Shhh…don’t tell Peter Thiel

I wish I weren’t so pessimistic, but it’s my nature to doubt this paper in Nature that purports to have found a substance that improves learning in in old mice. Maybe it’s true, but I’d want to see it replicated multiple times and with other parameters examined. There have been way too many examples of magical infusions to improve this or that — I immediately think of John Brinkley, who transplanted goat testicles into human patients, but don’t carry the comparison too far. I don’t think the people doing this experiment are unethical quacks like Brinkley at all. It’s a reasonable preliminary experiment.

They’re infusing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from young mice to old mice, and seeing improvements in a memory test.

The first step for Iram and her team was to give ageing mice an experience they would remember. The team gave 20-month-old mice three small electric shocks on their foot in tandem with several flashes of light and sound, to create an association between the lights and the shock. The researchers then infused the brains of one group of 8 mice with CSF from 10-week-old mice, while a control group of 10 mice were given artificial CSF.

After three weeks the mice faced the same sounds and lights, but this time without a shock — recreating the context of the fear without the actual fear-inducing action. Mice that receive young CSF remembered the shock and froze in fear almost 40% of the time, but that happened only around 18% of the time in mice given artificial CSF. The findings suggest that young CSF can restore some declines in ageing-brain abilities. “The broader implication is that the brain is still malleable and there are ways to improve its function,” says co-author Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroscientist at Stanford. “It’s not all lost.”

Cool. I know I’m not as good at remembering stuff as I was when young, a common experience in us older folk. A little special fluid that would brighten up my brain would be nice — for me, that fluid is coffee, but if someone has a better brain juice, I’d try it.

Except…it might just be me, but I’m a little leery of behavioral tests done in mice, because mice are complicated and there’s this so-called replication crisis in just these kinds of experiments. Also, CSF? You’re going to have to squeeze a lot of mice to get a human-sized dose. It would be better if they isolated something specific in CSF…oh, they did. That’s promising.

The researchers also isolated a protein from the CSF cocktail that another analysis had suggested was a compelling candidate for improving memory: fibroblast growth factor 17 (Fgf17). Infusion of Fgf17 had a similar memory-restoring effect to infusing CSF. Furthermore, giving the mice an antibody that blocked Fgf17’s function impaired the rodents’ memory ability. Wyss-Coray and Iram have applied for a patent on their findings around Fgf17.

Why did they have to ruin it by taking out a patent on it? Suddenly I’m seeing a whole lot of potential bias introduced into their studies. I know it’s a capitalist planet, but on the one hand a scientist should be working to disprove their hypothesis, and on the other hand a patent-holder is going to see the promise of a lot of money fading if they disprove it.

They’ve also seen an effect of blood plasma on memory.

The work on CSF is inspired by Wyss-Coray’s past work showing that plasma from young mice could restore memory function in older rodents. A start-up co-founded by Wyss-Coray, Alkahest in San Carlos, California, has conducted small trials suggesting some cognitive benefits in mice and people with dementia given the company’s plasma-derived products. Other groups are exploring different methods for using young plasma, but the field is still in its infancy.

Who is funding this? Somehow it seems like something that would appeal to a ghoulish venture capitalist in California.

Also, I’m sorry, but you’d have to get a reverse spinal tap to reap the benefits of Fgf17 which kills a lot of the appeal.

It took more than a year for Iram to perfect the process of collecting CSF and infusing it into another brain. Collection is extremely challenging, she says, and has to be done with precision. Any blood contamination will ruin the fluid. Pressure in the brain is a delicate balance, so infusion must be slow and in a specific location within the brain: the cerebral ventricle. The delicate procedure might pose challenges for use in people, says Julie Andersen, who studies Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California.

might pose challenges”? My memory isn’t that bad yet that I’d risk blowing out my ventricles to get a slight enhancement. I’m also curious to know how antibodies against Fgf17 are having an effect, since antibodies have an extremely limited ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.

What crimes were committed in your neighborhood?

There’s a dark blot covering my house in this map.

That map is from a report from the Department of the Interior discussing the long, ugly history of Indian boarding schools. It’s 100 pages long, but you can get a summary here.

