The Green Premium: Bill Gates

I’m guilty of reading quite a bit of science fiction. My latest read is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future. It deals with the decade just ahead of our own time, when the climate chickens truly come home to roost. After this year of pandemic and political unrest, it’s easily imaginable. Which leads me to Politico’s interview with Bill Gates, here. Gates, mainly advocates going after the really big stuff for reducing carbon emissions–where the really big payoffs are. Rather than sweating the small incremental policy adjustments.

Events of January 6 here in DC…

There is much excellent content out there. My own experience of the day itself was surreal, as it was for many. For me, the connection goes back to beginning of my professional life, not in science, but on the Hill. Right after graduating from Amherst College, I interned on the Hill for the New England Congressional Caucus. Our senior member was non other than the House Speaker, Tip O’Neill. Since then, for me, there have been decades of visits to the Capitol Building for various work obligations. What happened this past week was of course an armed rebellion that led to deaths and threatened the very core of our republic. That it was stopped before killing democracy in this country doesn’t ameliorate the on-going threat.

Going back to the subject of the blog, it is the respect for such a thing as objective truth, that keeps the discoveries coming. Let us all work together, to protect the concept of truth, so as to be able to continue with what many of us love: science.


Photo by Oleg Magni on

Yes, it’s here–finally. After the Spring semester, this will be a sabbatical year (AY21-22) for me. Plans for the year include foci on AI, environmental microbiomes and SARS-CoV2. And of course, I’ll continue to give unsolicited science policy advice to the new Administration. They’ll need all the help they can get.

Thanks so much to my loyal readers. I wish you all a much better 2021.

Neil Shubin’s new book…

Some Assembly Required, is excellent. Neil played an absolutely critical role in building the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory’s relationship with the University of Chicago early in the last decade. But he’s very impressive as a science communicator. This book is about the relatively recent marriage between molecular biology and the study of our biosphere’s historical trajectory–a domain that used to be wholly occupied by the anatomists.

Social media and social contagion

I’ve been thinking anew about the neuroscience of social contagion of late. In the past, my interest had been framed by the witches and familiars of the Early Modern Era (Shakespeare’s England). More recently in the context of the authoritarian flu that seems to have afflicted many Westphalian nation states of late. Hence, of interest is Adrienne LaFrance’s new piece in The Atlantic. She has been writing quite a bit lately on Facebook and conspiracy theories. Here she views Facebook as a social doomsday machine.

What we’ve learned from COVID…

As viruses go, SARS-CoV2, is actually less lethal that its cousin MERS-CoV and certainly less than the virus that causes Ebola. But it is very infectious and this has resulted in the pandemic which has changed the world–in 12 short months.

We humans have conducted a vast set of natural experiments on which societal policy responses work and which don’t. We have seen an unprecidented team effort among biomedical researchers and big Pharma that has delivered several lights and the end of the pandemic tunnel–a result which makes me not doubt my years of supporting groups like Research!America.

But we haven’t yet synthesized the lessons from this pandemic that will get us ready for the next pandemics–which may well, like smallpox, be both highly lethal and contagious. It is clear to me that we need to systematic way to observe the biosphere and its ecological landscape for emerging infectious disease threats to develop predictive models that are actionable.

At the same time, we need to institutionalize and internationalize the best responses to COVID so that there is minimal delay between detection and global response. And at the same time, we need to develop new public health interventions that are less destructive of the economy and civil rights–a very tall challenge.

Thanksgiving 2020

This morning from my deck: these plants still have their brilliantly red leaves. I believe this is because their chlorophyll pigment is no longer present–it would have absorbed red and reflected back green. The chlorophyll has been replaced by a new pigment: anthocyanin–which reflects the red and absorbs the rest. All of this biology: this is what makes the biosphere possible–for that I am thankful. It is what keeps our spaceship Earth a home for us humans.

It also seems that we will have vaccinations soon and a new Administration. And I’m optimistic that scientists will play an important role in the tasks ahead–there are so many.

Happy thanksgiving…