The Fed should be wary of sharp interest hikes
The US economy is slowing down from the high growth rates seen in 2021. This slowdown is not surprising, given the pandemic and the policy response. Nevertheless, this news has been largely met with a grim reaction from market participants. Just to take an example, JP Morgan 's influential podcast Notes on the Week Ahead used words such as "unfortunate," "bleak," and "squeeze" to describe a decrease in GDP.
As per the traditional technical definition of a recession, two consecutive quarters of decline in GDP would mean that we are officially in a recession. However, as with any other rule of thumb, this does not accurately account for all of the nuanced factors involved in assessing the state of the business cycle. With many economics heavy-weights like Lawrence H Summers - former Treasury Secretary and President Emeritus at Harvard - noting that Friday's GDP report "does not suggest we are currently in recession," it is evident that the question about whether we are indeed in a recession or not is still very much under debate. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that a general slowdown is necessary to bring inflation down to the Federal Reserve's target of 2%. The Fed's overspending during the pandemic, supply chain issues, and strong demand due to unexpectedly fast recovery from the pandemic are all behind the current inflation regime we are experiencing.
A recent economic study showed that supply factors are responsible for more than half of the current elevated level of 12-month PCE inflation. Given this, steep interest rate hikes to combat inflation run the risk of overcorrecting the inflation and could bring about a recession. As the pent-up demand naturally subsides and supply chain issues are corrected, it seems reasonable to expect inflationary pressures to diminish independently without painful intervention from the Fed.
The Federal Reserve, for its part, hasn't yet raised interest rates to levels that would guarantee a hard landing. But with the increasing panic about inflation and an accompanying recession, the Fed might decide to adopt a more aggressive policy. Such an aggressive policy could precipitate a harrowingly hard landing with disastrous consequences.
Confessions of an Ayurveda professor
In this essay, the author argues that many concepts in Ayurveda physiology are obsolete and do not contribute to our understanding of the subject. He cites examples of how ancient concepts such as shukra (semen) and rakta (blood) have been overinterpreted to make them sound rational by proposing ad hoc conjectures. He suggests that instead of using such re-interpretation to prove obsolete concepts, they can be dropped altogether from the curricula of Ayurveda programmes. Kishor Patwardhan, the author, is at the Department of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. This essay was first published by the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics and is republished here under the Creative Commons license ( CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 ). In this essay, I narrate my experiences of teaching Ayurveda physiology through an approach that involved laborious re-interpretation of ancient literature using the recent advances in the field of medical physiology. Though this approach made the ancient concepts and theories appear modern and relevant, it did not contribute much except for apparently reducing cognitive dissonance among students. I cite examples describing the processes of formation of shukra (semen) and rakta (blood) to show how we often overinterpret Ayurveda concepts to make them sound rational by proposing ad hoc conjectures. I illustrate why my previous writings were faulty by applying the falsification principle proposed by Karl Popper. I further explain how this approach made these concepts only verifiable but not refutable, and hence, non-falsifiable. I argue that instead of using such re-interpretation to prove obsolete concepts, they can be dropped altogether from the curricula of Ayurveda programmes. There is a need to develop a reliable method to identify such outdated content. I am a teacher of Ayurveda physiology, and for the past twenty years or so, I have harboured a belief that advances in contemporary sciences must be used to interpret descriptions documented in ancient Ayurveda texts. This has been a central theme of most of my past writings. This belief originated in my training at postgraduate level, when we consulted the books of scholars such as C Dwarakanath, BG Ghanekar and Gananath Sen. These scholars ensured that modern anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology were abundantly used in their books to draw parallels between ancient and modern literature. Further, Banaras Hindu University offered me a unique opportunity to learn basic sciences like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, and pathology, and to look at Ayurveda literature through the current science lens. The background literature, especially by C Dwarakanath, VJ Thakar and VV Subrahmanya Sastri made me feel that my approach was legitimate and scientific. I even authored a book titled Human physiology in Ayurveda, which became quite popular among our students as it saw many reprint editions [ 1 ]. The book discusses how Ayurveda physiology and current physiology are not inherently distinct and how they can be merged effortlessly. The book contains chapters with titles such as “Cardiovascular System”, “Digestive System” and so on, a pattern followed in most of the modern textbooks on medical physiology. I consciously selected the most rational versions of ancient aphorisms to make them appear relevant. I thought I was continuing the tradition of writing commentaries, wherein commentators amended the literature to suit their contemporary times. “This is a tradition that has kept Ayurveda vibrant and relevant”, I always thought. I viewed all my writings as commentaries on ancient scriptures. I also felt that it was my duty to be loyal to my subject and to the acclaimed scholars in whose footsteps I was following. What I did not realise was that my efforts at this stage were directed at seeking validation of what I was supposed to teach, which was otherwise mostly obsolete material. This urge for validation was possibly rooted in the frustration that I had developed when this subject was taught to me during my graduate studies. About thirty years ago, I had observed and even ridiculed the primitive and obsolete nature of physiology contained in our ancient textbooks. I wanted my students not to perceive the subject the same way as I had, and wanted them to read current physiology more seriously. Hence, I made every effort to legitimise ancient