The findings show from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states, some territories at that time, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven schools in Hawai’i. Some of these schools operated across multiple sites. The list includes religious mission schools that received federal support, however, government funding streams were complex therefore, all religious schools receiving federal, Indian trust and treaty funds are likely not included. The final list of Indian boarding schools will surely grow as the investigation continues. For instance, the number of Catholic Indian boarding schools receiving direct funding alone is at least 113 according to records at the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

It’s appalling. This country engaged in cultural genocide, and we’re only beginning to document what these places were like, often prompted by the discovery of unmarked graves on the sites. (I’ve seen memos from my university that they are going to search the site of the Indian boarding school on campus, but I haven’t seen much action yet). Basically, though, these weren’t schools so much as prisons for children.

The first volume of the report highlights some of the harsh conditions children endured at the schools. Children’s Indigenous names were changed to English names; children’s hair were cut; the use of their Native languages, religions and cultural practices were discouraged or prevented; and the children were organized into units to perform military drills.

The report cites findings from the 1928 Meriam report in which the Interior acknowledged “frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.

How inadequate?

Examples included descriptions of accommodations at select boarding schools such as the White Earth Boarding school in Minnesota where two children slept in one bed, the Kickapoo Boarding School in Kansas where three children shared a bed and the Rainy Mountain Boarding School in Oklahoma where, “single beds pushed together so closely to preclude passage between them and each bed has two or more occupants.”

The 1969 Kennedy Report, cited in the Department investigation, noted that rampant physical, sexual and emotional abuse: disease; malnourishment; overcrowding,; and lack of health care at Indian boarding schools are well-documented.

It also found schools focused on “manual labor and vocational skills that left American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian graduates with employment options often irrelevant to the industrial U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies.”

I can understand why the Republicans want to shush every mention of race from our history books, because racism seems to have been the primary operating principle of of the United States government since the moment of its inception. All that talk of “liberty” and “freedom” and “equality”, but the unspoken modifier was “for white people only.”

There are a lot of maps in the full report. You should take a look to see if your house is covered with a dark blot.

It really isn’t funny

Ha ha. He made a slip while speaking and admitted that his invasion of Iraq was just as much a criminal act as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ha ha.

Ha ha. It’s funny because he’s old. Ha.

You know what? That George W. Bush can still laugh over his murderous, pointless, unjustifiable killing of hundreds of thousands of people is just another reason that man, and his cronies, ought to be in prison. Maybe he and Putin could share a cell.

I hope his dreams are populated by the ghosts of all those dead Iraqi children, and that he dies quietly in his bed knowing that his life was a net loss to humanity.

I get email (Phillip edition)

If you experience difficulties typing exclamation points in a comment here, it’s because Phillip Jones has been hogging them all. I just discovered a vast stagnant pool of missives from him deep in the bowels of my university email account, which has a lot of filters on it to prioritize messages from students and colleagues, so email from outside those groups tend to languish in neglect there. He seems to go on a rage jag every few weeks and dump a lot of repetitive invective, with numerous exclamation points, typically including links to his own posts on Twitter or Facebook, as if they are authoritative sources.

But lately he’s raging on Gettr, the right-wing pro-Trump Twitter look-alike, because his Twitter account has been suspended. Poor man. At least his emails are getting shorter. I’m going to contact the police and ask them to arrest you! And I’m going to contact UNMM and ask the to fire you!

Now I want to ask my local police if they’ve been contacted by a very emphatic kook — that was sent last night, so if the cops knock on my door and drag me away in handcuffs today, you’ll know why.

He’s going to have a tough time contacting my employer at UNMM, though. I don’t even know what that is!

Which one is not beautiful?

You have to choose A or B. I’m sorry, them’s the rules, no waffling allowed, because we believe in a strict binary decision here.

Jordan Peterson took this simple test, and failed, perhaps because he’s one of those animals that can’t handle the mirror test. When Sports Illustrated announced its annual swimsuit issue with a picture of (A), a woman named Yumi Nu, he declared Sorry. Not beautiful. And now amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that. I guess he is the definitive judge of the swimsuit competition, and thinks beauty is a physical absolute instead of a personal opinion.

Many people on Twitter were jolted into tweeting by the jarringly stupid, nasty mind that would say such a thing, and jumped all over him. So he announced that he was quitting Twitter because everyone was a poopyhead to say such mean things about him.

Wow. I feel like saying “get a thicker skin”, the go-to response people make when they point out the cruelty of the internet, that he should just ignore that which he dislikes, the way I ignore the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Unfortunately, he made a very big deal of his departure.

