Psyllium fiber protects against ulcerative colitis and suppresses inflammation by activating the bile acid nuclear receptor, a previously unrecognized mechanism, a new study with mice shows.
The findings reveal that psyllium, which is semi-soluble and derived from Plantago seeds, inhibits inflammation that can lead to colitis in mice by increasing serum bile acids, resulting in the activation of the farnesoid X receptor (FXR), a bile acid nuclear receptor.
Fiber-rich foods promote intestinal and metabolic health, but the extent of protection varies for each fiber type and the mechanisms that offer this protection are poorly defined.
It has been unclear whether dietary fiber can benefit severe forms of intestinal inflammation, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are collectively known as
(IBD) and affect 3 million adults in the United States.
Researchers designed the study in the journal Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology to identify specific fibers that might protect mice in two models of experimental colitis. The study also investigated the mechanism by which protective fibers might suppress inflammation.
Several fibers were tested, including inulin, cellulose, pectin, glucomannan, and psyllium. The authors found psyllium has the unique ability to improve two chronic inflammatory states: metabolic syndrome and colitis.
“The results were impressive in that even modest amounts of psyllium provided strong protection in both colitis models,” says senior author Andrew Gewirtz, professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University.
“That psyllium can offer protection against colitis fits with limited human studies that psyllium is effective in maintaining remission of ulcerative colitis, but its mechanism of action was largely unknown,” says lead author Alexis Bretin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences , noting that the new study fills this gap in knowledge.
Psyllium led to an increase in bile acids that resulted in activation of the FXR bile acid receptor. Such FXR activation was necessary and sufficient to prevent colitis. This suggests that pharmacologic FXR activation might be useful in managing IBD.
The study also provides evidence that dietary fiber can benefit IBD, which has been unclear.
“There has been a lack of consensus on the impact of dietary fiber on IBD, and the notion that soluble/fermentable fibers might negatively impact IBD has prompted many patients to consume low-fiber diets, thus missing out on the broad array of health benefits provided by fiber,” Gewirtz says. “Our findings indicate distinct fibers act quite differently from each other and thus more human studies of specific fibers are warranted.”
Additional coauthors are from the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, the University of Toronto, Purdue University, Research Diets Inc., the Max Planck Institute for Biology, Penn State, the Université Paris Cité, and Georgia State.
The National Institutes of Health funded the work.
Source: Georgia State University
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36891-5More than a decade after the first demonstration of large-scale graphene synthesis by chemical vapor deposition, the commercialization of graphene products is limited not only by price, but also by consistency, reproducibility, and predictability. Here, the author discusses the reproducibility issues in the field and proposes possible solutions to improve the reliability of published results.
On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "What has global warming done since 1998?". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the omment thread there.
At a glance
This date-specific talking-point is now something of a historical curiosity, but we'll leave it in the database for now because it's such a good illustration of the simplistic yet reckless mindset of the serial climate change misinformer. And indeed, we could (out of sheer mischief) revise this myth by replacing "1998" with "2016" – and in a few years time, by "2023" or "2024". In fact, that's what we are now starting to see in the climate change misinformation stream, © the Usual Suspects.
Anyway, as first predicted over a century ago, Earth's surface, oceans and atmosphere are all heating up due to our increasing greenhouse gas emissions, but over the years the warming has occurred at varying rates. This should in no way come as a surprise, since other physical phenomena periodically act either to offset or enhance warming. A prime example is the effects of La Nina and El Nino, an irregular but often powerful cyclic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. This cycle can influence temperature and rainfall patterns right around the world. In a La Nina year, temperatures are suppressed, whereas an El Nino year sees them enhanced. This is noise on the long-term upward trend, something that explains why climatologists work with decades, not just a few years in isolation, in order to get a grasp on what is going on.
The year 1998 featured an enormous El Nino and consequent high temperature spike that was a huge outlier, standing out well above the slower but steady upward trend caused by our emissions. That spike and the subsequent return to a more 'normal' warming pattern lead to numerous media claims by misinformation-practitioners that global warming had “paused” or had even stopped.
You only need to remember one thing here. Those who create and spread misinformation about climate change don't care about reality. Public confusion is their aim. In this instance, the misinformation exercise involved deliberately selecting a limited block of years starting with the massive El Nino of 1998 and using that very warm starting-point to insist that global warming had stopped. They knew this would likely work for a few years and that the public would quickly forget why that was the case. Mother Nature had handed them a gift. It was an irresistible bunch of low-hanging fruit to exploit: little wonder the tactic is known as 'cherry-picking'. More recently, given that 2016 was the hottest on record, a similar opportunity has been spotted by some misinformers, although it’s not really caught on yet.
Talking about reality, what actually happened? Well, as of 2023, a couple of decades down the line, the top ten warmest years have all been since 2000, whatever observation-based dataset you choose, with eight of them being in the 2015-2022 period. 1998 is nowhere to be seen any more. By modern standards, it simply wasn't warm enough.
Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "at a glance" section. Read a more technical version via the link below!
In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:
|Myths with link to rebuttal||Short URLs|
|Ice age predicted in the 1970s||sks.to/1970s|
|It hasn't warmed since 1998||sks.to/1998|
|Antarctica is gaining ice||sks.to/antarctica|
|CRU emails suggest conspiracy||sks.to/climategate|
|What evidence is there for the hockey stick||sks.to/hockey|
|CO2 lags temperature||sks.to/lag|
|Climate's changed before||sks.to/past|
|It's the sun||sks.to/sun|
|Temperature records are unreliable||sks.to/temp|
|The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics||sks.to/thermo|
Nature Communications, Published online: 28 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36763-yUnderstanding how foams destabilize is key for developing applications. Experiments with foamed oil-in-water emulsions now show that bubble size evolution can be controlled by varying the continuous phase elastic modulus, exploiting the interplay between a foam’s structure and mechanical properties.
The lab-leak theory lives! Or better put: It never dies. In response to new but unspecified intelligence, the U.S. Department of Energy has changed its assessment of COVID-19’s origins: The agency, which had previously been undecided on the matter, now rates a laboratory mishap ahead of a natural spillover event as the suspected starting point. That conclusion, first reported over the weekend by The Wall Street Journal, matches up with findings from the FBI, and also a Senate Minority report out last fall that called the pandemic, “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.”
Then again, the new assessment does not match up with findings from elsewhere in the federal government. In mid-2021, when President Biden asked the U.S. intelligence community for a 90-day review of the pandemic’s origins, the response came back divided: Four agencies, plus the National Intelligence Council, guessed that COVID started (as nearly all pandemics do) with a natural exposure to an infected animal; three agencies couldn’t decide on an answer; and one blamed a laboratory accident. DOE’s revision, revealed this week, means that a single undecided vote has flipped into the lab-leak camp. If you’re keeping count—and, really, what else can one do?—the matter still appears to be decided in favor of a zoonotic origin, by an updated score of 5 to 2. The lab-leak theory remains the outlier position.