literature using a strategy of “strained interpretation” (drawing unintended but convenient meanings of certain words and phrases using cherry-picked references from commentaries) — which I called “rationalisation” — to make it sound modern and relevant. A few of my teachers who followed this strategy had had a profound influence on me as they made it possible for us to connect very well with the subject. However, Covid-19-related restrictions offered me a chance to read a few interesting articles and books, and sufficient time to introspect on certain points, which probably wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise. This reading and introspection changed my perspectives so dramatically that I decided to write about it knowing very well that this might put my entire career at risk. But the truth must be told — and the earlier the better. Below, I trace how I changed my perspectives on the subject. The books and articles that have had immense influence on my new thinking have been listed in the reference section. I try analysing my own faults in my past writings and viewing these mistakes through the falsifiability principle. The problem of shukra Here, I discuss why my approach was wrong by taking the example of shukra (semen). This was the most disturbing concept that I had to deal with during my graduate studies. Though testicles have been identified as the roots of the channels that carry shukra, Ayurveda proposes the formation of the same in majja (bone marrow), for whatever reason [ 2 ]. Ancient scholars also felt that shukra existed in the entire body [ 3 ]. Since I found it difficult to make it sound scientific, I took some references from commentaries and argued that the term “majja” need not exclusively denote bone marrow, but could stand for all tissues that filled bony cavities. One reference from a commentary on Sushruta Samhita referring to the brain as “Majja present in the cranial cavity” offered relief [ 4 ]. Hence, majja became two substances to me — brain and bone marrow. I argued that translating terms such as majja needed to be done more cautiously as this could restrict the original broader meaning. Then, I took another reference from a commentary stating that two types of shukra may be identified — one indicative of semen and the other indicative of a substance that was present in the entire body [ 5 ]. Now, my knowledge of modern physiology made me relate GnRH and other hormones in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis with the substance that circulated all over the body. Since one of my teachers had also suggested this interpretation, I found it convincing. Thus, I thought, we had solved the problem by bringing in clarity. While I knew that the existence of hormones had only been discovered in the recent past, it did not matter to me as my enthusiasm to prove ancient Ayurveda literature relevant was boundless. On the basis of my postgraduate training, I argued that such interpretations were valid. Though the ancient scholars did not know what hormones were, the concepts were amenable to re-interpretation. If such an interpretation could reduce cognitive dissonance (the holding of conflicting beliefs simultaneously) among our students, I thought, “why not?”. Though I never suggested that the ancient scholars knew it all, I certainly made their writings sound relevant. “This is what all commentators have done”, was my justification. Formation of the blood This is another example which shows that the ancient scholars did not know in which organ the blood was formed, because they did not know what blood-cells were. Their observations were limited by the tools and other means to which they had access. Using some indirect references and laborious re-interpretation, one can argue that bone marrow was considered as one of the places of blood cell formation; but clearly it is not the case. They thought that the liver and spleen were the organs that imparted the red colour to blood [ 6 ]. Vagbhata added amashaya (stomach) to this list [ 7 ]. Incorporating the knowledge from physiology that describes the role of the liver and spleen in erythropoiesis in early life, one could argue that these too are very important organs in the formation of blood. One could also argue that this was known to the ancient scholars. Considering the role of the stomach in absorption of vitamin B12, Vagbhata’s proposition too can be justified. However, other than making our students feel that “physiology” is similar in both the systems, it does not serve any useful purpose. At the same time, in the name of re-interpretation, we do a disservice to our ancient scriptures. I must admit I have committed this error in my previous writings. Even in my paper on the physiology of blood circulation, I have tried re-interpreting some principles of blood circulation that rest heavily on the writings of scholars such as VJ Thakar. My paper proposed that the description of three vascular segments such as arteries, veins and capillaries could possibly be traced back to Ayurveda literature. Similarly, by translating rasa as blood using some references from a commentary [ 8 ], it became easy for me to suggest that the scheme of blood circulation could be traced back to these ancient textbooks [ 9 ]. It is the same in other topics such as the role of kidneys in urine formation. Though there is no clear evidence to suggest that ancient scholars knew the physiology of urine formation, it can be argued otherwise through strained re-interpretation and can be made to sound as if they had this knowledge. Now I realise that simply because the verses are amenable to interpretation, it is not in the true scientific spirit to superimpose modern science over classical references. Rescuing tridosha theory As tridosha theory lays the foundation for all aspects of Ayurveda, making it sound relevant was very essential for me. Ayurveda makes use of the concept of three doshas, viz, vata, pitta and kapha, to describe one’s constitution, to explain physiology, to plan diet and lifestyle, to explain the pharmaceutical effects of herbs, to explain the pathogenesis of different diseases, to explain various symptoms and to plan therapeutic interventions. It is the fundamental theory that all Ayurveda students deal with during their entire educational programme. One of my teachers had already convinced me that this was a mere theory and did not represent any material entities in the human body — which, I thought, solved most of the problems. I went on to elaborate how different entities in the human body at different levels of organisation could fit in well within this framework. I also included the most recent advances in neuro-endocrine immunology to justify this theory. All these