Nurses vs doctors

Medicine, the things that doctors do, was an ineffective pseudoscience until fairly recently. Until 1800 or so, they were wrong about almost everything. Bleeding, cupping, purging, the four humors – useless.   In the 1800s, some began to realize that they were wrong, and became medical nihilists that improved outcomes by doing less.  Some patients themselves came to this realization, as when Civil War casualties hid from the surgeons and had better outcomes.  Sometime in the early 20th century, MDs reached break-even, and became an increasingly positive influence on human health.  As Lewis Thomas said, medicine is the youngest science.

Nursing, on the other hand, has always been useful.  Just making sure that a patient is warm and nourished when too sick to take care of himself has helped many survive. In fact, some of the truly crushing epidemics have been greatly exacerbated when there were too few healthy people to take care of the sick.

Nursing must be old, but it can’t have existed forever.  Whenever it came into existence, it must have changed the selective forces acting on the human immune system. Before nursing, being sufficiently incapacitated would have been uniformly fatal – afterwards, immune responses that involved a period of incapacitation (with eventual recovery) could have been selectively favored.

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The First Men in the Moon

I noticed an article in Slate (Practice Does Not Make Perfect), which made the perfectly sound point that people vary in their abilities, genes have a lot to do with it, and Malcolm Gladwell can’t help being a pinhead.  He was probably born that way.

Of course, the authors cover their hairy asses by saying we don’t know that between-group differences in IQ or whatever are caused by genes. We just happen to live in a world that looks exactly the same as one in which that happened to be the case.  Technically, I think that this is called a modified limited hangout.

But what about the future?  One generally assumes that space colonists, assuming that there ever are any, will be picked individuals, somewhat like existing astronauts – the best out of hordes of applicants. They’ll be smarter than average, healthier than average, saner than average – and not by just a little.

Since all these traits are significantly heritable, some highly so, we have to expect that their descendants will be different – different above the neck.  They’d likely be, on average, smarter than any existing ethnic group. If a Lunar colony really took off, early colonists might account for a disproportionate fraction of the population (just as Puritans do in the US), and the Loonies might continue to have inordinate amounts of the right stuff indefinitely. They’d notice: we’d notice.  We’d worry about the Lunar Peril. They’d sneer at deluded groundlings, and talk about the menace from Earth.

Fantastic, winning-Powerball-with-a-ticket-you-found-in-an-Arab-privy luck has ensured that all existing human populations have the same average IQ (and the same standard deviation!) but there’s no guarantee that our luck will hold as we settle the Moon, and Mars, and the stars beyond.  We will have to make it so: enforce the principle of mediocrity.

We will need to make sure that every such colony has its fair share of morons.

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Forty Days

One of the many interesting aspects of how the US dealt with the AIDS epidemic is what we didn’t do – in particular, quarantine.  Probably you need a decent test before quarantine is practical, but we had ELISA by 1985 and a better Western Blot test by 1987.

There was popular support for a quarantine.

But the public health experts generally opined that such a quarantine would not work.

Of course, they were wrong.  Cuba instituted a rigorous quarantine.  They mandated antiviral treatment for pregnant women and mandated C-sections for those that were HIV-positive.  People positive for any venereal disease were tested for HIV as well.  HIV-infected people must provide the names of all sexual partners for the past sic months.

Compulsory quarantining was relaxed in 1994, but all those testing positive have to go to a sanatorium for 8 weeks of thorough education on the disease.  People who leave after 8 weeks and engage in unsafe sex undergo permanent quarantine.

Cuba did pretty well:  the per-capita death toll was 35 times lower than in the US.

Cuba had some advantages:  the epidemic hit them at least five years later than it did the US (first observed Cuban case in 1986, first noticed cases in the US in 1981).  That meant they were readier when they encountered the virus.  You’d think that because of the epidemic’s late start in Cuba, there would have been a shorter interval without the effective protease inhibitors (which arrived in 1995 in the US) – but they don’t seem to have arrived in Cuba until 2001, so the interval was about the same.

If we had adopted the same strategy as Cuba, it would not have been as effective, largely because of that time lag.  However, it surely would have prevented at least half of the ~600,000 AIDS deaths in the US.  Probably well over half.

I still see people stating that of course quarantine would not have worked: fairly often from dimwitted people with a Masters in Public Health.

My favorite comment was from a libertarian friend who said that although quarantine  certainly would have worked, better to sacrifice a few hundred thousand than validate the idea that the Feds can sometimes tell you what to do with good effect.

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Suspicious Minds



If you want a logical reason for the complete disinterest in longevity research shown by the powers that be, the most obvious, if you’re even a little paranoid, is that they already have the secret, and aren’t interested in distributing it to the hoi polloi.  If so, members of the inner circle would obviously have to fake their own deaths every so often – otherwise they might face mobs of angry peasants bearing torches. Still, occasionally losing your identity is a small price to pay for for the privilege of being a sequoia farmer.  It wouldn’t mean losing power – real power is already invisible.

