Tag Archives: Science

The Gun Barrel and the Damage Done: A Profile of Trauma Surgeon Amy Goldberg

What exactly does a bullet do to flesh as it careens through the body? At Highline, Jason Fagone profiles Philadelphia trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg, a woman on the front lines of gun violence as she attempts to repair the broken bodies that arrive daily at Temple University Hospital. Dr. Goldberg doesn’t only fix the damage, she’s also working to prevent it. After a patient died the third time he was shot, she worked with friend and coworker Scott Charles to create a social program, Turning Point, which has been instrumental in stopping gun violence before it starts.

More than 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds each year in America, around 75,000 more are injured, and we have no visceral sense of what physically happens inside a person when he’s shot. (Dr. Amy) Goldberg does.

“The creation of a person, you know. It’s the heart beating and the lungs bringing air. It is so miraculous.” Surgery, for Goldberg, was a way of honoring the miracle. And trauma surgery was the ultimate form of appreciation, because a surgeon in trauma experienced so much variety. She might be operating on the carotid artery in the neck, or the heart in the chest, or the large bowel or small bowel in the abdomen, or the femoral artery in the thigh, at any given moment, on any given night.

“As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.”

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Unlocking the Genetic Code of Poverty

an abandoned warehouse in appalachia

Christian H. Cooper made his way from Appalachia to Wall Street, and from poverty to wealth. But is it because he worked harder than the family and friends still struggling in East Tennessee, or was it luck? In Nautilus, he digs into the emerging science of epigenetics to look at the way poverty actually changes our genetic expression, and therefore our physiology. If poverty has treatable physical aspects, what does that mean for economic policy, social policy, and politics? What does it mean for the American ideal of meritocracy?

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

That word—disease—carries a stigma with it. By using it here, I don’t mean that the poor are (that I am) inferior or compromised. I mean that the poor are afflicted, and told by the rest of the world that their condition is a necessary, temporary, and even positive part of modern capitalism. We tell the poor that they have the chance to escape if they just work hard enough; that we are all equally invested in a system that doles out rewards and punishments in equal measure. We point at the rare rags-to-riches stories like my own, which seem to play into the standard meritocracy template.

But merit has little to do with how I got out.

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Rising Up Against Climate Change: A Reading List

Last Friday, I had the once-in-a-gosh-darn-lifetime opportunity to see Bill Nye—yes, the Science Guy himself—in a darkened auditorium of 1,200 people fist-pumping to his theme song and cheering for facts. He spent a significant chunk of the evening discussing climate change denial, the connection between climate change and terrorism, Donald Trump’s plan to slash funding for scientific organizations and initiatives, and the viability of Solutions Project. 

“Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes reference to the progress of science and the useful arts,” Nye said. “It doesn’t say for the repression of science. It doesn’t say ignoring the facts discovered by the means of science.” He’s optimistic about our future and disturbed by what he call’s the United States’ “can’t-do attitude.” His number one piece of advice for advocating for climate change awareness? “Talk about it.” So that’s what I’m doing in this week’s reading list.

1. “The Most Important Thing We Can Do to Fight Climate Change is Try.” (Rebecca Solnit, The Nation, March 2015)

Author and activist Rebecca Solnit urges us to commit to love and hope, not despair, in spite of our terrifying present:

“You have to be willing to imagine a world in which we recognize that what we’re called upon to do is not necessarily to sacrifice; instead, it’s often to abandon what impoverishes and trivializes our lives: the frenzy to produce and consume in a landscape of insecurity about our individual and collective futures.”

2. “Is it O.K. to Tinker With the Environment to Fight Climate Change?” (Jon Gertner, The New York Times Magazine, April 2017)

Picture this:

Ten Gulfstream jets, outfitted with special engines that allow them to fly safely around the stratosphere at an altitude of 70,000 feet, take off from a runway near the Equator. Their cargo includes thousands of pounds of a chemical compound — liquid sulfur, let’s suppose—that can be sprayed as a gas from the aircraft. It is not a one-time event; the flights take place throughout the year, dispersing a load that amounts to 25,000 tons. If things go right, the gas converts to an aerosol of particles that remain aloft and scatter sunlight for two years. The payoff? A slowing of the earth’s warming—for as long as the Gulfstream flights continue.