The staunch proponent of free speech recently bemoaned “self-censorship as a multiplier of cancel culture” and in December called a critic with less than 70 followers a “fool and a coward.” Eventually, however, Peterson faltered under the intensity of the backlash.

He lamented the “endless flood of vicious insults” and opined that Twitter’s structure makes it “intrinsically and dangerously insane.” He also said that he’d recently taken a Twitter break for a few weeks and found it drastically improved his life. (His staff appears to have tweeted from his account in Peterson’s stead.)

So he’s decided to take leave of the platform once again.

“I told my staff to change my password, to keep me from temptation, and am departing,” he tweeted.

Wait. He’s got a staff to handle his Twitter account? And he’s having them change his password instead of deleting his account? That’s an entitled chickenshit move.

He then proceeded to tweet incessantly after making that announcement — I guess he was making a Minnesota good-bye. He may have sort of finally kinda left, though, with his latest and maybe last tweet, smugly announcing that he had 5 million followers on YouTube. It’s a version of I didn’t want to play stickball with you meanies anyway, ’cause I’ve got a Nintendo at home. Nyaa nyaa nyaa.

He’s one of those people who use their follower count as a measure of their worth.

I don’t follow him on Twitter or on YouTube though, so he can just petulantly march away and I won’t care, except to point and laugh at the whiner.

P.S. I won’t leave you hanging. The answer to my little quiz is B, B is not beautiful, using the principles of authoritarian tolerance, whatever that is.

I couldn’t take Gilder seriously after he decided to rename molecular biology adguacyth

Way, way back in 2004-2007, one of my prime targets for my ire was George Gilder, the pretentious twit who was one of the founders of the Discovery Institute. He was such an easy target, so full of hot air and ignorance, that it was fun to take potshots at him as he bobbed about like a zeppelin that had lost its steering. Then he faded away into backrooms where he could babble nonsensically with no one around to criticize him, and I lost track (and interest) in what he’s been doing.

But he’s back now. He came out with a shiny new book a few years ago — sorry I’m late, I didn’t care enough to notice — and he has a new hobby horse. It’s blockchain of all things. Here’s an entertaining review by David Gerard.

Gilder predicts that the Google and Silicon Valley approach — big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, not charging users per transaction — is failing to scale, and will collapse under its own contradictions.

The Silicon Valley giants will be replaced by a world built around cryptocurrency, blockchains, sound money … and the obsolescence of philosophical materialism — the theory that thought and consciousness needs only physical reality. That last one turns out to be Gilder’s main point.

Right, that’s why he was promoting Intelligent Design creationism so assiduously. No surprise here.

But Gilder never quite makes his case that blockchains are the solutions to the problems he presents — he just presents the existence of blockchains, then talks as if they’ll obviously solve everything.

Blockchains promise Gilder comfort in certainty: “The new era will move beyond Markov chains of disconnected probabilistic states to blockchain hashes of history and futurity, trust and truth,” apparently.

Pure Gilder. He loves to talk. Unfortunately, much of what he talks about is his personal fantasy about how the world should work.

There are so many beliefs Gilder has that ought to make him a figure of contempt, but what I can’t figure out is why people pay any attention to him.

Gilder despises feminism, and has described himself as “America’s number-one antifeminist.” He has written two books — Sexual Suicide, updated as Men and Marriage, and Naked Nomads — on this topic alone.

Also, per Gilder, Native American culture collapsed because it’s “a corrupt and unsuccessful culture,” as is Black culture — and not because of, e.g., massive systemic racism.

Gilder believes the biological theory of evolution is wrong. He co-founded the Discovery Institute in 1990, as an offshoot of the Hudson Institute. The Discovery Institute started out with papers on economic issues, but rapidly pivoted to promoting “intelligent design” — the claim that all living creatures were designed by “a rational agent,” and not evolved through natural processes. It’s a fancy term for creationism.

Gilder insisted for years that the Discovery Institute’s promotion of intelligent design totally wasn’t religious — even as judges ruled that intelligent design in schools was promotion of religion. Unfortunately for Gilder, we have the smoking gun documents showing that the Discovery Institute was explicitly trying to push religion into schools — the leaked Wedge Strategy document literally says: “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

Read the rest. It’s very thorough, and discusses Gilder’s ongoing machinations with people like Peter Thiel. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him drop off my radar, but my interest in him waned when his influence via the ID movement was discredited in the Dover trial. He’s been a cunning and influential little ratfucker since then, though!