efforts made tridosha theory look very practical, modern, relevant, and attractive. Where is the problem? Though such interpretations could apparently reduce cognitive dissonance among our students, as shown in our research on teaching methods [ 10 ], the key question remains: “What additional contribution do they make to Ayurveda?” The fact is that many of these topics are no longer relevant, and need not be in the curriculum in the first place. Why should obsolete physiology be taught to our students at all? I realised that all my efforts were directed at making the prescribed curricular framework look relevant and rational. That such laboured misinterpretation could lead to clinical misapplication and misjudgement is something we tend to forget. Such an approach could also smother innovation [ 11 ]. The curriculum of the recently notified National Commission for Indian System of Medicine demonstrates some of these fundamental errors. It prescribes stringent instructional methods such as Objective Structured Practical Examination (OSPI) and Case Based Discussion (CBD), to teach clinical skills in assessing many Ayurveda parameters in physiology such as dhatu-sara (form of clinical examination to assess the structural and functional health status of different tissues in the body); whereas, in reality, the practical utility of this concept is yet to be determined and there exists huge inter-rater variability in its assessment. This means that, when two or more physicians independently assess dhatu-sara of the same set of individuals, the chances of obtaining a significant level of agreement among these physicians are not high. Applying the falsifiability principle I must admit that I stopped at this point, and did not ask difficult questions that could possibly have made my existence in the system irrelevant. “If I argue that most of the theories and concepts of Ayurveda physiology are irrelevant, why should I be part of the system? How can I even say that the subject which I was appointed to teach is mostly obsolete? Will it not be an injustice to my subject and to my institution?”, and many such apprehensions kept me constrained within the prescribed curricular framework. However, change is not possible without introspection, and some disruption is required to trigger it. Falsifiability is a principle that is used to distinguish between a scientifically sound theory and one that is scientifically weak. The concept of “null hypothesis” and “alternative hypothesis” proposed in our postgraduate research proposals has its origins in this principle. Karl Popper, the proponent of this principle, argues that “verifiability” is a weak proof to judge the validity of a theory. He takes examples from Freud’s psychoanalysis, Adler’s individual psychology and Karl Marx’s theory of history to show how all these theories can easily be verified. He goes on to demonstrate how each one of these theories can be rescued by proposing ad hoc conjectures or assumptions or re-interpretations. In short, he suggests that theories that cannot be refuted (at least in principle) cannot be called scientific [ 12 ]. What I realised was that, all these years, we have been attempting to rescue our theories using re-interpretation by introducing ad hoc conjectures. For example, instead of a straightforward translation of majja and shukra as bone marrow and semen respectively, by adapting the strategy of laboured interpretation, I had brought in ad hoc conjecture to propose “two forms of majja” and “two forms of shukra”. This makes our theories look even more unscientific — which is what I did not realise. Let us take up a hypothetical example to understand this more clearly. Suppose we plan a study to record resting blood pressures among adults of different prakriti groups. Let our hypothesis be that the individuals with kapha prakriti could be more prone to hypertension as they tend to gain weight easily and are likely to be leading a sedentary lifestyle because of the “heavy” (guru) and “slow” (manda) nature of kapha. Kapha could also be leading to plaque formation in the arteries because of its “oily” (snigdha) nature. However, let us assume that the results of our study suggest something very different: “individuals with pitta prakriti tend to develop hypertension more frequently than those of kapha individuals”. Now we can argue that “pitta prakriti individuals tend to be more aggressive because of ‘hot’ (ushna) and ‘sharp’ (tikshna) properties of pitta, and hence, their overactive sympathetic nervous system might lead to hypertension”. Thus, every result can be justified, irrespective of what our actual hypothesis was. In this example, though the original assumption stands falsified, we rescue the theory by proposing an ad hoc conjecture and re-interpretation. This way, our theories will never be “disprovable” or “refutable”. Even in Charaka Samhita, similar ad hoc conjectures that were proposed to rescue the theory of tridosha have been observed by GL Krishna in one of his essays [ 13 ]. The way ahead Alan Sokal, a reputed physicist, in an essay on pseudoscience has identified two categories of experts who advocate Ayurveda [ 14 ]. One of these groups refuses to accept the credentials of modern science by calling it “western ethno-science” and wants to retain Ayurveda as it is, whereas the other tries to portray Ayurveda as already containing the knowledge of all cutting-edge current research. This second group makes use of modern science to validate Ayurveda. Both these approaches are faulty and do not promote Ayurveda being subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry, he argues. Steven Engler has shown with examples that most Ayurveda literature does not fit into the current definition of “science” in its present form, though empiricism clearly exists therein [ 15 ]. When I read the book, The Intelligence Trap by David Robson, I could immediately relate it to many intellectuals who advocate Ayurveda, even though they may not have undergone any formal training in Ayurveda. This book delves into an emerging field called “evidence-based wisdom” [ 16 ]. Ayurveda clinicians have always been arguing that Ayurveda is a holistic science and the prescriptions they write are highly individualised. That they generally make this an excuse to evade scientific scrutiny, is what I have gathered. This escapist attitude serves neither science nor humanity. The current trends in Ayurveda research do not call for a re-examination of basic Ayurveda theories. For instance, the inter-rater variability of the assessment of prakriti is very high. But we have not asked the questions — “Does the tridosha theory need modifications?” or, “Can prakriti assessment be made more reliable by removing those markers / traits that lead to maximum divergence?”