Are we done? No, we aren’t done. None of these assessments carries much conviction: Only one, from the FBI, was made with “moderate” confidence; the rest are rated “low,” as in, hmm we’re not so sure. This lack of confidence—as compared with the overbearing certainty of the scientists and journalists who rejected the possibility of a lab leak in 2020—will now be fodder for what could be months of Congressional hearings, as House Republicans pursue evidence of a possible “cover-up.” But for all the Sturm und Drang that’s sure to come, the fundamental state of knowledge on COVID’s origins remains more or less unchanged from where it was a year ago. The story of a market origin matches up with recent history and an array of well-established facts. But the lab-leak theory also fits in certain ways, and—at least for now—it cannot be ruled out. Putting all of this another way: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
That’s not to say that it’s a toss-up. All of the agencies agree, for instance, that SARS-CoV-2 was not devised on purpose, as a weapon. And several bits of evidence have come to light since Biden ordered his review—most notably, a careful plot of early cases from Wuhan, China, that stamps the city’s Huanan market complex as the outbreak’s epicenter. Many scientists with relevant knowledge believe that COVID started in that market—but their certainty can waver. In that sense, the consensus on COVID’s origins feels somewhat different from the one on humans’ role in global warming, though the two have been pointedly compared. Climate experts almost all agree, and they also feel quite sure of their position.
The central ambiguity, such as it is, of COVID’s origin remains intact and perched atop a pair of improbable-seeming coincidences: One concerns the Huanan market, and the other has to do with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where Chinese researchers have specialized in the study of bat coronaviruses. If COVID really started in the lab, one position holds, then it would have to be a pretty amazing coincidence that so many of the earliest infections happened to emerge in and around a venue for the sale of live, wild animals … which happens to be the exact sort of place where the first SARS-coronavirus pandemic may have started 20 years ago. But also: If COVID really started in a live-animal market, then it would have to be a similarly amazing coincidence that the market in question happened to be across the river from the laboratory of the world’s leading bat-coronavirus researcher … who happened to be running experiments that could, in theory, make coronaviruses more dangerous.
One might argue over which of these coincidences is really more surprising; indeed, that’s been the major substance of this debate since 2020, and the source of endless rancor. In theory, further studies and investigations would help resolve some of this uncertainty—but these may never end up happening. A formal inquiry into the pandemic’s origin, set up by the World Health Organization, had intended to revisit its claim from early 2021 that a laboratory source was “extremely unlikely.” Now that project has been shelved in the face of Chinese opposition, and the Wuhan Institute of Virology has long since stopped responding to requests for information from its U.S.-based research partners and the NIH, according to an inspector general’s report from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the meantime, the smattering of facts that have been introduced into the lab-leak debates over the past two years, have been, at times, maddeningly opaque—like the unnamed, “new intelligence” that swayed the Department of Energy. (For the record, The New York Times reports that each of the agencies investigating the pandemic’s origin had access to this same intelligence; only DOE changed its assessment to favor the lab-leak explanation as a result.) We’re only told that certain fresh and classified information has changed the minds of some (but only some) unnamed analysts who now believe (with limited assurance) that a laboratory origin is most likely. Well, great, I guess that settles it.
When more specific information does crop up, it tends to vary in the telling over time; or else it’s promptly pulverized by its partisan opponents. The Journal’s reporting, for instance, mentions a finding by U.S. intelligence that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became ill in November 2019, in what could have been the initial cluster of infection. But how much is really known about those sickened scientists? The specifics vary with the source. In one telling, a researcher’s wife was sickened, too, and died from the infection. Another adds the seemingly important fact that the researchers were “connected with gain-of-function research on coronaviruses.” But the unnamed current and former U.S. officials who pass along this sort of information can’t even seem to settle on its credibility.
Or consider the reporting, published last October by ProPublica and Vanity Fair, on a flurry of Chinese Community Party communications from the fall of 2019. These were interpreted by Senate researcher Toy Reid to mean that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had undergone a major biosafety crisis that November—just when the COVID outbreak would have been emerging. Critics ridiculed the story, calling it a “train wreck” premised on a bad translation. In response ProPublica asked three more translators to verify Reid’s reading, and claimed they “all agreed that his version was a plausible way to represent the passage,” and that the wording was ambiguous.
Maybe this is just what happens when you’re trapped inside an information vacuum: Any scrap of data that happens to float by will push you off in new directions.
Madeleine Finlay speaks to environmental journalist Rachel Salvidge about PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’, which have been found at high levels at thousands of sites across the UK and Europe. Rachel explains what they are, how harmful they can be, and what can be done to mitigate their effects
Clip: Roll Call
You can find Rachel’s reporting, and the map of PFAS levels in the UK and Europe hereContinue reading…
Nature, Published online: 28 February 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00585-1Scientist who sequenced the virus isolated from Cambodian girl says it is not the strain causing mass deaths in birds globally.
I see so many posts on this subreddit about how renewable energy sources, especially solar, are becoming more and more efficient, cost-effective and productive. Eventually some countries may reach a point where they could meet all of their energy needs from solar energy, to the point where they could have excess capacity.
What do you think of promoting the idea of using this excess capacity to directly sequester carbon from the atmosphere? I don't mean C02, I mean finding a way of converting atmospheric C02 directly into…graphite, diamond, buckyballs, or something similar?
We have growing teeth built in to our DNA. We have already grown two sets. What need to take place to grow a third set?
- How many things stand in the way of turning on that piece of DNA back on?
- How many other other things need to be turned off?
- How can we say we only want adult teeth?
- Is there any way to speed up the process and still have quality teeth?
- Do we need something to stop the process or will it stop at one set?
- What happens if the procedure stops?
I don't imagine that it will be all that easy to figure it out but once it has been figured out, I expect the follow through will be fairly straight forward.
I do hope that some day I can take a pill or get an injection that turns this and that, off and on. I need a new set.
Nanoscale plastic particles, such as those that permeate most food and water, pass from pregnant rats to their unborn offspring and may impair fetal development, according to a new study.
“Much remains unknown, but this is certainly cause for concern and follow-up study,” says Philip Demokritou, professor in nanoscience and environmental bioengineering at Rutgers University School of Public Health.
Erosion chips microscopic particles off the billions of tons of plastics that are exposed to the elements in the environment. These particles mix with the food we eat and the air we breathe. A typical person ingests a credit card’s worth of them every week, Demokritou says.
Previous studies in pregnant laboratory animals have found adding these plastics to food impairs their offspring in numerous ways, but those studies didn’t determine whether mothers passed the plastics to their children in utero.
For the study, published in the journal Nanomaterials, researchers provided specially marked nanoscale plastics to five pregnant rats. Subsequent imaging found that these nanoplastic particles permeated not only their placentas but also the livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs, and brains of their offspring.
These findings demonstrate that ingested nanoscale polystyrene plastics can breach the intestinal barrier of pregnant mammals, the maternal-fetal barrier of the placenta, and all fetal tissues. Future studies will investigate how different types of plastics cross cell barriers, how plastic particle size affects the process, and how plastics harm fetal development, the researchers say.
“The use of plastics has exploded since the 1940s due to their low cost and versatile properties. From 9 billion metric tons produced over the last 60 years, 80% ended up in the environment, and only 10% were recycled,” says Demokritou, who also holds appointments at Rutgers’ School of Engineering and directs the Nanoscience and Advanced Materials Research Center at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.
“Petroleum-based plastics are not biodegradable, but weathering and photooxidation break them tiny fragments. These tiny fragments, called micro-nano-plastics, are found in human lungs, placentas, and blood, raising human health concerns.
“As public health researchers, we are trying to assess the health risks from such an emerging contaminant to inform policymakers and develop mitigation strategies. The goal is also to increase the reuse and recycling of plastics and even replace them with biodegradable, biopolymer-based plastics. This is part of our bigger societal goal towards sustainability.”
Feeding pregnant lab animals nanoscale plastics—a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, so the particles are far too small to be seen—has been shown to restrict the growth of their offspring and to harm the development of their brains, livers, testicles, immune systems, and metabolisms.
It hasn’t been shown yet that the amounts of nanoscale plastics that pregnant humans unavoidably ingest do the same thing to their children, though some studies suggest plastics affect human embryonic development, Demokritou says.
