How Information Theory Could Hold the Key to Quantifying Nature
John Harte, a professor of ecology at the University of California, Berkeley,has developed what he calls the maximum entropy (MaxEnt) theory of ecology, which may offer a solution to a long-standing problem in ecology: how to calculate the total number of species in an ecosystem, as well as other important numbers, based on extremely limited information — which is all that ecologists, no matter how many years they spend in the field, ever have. […] He and his colleagues will soon publish the results of a study that estimates the number of insect and tree species living in a tropical forest in Panama. The paper will also suggest how MaxEnt could give species estimates in the Amazon, a swath of more than 2 million square miles of land that is notoriously difficult to survey.
If the MaxEnt theory of ecology can give good estimates in a wide variety of scenarios, it could help answer the many questions that revolve around how species are spread across the landscape, such as how many would be lost if a forest were cleared, how to design wildlife preserves that keep species intact, or how many rarely seen species might be hiding in a given area. Perhaps more importantly, the theory hints at a unified way of thinking about ecology — as a system that can be described with just a few variables, with all the complexity of life built on top.
Read the article @WIRED
Americans often risk arrests to protest for a range of causes – from climate change to better wages. The arrests, however, might cost them.
"Look at Ferguson. Look at all of the arrests that have happened. All of these individuals who might have a record that they might not even realize that in six months, or several years down the road, will follow them and could cause them to lose a job.”
Photo: Jake May/AP
Something this demographic may not be realizing, either, is that this particular cause for which they advocate is a packet: a short-term solution with a long-term problem. Those at the bottom of the wage range—who are, to my best understanding, the majority of those who show support—will be the first to suffer the flip-side consequences.
Researchers at Jacksonville’s campus of Mayo Clinic have discovered a defect in a key cell-signaling pathway they say contributes to both overproduction of toxic protein in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients as well as loss of communication between neurons — both significant contributors to this type of dementia.
Their study, in the online issue of Neuron, offers the potential that targeting this specific defect with drugs “may rejuvenate or rescue this pathway,” says the study’s lead investigator, Guojun Bu, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla.
“This defect is likely not the sole contributor to development of Alzheimer’s disease, but our findings suggest it is very important, and could be therapeutically targeted to possibly prevent Alzheimer’s or treat early disease,” he says.
The pathway, Wnt signaling, is known to play a critical role in cell survival, embryonic development and synaptic activity — the electrical and chemical signals necessary for learning and memory. Any imbalance in this pathway (too much or too little activity) leads to disease — the overgrowth of cells in cancer is one example of overactivation of this pathway.
While much research on Wnt has focused on diseases involved in overactive Wnt signaling, Dr. Bu’s team is one of the first to demonstrate the link between suppressed Wnt signaling and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our finding makes sense, because researchers have long known that patients with cancer are at reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and vice versa,” Dr. Bu says. “What wasn’t known is that Wnt signaling was involved in that dichotomy.”
Using a new mouse model, the investigators discovered the key defect that leads to suppressed Wnt signaling in Alzheimer’s. They found that the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 6 (LRP6) is deficient, and that LRP6 regulates both production of amyloid beta, the protein that builds up in the brains of AD patients, and communication between neurons. That means lower than normal levels of LRP6 leads to a toxic buildup of amyloid and impairs the ability of neurons to talk to each other.
Mice without LRP6 had impaired Wnt signaling, cognitive impairment, neuroinflammation and excess amyloid.
The researchers validated their findings by examining postmortem brain tissue from Alzheimer’s patients — they found that LRP6 levels were deficient and Wnt signaling was severely compromised in the human brain they examined.
The good news is that specific inhibitors of this pathway are already being tested for cancer treatment. “Of course, we don’t want to inhibit Wnt in people with Alzheimer’s or at risk for the disease, but it may be possible to use the science invested in inhibiting Wnt to figure out how to boost activity in the pathway,” Dr. Bu says.
“Identifying small molecule compounds to restore LRP6 and the Wnt pathway, without inducing side effects, may help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease,” he says. “This is a really exciting new strategy — a new and fresh approach.”