. We assume that our texts are ever-relevant and irrefutable. Most of our research starts with the premise that these theories are true and are unquestionable [ 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 , 21 ]. In science, nothing should take precedence over finding the truth [ 22 ]. We must not hesitate to put our practices through scientific scrutiny. The scientific attitude is universal, and it cannot change from one stream to another. The immediate need is to evolve a rigorous method to identify such content in the present curricula of Ayurveda programmes that can safely be dropped. The logical next step is to subject our theories and principles to scientific scrutiny. Instead of teaching obsolete concepts in Ayurveda anatomy and physiology, the Ayurveda system deserves that our students be taught in-depth contemporary anatomy and contemporary physiology, since understanding the biological basis of a disease is essential for any physician, irrespective of the stream. The author thanks Dr GL Krishna and Dr Narendra Khairnar for suggesting some vital reading material. He also thanks Dr GL Krishna for triggering this process of introspection. References Patwardhan K. Human Physiology in Ayurveda. Series No. 134. Varanasi, India: Jaikrishnadas: Chaukhambha Orientalia; 2005. Sharma RK, Dash B, eds. Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana, Vol 4, Chap 15, (30-35). Second Edition. Varanasi: Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office; 2000; p 19-21. Sharma RK, Dash B, eds. Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana, Vol 3 Chap 2, (46-49). Third Edition. Varanasi: Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office; 1998; p 103 Dalhana. Nibandha Sangraha, Commentary on Sushruta Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Chap 23: 9(12). National Institute of Indian Medical Heritage. eBook [Cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://niimh.nic.in/ebooks/esushruta/ Paradkar HS, ed. Hemadri in Ayurveda Rasayana commentary on Ashtanga Hridaya, Sutra Sthana. Vol 1, Chap 11, (37). Eighth Edition, Varanasi. Chaukhabha Orientalia. 1998; p 189 Murthy KRS, ed. Sushruta Samhita, Sutra Sthana. Vol 1, Chapter 14, (4). Second Edition, Varanasi. Chaukhambha Orientalia. 2004; p 87 Paradkar HS, ed. Asthanga Hridaya, Sutra Sthana. Vol 1, Chapter 12, (13). Eight Edition, Varanasi. Chaukhambha Orientalia. 1998; p 194 Sharma RK, Dash B, eds. Chakrapani Datta in Ayurveda Dipika commentary on Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana, Vol 4, Chapter 15, (36-38). Second Edition, Varanasi. Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office. 2000; p 22 Patwardhan K. The history of the discovery of blood circulation: Unrecognized contributions of Ayurveda masters. Adv Physiol Educ. 2012;36:77–82. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00123.2011 Joshi H, Singh G, Patwardhan K. Ayurveda education: Evaluating the integrative approaches of teaching Kriya Sharira (Ayurveda physiology). J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2013;4(3):138-146. Krishna GL. Ayurveda’s bane. The Hindu. April 15, 2018. [Cited on 2022 Jun 20]. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/ayurvedas-bane/article23540373.ece Popper K. Science as Falsification. Originally published in: Conjectures and Refutations. 1963. [Cited on 2022 Jun 20]. Available from: https://staff.washington.edu/lynnhank/Popper-1.pdf Krishna GL. The Ayurvedic Dosha Theory: A Deconstruction. Confluence. July 11, 2019 [Cited on 2022 Jun 20]. Available at: http://confluence.ias.ac.in/the-ayurvedic-dosha-theory-a-deconstruction/ Sokal AD. Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or fellow travelers? In: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public. Editor: Garrett Fagan. 2004. [Cited 2022 Jun 20]. Available at: https://physics.nyu.edu/sokal/pseudoscience_rev.pdf Engler S. “Science” vs. “Religion” in Classical Ayurveda. Numen, Vol. 50, No. 4 (2003), pp. 416-463. Robson D. The Intelligence Trap – Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes. Publisher W. W. Norton. Digital Version. ISBN 0393651436. (2019). Krishna GL. The Need to Recast the Dosha Theory as a Heuristic. The Indian Practitioner, Vol.75 No.1 January 2022. [Cited 2022 Jun 20]. Available from: https://journals.indexcopernicus.com/api/file/viewByFileId/1453815.pdf Krishna GL. Ayurveda awaits a new dawn. Indian J Med Ethics. 2022 Jan-Mar;7(1)NS:16-21. https://doi.org/10.20529/IJME.2021.093 Krishna GL. Ayurveda Needs an Intellectual Reinvention. The Sciences. November 24, 2020. [Cited on 2022 Jun 20]. Available at: https://science.thewire.in/the-sciences/ayurveda-needs-an-intellectual-reinvention/ Krishna GL. The History of a Superstition. BMJ Blogs. May 21, 2019. [Cited on 2022 Jun 20]. Available at: https://blogs.bmj.com/medical-humanities/2019/05/21/the-history-of-a-superstition/ Lakhotia SC. Need to Demystify Ayurveda. The Indian Practitioner, 2022; 75(2):10-11 Singh S, Ernst E. Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. Bantam Press, 2008.
No, Europe is United
Unity among the nations of Europe is hard to come by and does not seem to last long when occasionally achieved. Russia’s war on Ukraine forced a united Europe. This unity’s fragility is now becoming apparent. The usual in-fighting between European countries has resumed, but unity is also impressively holding up despite the strains. European countries have fractured into two groups: hawkish Eastern European states and the more dovish traditional powers of Western Europe. The East has accused the West of being feckless. Some of this criticism is just but a lot of it isn’t. French President Macron and German Chancellor Scholtz’s mixed messages aren’t doing them any favours, but they have also consistently backed sanctions designed to painfully hurt Russia’s economy. Democracies are always messy businesses by design, even more so for 27 democracies. It is crucial to remember that politicians are also performing for their electorates. Every time Italian Prime Minister Draghi favours more arms to Ukraine, he is taking a political punt at home risking the support of the two biggest parties backing his brittle coalition, the Northern League and Five Star Movement, who are fiercely opposed to sending more arms to Ukraine. Despite all the criticisms of Western Europe, sanctions against Russia have been approved at an unprecedented rate by the European Union. Such proposals stood no chance without the solid backing of the West. Granted that the West is still vacillating over natural gas sanctions against Russia, this dithering is to be somewhat expected given the all-important role of natural gas to the mighty economies of the West.
