Stuff from this week’s Nature

December 8, 2022 • 10:15 am

This week’s Nature has four article on inequities in STEM, plus a series of ten photographs showing endangered species and ecosystems.  I’ll put up screenshots of the articles at the bottom, but hightlight the photographs instead, as I have nothing in me to address the other items, and because people may be unaware of ongoing losses of species and habitats.

Click on the screenshot below to see the ten photos. Because of space limitations, I’ve had to crop them. I’ll show five, and the captions are from the paper. And the photos are BIG, so click on them to see them in their full glory.

The intro:

Global statistics on declining biodiversity can give the impression that every population of every species is in a downward spiral. In fact, many populations are stable or growing, while a small number of species faces truly existential challenges. These photos capture some specific crises. They are images of threats unfolding, of desperate attempts at species defence and of the beautiful living world that is at stake.

The 15th United Nations Biodiversity Conference, COP15, opens in Montreal, Canada, on 7 December. At the meeting, delegates will attempt to agree on goals for stabilizing species’ declines by 2030 and reverse them by mid-century. The current draft framework agreement promises nothing less than a “transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity”.

Corroboree frog. The two species of corroboree frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi and Pseudophryne corroboree) are among the many amphibians around the world that have been hit hard by chytrid fungus, which causes an infectious disease that can be fatal. To make matters worse, big chunks of the frogs’ habitat in eastern Australia were torched in the 2019–20 bush fires. This northern corroboree frog (P. pengilleyi), bred at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, is part of captive-breeding efforts — some frogs are already back in their habitats, albeit in enclosures with sprinkler systems in case of fire. Frog conservation plans are being designed for a world in which chytrid fungi are everywhere; the pathogens are not going to be eradicated any time soon.

Credit: Jenny Evans/Getty

Fishing fleet. These fishing boats are based in Zhoushan, China, but they might travel to Africa, South America or even Antarctica before they drop their nets. When rich nations overfish their own waters, they often simply go further out. In 2018, the European Union, Japan, South Korea, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan collectively spent $1.5 billion subsidizing their fishing fleets to harvest the exclusive economic zones of other countries. Talks are under way on an international treaty that might ban such subsidies. Such an agreement would end a significant proportion of ‘distant-water fishing’ virtually overnight, according to the US-based non-profit organization, Pew Charitable Trusts — and would have significant benefits for marine biodiversity.

Credit: Shen Lei/VCG/Getty

Cactus fires. A helicopter drops fire retardant in the Sonoran Desert during the 2020 Bighorn Fire in Arizona. This desert was once considered fireproof. But the spread of introduced grasses since the 1970s has changed everything. In dry summers, dead grasses create blankets of dry tinder. Fires then kill native species such as the iconic saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), continuing the cycle of ‘grassification’.

The best solution is intuitive and low-tech: rip out introduced grasses by the roots or kill them with herbicide. Strategically placed fire breaks might also help to contain future blazes.

Credit: Maxime Aliaga/Nature Picture Library

Expensive rhinos. A black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) stands out against the golden grasslands of Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Rhinos are threatened in part because of the popularity of their horns, which sell for exorbitant prices as medical and luxury items. But black-rhino populations grew at an annual rate of 2.5% between 2012 and 2018, thanks to conservation efforts including costly anti-poaching measures that will be tough to maintain indefinitely. Ultimately, reducing consumer demand for rhino horn will be the best way to safeguard the species.

Credit: Maxime Aliaga/Nature Picture Library

Caught in the crossfire. Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, home to one-third of the world’s mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).

Conservationists remark that you can destroy an ecosystem overnight, whereas protecting it takes constant effort. Virunga has been threatened by war, refugee crises and oil companies that want what’s underneath its verdure. Currently, the park is occupied by fighters from the M23 rebel group. And the DRC government is considering opening parts of the park to oil and gas exploration.

Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images for WWF-Canon

This week’s issue is also full of inequity matter, and rather than comment on any of it, I’ll just give you the links; click any screenshot to read. I find the first one particularly interesting, as it’s an issue whose “fix”, much less its ascertainment, seems hard. Readers are welcome to comment on any of these below.




30 thoughts on “Stuff from this week’s Nature

  1. Sub

    I read the “neurodiversity” piece – strongly persuasive, almost unimpeachable…. and yet .. I don’t know!

    Mark Rober abd Jimmy Kimmel put on a fundraiser to help kids with autism | Autistic kids get jobs and become independent when they graduate from school. I found that to be a great approach – grasping that yes, not every and any job is for people with autism but we can help them get independent by identifying appropriate employment.