Source: Rutgers University
The post Pregnant rats pass nanoplastic bits to unborn pups appeared first on Futurity.
- Children born via sperm or egg donation would not need to wait until adulthood to find out more about their biological parents, under proposed changes to the law in the UK.
Existing UK fertility law should be updated to regulate modern treatments, says HFEA
Children born via sperm or egg donation would not need to wait until adulthood to find out more about their biological parents, under proposed changes to the law in the UK.
At present, donor-conceived children cannot obtain information about their biological parents until they are 18. But the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said the law should be updated so this information can be made available after the birth of a child, should the donor choose.Continue reading…
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that gives him control over Disney World’s self-governing district.
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.
American intelligence officials are concerned that China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia. The West must increase the speed and scale of aid to Ukraine, to remind Beijing that it should stay out of a war Moscow is going to lose.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:
- Judy Blume goes all the way.
- The case for a primary challenge to Joe Biden
- Dear Therapist: My daughter’s stepbrother is actually her father.
More Than Warnings
Since the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against an innocent neighbor, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his diplomats have said many of the right things, warning against escalation in Ukraine, including the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and reaffirming the principle of state sovereignty in international affairs. But China has also, of course, tried to provide support for a fellow authoritarian regime by continuing trade with Russia, criticizing Western sanctions, and in general pretending that Putin’s war of aggression—including his many crimes against humanity—is just another routine spat in the international community.
Now Beijing might be pondering a more aggressive move. CIA Director Bill Burns said over the weekend that China may be considering sending lethal aid (that is, artillery shells and the like rather than military gear or supplies) to Russia to help Putin’s forces, who are still floundering about in a bloodbath of their own making. Providing shells without more launchers might not help Russia very much in the short term, but it would be a provocative move meant to signal to the West that the authoritarians can and will support each other in attacks against their neighbors—an issue important to Beijing as it continues to covet Taiwan.
Burns indicated that the Chinese had not yet made a decision, and that the U.S. was discussing the possibility in public as a way of trying to warn them off. The Biden administration has been extremely savvy about releasing intelligence, and this seems to be yet another strategic leak.
We know what you’re thinking, the Americans are saying to China. Don’t do it.
It is time, however, for more than warnings.
A year ago, I was one of the more cautious supporters of aid to Ukraine. In those first chaotic weeks, I was heartened to see Ukrainian forces repel the invaders, but I knew that Russia had significant reserves. I was in favor of sending weapons, but I was mindful of the dangers of escalation, and especially the possibility that advanced Western weapons flooding into Ukraine would help Putin recast the conflict as a war between Russia and NATO. I worried, too, that Putin’s evident emotional state, characterized by delusions and rage, would lead him to take stupid and reckless measures whose consequences he himself would later be unable to control.
I think these were (and are) reasonable concerns, but Russia has escalated the violence despite the West’s measured approach. Putin remains as stubbornly delusional as ever, and he is sending thousands more troops into battles that have already killed or wounded some 200,000 men. A year of pretenses is over: The Russians themselves now know—as does the world—that this is Putin’s personal war and not, as he has tried to frame it, a campaign against neo-Nazis or shadowy globalists or militant trans activists. The West, meanwhile, has fully embraced its role as “the arsenal of democracy,” as it did against the actual Nazis, and Western arms, powered by Ukrainian courage and nimble Ukrainian strategy, are defeating Putin’s armies of hapless conscripts, corrupt officers, and mercenary criminals.
Now it’s time for the West to escalate its assistance to Ukraine, in ways that will deter China and defeat Russia. For example, the U.S. and NATO do not yet have to send advanced fighter jets to Ukraine—but they can start training Ukrainian pilots to fly them. To Russia, such a policy would say that things are about to get much worse for Putin’s forces in the field; to China, it would say that our commitment to Ukraine and to preserving the international order we helped create is greater than Beijing’s commitment to Moscow. As the Washington Post writer Max Boot noted last month, the Chinese president has an interest in helping a fellow autocrat, but he is also “an unsentimental practitioner of realpolitik” who “does not want to wind up on what could be the losing side.”
Putin thinks he can wear down the Ukrainians (and the West) through a protracted campaign of mass murder. The Biden administration has ably calibrated the Western response, and NATO has ruled out—as it should—any direct involvement of Western forces in this war. But if Putin remains unmoved and unwilling to stop, then the only answer is to increase the costs of his madness by sending more tanks, more artillery, more money, more aid of every kind. (We could also reopen the issue of whether we should provide longer-range systems, including the Army’s tactical missile system, the ATACMs.)
China must be warned away from assisting Russia, because so much more than the freedom of Ukraine is at stake in this war. Chinese aid would be yet another sign that the authoritarians intend to rewrite the rules—or at least the few left—that govern the international system of diplomacy, trade, and cooperation constructed while the wreckage of World War II was still smoldering. Many Europeans, who are closer to the misery Russia is inflicting on Ukraine, understand this better than Americans do.
Americans, for their part, need to think very hard about what happens if Russia wins—especially with an assist from the Chinese. They will be living in a North American redoubt, while more and more of the world around them will learn to accommodate new rules coming from Beijing and Moscow. The freedom of movement Americans take for granted—of goods, people, money, and even ideas—would shrink, limited by the growing power of the world’s two large dictatorial regimes and their minor satraps.
Some Americans may wonder why we should risk even more tension with Russia. The fact of the matter is that we no longer have a relationship with Russia worth preserving. We do have a common interest—as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War—in avoiding a nuclear conflict. We managed to agree on that interest while contesting hot spots around the globe for a half century, and we can do it again.
Americans who ask “What does any of this mean to me?” will find out just how much it means to them when things they want—or need—are provided only through the largesse and with the permission of their enemies. We knew this during the Cold War, and we must learn it again. We should ignore the pusillanimous Putinistas among the right-wing media. Instead, the United States and its allies must make the case, every day, for Ukrainian victory—and send the Ukrainians what they need to get the job done.
- Britain and the European Union agreed to a deal that would end the dispute over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.
- Severe thunderstorms in the central U.S. caused tornadoes and extreme winds in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, injuring more than a dozen residents and leaving thousands without power.
- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that gives him control over Disney World’s self-governing district.
- Work in Progress: Derek Thompson shares the seven questions about AI that he can’t stop asking himself.
- The Wonder Reader: Isabel Fattal examines what air travel reveals about humans.
A Chatbot Is Secretly Doing My Job
By Ryan Bradley
I have a part-time job that is quite good, except for one task I must do—not even very often, just every other week—that I actively loathe. The task isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes: I scan a long list of short paragraphs about different people and papers from my organization that have been quoted or cited in various publications and broadcasts, pick three or four of these items, and turn them into a new, stand-alone paragraph, which I am told is distributed to a small handful of people (mostly board members) to highlight the most “important” press coverage from that week.
Four weeks ago, I began using AI to write this paragraph. The first week, it took about 40 minutes, but now I’ve got it down to about five. Only one colleague knows I’ve been doing this; we used to switch off writing this blurb, but since it’s become so quick and easy and, frankly, interesting, I’ve taken over doing it every week.
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I’ll be leaving you with my Atlantic colleagues here at the Daily for the rest of the week while I do some traveling. One of the places I am headed is Salem, Massachusetts, where I’ll be giving a talk. I have a sentimental attachment to the city because my Uncle Steve, whom I wrote about here, ran a diner there, Dot and Ray’s, that was a local institution for decades. (I think Dot and Ray were the previous owners.) For me, not only was Salem in the 1960s and ’70s a cool town with an amusement park; it meant all the fried chicken and clams and hamburgers and ice cream I could eat. To visit Uncle Steve and Aunt Virginia was always an epic outing, especially because they got all the Boston TV stations with stuff like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits on them.