Of course, if you were truly the top dog, there would be a temptation to occasionally drop the disguise and shake up the groundlings.  Even if this was reported again and again, every serious person would know that it was just fodder for trailer trash.

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The Day Before Forever

Yesterday, I was discussing the possibilities concerning slowing, or reversing aging – why it’s obviously possible, although likely a hard engineering problem.  Why partial successes would be valuable,  why making use of the evolutionary theory of senescence should help, why we should look at whales and porcupines as well as Jeanne Calment, etc., etc.  I talked a long time – it’s a subject that has interested me for many years.

But there’s one big question: why are the powers that be utterly uninterested ?

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Before Slavery

We keep hearing more about European genetic prehistory, and the picture is coming together.  In one new paper,  we hear aDNA results from the Carpathian Basin. It’s clear that the LBK farmers are the same people as the earlier Starcevo culture in the Balkans, and that those farmers are genetically quite distinct from the original hunter-gatherers of Europe. If you consider uniparental markers ( mtDNA and the Y-chromosome), they look to have incorporated very few local foragers. U5b is by far the most common mtDNA haplotype among the old hunters – I’m not sure that it’s been seen at all in the LBK farmers.  Almost all of the known Y chromosomes among the farmers (both LBK in central Europe and Cardial along the Med) are G2a2 – 29 out of 32. Today G2a2 is not common in Europe – you find some in the hills of southern Europe.

Reich and Patterson think that the EEF, the farmers, have a fair amount of WHG ancestry: I wonder how they managed that while picking up very little hunter uniparental markers.

They also have an abstract out for a talk at ASHG: we knew that modern Europeans are very different from the EEF,  especially in modern Europe, but we didn’t know when those new populations (which also have the Sibermen taint) showed up.  Turns out that the Corded Ware population has that new flavor: they are probably the Indo-European invaders of northern Europe, as many had suspected.


From what I can see so far, it looks as the invaders killed all the LBK-descended farmers in northern Europe, or nearly so.  The locals had had long trapezoidal houses clustered in small villages: the Corded Ware culture has almost no buildings at all, and a lot less agriculture.  They didn’t make the EEF guys serfs and get a cut of their grain – the villages disappeared. They didn’t tax them,  but then money and bureaucracy hadn’t been invented yet. Same for slavery: hadn’t been invented, probably.  Judging from the mtDNA patterns, they didn’t even grab many of the nubile women. The genetic mix changes little as you move across the north European plain: if the invaders were picking up local genes as they rolled along, it should have.

We used to call Corded Ware the Battle-Axe culture, but that’s too accurate for comfort.

Probably-related groups had already crushed the Old European cultures of the Balkans:  maybe they acquired a taste for devastation – better to burn out than fade away, right?

Again, and this is a guess, it looks as if something less genocidal happened in most of southern Europe.  Autosomally, southern Europeans are mostly EEF – sometimes almost entirely so, like highland Sardinians. Yet there has been a big turnover in Y-chromosomes: G2A2 is now fairly rare in most parts of  southern Europe.  Sounds like patrilineal conquest: the sons of warriors and aristocrats went forth conquering, but married local girls, diluting their original autosomal flavor (rather like India and Iran, but that’s another story!).  The warrior culture worked, kept expanding, even so, and the original EEF men have few Y-chromosomal descendants today – mostly in places that the conquerors didn’t really want.

In some cases, the patrilineal warriors were diluted to the point that they imposed their Y chromosomes and literally nothing else – very few autosomal genes, not even language. Plausible for the Basque.

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Empire of the Ants

In the process of hanging out in the back yard, and walking around the neighborhood, I have seen a number of examples of ant wars. In one case, they came over the wall, and after a long period of stylized conflict that looked something like a siege, they grabbed the eggs and nymphs and carried  them back over the wall, destined for a life of slavery.  I’ve seen repeated wars between colonies next to the sidewalk in front of the house just north of us: again, they sit and threaten each other for days before getting down to brass tacks.

That is, I think I’ve seen this.  Other people are under the same delusion: The Ants, by Holldobler and Wilson,  has lots of interesting stuff about ant wars and slavery.

Other people think they’ve seen male lions kill young cubs, after they take over a pride, or a first-born lesser spotted eagle kill its younger sibling.  The silly geese think it happens every time!  Other think that hyenas live in clans of related females  (and subordinate males), clans that war with other clans. But that can’t be right.

Worse yet, chimpanzees, our closest relatives, have often been caught in the act – groups of related males go out on search-and-destroy missions aimed at chimps in neighboring bands. When they catch a neighbor alone, they scrag him.  At least, some say this happens.

But none of these things can really be true – because although they by no means prove that war is biologically innate among humans, this kind of evidence does suggest that it might be – and that is obviously impossible, by the most powerful of all epistemological principles.  It would hurt Brian Ferguson’s feelings.

Now maybe chimps get into trouble because bad humans have brought apples into their Eden .  That could be, especially if the interlopers are Europeans: they can make anything happen.  Europeans can make Amerindians massacre each other, even hundreds of years before Columbus: is there no limit to their villainy and recklessness, which threatens to create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum, and destroy the entire universe?

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