Solar geoengineering used to be akin to fringe science, perceived as weird or dangerous. David Keith, head of Harvard University’s Solar Geoengineering Research Program, remains cautiously optimistic about the potential of this fascinating field.

3. “A Reflection of the Current Crisis in California.” (David Goodrich, Climate Science & Policy Watch, September 2015)

David Goodrich, former Director of the United National Global Climate Observing System, is the author of A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey Across the United States. This excerpt tracks Goodrich’s trek out West, observing increased wildfires, for which “climate change is the background music.”

4. “The Least Convenient Truth: Part I—Climate Change and White Supremacy.” (Bani Amor, Bitch, December 2016)

“Fuck inclusivity. If people who have had their land stolen from them and people who were stolen from their lands are not considered key in the economic management of their own environments, then solutions to their specific climate struggles will not be effective; they won’t address the problems at their roots. And when it comes to disaster preparedness for Black and brown people in coastal regions, staying alive is a matter of knowing their roots.”

Further reading:

The Conservative Movement to Get the GOP on Board With Global Warming

That’s not how all hunters approach climate change. Randy Newberg, a hunter and advocate for hunting on public lands, has no qualms about acknowledging the problem. “If you spend as much time in the hills as I do, I don’t know how you could deny that climate is changing,” he says. Deniers exist, “but honestly, I call them the flat-Earth society,” he adds. Many hunters see climate change as a serious threat to the wildlife and public lands they want to protect for future generations. That’s what’s been driving the conservation movement for decades in the US, and it should not be a liberal or a conservative issues, says Newberg, who identifies as an Independent. “Maybe I’m naive and too idealistic for today’s political world,” he says, “but I struggle to understand how is it that clean air and clean water and productive lands are a partisan issue. To me, they’re an American issue.”

For now, the White House hasn’t been very responsive, but it might be just too early to tell, says Bozmoski. Some proposals coming out of Washington — like the carbon tax and the climate change resolution — seem to bode well. “It really stokes our optimism on the Eco Right, that our family has gotten bigger and more powerful,” Bozmoski says. At the same time, he says, it will take time for Republicans to come together and put forward a climate change policy — they will need to get over the divisions within their own party and develop an actual policy. That’s what groups like republicEn are there for, Bozmoski says. And he has high hopes. “The prospects for a coalition of lawmakers moving forward with a solution is better now than it has been in any point since 2010,” Bozmoski says. “There’s no more pussyfooting around climate change out of fear.”

At The Verge, Alessandra Potenza describes conservatives, young and old, who are working to rally Republican voters around the issue of global warming in a way that gets GOP policy makers to finally listen. They’re doing this on multiple fronts, addressing fellow conservatives’ concern for national security, economics, hunting and fishing, and trying to get them on the right side of history.

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Kim Stanley Robinson’s Cheerful Novel of Climate Change

Kim Stanley Robinson is the rare sci-fi novelist that deals in utopias, rather than dystopias—government scientists are often the heroes of his novels, and their quick thinking and bureaucratic efficiency often save the day.

His latest book, New York 2140, takes place not at the moment of catastrophe—in the year 2100, sea levels rise and flood New York so that a majority of the city is 50 feet underwater—but 40 years later, as most city-dwellers do what they’ve always done, and simply gotten along with it. At New York Magazine, Robinson talks with Jake Swearingen about why he made a novel about climate change with a positive outlook.

I was expecting this very dystopian, grim novel. But it’s remarkably cheerful! It’s like one of Dickens’s happier novels, or Les Misérables where it’s this exploration of a city from the sewer system up, through all these different characters.

I thought of the book eventually as a comedy of coping, and to do that I picked a time, or perhaps 40 years after the disaster itself. If it was set in the midst of the catastrophic flood in 2100, the disaster would have dominated that work. It would not have been the comedy of coping — it would have been the disaster of refugee creation.