Word of the day: animalcule
Image: Yellow mite (Tydeidae) Lorryia formosa 2 edit by Eric Erbe; digital colorization by Chris Pooley. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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With A Deadline Looming, Iran’s Nuclear Talks Reopen In New York | PETER KENYON
Negotiations on limiting Iran’s nuclear program resume this week in New York, but a summer of multiplying crises has world capitals distracted as the talks hit a crucial stage.
The high-profile setting for this round of talks between Iran and six world powers has raised expectations, and the talks come at a time when world leaders are also gathering for the U.N. General Assembly meeting.
The last round of talks, aimed at giving Iran sanctions relief if it accepts strict limits intended to keep it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, ended in Vienna in July with only an agreement to keep trying for a few more months.
Now, as a crisis-heavy summer turns into fall, the Ukraine conflict, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the extremist violence in Iraq and Syria are all threatening to overshadow the Iran issue.
READ FULL TRANSCRIPT (NPR)
The number of people online and connected globally today has reached 3 billion – more than 40% of the world’s population. As that figure rises exponentially, and increasing swathes of our daily lives migrate to the Internet, the ability to transact safely, seamlessly and in confidence, across-borders, has become ever more important.
The reason why we’re so excited by Bitcoin is that it offers the solution we’ve long been searching for – a new digital way to pay which is emerging as the Internet’s payment method of choice. #btc #payment #money #news #china #us
Don’t get mad the next time you catch your teenager texting when he promised to be studying.
He simply may not be able to resist.
A University of Iowa study found teenagers are far more sensitive than adults to the immediate effect or reward of their behaviors. The findings may help explain, for example, why the initial rush of texting may be more enticing for adolescents than the long-term payoff of studying.
“The rewards have a strong, perceptional draw and are more enticing to the teenager,” says Jatin Vaidya, a professor of psychiatry at the UI and corresponding author of the study, which appeared online this week in the journal Psychological Science. “Even when a behavior is no longer in a teenager’s best interest to continue, they will because the effect of the reward is still there and lasts much longer in adolescents than in adults.”
For parents, that means limiting distractions so teenagers can make better choices. Take the homework and social media dilemma: At 9 p.m., shut off everything except a computer that has no access to Facebook or Twitter, the researchers advise.
“I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed access to technology,” Vaidya says. “But they need help in regulating their attention so they can develop those impulse-control skills.”
In their study, “Value-Driven Attentional Capture in Adolescence,” Vaidya and co-authors Shaun Vecera, a professor of psychology, and Zachary Roper, a graduate student in psychology, note researchers generally believe teenagers are impulsive, make bad decisions, and engage in risky behavior because the frontal lobes of their brains are not fully developed.
But the UI researchers wondered whether something more fundamental was going on with adolescents to trigger behaviors independent of higher-level reasoning.
“We wanted to try to understand the brain’s reward system and how it changes from childhood to adulthood,” says Vaidya, who adds the reward trait in the human brain is much more primitive than decision-making. “We’ve been trying to understand the reward process in adolescence and whether there is more to adolescent behavior than an under-developed frontal lobe,” he adds.
For their study, the researchers recruited 40 adolescents, ages 13 and 16, and 40 adults, ages 20 and 35. First, participants were asked to find a red or green ring hidden within an array of rings on a computer screen. Once identified, they reported whether the white line inside the ring was vertical or horizontal. If they were right, they received a reward between 2 and 10 cents, depending on the color. For some participants, the red ring paid the highest reward; for others, it was the green. None was told which color would pay the most.
After 240 trials, the participants were asked whether they noticed anything about the colors. Most made no association between a color and reward, which researchers say proves the ring exercise didn’t involve high-level, decision-making.
In the next stage, participants showed they had developed an intuitive association when they were asked to find a diamond-shaped target. This time, the red and green rings were used as decoys.
At first, the adolescents and adults selected the color ring that garnered them the highest monetary reward, the goal of the first trial. But in short order, the adults adjusted and selected the diamond. The adolescents did not.
Even after 240 trials, the adolescents were still more apt to pick the colored rings.