The irrefutability problem and cryptocurrency

Something that bugs me: there are all these articles that explain why cryptocurrency will fail, and they’re good — but they’re all so long. Dan Olson’s video on the subject was over two hours long, and it was great, but it takes dedication to get through it all, and it’s not fair — there’s an asymmetry problem here, just as there is with creationism, where the zealots only have to shout a short slogan (“you’ll get rich!” or “God did it!”), and then the smart people who actually know something have to slog through a couple of textbooks or a pile of papers to show definitively that they’re wrong. Once again, here’s a LONG interview with Nicholas Weaver to explain what’s wrong with cryptocurrency. He makes a prediction:

It will implode spectacularly. The only question is when. I thought it would have actually imploded a year ago. But basically, what we saw with Terra and Luna, where it collapsed suddenly due to these downward positive feedback loops—situations where basically the system is designed to collapse utterly and quickly—those will happen to the larger cryptocurrency space. Because, for example, the mining process is horribly expensive. We’re talking [a measurable percentage] of the world’s electricity consumption, most of that has not been paid for. So the mining companies for the most part have been taking the cryptocurrency and borrowing against the cryptocurrency that they create, rather than sell it, because the market’s actually very thin.

This means there’s a huge amount that is subject to potentially catastrophic margin calls. And that creates a feedback loop where the price drops a little, somebody’s forced to sell. That drops the price more. They’re forced to sell more. This creates a feedback loop that drives the price into the ground, catastrophically.

The previous times this has happened, we had the bubble at 100, powered by fraud at Mt. Gox. And that imploded down to 10. We had a bubble a 1000 powered by fraud, it imploded and went back down to 100. We had a bubble at 10,000 powered by Tether, it blew up and went back down to 1,000. And now we’re at a bubble where Bitcoin blew up to 60,000, fueled by Tether and falling. But I don’t think there’ll be a fifth bubble. Because basically, they will have broken all the suckers left to break. There’s only so many more suckers that can be brought into that space. Once you burn out a sucker, they don’t come back. They’re a non-renewable resource. So they’re going to end up running out of greater fools.

So I suspect that the cryptocurrency space will go fine absent regulation, until one day it goes and collapses greatly.

Unfortunately, that won’t change anything. If there’s one thing we should have learned from history, it’s that it doesn’t matter if bunkum is refuted by real world catastrophic consequences. Someone predicts the world will end on a specific date, the date passes, and their followers are unfazed. Undergo a pandemic, and the deniers will say it was just a bad cold even after a million Americans have died of it. Go ahead, say that Bitcoin is doomed to collapse, and the instant it fails there’s a train of True Believers who will announce another new cryptocurrency that they’ll claim is flawless…until it too goes boom.

I look forward to the day we can say “I told you so” and then watch befuddled as the idiots line up to do it all over again.

It’ll be…great?

Jordan Peterson can’t see any holes in his argument

But I can!

The Bible is true in a very strange way. It’s true in that it provides the basis for truth itself. And so it’s like a metatruth, without it there couldn’t even be the possibility of truth. And so maybe that’s the most true thing, the most true thing isn’t some truth per se. It’s that which provides the precondition for all judgements of truth. I can’t see any holes in that argument. And I can’t see any holes in it from a scientific perspective either, because I think we do know well enough now as scientists that the problem of deriving ethical direction from the collection of facts is an intractable problem.

Oh, yeah, the familiar is/ought problem. I agree with the last sentence above, but what I don’t see is Peterson’s solution. So we should derive ethical direction from a collection of contradictory, incoherent myths in a specific holy book? Why should I accept the precondition of the Bible’s rules instead of some other holy book, or instead of a framework of empiricism? That’s all he’s saying, is that ethical action requires a standpoint and a goal, but he doesn’t even try to justify the mish-mash of primitive ideas in the Bible as that good perspective needed to drive ethical behavior.

Why should I consider the ravings of a Jungian weirdo with bizarre dietary beliefs to be representative of a “scientific perspective”?

In his tweet, he seems to be claiming that “the west” should have a different precondition for truth than the rest of the world. Is this relativism? Or maybe it’s post-modernism. I have no idea what philosophical mumbo-jumbo he’s drawing this claim from — I think it might just be what you get emerging from a drug-addled, overly-entitled brain.

Nice suit, though. It drapes well even when its contents are empty.