100 years later, we are even more vulnerable to an influenza pandemic

100 years ago–in 1918–a global influenza pandemic killed 20 million to 50 million people worldwide; perhaps 20% to 33% of all people living at that time were infected.

100 years later, medical science has advanced tremendously in many ways and we have regular flu vaccines.  However, despite all that, “we are much more vulnerable today to a catastrophic influenza pandemic than we were in 1918.”

Why?  Compared to 1918, the global population has increased by at least 3 times.  For the vast majority of the world, crowded living conditions are worse.

And, while we do have regular flu vaccines today, the effectiveness of the vaccines is limited.  Plus, much of the world has no quick access to flu vaccines.  And, if vaccines continue to be made with eggs, distribution won’t improve and they will continue “to have only a limited impact.”

Also, “we are extremely vulnerable today to any disruption in international trade in lifesaving medicines and medical devices.”  “The vast majority of drugs that we use in [the United States] come from China.”  “There are no stockpiles [of drugs] anywhere.”  If China was affected by a pandemic or some other disaster or was disposed not to assist due to politics and this trade was impacted, “the collateral damage from people dying of all kinds of medical conditions will far exceed even the first months’ mortality associated with the flu.”

What is one large barrier to preparing adequately for a possible flu pandemic?  Science literacy … “so much antiscience has become the mainstay for how we make decisions.  You can’t do anything about … response to any of these issues if you don’t have a population that is willing to support them.”

Read the interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm (Rebecca Voelker, JAMA, September 28, 2018).

For more information about medical advances and preparedness, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


Seeking information about a science topic–where do you go? Who do you trust?


Take the short survey (click the link above) … when you are looking for information about a science topic, where do you go?  And, which source/tool do you trust the most?

Much of our day-to-day society–globally–is based on the fruits and sometimes the hard lessons of scientific research.  The things we can do on a daily basis, the foods we eat, the tools we have available to us, the ways we can communicate,  the ways we travel, the ways we work, the ways we reproduce, and on and on … literally our entire lives (and even the ends of our lives) are all made available to us through scientific research.

Yet, at a time  when the world grapples with the sober realities of increasing climate change, when diseases thought controlled once again spread across countries and kill thousands, when the short-term view gains ascendancy among the power class, when people need to really understand challenges and options, then the communication of science needs to be as clear and straightforward as possible … and people likewise need to make extra effort to look behind the headlines and really understand the issues, the options, and the trade-offs.

Please take the survey and help us to understand the paths and preferences of the communication of science information.  Thank you!

(Kevin Engel, October 7, 2018)



Robotic farms may be a future for agriculture

Strategian Science is based in Iowa, USA–a region well-known for modern agricultural productivity.  Unlike the often promoted image of the happy and prosperous farm family, the reality is corporate.  There are fewer and fewer true family farms.  To survive in agriculture today often means corporate ownership of huge tracts of land tended by tenant farmers–a kind of modern throwback to a feudal arrangement.

A related and chronic problem in the U.S. today is the lack of agricultural workers; “the number of field and crop laborers available to farms has been rapidly declining” since the early 2000’s.  That has been very expensive to the U.S. economy in terms of lost farm production and revenue, plus the loss of revenue and jobs in related industries like trucking, marketing, and manufacturing.  Farm laborers are often immigrants; immigration crackdowns and harsh political rhetoric have greatly lowered the flow of new farm workers, and U.S.-born workers are not taking their place.

To meet this challenge, a company called Iron Ox is developing a largely automated indoor hydroponic facility where robots overseen by software replace human workers to grow, tend, and harvest a variety of leafy greens.  The production of the initial indoor facility may be comparable to an “outdoor farm that might be five times bigger.”

The potential of smaller, intensive, indoor automated growing facilities could solve two challenges–“the shortage of agricultural workers and the distances that fresh produce currently has to be shipped.”  Robotics here may not eliminate human jobs so much as fill existing gaps in the human workforce.  Plus, the smaller size of these growing facilities allows placing them “close to urban areas … [which] will enable stores to choose vegetables fresher than those that had to travel thousands of miles to get there.”

Read the article (Erin Winick, MIT Technology Review, October 3, 2018).

For more information about robotics, job automation, and its impacts, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

A paint that reduces surface temperature

An innovation that fits under the category of trying to cope with the hotter weather brought on by climate change …

A team from the University of Colorado “has developed a passive radiative cooling plastic film.”  This new material, applied as paint to an existing outdoor surface, “could drop cooling costs by up to 15% in some climates.”  Air conditioning accounts for some 17% of all residential electricity use in the United States; using this film to reduce surface temperatures and lessening the need for air conditioning could mean substantial savings.

