Sunday, June 24, 2012

Recent Reasons for Optimism V

The latest installment of recent reasons for optimism was a bit delayed on account of this being the tenth day of a ten-day workweek for me. But that doesn't mean there was any less good news! There's been lots of good news in health, but there's also reasons for optimism on the economy, civil liberties and even the threat of asteroid impact.


1. First the bad news-- the cytomegalovirus (CMV) infects 50-80% of people in the US, UK and Australia, and decreases life expectancy as much as smoking or drinking because of its unique effects on the immune system. Now the good news-- researchers at the University of Birmingham are working on an antiviral drug to reverse CMV's effects, potentially adding years to life expectancy. The drug has shown promise in mice, and tests on humans will begin soon. Finally, the great news-- researchers at the University of Connecticut at Farmington have genetically modified CMV to take advantage of what it does to the immune system. The result is a self-reinforcing cancer vaccine. In a study on mice, an untreated control group died of cancer within 23 days; the CMV-treated group lived for the entire length of the study.

2. A new breathalyzer can detect some kinds of cancer on your breath (ht Jason Silva). Although currently less accurate than more complicated tests, it's also far less costly, and could provide cancer screening to the poor around the world who can't afford current tests.

3. One more on cancer: Researchers have developed a patch (that looks very much like the birth control patch) that completely eliminated a certain kind of skin cancer after wearing it just three times, for three hours each. It was a very small trial, with just ten patients, but three months later the cancer was still gone from all ten patients, and after six months, there was no cancer in eight out of ten patients.

4. In Sweden, doctors have successfully transplanted a vein into a 10-year-old girl without the use of immunosuppressive drugs. They accomplished the feat by removing all of the donor's cells from the vein and replacing them with the girl's own stem cells.

Cyborgs and Robotics

5. We're one step closer to brain implants, as a team from MIT has invented a fuel cell to convert glucose in the brain into electricity that can be used by implants or prosthetics. (ht MR)

6. Picking up different kinds of objects is difficult and expensive for robots, especially when the shape of the object may not be known in advance. In an amazing example of the simplicity of innovation, a team at Cornell has found a solution using a balloon and ground coffee.


7. I've mentioned before on this blog that world income is higher than ever before and steadily increasing. Matt Ridley shares a graph showing that not only is world income higher, it's also more equitable.

8. Great news for free-traders: Both Mexico and Canada have now joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The TPP, originally an agreement between New Zealand, Chile, Brunei and Singapore, is now being expanded to include the three NAFTA countries, the US, Canada and Mexico, as well as Japan, Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia. If an agreement is reached between all these countries, the TPP would become the largest free trade area in the world, comprising a full third of world GDP.

Civil Liberties and Crime

9. The Canadian government has backed down from their plan to record private conversations at border crossings and airports. What makes this even more encouraging is that this rapid about-face came in a non-election year, with the Conservatives' majority solidly in place until 2015. And it may not be just the Canadian government-- the US Department of State has withdrawn a request for bids to develop a system to monitor social media.

10. New Yorkers are striking back against that city's "stop and frisk" policy with a new app that allows New Yorkers to easily record and share video of police encounters and report them to the NYCLU. This is a small example of advancing technology being used to protect civil liberties.

11. Crime is down across-the-board. Violent crime fell by 4% from 2010 to 2011, the fifth year in a row it's fallen. That's true across the country, with every region except the Northeast seeing a drop of 4.5% or more. Property crimes were also down for the ninth year in a row, down 0.8% from 2010.

Everything Else

12. NASA scientists say there is little to no threat of a civilization-ending asteroid strike. Lindley Johnson of the Near Earth Object Observation Program says, "We know everything out there that is that big, and there is just nothing right now that's in an orbit that's any threat toward the Earth."

13. Ed Krayewski at Reason lists the "top 5 pieces of good news in the bad news." Some of his reasoning is a bit strained, but it's nevertheless an interesting list.

14. For even more optimism, check out these "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity." Among the obligatory pictures of people rescuing animals, there's a Subway restaurant giving free food to the homeless, a dry cleaner's offering free cleaning for the unemployed for job interviews, and the story of the Japanese seniors who volunteered to clean the radiation at Fukushima so the young wouldn't have to.

No comments:

Post a Comment