Wounded Boris desperately clings to power
Having defeated a no-confidence vote within his own party, Boris Johnson survives as the UK’s Prime Minister and Tory leader for now. But the vote leaves him badly wounded, perhaps fatally so. Mr Johnson survived the no-confidence vote by 211 votes (58%) to 148 (42%) with a majority of 63 votes. Theoretically, this shields the embattled Prime Minister for a year, but as Mrs May has taught us this may not quite be the case. Former British Prime Minister Theresa May, who survived a similar vote with 63% of Tory MPs voting for her, had to quit a little under 6 months after the vote. Historically, Tory leaders who have survived no-confidence votes with such uncomfortable margins don’t last long. London is already buzzing with chatter about who the next Tory leader might be. Mr Johnson isn’t popular with the British public either. YouGov’s polling data suggests that 69% of the British public think Mr Johnson is doing badly. Despite being disliked by his own MPs and the general public, Mr Johnson declared his victory decisive and showed no signs of self-reflection let alone course correction. This begs the question of whether Mr Johnson and his inner circle have started to believe their own propaganda that he has unbeatable popularity among rural and sub-urban voters which makes him indispensable to the party. Mr Johnson is by no means at the end of the storm. An investigation by the Privilege Committee of the House of Commons to determine whether he lied to Parliament over Partygate is ongoing. The result of this investigation which could very well come out against Mr Johnson might be the perfect backdrop to his ousting. Surviving through support from a reluctant cabinet who will have no trouble throwing him under the bus, it seems it would take nothing short of a miracle for Mr Johnson to remain in power for long.
Venus Is Not Earth's Closest Planet. Here's Why
For more than 15 years, several educational websites, such as The Planets and Space Dictionary, and even NASA’s official website claimed that Venus is the nearest planet to Earth on average. Some websites even published the average distance between each pair of planets and showed that Venus is the nearest planet to Earth on average. However, this is factually incorrect.
This inaccuracy stems from a simple yet wrong assumption. For years, the average distance between two planets was calculated assuming that the average distance between every point on two concentric ellipses would be the difference in their radii. This seems quite intuitive and justified on first look. However, in reality, the aforementioned difference only shows the average distance of the ellipses’ closest points.
A better method to more accurately capture distances between planets is the point-circle method which was specifically designed to find the closest planet to Earth. This method treats a planet’s position at any given time as a uniform probabilistic distribution around a circle defined by the average orbital radius. The average distance between planets is then determined using rotational symmetry. This new procedure is quite complex when compared with the traditional procedure. However, this new procedure captures the distance between planets more accurately.
Simulations of our solar system have shown that the new procedure, the point-circle method, predicts the average distance between planets within an error margin of less than 1% while the traditional approach has an error margin of up to 300%. To understand why Mercury is the closest planet (on average), we need to understand that Mercury, due to its small orbit, never goes as far away as the other planets with their bigger orbits which makes it the closest planet to all the other planets in the solar system. Reference: Venus is not Earth’s closest neighbor. (2019). Physics Today . Published. https://doi.org/10.1063/pt.6.3.20190312a .
The importance of COVID-19 vaccination - a global perspective
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the world. However, the end of the pandemic seems near. Vaccination rates are steadily picking up across the world. People from around the world are being vaccinated at greater and greater speeds with more and more varieties of vaccines. Most of these vaccines can be broadly categorized into RNA vaccines, Adenovirus vector vaccines, and Inactivated virus vaccines. Although these vaccines have different mechanisms, they are essentially the same. They prevent infection by activating the body’s immune system so that it can recognize the invading pathogen and produce antibodies to neutralize the pathogen. This is achieved by injecting virus-like particles into our bodies that mimic the virus.
Many people have recently raised concerns regarding the efficacy and safety of these vaccines. Some of these concerns have been fanned by conspiracy theorists to further their agenda. Hence, it is worth noting that vaccination is the safest way that we have to build protection against this deadly virus. Researchers from around the world have weighed the risks and benefits of vaccination and have concluded that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. The COVID-19 vaccines are one of the safest vaccines that we have ever developed with many vaccines having an efficacy rate of over 95%.
Once a sufficient number of people are vaccinated, the population is said to have achieved herd immunity. A population that has achieved herd immunity minimizes the risk of spreading the disease and thus protects the whole community from infection. Studies have shown that infection rates decrease by as much as 90% in vaccinated communities. After more than a year of mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand-washing, this protection offered by vaccines is vital if we ever want to defeat the COVID-19 virus. The key takeaway from all of this is that vaccines save lives and are the solution to containing the virus, for all ages.
NASA announces two new missions to Venus
NASA has just announced two new missions to Venus that aim to better understand the often overlooked planet. The two missions are dubbed DAVINCI+ and VERITAS. This is the first NASA mission to Venus in over 30 years. This indicates a renewed interest in Venus at a time when most recent missions have focussed extensively on Mars. The Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging, Plus mission dubbed DAVINCI+ will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it was formed and has evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean. The DAVINCI+ probe will travel through the Venus atmosphere, sampling the air, and returning measurements down to the surface. The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission dubbed VERITAS will map the planet's surface to determine its geologic history and understand why it developed so differently than Earth. It will also investigate the planet's atmosphere to find out how that evolved. Both missions are expected to launch in the 2028-2030 timeframe. As part of NASA’s Discovery Program, the two missions will see a combined $1 billion in funding for development. NASA has said that this is in line with its mission to advance scientific knowledge and understanding of the Solar System. With new missions like DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, the next decade promises to be an exciting time for planetary exploration with new probes reaching farther into the Solar System than ever before and more data coming back from those probes than ever before.