    1. I worry about how so many adults are being diagnosed with Autism – and she says many are still not diagnosed. She lists characteristics of Autism that are contradictory – at this rate we’re all Autistic! Is that helpful?

      1. I think this book – which reader/commenter Leslie MacMillan recommended before – is worth a read, especially when it seems everyone is on track to have a laundry list of ailments on record:

        Edward Shorter
        From Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era
        Free Press

        I’m not arguing against or for anything here – it is just worth knowing some history of medicine…

      2. The “neurodivergent” movement seems to be of very little relevance to anyone other than typically developing young women who demand to be referred to with “they/them” pronouns….most of these people have little, if any, evidence of developmental disability, which if present is almost always diagnosed in childhood.

        It’s a science-denying movement, really-there is plenty of evidence that ASD primarily affects men-it is 4x more common in males than females-whereas almost all neurodiversity proponents are women, & this is particularly true of high functioning ASD (normal or near normal IQ/no speech delay). Among those w/ very severe autism (profound MR, little to no speech, and oftentimes comorbid epilepsy), the male to female ratio is less, maybe 2:1, but the ND proponents obviously do not have anything like that sort of severe autism.

        The excuse that they provide is that autistic women can supposedly somehow “mask” their ASD symptoms-and that ASD is therefore underdiagnosed in women. Essentially, the masking argument renders the dx of ASD almost completely unfalsifiable-if no symptoms of ASD are present, then that is just portrayed as evidence that she is “camouflaging”, which is supposedly common for autistic women.

        The cherry on top of all this idiocy is that they usually say that autistic women are able to mask (mask *so well* that nobody ever notices they are autistic, all while autistic men languish in group homes, or are prescribed brain-damaging antipsychotic drugs due to their behavior), because “women are socialized to be passive”!!!

        Never mind that autistic people are, by definition, impervious to “socialization” (& that there is much evidence that sex differences in behavior are at least partly due to biology, not just socialization)…It’s unreal, & these people are campaigning against developing a cure for the condition that has disabled me & so many others, no different from the “Deaf Pride” extremists who oppose cochlear implants…except of course for the fact that at least those activists were really deaf, whereas most of the anti-cure neurodiversity zealots show few if any signs of real autism….

    2. The trouble with it is denial of facts. Even the milder forms of autism can amount to a crippling disability that prevents employment just as well as a lengthy criminal record. Most of the truly neurodivergent people are simply disabled, without any freakish gifts, for there is no justice in nature that would redress their injuries.

      1. Absolutely. All the “autism is a gift” stuff overlooks the unpleasant reality that, per the latest CDC stats, 58% of people w/ ASD have an IQ of less than 85 (versus around 16% of the general population), which is not compatible w/ a successful career, such individuals, at most, are capable of only menial tasks.

        Also, people w/ low IQs due to a specific genetic defect, like autism, Fragile X, or Down syndrome, or due to a history of brain trauma (e.g., perinatal hypoxia), for example, are quite different than normal people who happen to have lower IQs just because of a lower polygenic score for intelligence. So a person w/ ASD who has an IQ of 80 will be capable of much much less than a person w/ the same IQ who is just “dull normal”…

        But it doesn’t seem anyone wants to talk about how limited most autistic adults truly are…The narrative that every genius, from Einstein to Jefferson to Musk, was autistic just sells better, even though these people obviously have zero in common w/ the “high functioning” autistics who live in group homes, or still live w/ their parents at the age of 40

  2. Since the LGBTQIAP+ umbrella is rapidly expanding – the latest (8th) iteration of WPATH’s Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People includes a chapter on eunuchs as a “gender identity”, FFS! – it is hard to see how STEM can reflect this nonsense. Next thing we know, STEM will be castigated because Furries are being underrepresented…

    1. Although the climate crisis (aka global warming, let us call it for what it is) undoubtedly exacerbates the biodiversity crisis, I can fully agree there, I’d think the link is not that intimate. Assume the burning of fossil fuels would not lead to global warming (it does, of course, but let us just assume), do you really think the biodiversity crisis would be very much less dramatic?
      Hunting/poaching, bush meat, habitat destruction, poisoning, massive irrigation schemes, etc. are not directly linked to global warming, but they are definitely important causes of the biodiversity crisis

      1. Reminds me of a Thai student who was very proud of having turned a few hectares of Mangrove swamp into arable land.
        I was genuinely impressed by his achievement – it ain’t easy – , but he knew little about the importance of Mangrove swamps as nurseries for many species.
        His main aim was to provide food for his community, a worthy aim, but he hadn’t realized that massive ‘development’ of mangrove swamps might have a negative influence on fisheries, also an important source of food in his community.
        In fact, I did not mention that, it was his own conclusion.
        I lost contact with him, so I’m not sure whether he changed his plans to ‘ develop’ much more mangrove swamps.