But I think, at some point, science fiction has to imagine the people who come after, when the situation will be natural, whatever it is. If that natural situation that they’re coping with is that new part of Manhattan that resembles Venice, there will be good parts to that as well as bad parts. There will be beautiful parts as well as moldy, horrible parts. So I wanted to convey that as part of the vibe of this novel.

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The Surgeon Who Helped Revolutionize Hand Transplants

Dr. Kodi Azari has traveled the U.S. as a lead surgeon in five hand transplants. Hand transplant recipients have usually lost their hands before surgery, but Azari laid the groundwork for a new kind of procedure:

The doctor had some hypotheses he wanted to test, provided he could find a patient with the ideal requirements: excellent health, enormous self-discipline, a positive attitude, and—rarest of all—a limb that needed to be replaced but had not yet been amputated.

Azari knew he was hoping for a long shot. Most hand transplant candidates have been injured in accidents or in battle, when a catastrophic event forces an emergency amputation. These procedures are aimed at minimizing suffering and are usually carried out to facilitate future prosthetic use. Generally that means the arm is severed closer to the elbow than the wrist, and the nerves and tendons are trimmed back and tucked inward to lessen discomfort. That creates challenges, however, if a transplant is attempted later. All those tucked-in nerves and tendons tend to merge over time into a jumble of tissues that is difficult to connect to a new hand with precision.

Wouldn’t it be great, Azari thought, if a transplant recipient’s arm could be amputated in a way that prepped it specifically to receive a new limb? How much more quickly would a patient recover if each tendon, nerve, artery, and vein were left in place and marked—labeled, like so many colored speaker wires, to be hooked up to a matching apparatus? How much more functionality would the patient gain, and how rapidly would he or she gain it? Azari believed this fantasy patient would awaken post-op, look at the new hand, and be able to move the fingers right away.

Azari found the ideal patient in Jonathan Koch, a television executive who experienced full-blown septic shock and needed several limbs amputated. Amy Wallace tells his story in Los Angeles Magazine.

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Evolution and Chill: Survival Is No Longer Just About Competition

By studying the phylogenetic history of related species, we can begin to correlate the interplay of behaviors with evolutionary dynamics in the real world. This year scientists from Lund University, in Sweden, analyzed the breeding strategies of 4,000 bird species, tracking their movements into new ecosystems using known genetic relationships between the birds. It’s long been known that cooperative-breeding strategies are common in harsh environments. The assumption was that difficult conditions encouraged species to evolve sociable behaviors (at least toward relatives). But what if this presumed causality had it backward? By analyzing the historical migrations of birds, the researchers discovered that species that had already evolved cooperative behaviors in a benign environment were twice as likely to have moved into a harsh one than non-cooperative breeders. The researchers speculate that cooperation buffers against unpredictable breeding seasons, allowing already social populations to be more successful in invading new niches. The harsh environment didn’t drive the evolution of the behaviors—the behaviors enabled the colonization of harsh environments.

In Nautilus, neuroscientist and graphic designer Kelly Clancy challenges the traditional interpretation of Darwinian natural selection by arguing that, when organisms no longer have to perform in a competitive environment, a species’ fitness is no longer tested by being selected for or against, and evolution actually occurs according to very different factors: cooperation and mutation. It’s, like, really complicated, man.

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Treating the Insects of the Mind

Another woman, who lives in Atlanta, said she was misdiagnosed with scabies, and then humiliated in a hospital corridor by a doctor shouting that she was psychotic. She agreed to see a psychiatrist, but is still convinced that her skin is covered with bites. When she scratches, red, black, or white specks come out; they look like roach turds or eggs, she said. “Anybody with eyes can’t help but see it.”

For another Atlanta woman, a psychiatrist recognized the problem behind her itchiness and her obsessive cleaning, but those appointments haven’t helped. “She wants me to cut down on the cleaning … but in my mind I can’t stop, because if my kids start getting more attacked and I haven’t cleaned …” she said over the phone. “I’m sitting here right now and I feel things crawling all over my feet. I’ve been tested for neuropathy, MS, and cancer. I’ve been tested for everything.”