But if you’re visiting New England and looking for places outside of the usual Boston tourist spots, you should visit the Witch City (not that there’s anything wrong with walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, which every American should do if the chance arises). Yes, the Salem Witch Trials kitsch can be a bit much, but the trials were an important part of American history, and the house where they took place is still there, along with a museum. There’s much more to Salem, however, including a fine maritime and cultural museum and a seaport. (And don’t forget the clams.)
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.
Suffering a bit of anxiety over what recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence might mean for humanity? So is Twitter, Tesla, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Honestly, in the grand scheme of Musk tweets, this one is a bit more relatable than most. AI broke into the public sphere in a major way towards the end of last year, with OpenAI's ChatGPT chatbot swiftly shaping up to be the fastest-growing app in consumer history. Microsoft and Google, meanwhile, are currently warring over whose AI integration will dominate the future of search — if they can figure out how to make their search chatbots the perfect degree of stupid, that is — while investor cash continues to flow into the field at large.
In other words, it's possible AI may not just be an inflection point of 2023, but of civilization itself. And considering the very real dangers that both AI itself and the ongoing arms race to build it may well pose, existential angst is pretty valid.
We Have History
It's not terribly surprising to see Musk muse about his AI-induced angst, given that he's recently been vocally critical of OpenAI — a company he actually helped to found back in 2015 before vacating the board in 2018 — and its investment daddy Microsoft, taking to Twitter on February 17 to basically call OpenAI a bunch of sell-outs.
Musk also has historically taken a warning tone when speaking about AI, making it very clear — even quite recently — that he fears it could bring down civilization. (That said, we should note, that the Musk-owned Tesla has some very serious AI-related safety concerns of its own to tackle.)
Even so, Mr. Tweet still thinks that his AI anxieties will be worth it in the long run.
"All things considered with regard to [Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)] existential angst," he continued in the thread, "I would prefer to be alive now to witness AGI than be alive in the past and not."
The post Elon Musk Says He's Suffering "Existential Angst" About AI appeared first on Futurism.
A team of physicists claims to have pulled energy out of a vacuum, Quanta reports — a trick that required them to teleport it from a different location using quantum tech.
The work builds on previous research by Tohoku University theoretical physicist Masahiro Hotta, who back in 2008 claimed to have found a way to produce negative energy, a seemingly counterintuitive aspect of quantum theory, inside a quantum vacuum.
In simple terms, instead of extracting something from nothing, the energy was "borrowed" from somewhere else, taking advantage of the idea of quantum entanglement, the fact that two subatomic particles can change their state in line with the other, even when the two are separated by a distance.
The research proved controversial. After all, "you can’t extract energy directly from the vacuum because there’s nothing there to give," as the University of British Columbia theoretical physicist William Unruh told Quanta.
But now, over a decade later, Hotta's former students are picking up where the theoretical physicist left off, working on new ways to extract energy from a vacuum, effectively creating negative energy — or at least, that's the implication.
As detailed in a preprint published earlier this year, Hotta's former student and quantum computation researcher at Stony Brook University Kazuki Ikeda and his team used IBM's quantum computing platform to verify that in his experiment, he was able to coax a quantum vacuum to drop below its ground-state energy, or its lowest energy state possible, otherwise known as zero-point energy.
The work comes less than a year after Eduardo Martín-Martínez, a theoretical physicist at the University of Waterloo, and his colleagues similarly claimed they'd been able to extract energy out of a vacuum and release it elsewhere inside a quantum system.
As Hotta told Quanta, though, he isn't entirely satisfied with these results, arguing that they were simply quantum simulations, in which the systems' ground states were being preprogrammed and differed from the natural quantum fields we find across the universe.
Experts, however, argue there could be some tangible benefits to being able to reliably teleport energy across space. For instance, we could make quantum computers more stable, and generally further our understanding of the role energy plays in the quantum world.
But there's still plenty of work to be done until we're anywhere near that point — we've only begun to explore the often baffling and counterintuitive world of quantum physics.
READ MORE: Physicists Use Quantum Mechanics to Pull Energy out of Nothing [Quanta]
More on quantum physics: Traveling Faster Than Light Would Mean Experiencing Multiple Timelines Simultaneously
Say They Managed to Pull Quantum Energy From a Vacuum appeared first on Futurism.
Instead of sucking planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some scientists are looking to capture it from the oceans
I’ve heard a lot about it but don’t have a complete understanding of it. All I know is that it’s bad news for us when it happens and apparently we are in the midst of one. So what are some possible catastrophes that might come of a pole shift? Is there any way humanity can prepare/adapt to the changes if it does happen?
Researchers present initial findings from study that followed thousands of US women for about 20 years
Seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in reducing the risk of
, according to a two decade-long study.
Being active, eating a better diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, keeping normal blood pressure, controlling cholesterol and having low blood sugar in middle age may all lower the chances of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease later in life, research suggests.Continue reading…
Bad news for
stans: the Elon Musk-owned company is pausing all new installations of its controversial "Full Self-Driving" software after federal regulators deemed it a "crash risk."
As The Verge reports, anyone who has purchased the $15,000 FSD add-on and not yet installed it — even if they just did so — will not be able to use the advanced assisted driving option until the company issues a firmware update.
In the meantime, people who have the FSD beta can still use it, but they won't presumably see any new features until the company has made peace with regulators.
Behind this huge setback is Tesla's recall of more than 360,000 FSD-enabled cars after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the feature to be a significant safety issue, though it's unclear why the company waited nearly two weeks to put this pause on new installations in the interim between the day of the recall (February 16) and now.
In a new support page about the FSD recall, Tesla identified the issues that the software is reportedly causing, including "traveling or turning through certain intersections during a stale yellow traffic light" and problems related to the car's speed when driving "through certain variable speed zones."
Translation: the car is driving through intersections when the light is yellow and changing its speed without driver permission, which along with the other listed issues are both no bueno.
While Tesla has in recent years made headlines for numerous driver assist safety issues, the advanced assisted driving feature itself hasn't been the cause of too many of them. That said, however, the propensity for danger is very real, which is probably why the company has both recalled cars with FSD enabled and paused new installations.
There's no telling how long it will take for Tesla to get its firmware in order to get the FSD beta back on track, but while we watch and wait, we're sure to see angry fanboys letting off steam about it online.
The post Tesla Has Totally Paused New Installations of "Full Self-Driving" After Safety Concerns appeared first on Futurism.
Accounts of a bizarre falling powder-like substance have emerged in multiple Mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast.
As a local CBS affiliate in Baltimore reports, there appears to be dust or powder falling from the sky and accumulating on cars and in yards in Maryland, northern Virginia, and West Virginia.
Though a definitive explanation hasn't yet been issued, CBS Baltimore notes that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) pointed to satellite imagery that showed dust from storms in Texas and New Mexico traveling to Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky shortly before people began seeing it on the East Coast.
In a statement issued on Friday, that same state environmental agency said it's investigating the "dust issue" and that there isn't yet a reason for "shelter in place" advisories.
Given the regional proximity to the toxic chemical-toting train derailment in Eastern Ohio — Berkely County, WV, which the state environmental department names in its press release, is about 215 miles from East Palestine, Ohio — and the seeming communication breakdown there, the information vacuum surrounding the strange dust is ripe for disinformation.