“Even though you’ve told them, ‘You have a new target,’ the adolescents can’t get rid of the association they learned before,” Vecera says. “It’s as if that association is much more potent for the adolescent than for the adult.
“If you give the adolescent a reward, it will persist longer,” he adds. “The fact that the reward is gone doesn’t matter. They will act as if the reward is still there.”
Researchers say that inability to readily adjust behavior explains why, for example, a teenager may continue to make inappropriate comments in class long after friends stopped laughing.
In the future, researchers hope to delve into the psychological and neurological aspects of their results.
“Are there certain brain regions or circuits that continue to develop from adolescence to adulthood that play role in directing attention away from reward stimuli that are not task relevant?” Vaidya asks. “Also, what sort of life experiences and skill help to improve performance on this task?”
All trade in five named species of sharks is to be regulated from now on, in a significant step forward for conservation.
Without a permit confirming that these sharks have been harvested legally and sustainably, the sale of their meat or fins will be banned.
The regulation was agreed last year at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Thailand.
The rules also apply to manta rays.
Shark numbers have been under severe pressure in recent years as the numbers killed for their fins soared.
Scientific estimates put the number at about 100m a year, with demand driven by the fin soup trade in Hong Kong and China.
Campaigners have been seeking to stop the unregulated trade in sharks since the 1990s but it was only at the Cites meeting in Bangkok last year that they finally managed to achieve sufficient votes to drive through the ban.
From Sunday, the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle and three varieties of hammerhead will be elevated to Appendix II of the Cites code, which means that traders must have permits and certificates.
Manta rays, valued for their gills which are used in Chinese medicine, will also be protected.
The survival of all these species has been threatened by over fishing.
The move is seen as the most significant move in the 40 year history of Cites to protect these species.
"Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans," said Cites Secretary General John Scanlon.
"The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade. This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it."
Under the regulations, all trade in these sharks and rays across 180 countries will not be allowed unless they have been authorised by the designated national authorities.
Trade in shark fins has already declined significantly as a result of campaigns to raise awareness. Recently it’s been reported that sales have gone down by 70%.
Earlier this year the hotel chain, Hilton Worldwide stopped serving shark fin at its 96 owned and managed Asia-Pacific properties.
However several countries have entered reservations to the Cites regulations on some of these species.
Denmark (on behalf of Greenland), Canada, Guyana, Japan, Iceland and Yemen have all said they will not be bound by the new rules and will continue to fish for some or all of these species.
Under the regulations though, they are only able to trade with other countries that have also registered a reservation.
Officials from Cites point out that for such a controversial issue, the number of countries registering reservations is small. The point to the fact that China, the main consumer market, has not done so.
Think about it. Here’s Indy, in some ancient tropical temple whose booby traps have miraculously not turned to dust with age and humidity. All the ropes, wooden blocks, gears, whatever – they still function. This is a treasure trove of information for an archeologist. How did their technology work? How did they get that giant rock to the top of that ramp? What powered their poison darts?
But no, he goes for the least interesting but most economically valuable thing in the temple – a golden statue. A real archeologist would have taken a photo of it, told the Nazis they could have the stupid thing, and spent the next 10 years studying the temple’s booby traps.
Or what about the part where he slips into a dig site in Egypt and tries to steal the Ark of the Covenant?
Whatever you may think of evil archeologists bent on world domination, they presumably had permits to be there. And while the early days of Egyptian archeology were corrupt and exploitative, it was far better than just allowing foreign looters to run wild. Looters like Indiana Jones.
“That first scene, where he’s in the temple and he’s replacing that statue with a bag of sand – that’s what looters do. [The temple builders] are using these amazing mechanisms of engineering and all he wants to do is steal the stupid gold statue…True, the Nazis were trying to find the Ark of the Covenant so they could destroy the world, but methodologically and legally they were in the right…If someone was to come into my camp and dig up the site with some knowledge I didn’t have, and I was to catch them in the middle of the night, yeah, I might throw him in a snake pit too.”
