Quicklinks: 06 – 19 February 2023

This time we’re doing two weeks together. Why? I got infected with covid and so all my plans and normal activities have completely gone out the window. It was not a particularly severe case though but it’s still been quite disruptive.

This week we’re starting off with an impressive picture of a snow leopard which was taken in Mongolia.

Another interesting nature photograph shows the unexpected amount of heat generated by Symplocarpus renifolius. The flower is about 5 degrees hotter than the surroundings!

Here’s a beautiful image showing the mycelia network of a fungus growing out of a block of agar.

Some fungi are very hard, almost like wood, and can be used to make things. In the tweet below, you can see a mask made from the fruiting body of a Fomitopsis fungus.

Not all that shimmers like a rainbow is oil. Sometimes it’s actually a bacterial biofilm!

In this piece, Giuliana Furci and Merlin Sheldrake (The author of one of my 2022 reads.) call for less fear and more studies of fungi.

Fungi are metabolic wizards and their chemical accomplishments have long shaped human life: bread, cheese, soy sauce, penicillin, a host of powerful antiviral and anti-cancer compounds, cholesterol-lowering statins, and immunosuppressant drugs that enable organ transplants—not to mention alcohol (fermented by a yeast) and psilocybin (the psychoactive component in psychedelic mushrooms which shows promise in treating severe depression and anxiety).

This article, based on a recent review, argues that the public perception of mycorrhizal networks which link plants and fungi together is overextended compared to what the data currently supports.

Pollution is a big problem in the world but not all pollution gets equal attention. I’m happy to see that Czechia will be trying to limit light pollution and return us to darker nights. That might not seem like much but it’s actually much better for us, and other animals, in many, different ways.

The Daily Maverick is reporting that UCT’s council will suspend vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng due to accusations of misconduct. This is a long-running issue which I have occasionally touched on here. That report came out just days after another report that the former UCT Students’ Representative Council president was suspended for sexual misconduct. There is a lot of room for improvement in how UCT has been governed of late.

On Women in Science Day (11 February), the European Commission shared a very misleading tweet.

The numbers that they show are the percentage of female scientists and engineers in the labour force. I think that’s a fairly meaningless number because… what should it be? I have absolutely no idea. It will vary depending on how big a part science plays in a particular country but I don’t know what would be a good number to aim for and I have nothing with which to compare it. The bigger problem is that most people, myself included, thought they were talking about the percentage of female scientists in each country and were outraged. I was more confused because I know the actual numbers are not nearly that low.

Things are still not perfect. While many countries have almost equal representation of male and female scientists, the breakdown in senior positions is usually not that even. Still, it’s not as bad as the original tweet led to people to believe and just a little effort could have made that tweet clear.

There are some really absurd and stupid things going on in the US. The American left has been obsessing over people’s word choices. (Stupid word choices, mind you; not even things which are worth getting upset over.) Luckily not everyone is kowtowing to those mobs and Dawkins recently vowed to use all of the prohibited words.

Unfortunately, some of that obsession with the “right” words has made it over the Atlantic and into the UK where Roald Dahl’s books are being rewritten to remove those naughty words. I am against it. It’s stupid and unnecessary censorship. It <i>might</i> be justifiable if they were removing only offensive slurs but it’s excessive language policing. People did things differently in the past and I do not think we should be trying to hide that or pretend that it wasn’t like that. If we constantly rewrite history to make it palatable we lose the lessons that those books teach us. Old books tell us what people thought, how they thought and what the world was like. We need to know that, including the bad bits, so that we can see how far we’ve come or why people did things that they used to do. We also need children to encounter different ideas and not to be so fragile that they can’t cope if someone uses a bad word around them. This is all very similar to what I wrote in my 2012 post titled Don’t limit inadvertent learning, so I’d recommend you go and read that.

Your regular reminder that even democratic governments do not think they should be beholden to their citizens, they think they should be in charge and the citizens should obey them. The UK government would be happy to sacrifice your safety, security and privacy in order for them to spy on you. I remember hearing the stories of shock and horror when people learned the extent of how the Stasi, apartheid police and others would spy on ordinary people and record the most mundane things. I don’t know whether its more alarming that the governments of supposedly-free countries have chosen to copy that example or that we no longer seem to care.

The biggest news story was, without doubt, the series of earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria. It looks like the death toll is currently just under 50 000 with more than twice that many people injured. The devastation is shocking and my thoughts are with those whose lives have been forever changed.

We’ll end on some more amusing links. This story is about over 300 kg of acorns hidden in the walls of a Californian home by a woodpecker!

Lastly, a bit of black humour. While I do think people should be allowed to have guns, that does require a certain bit of personal responsibility. That responsibility was missing when a lawyer in Brazil did not mention he was carrying a gun, went into a room with an MRI machine, despite the warnings about metal objects, and was fatally shot when the powerful magnet pulled his gun from its holster.


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