In an interview with the Associated Press, a spokesperson from the WVDEP said that there are currently no indications that the dust is associated with the East Palestine disaster, but as we all know, those sorts of official statements are often disregarded or treated with outright hostility by an increasingly large cohort of conspiracy theorists online — many of whom have seized upon conflicting official reports regarding the derailment to serve their ends.
As with the Ohio train derailment debacle, it's too soon to tell what's really going on with the strange falling dust happening in the West Virginia region. In the meantime, there'll be lots of conspiracy theories to fill the gaps in official reporting.
More on environmental weirdness: Florida Scientists Concerned About Army of Invasive “Jesus Christ" Lizards
The post Reports of Strange Powder Falling From the Sky in Multiple States appeared first on Futurism.
AI replacing your job is already happening — and apparently, some of your bosses are happy to admit it.
With the success of OpenAI's ChatGPT, the relevance of human workers, ranging from writers to coders, has come under threat of obsolescence. And the threat is very real, it seems.
According to a ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 business leaders who use or plan to use ChatGPT, 49 percent of their companies are using the chatbot in some capacity. And of those companies, 48 percent say they've already replaced workers at their company with AI.
"Just as technology has evolved and replaced workers over the last several decades, ChatGPT may impact the way we work," ResumeBuilder.com's chief career advisor Stacie Haller said in a statement. "The results of this survey shows that employers are looking to streamline some job responsibilities using ChatGPT."
It's important to note that respondents were picked based on a screening question about whether their companies were already using ChatGPT in any context.
That said, the fact that a full quarter of those respondents said they've already replaced workers with AI — and with 93 percent saying they plan to expand use of AI — could be a grim sign of things to come as the tech spreads further.
Future layoffs are on the horizon, too. An ominous 63 percent of business leaders believe that integrating ChatGPT will either "definitely" or "probably" lead to culling their human workforce.
So far, 66 percent of the companies employing ChatGPT use it to write code, 58 percent for copywriting and content creation, 57 percent for customer support, and 52 percent for summarizing meetings and documents, the survey found.
The business leaders are easily impressed, too, with 55 percent saying ChatGPT's quality of work is "excellent."
Regardless of the overwhelming hype surrounding ChatGPT and other generative AI, it's clear that the chatbot can't be relied on to be factually accurate, as error-riddled AI-generated articles from CNET and Men's Journal have demonstrated.
But if this latest survey is anything to go by, it doesn't necessarily matter to business leaders if ChatGPT isn't that smart or reliable — only that the cost savings are worth the drop in quality.
"As with all new technologies, companies' use of ChatGPT will be continuously evolving, and we are only at the onset," Haller said.
More on ChatGPT: Giant Bank JP Morgan Bans ChatGPT Use Among Employees
The post Bosses Say They're Already Replacing Workers With AI appeared first on Futurism.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz summarized his country’s approach to the war in Ukraine. “Despite all the pressure to take action,” he said, “caution must take priority over hasty decisions, unity over solo actions.” The line provided Scholz’s most explicit defense to date of Germany’s cycle of denial, delay, and cautious delivery of new weapons technologies to assist Ukraine’s effort against Russia. What appeared to be hand-wringing over sending Leopard 2 tanks earlier this year, Scholz assured the audience, was in fact his government’s latest prudent measure to achieve a decisive victory for Ukraine in the war raging east of the Dnipro River.
Scholz’s allies in Kyiv and elsewhere surely paid careful attention to the evolution that the Munich speech represented. Nearly a year earlier, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the chancellor had boldly declared in another speech that Germany had reached a Zeitenwende, an inflection point in history. During a special session convened in the Bundestag last February, he said his country would have to transform decades of conciliation toward Russia into a clear-eyed will to dissuade President Vladimir Putin from further aggression. Scholz identified the war’s central struggle as “whether we permit Putin to turn back the clock to the 19th century … or whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like Putin in check.” The challenge “requires strength of our own,” Scholz stated.
The standing ovations that erupted after these key lines echoed the world over, as leaders throughout Europe and North America applauded the chancellor’s remarks. Yet in the intervening 12 months, he has not delivered on his sweeping vision for a more modern, more active German military.
Three days after the war began, Scholz made a
he repeated this month in Munich: “Germany will increase its defense expenditure to 2 percent of gross domestic product on a permanent basis.” But his government failed to meet that objective last year, and it will likely fail again this year and next year. Germany now spends the second-largest amount of all governments supplying Ukraine’s defense, but it still spends less on a per capita basis than countries that are smaller and less affluent. Germany finally sent tanks to Ukraine earlier this year, but those donations have proved easier than genuine reform at home. Although Berlin has made good on its promise of a boycott of Russian fossil fuels, its contribution to NATO’s “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force”—a German-made infantry fighting vehicle called the Puma—floundered. In training exercises, the Puma earned the nickname Pannenpanzer, or “breakdown tank.”
A year ago, Scholz announced a special investment fund of more than 100 billion euros to strengthen the German military, but less than a third of those euros have been assigned to contracts. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius recently aired concerns that Germany’s stockpiles have been depleted by its generous transfers to Ukraine. These comments strain common sense when most of the “special funds” remained unspent until December, when lawmakers finally approved the first procurements. This month, Scholz also abandoned plans to establish a National Security Council, a body that would have been well suited to manage an expanded role in the defense of Europe.
The lumbering pace of change that Germany has adopted to improve its military competence has immediate consequences for the war in Ukraine. It gives Putin leverage by demonstrating that the continent’s wealthiest society lacks the tenacity to stand firm against revanchism. Fewer than 1,000 miles separate Germany from Ukraine’s borders, and Russia still governs a chunk of the former East Prussia—Kaliningrad Oblast. Berlin can’t project power in these close geographic quarters merely with words.
In Europe more broadly, the implications of a shrinking Zeitenwende are just as dire. As Germany shirks on military modernization, it makes way for governments seeking a greater say. Shortly after Brexit, French President Emmanuel Macron articulated a new guiding principle for his country—“strategic autonomy,” the idea that the continent should conduct its external relations independently of American designs. Macron has championed the idea particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, during trade tensions, and following Russian nuclear threats. His controversial one-on-one calls with Putin since Russia’s invasion imply that Macron feels fit to lead negotiations with Russia on Europe’s behalf. After all, France is the European Union’s sole nuclear power, controls the bloc’s most powerful military (underwritten by a potent defense industry), and has a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Yet this vision of Europe’s future sounds obtuse given that, without the United States, Europe’s response to Russia’s most recent incursions would be woefully inadequate. European forces rely on American infrastructure to coordinate basic tasks. NATO, which binds the United States to European security, bolsters that work. Scholz can’t seem to decide where Germany fits in. He placates French counterparts preening about the EU’s supposed geopolitical self-reliance. But his government also always defers to America’s stabilizing position. If Germany were to spend more on defense, it would have the authority to advocate for a position somewhere between France’s vision of autonomy—epitomized by Macron’s 2019 declaration that NATO was becoming “brain dead”—and its own preference historically to work with the United States to promote Europe’s security.
Of course, a stronger German military will take time to mature. Reaping its dividends will take even longer. Abandoning that job prematurely, however, will leave the larger threats posed by Russia and its imperialist ambitions unanswered. Although Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, has remained reticent on the conflict, she astutely typecast Putin last year by saying, “Military deterrence is the only language he understands.”
Germans explain their difficulty in increasing defense spending by pointing to bureaucratic hurdles. These excuses have become less credible as the war in Ukraine has dragged on. The chancellor is willing to sidestep procedure when tending to Germany’s economic interests. He tried to preempt debate in his cabinet when selling a significant share of a terminal in Hamburg’s port to a Chinese-owned company last fall, for instance. (He renegotiated the sale only after public furor.) The same urgency seems to fail him when fulfilling his declared goals of military modernization.