Israel and the Palestinians celebrate a ceasefire — but will anything change?
While details are sketchy, Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire. That is good news for everyone involved. The dying can hopefully end and further destruction be avoided — at least for now. Both sides can also claim victory. Hamas can claim to have defended the interests of Palestinians in Jerusalem in contrast to its rivals in the Palestinian Authority, while Israel’s embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, can claim significant military and political achievements. But that is about as far as the good news goes. As the smoke clears, the vast devastation of Gaza becomes apparent and the slow and frustrating process of rebuilding must resume. The economy of Gaza has long suffered under an Israeli blockade and has been struggling to rebuild after the last war between the two sides in 2014. The devastation caused by the current Israeli air attacks has added massively to Gaza’s infrastructure problems and vast amounts of foreign aid will be necessary over the coming years. It is not clear who will provide the funding. The Gulf states, especially Qatar, can be expected to provide considerable assistance, but aid from the European Union and elsewhere is more problematic. Peace process on ice Equally as important, there seems to be no interest in reviving a peace process that has been effectively moribund since the Clinton administration in the US in the late 1990s. The fighting does not seem to have inspired any desire on the part of the Israelis or their steadfast allies in the US to break the stalemate and pursue a solution to this long-standing problem. The Biden administration has continued the approach of its predecessors in working to monopolise and control any attempt to promote a settlement of the dispute. Its goal is to prevent other actors, including the UN Security Council, where Russia and China have a voice, from playing a part in helping Israelis and Palestinians to establish a basis for cohabitation. The US still enjoys a significant military, economic and political advantage over Russia and China in the Middle East based on its long engagement with the region, though its standing has been in decline in recent years. And Israel, in particular, is suspicious of the motives of the other states. As a result, the US remains the only power capable of bringing change to the current stalemate. This makes Biden’s approach both disappointing and puzzling. Despite Netanyahu’s bravado in publicly defying Biden’s requests for an end to the fighting, the sudden achievement of Israeli objectives in Gaza underscores the continued and significant influence the US has over Israeli governments. No one is suggesting the US will abandon its solid support for Israel. But the nature of Biden’s response to the fighting has been effectively to endorse Netanyahu’s approach, which has been to promote the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and refuse to contemplate any solution to the dispute, be it one state or two states. Biden’s handling of this latest outbreak of violence has effectively seen the US treating Netanyahu’s and Israel’s interests as the same. While the US does not want to interfere directly in Israeli politics, its close identification with Netanyahu does little to encourage hopes for progress. Hamas’s appeal likely strengthened It should be remembered violence had been roiling the West Bank for weeks — including Jerusalem — before spilling over to Gaza. The ceasefire seems to ignore that aspect of the current crisis, which could be reignited when the Israeli Supreme Court eventually releases its decision on the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. West Bank Palestinians may be powerless to prevent the evictions and Hamas may be less inclined to intervene again for some time, however, the frustrations and tensions have not gone away and can be expected to boil over again. While the Americans have designated Hamas a terrorist organisation, it is seen quite differently in Palestine. It comfortably won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 and was expected to win again in the elections scheduled for this month before they were cancelled by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas had just conducted internal elections in preparation for the national vote and, despite the pain and suffering of this latest conflict, it has reinforced the organisation’s image among Palestinians as the one group that understands their concerns and is ready to defend their interests. Hamas’s strength extends to the West Bank and to Israeli Palestinians. It reflects the great desire for change among young Palestinians and their frustrations with the leadership of Abbas and his party, Fatah. One of the consequences of the ill-fated Oslo Accords was the Palestine Authority pledged to maintain security in the areas it controlled, which is currently limited to parts of the West Bank. As a result, the authority is seen by many Palestinians as working for Israeli interests rather than the concerns of Palestinians. It is also seen as deeply corrupt. A ceasefire … but for how long? The unrest inside Israel over the past week highlights how Israeli Palestinians are equally frustrated with their status, a concern that has grown with Netanyahu’s promotion of the Jewish nature of Israel — as they see it, at their expense. The shock to Jewish Israelis of the widespread violence between the two communities in many Israeli cities, as well as the violence in the occupied territories, highlights the need for a serious commitment by all parties to come together to seek a solution to the relationship between Palestinians and Jews. Such a prospect remains possible, albeit quite dim at this point. When then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, began working toward a peace deal in the 1990s, they inspired dramatic changes in attitudes among Israelis and Palestinians. Suddenly, peaceful coexistence seemed possible. Circumstances have, of course, changed dramatically since then, but that is no reason to abandon hope and do nothing. Like previous ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, however, this one will hold as long as it suits both parties. And there is nothing to suggest the agreement contains any more substantial elements which might lead to a settlement of their long-term conflict. The 2014 ceasefire lasted seven years but during that time, nothing was done to build on it. We can expect a similar lack of action this time and without such action, it is only a matter of time before violence breaks out again. Author: Anthony Billingsley , Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, UNSW . This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article . Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author(s). The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Newslytica and Newslytica does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
