Day 377 – Wizard Poison

I spotted this on Twitter and it made me smile.

“Wizard poison” – what a lovely turn of phrase.

The latest anti-vaxxer (for it is they that Patton is referring to under his “idiots” tag) arguments demonstrate a couple of their usual methods very nicely. I thought I’d run through them.

Firstly, there’s their claim that the vaccines amount to “gene therapy”. Nope.
What they’ve done here is looked at the vaccine, seen the acronym “mRNA”, extrapolated the N and the A to give themselves the phrase “nucleic acid” which they then associate with genes (even though genes are actually made up of DNA, not RNA) and then somehow leapt to the assumption that the vaccine will in some way replace the genes within their and your DNA, thus altering their and your genetic code. wut?
This is plainly incorrect, but – as we’ve discussed many times on here and everywhere else – that simple fact will not stop the rumours from being spread far and wide across the internet.
There’s a further point to this as well, though: the suggestion the gene therapy is a bad thing. Not so. Gene therapy will save countless lives, but that’s very much a secondary issue here, because none of the Covid-19 vaccines are gene therapy.

So that’s the one tactic: getting things completely wrong without any care or repercussion. The second one is cherry-picking the data to suit their narrative.

There may be a problem with the AZ vaccine in that there seems to be a link between it and instances of blood clots in patients. That’s clearly not a good thing, and because of that, the anti-vaxxer brigade have joyfully leapt all over it.

The thing is that we’re looking at 30 suspected cases in the UK, after 18 million doses of the vaccine in question. That amounts to 1 case for every 600,000 doses administered. Those are the numbers, and that’s what’s prompted a full investigation.

However…

Blood clots are also a side-effect of Covid-19, possibly by triggering an autoimmune antibody. The instance of this is approximately 1 in 6,000 cases (nice number). So while you might – possibly – suffer from blood clots as a result of having the AZ vaccine, if you get Covid-19 as a result of not having the AZ vaccine, you’re about 100 times more likely to have problems with blood clots.

Surprise surprise, this is the bit that the anti-vaxxers choose to omit from their shitty monologues.

You can’t believe everything you hear. Or indeed anything that comes from their mouths.

Take it from me: the vaccines are far safer than running the risk of getting Covid, which is very much not safe.
And they contain very, very little wizard poison. Promise.

Day 180 – Covid stuff

I’ve been hard at work all day and I’m likely to be hard at work until I go to bed, so here are a couple of Covid-related things I have found recently.

First off, this image, which describes the mentality of each of these four groups of people perfectly. I mean, there are other terms that you could also use for three of them, but I think that this approach works nicely for a family-friendly blog post.

And then, rather more seriously, this thread which I spotted on Twitter and has loads of information on the latest scientific research and discoveries about you know what and especially how it gets around.

Lots of practical advice in there.
Go and have a read.

Judge

It’s been a fun day at the kids’ school, where I was helping to judge science projects this morning.

I have great news: the future of the scientific world is in safe hands. Whether it is adopting a certain diet to aid concentration in examinations (chocolate seemed to work well), testing to see how batteries deal with thermal stress (limited ill effects despite being deep frozen), or finding out how best to kill plants with household chemicals (vinegar > bleach, apparently), they’ve got it all covered.

There was no shortage of novel ideas and a great deal of enthusiasm around how to practically apply the work that they had done – especially the chocolate one. And I was really very impressed by the confidence of the kids during their interviews: well prepared, good clear answers, excellent eye contact, willing to elaborate. These guys were only 12 years old. It bodes well.

Tomorrow, my daughter takes her project in for display, but obviously, I don’t get to judge that one. Still, since it didn’t involve any chocolate, I don’t feel that I’m missing out too much.

How long can a bacterium live?

Note: This is not a 5-second rule thing.

It’s ages. Really – an awfully long time.

But – can it manage to get to the ripe old age of 500 years?

Well, pop back in 2514 and researchers at Edinburgh University will be able to tell you. If there is still such a thing as a researcher by then. Or indeed a University in Edinburgh. Or indeed, an Edinburgh.

Who knows what the future holds? Other than our friend the Asparamancer, of course?

The experiment itself is really rather simple: at a given timepoint, take one of the hermetically sealed vials and crack it open, rehydrate the contents and plonk them onto an agar plate, incubate and see what grows.

A 10 year old could do that.

But not for 500 years. Because humans don’t live that long.

So the problem becomes not doing the experiment, but how to tell other people how to do the experiment. Paper won’t last. A fancy carved metal sheet might get nicked by some marauding invaders at some stage over the next 5 centuries: and technology?

The team left a USB stick with instructions, which Möller realizes is far from adequate, given how quickly digital technology becomes obsolete.

And if you think that is a bit over the top, please note that no-one had even heard about USB 25 years ago, because it hadn’t been invented then.

So, the idea is to keep up to date by charging a human (a good choice because if there are no humans around, then there’s really no-one interested in the results anyway) to update the instructions every 25 years to some suitable format that will last until the next update.

I’ve done experiments that have lasted a couple of years, but they don’t have the same difficulties as this one, because I fully expected (correctly, as it happens) to still be alive when I finished it. There were occasional issues with remembering time points, but Google Calendar helped out with them. Will Google Calendar be around in 25, 50 or 500 years? I doubt it.
And it’s not like the lab staff will be working on this 24/7. This is an entirely  occasional thing.

I’m not sure how often data from this experiment are going to be shared, but I’ll keep an eye out, if only to give them a nudge if I think that they’ve forgotten to do their plating that year.

Alien Invasion

Headline:

Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism 

Indeed. But Don’t Panic!

We have (probably) not been invaded by aliens. This is merely a reminder that science still (and always will) have its limits. It’s not that half the DNA on the NYC Subway belongs to stuff from other planets, it’s just that we can’t match it against our genetic libraries right now because we simply don’t have enough books in them yet (he said, completely mangling the analogy).

As we continue to improve our knowledge of which bits of DNA come from which organisms (and we’re really just talking about bacteria here, because we’re kinda up to date with mammals and the like), so the next time we see that chunk of DNA on a subway (or anywhere else), we can attribute it to a given organism, and reduce that 50% bit by bit until there’s very little that’s unknown about the DNA on the NYC Subway.

In the meantime, there’s a really nice interactive map here, allowing you to look at which bacteria were found at which stations, or – better still –  to search by types of bacteria to see what they are associated with (from “heart valve infections” to “mozzarella cheese”) (no anthrax, though) and see whereabouts on the network they were found.

Let’s just say that I’m going to be avoiding 168th Street and East 149th Street for some time. Possibly forever.

I mean… Dysentery! Really?!?