Shortly after admitting that his government had not spent 2 percent of its GDP on defense last year, the chancellor wrote a 5,000-word article in Foreign Affairs aiming to elaborate on what he had meant by the word Zeitenwende in his Bundestag speech. Instead, he redefined the term. Rather than a roadmap for his government, it became a worldwide phenomenon. All states, he wrote, have to contend with a “new multipolar world,” an era in which “different countries and models of government are competing for power and influence.” His crisp statement a year ago about how Germany could overcome obstacles had morphed into a lengthy meditation on their intractability. Diluting the original Zeitenwende will not wash away what catalyzed it.
Nature Communications, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36854-wAuthor Correction: Mechanochemical tuning of a kinesin motor essential for
A judge’s decision could ban mifepristone across the country and weaken the Food and Drug Administration’s authority
The fallout from the train derailment and subsequent chemical spill and burn in Ohio continues, with new reports indicating that people who live near the East Palestine, Ohio crash site are starting to get sick.
As NBC News reports, both workers and residents near the eastern Ohio site of the Norfolk Southern crash have been diagnosed with bronchitis and other ailments that their doctors and nurses believe could be linked to the catastrophic derailment.
In interviews with NBC, East Palestine resident Melissa Blake described the terrifying breathing issues she developed just days after the crash that occurred within a mile of her home. Eventually, she was diagnosed with "acute bronchitis due to chemical fumes," according to medical records the news outlet viewed.
"They gave me a breathing machine," Blake, who hasn't moved back home since being discharged three weeks ago, told NBC. "They put me on oxygen. They gave me three types of steroids."
She's not alone, either — half of the 10-person staff at CeremFab, a manufacturing firm located next to the crash site, is reportedly still out sick after the crash, NBC noted.
While it appears the people who spoke to NBC got sick from the actual crash and not its aftermath, there are still significant concerns that it may still be unsafe to breathe the air or drink the water in the area surrounding the derailment — even though authorities began urging residents that it's safe to go home just a few days after the disaster.
In some ways, the official response has seemed muddled. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to insist that it's safe for residents to be in their homes near the crash site — but, as NPR noted over the weekend, asked for a pause on the shipping of the toxic waste from the site, for some reason.
As of now, the open-ended question remains whether it's genuinely safe for residents of East Palestine and the surrounding area to be home — or if we have another Flint on our hands.
More on the East Palestine disaster: Wait, Did Officials Just Pretend to Drink the Tap Water in East Palestine?
The post Locals Near Ohio Toxic Train Crash Say They're Experiencing Weird Symptoms appeared first on Futurism.
A large, mysterious object is slowly being sucked into the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, an extreme rendezvous of epic proportions that we've closely been following for over two decades.
Using the WM Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, a team of astronomers has been watching the collision since 2002.
In more recent observations, the strange object — dubbed X7 and believed to be a cloud of dust and gas about 50 times the mass of Earth — has become immensely elongated by the powerful forces of black hole Sagittarius A*.
As detailed in a recent paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, astronomers found that X7 now stretches 3,000 astronomical units, or 3,000 times the distance between the Sun and us — and we're still not entirely sure where it even came from.
"This is a unique chance at observing the effects of the black hole’s tidal forces at high-resolution, giving us insight into the physics of the Galactic Center’s extreme environment," said Anna Ciurlo, UCLA assistant researcher and lead author of the study, in a statement.
We still have plenty to learn about X7's origins. The astronomers suggest it was the result of two stars merging, a clash that ejected a sizeable cloud of gas.
But we do know one thing for sure. Anything that approaches a black hole will have to deal with extreme gravitational forces.
X7, which orbits Sagittarius A* every 170 Earth years or so, is in for a rude awakening once it reaches its closest approach of the black hole around the year 2036.
Once it gets close enough, X7 will likely be no more, as its components get sucked into a spiral — not unlike an object being flushed down a drain — traveling at up to 490 miles per second.
"We anticipate the strong tidal forces exerted by the Galactic black hole will ultimately tear X7 apart before it completes even one orbit," said co-author Mark Morris, UCLA astronomy professor, in the statement.
Despite its unfortunate fate, the fleeting cloud will eventually go out with a bang. Its eventual demise will be an event that will likely cause the black hole to light up like fireworks in observations as it heats up.
More on Sagittarius A*: Scientists Release Image of Black Hole at Center of Our Galaxy
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Scientific Reports, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-30469-3Immature platelet fraction predicts early marrow recovery after severe chemotherapy associated
Scientific Reports, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-30551-wAssociation between quality control and outcomes of
Every Oscars season brings new surprises: first-time nominees, snubbed Hollywood veterans, a list of honorees spanning blockbusters to indies. But one kind of movie is always a contender: the biopic. A true-story film is one of the most reliable forms of awards catnip; seven of the past 10 winners for Best Actor in a Leading Role were nominated for their portrayal of a real figure, sometimes a well-known celebrity, such as Freddie Mercury or Winston Churchill. The movies housing those performances tend to be functional to a fault. But some biographical films break the form and attempt something artistically challenging while also telling their protagonist’s story. Here are 20 of my favorites.
Tick, Tick … Boom! (2021, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Jonathan Larson’s musical Tick, Tick … Boom! was autobiographical when he first performed it in 1990. But the version that Miranda brought to screens more than 30 years later is even less coy about the fact that the central Jon character is Larson, while conceding that the story depicted is true “except for the parts Jonathan made up.” Tick, Tick … Boom! is about Larson (played by Andrew Garfield) striving to break out in New York’s theater scene, but it’s more broadly a work about the tricky act of balancing ambition and sanity in the arts world. The film acknowledges that Larson tragically died before receiving wide recognition for his musical Rent, but that’s part of what makes Tick, Tick … Boom! such a compelling watch: Miranda pairs that sad awareness with the vibrant, yearning energy of Larson’s original text.
Shirley (2020, directed by Josephine Decker)
Another biopic that mixes fiction with fact, Shirley is a portrait of the author Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss), set around the time she was writing her second novel, Hangsaman, published in 1951. Decker’s dreamy film sees a married couple arrive at Bennington College and get sucked into Jackson’s tempestuous relationship with her preening husband, Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg); together, the two writers are an entrancing nightmare—Shirley’s alcoholism and agoraphobia clash with Stanley’s philandering and social pomposity. Moss’s performance is particularly energetic and raw, representing both the haunted nature of Jackson’s storytelling and the author’s own troubled life.
A Hidden Life (2019, directed by Terrence Malick)
After several years spent working on abstract projects such as Knight of Cups and Song to Song, the philosophical maestro Malick turned his attention to a real-life subject for his next film: Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis for refusing to swear an oath to Hitler after being conscripted. It’s a Malick movie, so A Hidden Life is filled with striking scenery and a voice-over narration questioning the relationship between God and man, between free will and fate. Malick’s ongoing fascination with the natural world, which he can represent better than practically anyone, is paired with stunning imagery of storm clouds gathering and the industry of war corrupting the peaceful Austrian mountains. Still, the personal fortitude of Jägerstätter (August Diehl) is the film’s strongest element.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019, directed by Marielle Heller)
Adapted from an article written by the Esquire journalist Tom Junod, Heller’s film takes a clever approach to depicting the children’s-TV host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), whose life and perspective on entertainment has already been well covered in documentaries. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood instead stars Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel, a journalist assigned to profile Rogers who’s initially unconvinced of his subject’s genuine goodness. Heller understands that many viewers might be similarly skeptical that Rogers was as saintly as he appeared, so Vogel plays the role of the cynic, an embittered reporter trying to uncover Rogers’s dark side while also coming to terms with his own personal struggles. Hanks’s performance is beatific, but also a little weird. Though Heller is firm in portraying Rogers’s powerful and therapeutic aura, she also grasps how unnerving it might have felt to be in his presence.