The Strange Case of Marburg
The Kitum Cave is one of nature’s finest works. Located in Mount Elgon, passing near the Uganda-Kenya border, it's well known for its dig-and-get walls - animals, including elephants, break off parts of the cave to get sodium-rich minerals. Go deeper, and you’ll find an abundance of bat guano , the fertile excretory dumps of bats. On New Year, 1980, Jack Miller [real name not mentioned] traveled through the cave, exclaiming its natural beauty with his friend. He was a French man by nationality, an interesting yet isolated personality who kept himself in solidarity with nature. As he left the cave, he probably felt euphoric, and happy at the sight. Little would he know that he got more than he bargained for. Much more. A week later, on January 8, 1980, he began to have recurring headaches. Unable to work, he decided to rest two days off. On the third day, his skin’s appearance changed completely – yellow, dry, and sprinkled with red freckles. His office colleagues were worried about his disappearance and found a weak and extremely sick version of him in his bungalow. They drove him to a private hospital in the city of Kisumu, but the doctors there were stumped at whatever happened to him. On their advice, they drove him to the best hospital in East Africa – Nairobi hospital. To get there, he had to go through a taxi and a 4-hour flight. The flight was a Fokker Friendship, a 2-propeller 35-seater. By now, he had completely changed. Weak and sick, he could barely move. In the middle of the flight, he had to use his barf-bag to hold his dark-black blood vomit, dripping from his mouth like a waterfall. As he handed it to the flight attendant, blood started flowing out of his nose, like a river. He collapsed down, unaware of his surroundings, unaware that he wouldn’t live for more than 24 hours. Miller woke up very delirious, at the entrance of the Nairobi hospital. Shem Musoke, an energetic young doctor, rushed to Miller, and checked his pulse, just as Miller exploded. Vomiting out his insides, the fluid sprays across Musoke, across the floor, and even a few drops on the roof. Musoke died less than a month later. Musoke’s autopsies were quite astonishing to doctors – his liver was swollen and bloody, and most of his insides were ‘dissolved’. So, what had happened to Miller and Musoke, and when will it strike next? When Jack Miller admired the cave, tiny droplets of bat guano, filled with Marburg viruses, entered his bloodstream through inhalation. The virus multiplied rapidly, and symptoms began in a week. The virus made Miller’s blood as a hot zone, where the virus multiplied rapidly, ready to find a new host – Musoke. An expedition led by scientists, in the 20th century was fruitless, and no evidence of any virus was found. In 2007, solid evidence of the virus was found in fruit bat guano in caves nearby. An expedition confirmed this, and the culprit was finally found to be the bat guano, which was a living stock of the virus. The virus was found to be Marburg, which had first been discovered in 1967 as minor outbreaks in German cities of Marburg and Frankfurt. The strain of the virus was named the ‘Musoke’ strain, after the doctor who lost his life due to it. It is of the family ‘Filoviridae’ and shares its heritage with the Ebola virus. There is no specific cure for the virus; only supportive treatment and blood replacement work out best. Vaccines have been created for it, but they are still in their initial stages, which means that they would only probably be used for emergency purposes. The last major outbreak of the Filoviridae virus family was in 2014, the Ebola Virus strain; it was successfully resisted, but not without taking away the lives of 4877 people. The most dangerous virus of the Filoviridae family is Ebola Zaire, which has a mortality rate of 90%, which means 9 out of 10 people who catch it could die. Ebola is mainly spread through bodily fluids; it cannot spread through the air, like COVID-19. Note from Author(s): This short article is about the Marburg virus, and its family of viruses, Filoviridae. All information provided is true, taken from reliable sources. Author(s): Adithya Acharya and Siddharth Acharya For correspondence related to this article, please e-mail email@example.com . Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author(s). The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Newslytica and Newslytica does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
AI Writes An Article: Exoplanets Explained
Exoplanets are worlds which orbit a star outside our own Solar System. The first evidence of an exoplanet was observed in 1917, but it took until 1992 for the first confirmation of exoplanet detection to be made. Today there are over four thousand confirmed exoplanets, with over fourteen hundred of those being found this year alone! So what is an Exoplanet? An exoplanet or extrasolar planet is a planet outside our Solar System that orbits another star just like our Sun. Exoplanets are very hard to see directly with telescopes. They are hidden by the bright glare of the stars they orbit. So, astronomers use different ways to detect and study these distant planets. These methods are: 1. Doppler Spectroscopy: This is a technique in which astronomers can detect the motion of a planet by looking for periodic changes in the star's spectrum. This is accomplished by measuring the radial velocity of a star from Earth as it moves towards and away from Earth, while simultaneously measuring the radial velocity of Earth from the Sun. The difference between these two values determines how much a star has moved towards or away from us. 2. Transit Photometry: This technique uses an exoplanet's orbit to measure its radius and mass by observing how much light it blocks when it passes in front of its parent star, as seen from Earth. It also reveals information about a planet's atmosphere. When an exoplanet passes in front of its host star, it blocks part of that star's light output for a short period of time. If the exoplanet is massive, then the amount of light blocked will be greater than if it was smaller. Thus, information about both a planet's radius and mass can be derived by combining these two techniques. There are many ways to find exoplanets. The main way we know about exoplanets today is through transit photometry. P.S: This entire article has been written by the GPT-3 Artificial Intelligence model (can you believe it?!) without any editing whatsoever. You can check it out here if you're interested in trying it.