— Marcello Canuto, Tulane Archaeologist
Read it all via ‘The Last Word On Nothing’
A 3-step plan for getting out of our economic mess:
1) Rewrite the tax code
2) Negative interest rates on bank reserves
3) Institute a 2 year draft
Now I know some of you saw the word draft and probably want to stop reading right now BUT give this a chance and read on.
First things first the tax code needs to be rewritten. The fact that in 2012 only 47% of American paid federal income taxes has to change. There are too many loopholes, deductions, write-offs. In 2012 the government brought in $2.8 trillion in tax revenue from individual tax payers, much less than it should have. If we went to a consumption tax the government would bring in much much more. Let’s look at it in simply numbers. The US economy is $17 trillion annually on goods and services; this is an average number over the past few years. If we had a consumption tax of 25% the government would bring in $4.3 trillion. Would a consumption tax make people shy away from spending? No it would have the opposite effect on those who are just getting by, it would not make the millionaires and billionaires rethink their spending by any means. Look at it this way, if you’re making $60,000 year you are now bringing home $60,000, you feel richer, wealthier so odds are you will be freer to spend, to consume. If you choose not to, great your bank account will appreciate it. Another reason the consumption tax is so great, all those illegal immigrants running around our country not paying anything into our tax system NOW PAY. Every time they purchase something, a shirt, shoes for their kids, a belt, food, plates, anything, they now are paying into our system. They will not be able to avoid it. Everyone is on the same playing field, rich or poor or middle income it doesn’t matter we all pay the same tax rate, 0% if you do not consume or the same rate if you do consume. We will start paying down the federal debt immediately without cutting spending, if the government could figure out a few entitlement programs to cut it would pay it down even faster. Now on top of the individual tax being changed to consumption the corporate tax should be changed to a flat tax. Did you know in 2009 Exxon paid zero in federal taxes, that’s right ZERO. Creating a flat tax on the corporate level will bring in trillions more, our government will be running a surplus in a blink of an eye.
Second negative interest rates on bank reserves. Banks have to maintain a reserve balance according to government rules; the government pays interest to the banks on those reserves. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 allowed the Fed to pay interest on reserves, even excess reserves. By January 2009 banks had increased the amount of capital held at the Fed from $10 Bil to $880 Bil. Do you blame them? They are receiving risk free interest. Why lend? If we go to negative interest rates it will force the banks to lend. Lending will become a major force for their revenue and income; they will need to loan on a conservative basis something they did not do during the real estate boom. Also bring back the Glass/Steagall act, the single most important banking rule to be taken down under the Clinton administration and by far his and other politicians’ biggest mistake.
Lastly institute a 2-year draft of every man and woman at the age of 18. Yes I know the controversy this will start but hear me out it’s not a bad thing. A draft will increase our military presence and strength dramatically. It will instill a sense of pride in our youth; it will also have the ability to open their eyes to different industries, which they may want to pursue as a career. And very importantly it will turn this economy around on a dime. Imagine the government would have to clothe, feed, and arm millions of young men and women. They would have to build housing, trucks, tanks, planes, etc, all the things that the military currently has but in much greater amounts. Every product the government purchases has to be made here in the US, nothing from abroad, and nothing is allowed to be outsourced. Believe me there will be companies here in the states that would do anything to receive a government contract. The government pays market rates on these products made here in the states, not $40 a hammer as an example under Reagan. Also anyone, up to age 50, who wants to come and live in America, has to serve for 2 years. After the age of 28 they will not be shipped overseas or sent into battle. If anyone who is here illegally, they are given an amount of time to leave the country if they are caught after that elapsed time they will be put in the military for up to 5 years. Once they serve the military they automatically become US citizens.
Yes I know many of you are asking well who is going to pay for it. The answer is the government of course. The new tax code will be bringing in more money than ever before but even if the costs of a draft exceeds the increased tax revenue, which it will, the government will get it back very quickly. Our real unemployment rate will drop to 4% or lower very quickly. This plan has the potential to put us back to being fully employed, creating millions and millions of jobs. It is essentially called trickle-down economics with a twist, something our current politicians have completely forgot about. Oh one other thing, it will make us much safer as well.