First Man (2018, directed by Damien Chazelle)
It’s obvious why it took so long to make a definitive film about Neil Armstrong, whom Ryan Gosling portrays in First Man. The astronaut was taciturn, nervy, and intensely private, and the stakes of the Apollo 11 mission, which every viewer knows will be a success, aren’t especially dramatic. But Chazelle’s brilliance comes from digging into how unknowable Armstrong was, even to his close friends and family, and how desperately tense so much of the Apollo program was despite its eventual triumph. First Man is stressful, often frustrating, and then deeply moving in its final act on the moon, which was particularly incredible to view on an IMAX screen.
A Quiet Passion (2016, directed by Terence Davies)
Terence Davies is kind of a specialist in biographical films about poets, which is to say he’s made two of them (the other, the Siegfried Sassoon–focused Benediction, is also worth a watch). His methodical storytelling approach is a perfect match for Emily Dickinson, whom Cynthia Nixon plays as much more complicated than her reputation as an inscrutable recluse. Davies portrays Dickinson’s slow withdrawal from public life over the years, starting with her time as a whip-smart teenager at a Christian boarding school, and moving on to her navigation of family drama and her challenges to the religious hegemony of the day. A Quiet Passion conveys the fractured, piercing nature of Dickinson’s poems, illustrating her creativity while avoiding clichéd scenes of her sitting at a desk pondering what line to write next.
Jackie (2016, directed by Pablo Larraín)
The Chilean filmmaker Larraín’s recent output has mostly concentrated on true stories; one of his best films, the Oscar-nominated No, dramatizes Chile’s national 1988 referendum on whether the Pinochet regime should stay in power. Of late, he’s moved on to portraits of powerful women that mix fact with imagination, including 2021’s divisive Spencer and an upcoming Maria Callas film starring Angelina Jolie. Jackie is the best example of his style: Natalie Portman portrays Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination in a film that explores the narrative she created about her family and the darker truths nested within it. Larraín’s mournful vision is meditative and at times nightmarish, but even the most abstract material is anchored by Portman’s self-aware, imposing performance.
Steve Jobs (2015, directed by Danny Boyle)
Many biopics cleverly zero in on a specific moment in a subject’s life, picking a story that represents their wider impact on history. Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and based on Walter Isaacson’s biography, adjusts that tendency by focusing on three major launches during the Apple founder’s life: the first Macintosh computer, his Apple rival NeXT, and the famed iMac. This brilliant meta-structure captures the boom-bust-rebound cycle so familiar to the tech world, and Sorkin’s gift for blending exposition with witty banter brings those action-packed segments to life. It’s an astounding portrayal of a figure whose charisma and prickliness existed side by side, with Michael Fassbender doing bravura work in the lead role.
Mr. Turner (2014, directed by Mike Leigh)
Mike Leigh has a particular creative process for his films, in which he improvises scenarios with his cast and builds out the story with them instead of writing a traditional screenplay. Many of his movies are more mundane slice-of-life dramas, but this approach works surprisingly well for biographical stories, lending a sense of authenticity to films such as Topsy-Turvy (about the musical-theater duo W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan) and Peterloo (about a notorious massacre of protesters in 1819 England). Mr. Turner might be my favorite of Leigh’s period biopics: It delves into the life and works of the brilliant but cantankerous artist J. M. W. Turner, whose impressionistic landscapes were decades ahead of their time and thus both celebrated and decried. Timothy Spall is wonderful and belligerent in the leading role, but the film is an unflinching look at life with an artist whose genius is inseparable from his personality flaws.
Selma (2014, directed by Ava DuVernay)
Selma, a thunderous historical drama that made DuVernay one of the most discussed directors of the decade, tackles a monumental subject with grace. The film depicts Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in organizing the Selma-to-Montgomery voting-rights marches of 1965. David Oyelowo is perfectly pitched in the lead role, capturing all of King’s charisma without overwhelming the ensemble. But Selma is also a story of community-based political progress, rendering the backroom meetings and widespread activism that laid the groundwork for the landmark protests. DuVernay’s camera remains intimate throughout, relying on close-ups to keep the real-life figures feeling, well, real, instead of like the formal portraits that viewers might know from their history books.
The Wind Rises (2013, directed by Hayao Miyazaki)
As a historical narrative, The Wind Rises is only vaguely rooted in truth. Its protagonist, Jiro Horikoshi, was a real person, the designer of Japan’s Zero fighter planes and other aircraft used during World War II. But the story is partially fictionalized, blended with details from The Wind Has Risen, a novel about a man contending with his fiancée’s tuberculosis diagnosis. The great Japanese animator Miyazaki seems to insert this personal plotline as a way of imagining the kind of work-life conflict Jiro likely faced, torn between his calling and his home, a challenge Miyazaki himself has said he wrestled with. But the film is driven by an even knottier moral dilemma: the idea that one’s creations are being used for evil. Jiro’s passion for creating beautiful aircraft is equal only to his horror at the fact that his designs support machines of death and warfare. The Wind Rises is a knotty, spiritually conflicted work, and maybe the most complicated effort of Miyazaki’s storied career.
The Grandmaster (2013, directed by Wong Kar-wai)
The Grandmaster dramatizes the life of Ip Man, a revered martial artist who trained many future stars, most famously Bruce Lee. Directed by the leading Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, the film features the frequent Wong collaborator Tony Leung in the lead role and is steeped in both history and philosophy. The Grandmaster moves through Ip Man’s adolescence, early training years, marriage, and navigation of major events such as the Second Sino-Japanese War and the 1951 closing of the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. The film is a lavish production, and multiple versions have been released—including a very streamlined American cut that tries, clumsily, to provide further context for international viewers—but the 130-minute “Chinese Cut” is the one worth seeking out.
Bernie (2011, directed by Richard Linklater)
True crime is a subgenre that can be given to lurid controversy. But Linklater’s retelling of the 1996 murder of the Texas multimillionaire Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) by her far younger companion, Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), is downright whimsical. There’s no mystery to the murder itself, which Tiede commits after his relationship with the unpleasant and demanding Nugent breaks down; Linklater is far more interested in the aftermath, when local townspeople start rallying to Tiede’s defense because of their hatred of his victim. Linklater places some of the real-life residents alongside professional actors, lending verisimilitude to the proceedings. Black gives one of the best performances of his career, bouncing off Matthew McConaughey, who plays a frustrated district attorney.
Moneyball (2011, directed by Bennett Miller)
Maybe the best sports movie of the 21st century is about an executive: Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who used advanced statistics to spin gold from one of the smallest budgets in Major League Baseball and stay ahead of his richer competitors. Adapted from Michael Lewis’s book about the team’s 2002 season, the film turns a data-driven quest into a war with the hard-bitten classicists of America’s pastime. It’s a compelling portrait of a divorced, aloof, intensely stubborn person who sometimes feels at odds with the sport he loves. Miller understands that the tension between change and tradition is what makes baseball such a uniquely American topic.