This innovation builds on the long-standing practice of painting homes white in tropical countries–the white color reflecting “as much sunlight as possible.”  But, normal white paint “typically reflects … about 80% of visible light” plus it still absorbs ultraviolet and near-infrared light–all of which warms buildings.

The new materials “reflect nearly all the sun’s incoming rays” and also deal with near-infrared and ultraviolet light as well (up to 99.6% overall).  The materials reflect the heat “without warming the surrounding air.”

Multiple research teams around the world are working on passive radiative cooling materials.  The efforts include a “polymer and silver film combo to cool water for use in air conditioning,” this plastic film/paint (embedded with tiny glass beads), and a polymer roofing material.  Each has been shown to cool surfaces by as much as 10 degrees C and save cooling costs.

The new cooling paint appears to solve an additional challenge as well–applying these new materials to existing buildings.  The paint has been successfully tested in the heat of Phoenix, Arizona where “painted surfaces remained 6 degrees C cooler than the surrounding air.”

Read the article (Robert F. Service, Science, September 27, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Clues to deception; who is telling the truth?

In a highly-cited study from 2003, DePaulo, et al. investigated if “people behave in discernibly different ways when they are lying compared with when they are telling the truth.”  The quest for determining consistent and obvious behavioral cues for deception is longstanding.  In the virtual world we live in today, separating falsehoods from the the truth is even more important.

Through a review and analysis that looked at some 158 different behavioral cues to deception from 120 separate independent samples, these cues emerged as significant:

*Liars provide fewer details in their accounts than do truth tellers.

*Liars pressed their lips more than truth tellers.

*Lies make less sense than the truths; they are less plausible, less likely to be structured in a logical way, and more likely to convey ambivalence.

*Liars seem less involved verbally and vocally in their self-presentations than do truth tellers, and liars use fewer gestures when speaking.

*Liars sound more uncertain, evasive, unclear, and impersonal.

*Liars raise their chins more often than truth tellers.

*Liars are more nervous and tense than truth tellers and have more dilated pupils.

*Truth tellers are more likely to make spontaneous corrections to their stories, and are more likely to admit an inability to remember something.

*”Cues to deception were more pronounced when people were motivated to succeed” especially for identity reasons.  Plus, cues were stronger when lies were about transgressions.

Today, we arguably face more deception and much of that happens virtually–through social media and the Internet–where behavioral cues are harder to read.  We are often remote participants watching video or hearing audio–both of which can be manipulated.  And, opportunities for technological deception will only grow more sophisticated.

In the end, it is up to each of us to go the extra mile (to seek information) to gain understanding, reduce the effect of fear, and make our own independent decisions.

(Kevin Engel, September 28, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media and technological deception, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Migration due to climate change is already happening in the United States

With more frequent and stronger hurricanes, torrential and extended rainfall, expanding wildfires, increasing heat, inexorable sea level rise, and more, climate migration is already happening in the United States.  “The population shift gathering pace is so sprawling that it may rival anything in U.S. history.”

“By the end of this century, sea level rise alone could displace 13 million people, including 6 million in Florida.”

This migration will be “from every coastal place in the U.S. to every other place in the U.S.”  “Not everyone can afford to move, so we could end up with trapped populations that would be in a downward spiral.”

Climate pressure will not only be on the U.S. coasts.  Inland, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and other climate-fueled changes will also push people to migrate.  Research indicates “that the economies of the southern states, along with parts of the west, will suffer disproportionally as temperatures rise.”  Wealth in the U.S. is expected to shift north and west.

Of course, it is not just the United States where climate change is causing people to move.  By 2050, there may be 150 to 300 million climate refugees worldwide.  In areas to be impacted by longer stretches of high heat, even with air conditioning  and even in the U.S., areas that have been attractive destinations will become less habitable and much less desirable by 2050.

“By 2065, southern states are expected to lose 8% of their U.S. population share.”  People may be moving to the northwest and to areas close to the Great Lakes and in New England–areas where temperatures are expected to remain more bearable and where weather extremes are less likely to happen.  As a result, the population of the northeast U.S. may increase 9%, the western U.S. by more than 10% over the next 50 years.

The true cost of relocation is huge–perhaps $200,000 to $1 million per person.  Governments–local, state, and federal–either won’t be able to afford this or will decide not to help pay for it.  The U.S. is not “set up to deal with slow-moving disasters like this”; people around the country will be on their own.

Read the article; see the graphic (Oliver Milman, The Guardian, September 24, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database