      2. Yes I agree. Climate change is a major problem for a lot of wildlife but by no means the only one. A lot of the declines we have witnessed in biodiversity were well under way before anthropogenic climate change began to bite.

        Farming and fishing have both been hugely instrument in the decline in biodiversity and in this regard it is worth highlighting that we are extraordinarily wasteful with our food. All along the supply chain from the farm (or fishing boat) to the final consumer there is wastage, much of which is eminently avoidable. Eliminating this wastefulness would enable the food we eat to be produced on substantially less land thereby reducing pressure on wildlife.

    2. The Covid epidemic in China has undoubtedly reduced the demand for rhinoceros horn. Many fewer elderly customers and they have less money.

      Dom, humans are not stupid. Events far in the future, even if agreed to be certain, are discounted against present incentives, simply because some of us (all of us in this case) will die before they happen. What you call greed I call enlightened self-interest. People just don’t want to be made poor through energy poverty. When it comes to the crunch, they will vote out of office governments that want to inflict it on them. Africa will probably lose out, rhinos and all.

      Remember there is no Net-Zero because there is no proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at a scale to balance what we emit from burning fossil fuels and making vital products like cement and fertilizer. Net-Zero is disinformation. Those who say we must reach “Net-Zero” by 2050 are really saying we must reach Gross-Zero. That means going back to life in 1750, but trying to feed 8 billion people. Not going to happen.

      1. “The Covid epidemic in China has undoubtedly reduced the demand for rhinoceros horn. Many fewer elderly customers and they have less money.”

        Do you have a reference in support of this statement Leslie? This report records a drop in rhino horn poaching/smuggling in 2020 and 2021 compared to previous years but, while covid is implicated, the report primarily attributes this to the difficulties imposed on the transport of the stuff by the travel restrictions imposed around the world rather than to a drop in demand. The report seems pessimistic over whether the trade will return to previous levels.

        1. It was a throwaway factoid, something that looks like a fact but probably isn’t. I was just finding a way to note that the Nature report seemed squeamish about fingering China as the main consumer of rhinoceros horn, as a traditional remedy for impotence in elderly men.

          But you are probably right. China is an aging gerontocracy. They will have an inexhaustible demand and there will always be enough money for essentials, right? You would think there would be a market for counterfeit keratin, though. Why not just grind up fingernail clippings? Who would ever know once it was all packaged up for retail sale? Maybe that’s what they do now, and they just kill a few rhinos now and then for stagecraft to create the illusion that their horns are making the trip to China.

          1. Well, let’s not forget pangolins – remember them from the markets? – victims too of the pseudoscience around keratin, besides the credulous humans who do not find what they want from – or, possibly, cannot afford – medical care from M.D.’s.

          2. “Why not just grind up fingernail clippings? Who would ever know once it was all packaged up for retail sale?”

            Perhaps this is the solution to rhino horn smuggling? Flood the market with ground toe-nails and thereby collapse the price of rhino horn. It’s a nice idea!

    3. Humans are not stupid, Dom. It is not rational to inflict poverty on yourself to prevent events that are predicted (even with agreed-on certainty) to occur after you and your children are dead. Obligations to future generations not yet born require a religious conviction that they can somehow hold you to account in some future afterlife.

      And we are talking about real poverty here. That’s why people aren’t getting anywhere with it even when stood up against the wall as G. Thunberg says*. There is no such thing as Net-Zero. It is disinformation because there is no proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at at scale sufficient to balance what we are emitting, and will continue to. What those who demand we get to Net-Zero by 2050 are really saying is Gross Zero. That means going back to 1750 while still trying to feed 8 billion people. Not going to happen.
      * Yes, I know it’s a translation of a Swedish expression that doesn’t mean shooting people.