Bright Star (2009, directed by Jane Campion)
Like Terence Davies, Campion has directed multiple excellent biopics of poets and writers, and her 1990 film about Janet Frame, An Angel at My Table, warrants a look. But Bright Star might be her most singular work in a career filled with idiosyncratic triumphs. It tracks the last three years of the brief life of John Keats (Ben Whishaw), focusing on his romance with Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), a woman who inspired some of his verse but whom he could not marry because of his lack of income. Bright Star is swooningly romantic and deeply tragic, steeped in Whishaw and Cornish’s natural chemistry and Keats’s connection to the natural world; it’s a heartbreaker of a film, but a worthy one.
I’m Not There (2007, directed by Todd Haynes)
While making a biographical movie about Bob Dylan, Todd Haynes seemed completely aware that the task before him—or at least any conventional approach—would be impossible. So he instead presents six short story lines that take on specific aspects of Dylan’s life or personality. Different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) portray the singer in some form or another. Blanchett’s performance as Dylan the mid-’60s folk rebel, spikily razzing the press about his switch to the electric guitar, is probably the best-remembered section. But Ledger’s work as Dylan around the time of his famed breakup album, Blood on the Tracks, is among the best of his sadly short career.
Marie Antoinette (2006, directed by Sofia Coppola)
For her follow-up to the Oscar winner Lost in Translation, Coppola tackled a difficult subject: the French queen Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst), whose reign before the French Revolution was famed for its debauchery. Coppola’s take has a modern sheen, featuring a pop soundtrack and a cast of actors who mostly use their natural American accents. It’s also tinged with sympathy, noting the Austrian Marie’s alienation from her husband, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), and from the strange French court she was shipped to at the age of 14. The film is so light and fizzy that it seems to almost forget how badly things will soon start to curdle—but the lack of self-awareness is, of course, part of the point.
The Insider (1999, directed by Michael Mann)
Mann’s other biographical films are the fascinating yet challenging Ali (2001) and Public Enemies (2009), and he has another one, about the carmaker Enzo Ferrari, due out this year. But The Insider is probably the best biopic he’ll ever make. It fictionalizes the story of the whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), who exposed a company’s secret efforts to make cigarettes more addictive. Al Pacino plays Lowell Bergman, the 60 Minutes producer trying to coax Wigand to make his claims public, and Mann gives their relationship operatic force, turning a story about good, hard journalism in drab offices into an entrancing visual marvel.
Nixon (1995, directed by Oliver Stone)
Stone has made many films about real-life figures, and his relationship to the truth has long been blurry at best. Alexander, his epic about the Macedonian conqueror, is his most formally daring work, but Nixon might be my personal favorite. Anthony Hopkins plays Richard Nixon in a film that takes a sweeping look at the disgraced president’s life and career. Though Stone is obviously politically opposed to Nixon, he seems to still feel deep sympathy for the complex, aggrieved outsider who struggled with personal demons and the grim circumstances of his impoverished youth. Nixon is also crammed with the kind of conspiratorial thinking about the U.S. government that suffuses many a Stone film, but that tone suits its protagonist, as he descends into paranoiac anger and the Watergate scandal erupts around him.
Bird (1988, directed by Clint Eastwood)
Eastwood has made several movies about real, ordinary folk who emerge as heroes, such as Sully and Richard Jewell. But his masterpiece of the biopic genre is Bird, an offbeat account of the life of the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker (Forest Whitaker). Mimicking the improvisational structure of jazz, Bird is a montage that jumps forwards and backwards in Parker’s life. Across timelines, it’s most interested in his relationship with his wife, Chan (Diane Venora), and fellow musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Red Rodney. Whitaker’s performance is extraordinary, and Eastwood’s experimental approach is too.
February 27 has been set aside as International Polar Bear Day, first organized by the group Polar Bears International in 2011. The day was established to help spread awareness of the impact of global warming on the bears and their changing habitat, and international conservation efforts. Organizers hope to encourage people to take steps in their own life to reduce their carbon footprint. Below, I’ve collected a few images of these magnificent white bears in their natural habitat.
SpaceX surprised everyone with the rapid spread of Starlink internet access, but the company may have overextended itself. Speeds have been on the decline while prices keep going up, and the solution is more satellites. SpaceX has been making plans for its Gen 2 Starlink megaconstellation, and it’s showing off the “V2 Mini” satellites that will help it get there without waiting for the delayed Starship rocket.
Starlink plans to launch the first V2 Mini satellites later today (Feb. 27) aboard a good old-fashioned Falcon 9 rocket. This vehicle is still SpaceX’s workhorse despite years of work on the upcoming Starship. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk previously said that Starship would reach orbit in 2022, but the company is still performing engine tests on Starship and its Super Heavy first-stage booster. SpaceX is targeting the next few weeks for Starship’s first orbital test.
The V2 Mini satellites appear to be halfway between the old Starlink nodes and the upcoming V2 satellites. They will physically fit inside the Falcon 9’s hull, but the rocket will only be able to send 21 of them into space at a time. That’s a far cry from the 60-satellite payload for Starlink V1 missions. According to Teslarati, that means each V2 Mini satellite has a mass of about 1,830 pounds (830 kilograms).
The true Starlink V2 satellites are much larger than the current design, weighing up to two tons (4,400 pounds) each. These satellites will offer 10 times the bandwidth of the V1 satellites, and the FCC has granted SpaceX a license to deploy as many as 7,500 of them in new orbits. SpaceX previously added a few V1 satellites in these orbits, probably to conduct testing for the Gen 2 deployment. Clearly, SpaceX has decided that it needs to expand capacity now rather than waiting on Starship to launch V2 satellites.
The V2 Mini won’t have the capabilities of the full-scale version, but they make several important improvements over the V1 type. They have a larger, more powerful phased array antenna, along with two 52.5-square-meter solar panels. They will use the E-band for backhaul, allowing for up to four times higher network capacity. That will make up for the smaller number of satellites per launch. The V2 Mini also has a new Argon-based Hall thruster, replacing the more expensive Krypton-fueled engine from earlier Starlink hardware.
You can catch live coverage for the first V2 Mini below at 5 p.m. ET. The launch is slated for 6:13 p.m.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-30479-1Author Correction: Estimation of the mutation rate of Mycobacterium
Nature, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-00590-4Nature staff take on the big topics that matter in science.
Nature Communications, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36651-5Metabolic reprogramming plays vital roles in tumorigenesis. Here, Chen et al. reveal that mitochondria-encoded mcPGK1 drives the mitochondrial translocation of
Department of Energy’s updated report on origins of coronavirus pandemic jars with most scientists’ assessments
According to the Wall Street Journal, an updated and classified 2021 US energy department report has concluded that the coronavirus behind the recent pandemic most likely emerged from a laboratory leak but not as part of a weapons programme.Continue reading…
Social media has brought sky-watchers together to view an event that may be seen as far south as the home counties
Compare the bucket lists of your friends and the chances are that seeing the northern lights will be on many of them. So the news that, instead of trekking northwards to Norway or Iceland, you can just step out of your back door to see them sounds like a dream come true. In the past couple of nights many people in the UK have done just that, and in some cases as far south as the home counties.
But is it as easy as that, and what are the chances of seeing something tonight?Continue reading…
Nature, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41586-023-05862-7Ubiquitin-like Conjugation by Bacterial cGAS Enhances Anti-phage Defence
Nature, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41586-023-05859-2Continuous Symmetry Breaking in a Two-dimensional Rydberg Array
Nature Communications, Published online: 27 February 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36590-1Bacteria and archaea use tripartite ATP-independent periplasmic (TRAP) transporters to import essential nutrients. Davies et al. report a high resolution structure of a TRAP and show that it uses an ‘elevator-with-an operator’ mechanism.