That Time 'Anti-Comet Pills' Were Sold
The Times in the May of 1910 reported that a French astronomer by the name of Camille Flammarion predicted that as the Earth passed through the Halley's comet's tail in 1910, "Cyanogen gas would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet". "Cyanogen is a very deadly poison, a grain of its potassium salt touched to the tongue being sufficient to cause instant death", Camille proclaimed in the newspaper. Earlier that year, Astronomers from around the world detected significant amounts of Cyanogen in the tail of Halley's comet using spectroscopy. To its credit, though, The Times noted that most astronomers did not agree with Camille's doomsday prediction. Nevertheless, people started panicking. Religious superstitions did not help the situation either. Snakeoil salesmen took advantage of the panic and started selling "anti-comet pills". One such brand promised to be "an elixir for escaping the wrath of the heavens". Two Texan quacks who marketed sugar pills as the "cure-all for all things comet" were arrested by the police. However, the quacks had to be released due to pressure from their customers. Gas masks too ran out of stock. A Californian prospector nailed his feet and one hand to a cross in fears of the comet. Churches across Europe and America were packed with paranoid followers. On the 19th day of May 1910, the comet's tail passed through Earth's atmosphere without any damage to human life or property. People in France and around the world danced and embraced in the streets after realizing that they've survived a "near apocalypse". Actually, France and the rest of the world were saved by reality. For billions of years, comets have come and gone, yet life still thrives on Earth. This instance highlights the need for scientific literacy among the masses. Many such superstitions and pseudosciences still exist around the world, even in the 21st century, in various forms such as Astrology, Feng Shui, Faith Healing, and Homeopathy. Adapted from Fantastically Wrong: That Time People Thought a Comet Would Gas Us All to Death .
Massive flare seen on the closest star to the solar system
The Sun isn’t the only star to produce stellar flares. On April 21, 2021, a team of astronomers published new research describing the brightest flare ever measured from Proxima Centauri in ultraviolet light. To learn about this extraordinary event – and what it might mean for any life on the planets orbiting Earth’s closest neighboring star – The Conversation spoke with Parke Loyd, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University and co-author of the paper. Excerpts from our conversation are below and have been edited for length and clarity. Why were you looking at Proxima Centauri? Proxima Centauri is the closest star to this solar system. A couple of years ago, a team discovered that there is a planet – called Proxima b – orbiting the star. It’s just a little bit bigger than Earth, it’s probably rocky and it is in what is called the habitable zone, or the Goldilocks zone. This means that Proxima b is about the right distance from the star so that it could have liquid water on its surface. But this star system differs from the Sun in a pretty key way. Proxima Centauri is a small star called a red dwarf – it’s around 15% of the radius of our Sun, and it’s substantially cooler. So Proxima b, in order for it to be in that Goldilocks zone, actually is a lot closer to Proxima Centauri than Earth is to the Sun. You might think that a smaller star would be a tamer star, but that’s actually not the case at all – red dwarfs produce stellar flares a lot more frequently than the Sun does. So Proxima b, the closest planet in another solar system with a chance for having life, is subject to space weather that is a lot more violent than the space weather in Earth’s solar system. What did you find? In 2018, my colleague Meredith MacGregor discovered flashes of light coming from Proxima Centauri that looked very different from solar flares. She was using a telescope that detects light at millimeter wavelengths to monitor Proxima Centauri and saw a big of flash of light in this wavelength. Astronomers had never seen a stellar flare in millimeter wavelengths of light. My colleagues and I wanted to learn more about these unusual brightenings in the millimeter light coming from the star and see whether they were actually flares or some other phenomenon. We used nine telescopes on Earth, as well as a satellite observatory, to get the longest set of observations – about two days’ worth – of Proxima Centauri with the most wavelength coverage that had ever been obtained. Immediately we discovered a really strong flare. The ultraviolet light of the star increased by over 10,000 times in just a fraction of a second. If humans could see ultraviolet light, it would be like being blinded by the flash of a camera. Proxima Centauri got bright really fast. This increase lasted for only a couple of seconds, and then there was a gradual decline. This discovery confirmed that indeed, these weird millimeter emissions are flares. What does that mean for chances of life on the planet? Astronomers are actively exploring this question at the moment because it can kind of go in either direction. When you hear ultraviolet radiation, you’re probably thinking about the fact that people wear sunscreen to try to protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation here on Earth. Ultraviolet radiation can damage proteins and DNA in human cells, and this results in sunburns and can cause cancer. That would potentially be true for life on another planet as well. On the flip side, messing with the chemistry of biological molecules can have its advantages – it could help spark life on another planet. Even though it might be a more challenging environment for life to sustain itself, it might be a better environment for life to be generated to begin with. But the thing that astronomers and astrobiologists are most concerned about is that every time one of these huge flares occurs, it basically erodes away a bit of the atmosphere of any planets orbiting that star – including this potentially Earth-like planet. And if you don’t have an atmosphere left on your planet, then you definitely have a pretty hostile environment to life – there would be huge amounts of radiation, massive temperature fluctuations and little or no air to breathe. It’s not that life would be impossible, but having the surface of a planet basically directly exposed to space would be an environment totally different than anything on Earth. Is there any atmosphere left on Proxima b? That’s anybody’s guess at the moment. The fact that these flares are happening doesn’t bode well for that atmosphere being intact – especially if they’re associated with explosions of plasma like what happens on the Sun. But that’s why we’re doing this work. We hope the folks who build models of planetary atmospheres can take what our team has learned about these flares and try to figure out the odds for an atmosphere being sustained on this planet. [ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter .] R. O. Parke Loyd , Post-Doctoral Researcher in Astrophysics, Arizona State University This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article .