of photos pulled from the Internet.

The problem here is that what's being reported as a "study" is, in fact, an op-ed written in the magazine Psychology Today by a single researcher.

"This is a set of casual observations," Stanley Coren, the retired University of British Columbia professor who penned the column, told The Post. He reiterated that his data collection wasn't part of a peer-reviewed study.



Much like the recent study on fructose, where journalists misconstrued it with HFCS, we see that science coverage is often rather poor.

Stop telling kids you’re bad at math. You are spreading math anxiety ‘like a virus.’


“How was skiing?” I asked my 14-year old daughter as she hauled her boot bag into the car. “Well, the ratio of snow to ground was definitely low,” she replied, adding that she had tried to figure the ratio of snow-to-ground during practice but had received only mystified looks. “Stop the math!” demanded a coach. “You are confusing us!”

Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math? Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading. Our country’s communal math hatred may seem rather innocuous, but a more critical factor is at stake: we are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics and with that are priming our children for mathematical anxiety. As a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.

Mathematics surrounds us, yet we have become accustomed to avoiding numerical thinking at all costs. There is no doubt that bad high school teaching and confusing textbooks are partly to blame. But a more pernicious habit does the most damage. We are perpetuating damaging myths by telling ourselves a few untruths: math is inherently hard, only geniuses understand it, we never liked math in the first place and nobody needs math anyway.

Often adults are well-meaning when telling children about their own math phobia: after all, won’t it make the children feel better if they know that others feel that way as well? Research shows the answer is a resounding “no.”



Having recently been privy to a couple of anecdotes about some middle-school girls picking on other middle-school girls for liking math (Yes, I know. Typical.), this seems all the more prescient.

Bundy Buddies Added Dicks To Indian Petroglyphs.


"As everyone knows, the Bunditarian Patriot Militia Jamborees of 2014 and 2016 were all about an important principle, namely, the “return” of federal land to “We The People,” because the feds are all about stealing The People’s land and doing tyranny to it, like having wildlife refuges and National Monuments and other stuff what gets in the way of grazing cattle for free. As we found out after the High Plains Grifters were all cleared out of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, what The People really want to do with federal land is dig poop trenches into Native American archaeological sites, for Liberty.

Now that the John Brown of welfare ranching is a-moulderin’ in a jail cell awaiting trial, let’s look in at what’s happened to Gold Butte, the sensitive 350,000 acres of desert area near the Bundy ranch, since the unpleasantness of 2014. Sadly, the Bureau of Land Management, understandably leery of getting shot at, has pretty much stayed away from the area since the end of the standoff. That may be changing, as environmental groups and local Native Americans have been calling for increased federal protection of Gold Butte. Saturday, the day after Earth Day, members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes and other tribes staged a “culture walk” across 11 miles of Gold Butte to call attention to vandalism of cultural sites, illegal offroading, and ranchers letting cattle onto land where grazing isn’t allowed. You know — what the Bundyite crowd calls “responsible local control of the land.”

Since the Bundy standoff, ancient petroglyphs in the area have been defaced, as seen in the charming example above. When in doubt, shoot holes and draw dicks, for Freedom! Other petroglyph sites have been shot up by gunfire or chipped off and removed altogether. William Anderson, the former tribal chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, said, “I couldn’t believe someone would do that … It was surprising that people had no respect for our culture and our people.” Anderson recently traveled to Washington DC to lobby for protection of Gold Butte, which is currently designated an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern”; many would prefer even stronger protection.


So how has Gold Butte fared since 2014, when the Bundys and their patriot pals freed the area from the tyranny of the BLM? In short, not so great, as an August 2015 report by the group Friends of Gold Butte documented. Besides the vandalism to the petroglyphs, there’s also a lot of illegal offroading; people cut fences and tear up the desert just exactly the way Thomas Jefferson intended.



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