Collecting the most important and interesting science stories for a frankly bizarre week in science, including alien octopus origins refuted, a US Senator who thinks ‘falling rocks’ are responsible or rising sea levels and the American President that doesn’t know the difference between HPV and HIV.
“Are Octopuses Aliens?” asks paper.
“No.” replies science.
Sunday (13/05/18) saw the publication of a paper that has caused something of a stir in the press and a wave of refutations from the scientific community. The research produced by 33 authors and published in the peer-reviewed journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology suggests the rapid diversification of life during the so-called Cambrian explosion, was actually caused by organisms being introduced to Earth via space debris. The theory referred to as panspermia, is not a new one, but it generally refers to the first microbial life, not pre-evolved creatures inserted relatively late into the planet’s history.
The research includes two possible extra-terrestrial origins for the octopus. The team suggests that the evolution of early cephalopods like squids and cuttlefish was influenced by the introduction to Earth via meteorites, of alien-retroviruses. These retroviruses, the researchers suggest, may have interacted with squid DNA and produced the octopus. The paper states “The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral Nautilus (e.g. Nautilus pompilius) to the common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) to Squid (Loligo vulgaris) to the Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) are not easy to be found in any pre-existing life form – it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant “future” in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.”
Alternatively, the paper’s authors suggest the possibility of frozen or ‘cryopreserved’ eggs arriving in meteors of ice, which they state is supported by their species sudden appearance in the fossil record. The team state the evidence for this extra-terrestrial origin arises from the seeming extraordinary intelligence displayed by the octopus and its ability to camouflage and change its body shape.
As mentioned above the scientific community has set about pointing out the flaws with this research. In particular, Mark Carnell from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History pointed out that not one of the paper’s 33 authors is a zoologist. Further to this, the octopus is closely genetically related to its cephalopod cousins and a 2015 paper published in Nature revealed the origins of the octopus genome, which is clearly not as mysterious as this new research suggests.
Molecular geneticist Professor Karin Moelling of the Max Planck Institute Molecular Genetics, who was asked to review the report, concluded that it “cannot be taken seriously”. She states the primary reason for rejecting the research is there is simply “no evidence at all”.
“Falling rocks causing sea level rise.” says Republican lawmaker.
“No,” says science.
The idea that rocks falling into to sea from the cliffs of Dover is responsible for rising sea levels was just one of the ideas expressed by Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee during a hearing held on Wednesday (16/05/18). The purpose of the hearing was to assess focus on how technology could be deployed for climate change adaptation, but it was quickly derailed as Congress members asked simple questions and put oft-repeated misapprehensions to climate scientist Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts and former senior adviser to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Mo Brooks representative for Alabama, put to Duffy that rocks falling into the ocean from the cliffs of Dover and the California coastline and erosion, in general, is a contributing factor to sea-level rise. “Every time you have that soil or rock or whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise because now you have less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up,” Brooks said. Duffy responded with the general scientific consensus that these effects would be absolutely minuscule.
Duffy was also presented with data alleging to show that sea-level rise does not correspond with the increase in the use of fossil fuels. Lamar Smith, a representative for Texas, showed slides of two charts to Duffy pointing out that the rise in fossil fuel use did not correlate to a rise in sea-level. Unfortunately, as Duffy pointed out, the data presented was from one source, a single tide gauge near San Francisco, and therefore could on be used to represent a global trend in sea-level change.
“The rate of global sea-level rise has accelerated and is now four times faster than it was 100 years ago,” Duffy told Smith in response to the charts.
“Is this chart inaccurate, then?” Smith asked.
“It’s accurate, but it doesn’t represent what’s happening globally; it represents what’s happening in San Francisco,” Duffy said.
Duffy also had to deflect claims that Antarctic ice was increasing rather than decreasing. Again, this claim may be true for isolated areas but the overall global trend is the reduction in ice sheets, with NASA data showing just last year that ice at both poles is at a record low. These here just a few of the patently false claims made to Duffy and it demonstrates that many policymakers have a worryingly superficial understanding of climate change and seem intent to divert mitigation attempts back to talks of basic and fundamentally settled science.
Did someone say “superficial understanding”?
“Donald Trump is deeply science illiterate,” Bill Gates says.
“….” science replies.
In more worrying science/politics news from the US, on Thursday (7/05/18) footage emerged of Bill Gates discussing two meetings with Donald Trump in which the President raised very basic questions about HPV, HIV and vaccination.
As Gates tells it “In both of those two meetings, he asked me if vaccines weren’t a bad thing because he was considering a commission to look into ill-effects of vaccines and somebody — I think it was Robert Kennedy Jr. — was advising him that vaccines were causing bad things. And I said no, that’s a dead end, that would be a bad thing, don’t do that'” Gates continued “Both times he wanted to know if there was a difference between HIV and HPV so I was able to explain that those are rarely confused with each other,”
HPV or human papillomavirus is sexually transmitted and can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Whilst HIV, human immunodeficiency virus is a sexually-transmitted disease which breaks down the immune system and can lead to AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The idea that Trump doesn’t know the difference between the two things is deeply worrying, he was alive and living in New York during the 80’s and 90’s AIDS epidemic. Both his sister-in-law and first wife were fundraisers for AIDs related charities and one of his most prominent lawyers, Roy Cohn, was diagnosed with and died in ’86 as a result of the disease. The Centre of disease control estimates that HPV affects 79 million Americans, with 14 million more infected per year, most in their 20’s.
The idea that Trump is subject to persuasion to investigate vaccinations confirms may science advocates worst fears about his attitude to science, especially at a time when science positions are left unfilled at the White House and the current administration has yet to appoint a head science advisor. The job is currently being fulfilled by Michael Kratsios, a 31-year-old graduate in political science and Greek studies. Hardly qualified to steer Trump onto the right course with regards to these matters.