The new line of attack on climate science in the age of megafires

Every morning, wildland firefighters gather around radios to listen to the weather forecast. This summer, I was part of the team that fought a fire near Big Sur. When I heard the staticky voice announce that temperatures would exceed 105 degrees, the forecast sounded like a death sentence.

a close up of clouds in front of a sunset: The August Complex fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest on Sept. 16. By Oct. 5, it had burned more than 1 million acres. (Noah Berger/Associated Press )

© (Noah Berger / Associated Press)
The August Complex fire burns near Lake Pillsbury in the Mendocino National Forest on Sept. 16. By Oct. 5, it had burned more than 1 million acres. (Noah Berger/Associated Press )

Across California, unprecedented heat has made wildfires more difficult to predict and control. During the heat wave in Big Sur, the fire, which had been 40% contained at 30,000 acres, tripled in size in a matter of days. It has now burned nearly 125,000 acres.

Fighting wildfire involves hauling heavy packs and tools up mountains. Record heat makes this work more difficult and dangerous. After hours cutting atop an exposed ridge, my arms and legs spasmed from muscle cramps. Extreme heat makes hearts race and brains falter. Firefighters often collapse. In Big Sur, plumes of smoke grew like thunderclouds.

We have entered the age of megafires. Since 1970, yearly fire seasons in California have grown by 78 days. The amount of land burned annually across the Western U.S. has doubled since 1980. Last week, the August Complex fire in Northern California set a record for the state, burning more than 1 million acres. That record will probably not stand for long.

These extreme fires are caused by two main factors: fire suppression and climate change. The dangerous consequences of fire suppression are now widely acknowledged. But the role of climate change on wildfires — more heat, less rainfall and lower humidity in fire-prone regions — is either being minimized or pushed from the frame.


What science and democracy have in common: us, hopefully

Parthenon in Athens, undergoing partial restorationThe Parthenon, a symbol of democracy, is undergoing renovation and repair—symbolically enough. Image courtesy of Vladimirya/Pixabay

Donald Trump has said, several times in the week up to and including September 29’s presidential debate, that he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election in November. He said this in 2016, and it was frightening then. It is incomparably more frightening now, when he has the power of the presidency at his disposal, and when a Republican party that controls most of the levers of power has shown no inclination, now or in the last four years, to check his abuses of power. The President of the United States is telling us clearly that he has no respect for the most fundamental principle of democracy.

A few days after the debate, the White House revealed that Trump had contracted COVID-19. This was clearly a consequence of his disregard of the scientific consensus that masks and social distancing are necessary to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump himself may survive the virus, but 210,000 other Americans have not. There is no doubt that a substantial fraction of those lives could have been saved by responsible leadership from the president.

Trump’s hostility to science is manifest not just in the administration’s denial of the facts and his suppression of scientists’ voices on climate, COVID-19, and other issues of life and death. In his words and actions, he rejects even the ideal of science as a search for truth. The president believes he can make reality conform to his desires just by speaking them.

His hostility to democracy—one that now seems to be shared by his party in its entirety, as it pursues victory through voter suppression and misinformation—springs from the same source.

So to understand

Coronavirus, WHO lockdown reversal show limits of science

It’s time to stop pretending science provides an infallible solution to the coronavirus.

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization reversed its position on using lockdowns. We “do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” said Dr. David Nabarro, a WHO official. He warned that lockdowns may double world poverty and child malnutrition.

He practically sounds like President Donald Trump. Republican governors used similar arguments to reopen their states before the “experts” approved. For their troubles, Democrats and the national mainstream media viciously attacked them for not following the “science.”

“Just imagine where we would be right now if we had a president who listened to the scientists,” Joe Biden tweeted in August.

“I’m listening to the scientists. They will decide, along with the virus and behavior of our citizens, when it’s time to reopen in a phased-in approach,” King Steve Sisolak told CNN in April.

“Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice” was how The Atlantic dubbed the state’s reopening in late April. Contrast that with how the media lavished praise on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Georgia’s coronavirus death rate, however, is less than half of New York’s tally.

Turns out Trump and Republicans were ahead of the scientists. As the WHO’s about-face on lockdowns shows, “follow the science” wasn’t a strategy. It was more akin to a mantra repeated ad nauseam in a vain attempt to ward off the coronavirus.

Science is the study of the natural world. Medicine is applying scientific knowledge to treat diseases and improve health.

Those are incredibly valuable. But they aren’t all encompassing. Science can tell you when life begins, but not why murder is wrong. It can tell you about how the brain works, but not why life has meaning. Science can tell you about the physical world,

Tardigrades survive deadly radiation by glowing in the dark

This tardigrade uses fluorescence to resist lethal UV radiation

Harikumar R Suma & Sandeep M Eswarappa

A tiny tardigrade can survive intense ultraviolet radiation for an hour by glowing in the dark. “It acts like a shield,” says Sandeep Eswarappa at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are animals around 1 millimetre long. They are famous for being able to withstand extreme conditions that would kill most organisms, such as being completely dried out.

Studying moss at their institute’s campus, Eswarappa and his colleagues found what may be a new species of tardigrade, though they don’t yet have enough information to formally describe it. For now, they are calling it Paramacrobiotus BLR, short for Bangalore.


“We found this particular tardigrade in many places, especially in places that are well lit with sunlight,” says Eswarappa. The researchers transferred some of the animals to their laboratory and began to study them.

Their first experiment involved exposing the animals to a germicidal ultraviolet lamp. A control animal, a worm called Caenorhabditis elegans, died within 5 minutes, but Paramacrobiotus BLR survived for an hour.

“The next step happened serendipitously,” says Eswarappa. While looking at how the tardigrades might survive the UV light, he left a tube of them near a UV source and noticed that the tube started glowing.

Further experiments revealed that the tardigrades contain a fluorescent chemical. “It is absorbing the UV light and emitting harmless visible light in the blue range,” says Eswarappa.

The team was able to transfer the fluorescent chemical to another tardigrade, Hypsibius exemplaris, and to C. elegans, both of which are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. This protected them from 15 minutes of UV exposure.

The team doesn’t yet know exactly

Menacing assaults on science causing alarming and avoidable deaths in the U.S.


IMAGE: In a commentary, researchers say that “pandemic politics ” is causing assaults on science, the FDA and CDC. They say that politicization of the FDA and CDC is creating continued losses…
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Credit: Florida Atlantic University

COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the United States only behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. The U.S. accounts for more than 20 percent of COVID-19 cases (more than 7.7 million) and deaths (more than 210,000) in the world today while comprising 4.25 percent of the global population.

In a commentary published online in EClinicalMedicine by Lancet, researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine and collaborators state that “pandemic politics” is causing assaults on science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the health of the public.

As an example, the authors point out that the FDA, a world renowned regulatory authority issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine in the absence of any reliable data from large-scale randomized trials, all of which later showed no benefit and some showed clear harm. According to the authors, what is even more disturbing is the escalation of the politicization of the CDC, formerly a role model for disease control and prevention activities worldwide. They state that during COVID-19, the CDC issued reopening guidelines after initial lockdowns that lasted only until the epidemic curve flattened, violating their own principles to continue until cases and deaths drastically fell. On Aug. 25, the CDC apparently updated guidelines excluding exposed but asymptomatic individuals from testing. Then, on Sept. 17, it was revealed that White House officials edited and published guidelines despite CDC objections.

Finally, with respect to the health of the U.S. public, the authors note that while the