By now, she hopes the condition is psychological; she just can’t convince herself of it. “It’s ruined my life,” she said. She began to cry.

In STAT, journalist Eric Boodman profiles the etymologists who have the unusual task of helping the public deal with all kinds of insect-related issues, including working with people who suffer from insects scientists cannot find. It’s part of an increasingly-recognized condition known as delusional parasitosis, or DP, and neither science nor medicine understand much about it.

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Seven Stories About the Science Behind Fast Food

I am a pizza apostate. Not only do I use a fork and knife whenever I eat pizza, I also sometimes bypass my normal slice joint for the siren call of deliciously buttered-and-garlic salted crust that only Dominos can deliver.

According to Bloomberg, I am not the only one who can’t resist the Michigan chain’s pies: the company is now worth a staggering $9 billion—its share price has risen more than 2,000 percent since 2010 (outpacing the likes of Google and Apple)—and Dominos has not only been brought back to life, it is now the leading force in the intersection of fast food and technology. As Susan Berfield writes,

Domino’s has always understood the importance of not having to go anywhere. Although you can still walk into a restaurant if you must, there are at least a dozen ways to order a Domino’s pizza in absentia. Some are self-explanatory: mobile apps, Apple Watch, Facebook Messenger. Others need some explanation. To order via Twitter, you must create an online account, save a pizza as your favorite (known as your Easy Order), and connect it to your Twitter account. Then tweet a pizza emoji to @dominos. “We’ll know who you are, what pizza you want, your default location and payment,” Maloney says. “We send a ‘Sounds awesome, are you sure?’ You send a thumbs up.” But if you want to order something other than your favorite, you’re out of luck.

Maloney clears away the remains of our lunch (Pacific Veggie, thin crust) to show me option 12 on his phone: zero-click ordering. “This will freak you out,” he says. “What’s the easiest way to order? When you don’t have to do anything.” One day Maloney and Garcia were in the car with their ad guys, dreaming of how to one-up Amazon’s one-click ordering. Three months later they had their zero-click app, which does require one click to start. “Tap the Domino’s icon to open it and find my Easy Order,” Maloney says. That’s it. “I have 10 seconds before it automatically places the order.” A big countdown clock appears on Maloney’s screen. If he does nothing, his Easy Order, a 12-inch hand-tossed pizza, will be on its way to his home.

While Dominos is at the forefront of our fast food, it isn’t the only company to have paired food science and tech to deliver a product that is utterly craveable. The following are some of the best pieces in the past several years to capture this culinary shift. Read more…

A Nuclear Bomb at Ground Zero, and What Happens Next

At The AtlanticKaveh Waddell has a conversation with researcher William Kennedy, who along with Andrew Crooks, is mining data from past tragedies such as the 1917 Halifax Explosion, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina to run computer simulations studying how humans would respond after a nuclear attack on Manhattan.

Kennedy: We’ve found that people seem to be reasonably well behaved and do what they’ve been trained to, or are asked or told to do by local authorities. Reports from 9/11 show that people walked down many tens of flights of stairs, relatively quietly, sometimes carrying each other, to escape buildings.

We’re finding those kinds of reports from other disasters as well—except after Hurricane Katrina. There, we have reports that people already didn’t trust the government, and then with the isolation resulting from the flooding, they were actually shooting at people trying to help.

So we’re going to model individuals responding to the immediate situation around them. They’re trying to leave the area, find food, water, and shelter: basic Maslow-like necessities.

Waddell: What are the goals that each individual agent will be balancing? Safety, hunger, family and friends, getting out of the area—how will the model treat those needs?

Kennedy: One of the aspects we’ll be modeling is the individual agents’ social networks. Communications with those people, and confirmation of their status, seems to be one of the first urgencies that people feel, after their immediate survival of the event.

Part of our modeling challenge is going to be figuring out if a parent would go through a contaminated area to retrieve a child at a daycare or school, putting themselves at risk in the process, because it’s important to them to physically be there with their children. Or do they realize that they’re isolated, that communications aren’t going to be available in the near term, and they only deal with their local folks who are now their family? That’s the sense we get.

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