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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Enough Putin for now. Back to some science stuff

“When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place,” Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, said in 2010. Twelve years later, the world is not in such a great place. Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms may have given everyone a voice, but they’ve also unleashed a storm of negative effects—spreading disinformation, inciting hate, and endangering democracy…

It’s not a new phenomenon—“We feel your pain,” climate researcher Michael Mann says to the new victims—but the pandemic and today’s hyperpolarized climate have made things worse. And although an individual troll may be easy to block, the tsunami of abuse triggered by organized campaigns can take a serious toll.

For some researchers, the spread of mis- and disinformation has become a study subject in itself. Evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom believes our brains are maladapted for the daily diet of factoids and titillation that social media algorithms serve us, the same way our bodies can’t cope with an abundance of sugars and fat. As reporter Kai Kupferschmidt explains in his story, Bergstrom is convinced that “bullshit” spread online is one the biggest threats facing humanity in the 21st century—and that studying it is as important as climate science…
Don't get me started on Zuckerberg.

When Carl Bergstrom worked on plans to prepare the United States for a hypothetical pandemic, in the early 2000s, he and his colleagues were worried vaccines might not get to those who needed them most. “We thought the problem would be to keep people from putting up barricades and stopping the truck and taking all the vaccines off it, giving them to each other,” he recalls.

When COVID-19 arrived, things played out quite differently. One-quarter of U.S. adults remain unvaccinated against a virus that has killed more than 1 million Americans. “Our ability to convince people that this was a vaccine that was going to save a lot of lives and that everyone needed to take was much, much worse than most of us imagined,” Bergstrom says.

He is convinced this catastrophic failure can be traced to social media networks and their power to spread false information—in this case about vaccines—far and fast. “Bullshit” is Bergstrom’s umbrella term for the falsehoods that propagate online—both misinformation, which is spread inadvertently, and disinformation, designed to spread falsehoods deliberately...
In January 2020, some 2 months before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus pandemic a global emergency, a tweet appeared on virologist Benhur Lee’s smartphone. It linked to a website,, where scientists had just posted the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2. Lee, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, quickly shared the tweet with his followers, along with the words “Here we go” and an animation of planes taking off. Within days, the pharmaceutical firm Moderna and the U.S. National Institutes of Health had announced plans to develop what just 10 months later proved to be an effective vaccine, based on the sequence that codes for the virus’ spike protein.

In an earlier age, it might have taken days or longer for such useful DNA data to reach interested scientists via a Table of Contents alert from a journal. But the rise of Twitter and other social media platforms enabled users like Lee to spread the word about the SARS-CoV-2 sequence within hours, sparking global conversations and accelerating efforts to develop vaccines and treatments.

It was an early sign of how the pandemic prompted many scientists—and the public—to turn to social media to share and learn about hot new findings. COVID-19 “changed the game” because the threat “immediately connects with the public, [so] there’s a much bigger natural audience” for information about pandemic science than for most areas of research, says Michael Thelwall, a data scientist at the University of Wolverhampton, City Campus, who studies social media. In particular, Twitter has become a go-to resource for anyone trying to make sense of the torrent of pandemic studies—and for those intent on quickly pushing back against misinformation…

But the pandemic has also helped demonstrate the limitations of social media. It can be difficult, for example, for scientists to be heard over the cacophony of messages on Twitter—some 500 million each day. And although some scientists have used the platform to elevate their online presence, that has rarely translated into concrete professional rewards. Eventually the sizable Twitter followings some have built during the pandemic may fade. And in the meantime, some have suffered from their digital fame, attracting harsh personal attacks and threats of violence. Despite such challenges, many researchers believe that—like it or not—the pandemic has forever altered how certain scientists communicate with each other and the public…

When Marion Koopmans, a virologist at Erasmus University Medical Center, visited a museum in Amsterdam with her family last year, she was spotted by the wrong crowd: people who hate Koopmans because of her work on COVID-19. “They started really yelling, banging,” she says. “Security locked the doors.”

Since early in the pandemic, Koopmans has found herself targeted by people who believe the pandemic is a hoax, the virus was created intentionally to cause harm, or vaccines are dangerous. She has received death threats, been accused of belonging to an elite network of pedophiles—a belief held by devotees of the QAnon conspiracy theory—and told she should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Now, Koopmans no longer makes public appearances without first alerting the police. As a frequent guest on Dutch TV, “I cannot go out on the street anonymously,” she says. Her family is not comfortable walking outside with her, and they worry about her ever traveling to the United States, where much of the vitriol originates…
A packed issue. Lots to consider. Goes materially to "#SciComm" topics.



What? Cheryl hipped me to an ad in Baltimore Magazine touting "Magnetic Resonance Guided Focused Ultrasound" tx now approved by FDA and being offered by the University of Maryland Medical Center (and elsewhere).

A non-invasive ultrasound treatment for Parkinson's disease that was tested in a pivotal trial led by University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) researchers is now more broadly available at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Recent FDA approval of a device used in the procedure effectively opens up access to focused ultrasound beyond clinical trial participation. 

The device, called Exablate Neuro and manufactured by Insightec, was approved in late 2021 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat advanced Parkinson's disease on one side of the brain. UMMC is one of only several sites in the Mid-Atlantic region with the capabilities and expertise to perform focused ultrasound for Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders. The procedure requires a multi-disciplinary team, including a neurosurgeon, movement disorder neurologist, and neuroradiologist...

CPT Code 0398T (People gotta get paid.)
Of serious interest to me, given that Sinemet still

I also recently ran across news of human clinical trials in Denmark involving genetically modified stem cells engineered to be used as dopamine-generating neurotransmitter replacement brain cells. Apparently going on in multiple countries of late.

I'm ready for something. My Parkinson's is getting increasingly annoying.

But, ahhh... everyone should have my problems.

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