      1. there is no proven way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere at at scale sufficient to balance what we are emitting,

        It’s the rate of removal that matters, not the total amount removed (integrated from here to eternity, or whenever you want to get your previously decided-upon answer). You also need to include the ground area used per mole per second of CO2 absorbed, because the two main absorbing mechanisms today (forests ; marine plants) both have a significant footprint, and we need a removal mechanism that uses less surface area per mole per second of CO2 absorbed than planting trees (or fertilizing ocean surface). Otherwise, just try to grow more forests/ fertilize the oceans.

        and will continue to

        Rates of pollution emissions will continue to increase as the living standards of the poorest 3/4 (does this keyboard shortcut work? ¾) of the population continue to aspire to the living standards of the richest 1/4 (which includes practically every person who has ever read this website).
        The raw materials for that pollution will mostly be mined, not grown or recycled.

  3. I’m sorry, I think there is a near duplicate post. One I thought got lost in a reload of the page actually got posted, which I didn’t notice when I re-composed it. Sorry.

  4. I worry about overfishing. It seems to me that taking animals from the wild is not sustainable, despite the regulations that try to make it so. Salmon sustainability is a big deal here in the Seattle area, yet I don’t see the demand for salmon declining. It continues to increase. We’re probably witnessing a slow train wreck in progress.

  5. I guess science could do better for “neurodivergent” people (people who are on the autism spectrum), by not caving to anti-cure extremists like the ones who shut down the Spectrum10K genetic study last year…The study has since resumed, but only after the anti-cure “neurodiversity” zealots bullied them into promising not to share the genetic data they collect w/ any researchers who might use it to cure or prevent autism…a life-denying neurological disorder…

    Another demand was for the involvement of “neurodivergent” researchers w/ the study itself…and while there are obviously very few, Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist who has some experience w/ psychiatric genetics, & describes himself as having Asperger’s, (wrote about it on Quillette a few years ago), immediately comes to mind, as does George Church who is dyslexic & thus also under the “neurodivergent” umbrella…

    But the anti-cure zealots wouldn’t have been happy w/ their inclusion in the study (which was never even suggested as far as I know), because, whether or not Miller is truly autistic (I have my doubts, but the neurodiversity movement is more than happy to not just accept, but encourage, self-diagnosis), he is anti-woke & would seek to cure ASD, or at least the disabling aspects of it….and *it isn’t about inclusion of members of a particular group, its about inclusion of adherents of a specific ideology!*

  6. So they don’t actually know how many LGBTQ researchers there are, but they know there’s a disparity and they know it needs to be fixed?

  7. [ I’m replying to prior comments in general here for convenience ]

    So “neurodivergent” is an old term?

    Aren’t there known disability laws to support people with such conditions?

    But I think they are asking for more than that. “Slow science”. Uh-huh – “slow”. By their definition of “slow”, on the premise that science is not already “slow”.

    1. They don’t just want accommodations in the workplace-rather, what the neurodiversity movement really wants is for actual scientific studies of autism to be evaluated *not* on the strength of the scientific findings, but based on whether or not the researcher(s) involved are autistic or not.

      They definitely subscribe to the postmodernist type view that science is just another “oppressive” white/straight/cis/able-bodied/western/colonial project…and that “lived experience” (as long as it’s from a member of a minority group, & supports their beliefs & ) is superior to objective data.

      Of course, there is nothing wrong with listening to & learning from the experiences of those w/ developmental disabilities, most of whom live lives of intense frustration & misery, hidden away from the public eye in group homes or other very restrictive, “supervised” settings, but the ND movement spends most of it’s time attacking the idea of autism as an impairment, attacking anyone who won’t go along with the idea that “self-diagnosed” women, or people who were only dx’d at 25, are somehow just as autistic as someone like me who was diagnosed at age 5, & has never driven a car, had a romantic relationship, lived alone, or had any sort of life separate from my parents home…In practice, the neurodiversity movement spends almost all it’s time downplaying, if not attempting to outright deny, the existence of severely disabling autism, and very little time talking about the plight of the truly disabled.

      1. “white/straight/cis/able-bodied/western/colonial project”

        There might be a few more “overrepresented” characteristics to “include”:

        separate eyebrowed (not “unibrow”)
        Cilantro-does-not-taste-like-soap (neurological as it involves taste receptors)

        … if I have those correct, depending on location, of course…. though, I thought “critical theories” focus on social structures _instead_ of individuals.

        1. I left out obese (or are “bigger bodied/size-diverse” or some other euphemism the preferred term now lol) My bad.

          In all seriousness though, the intense obsession w/ identity politics/”intersectionality” allows neurodiversity activists, w/ virtually no impairment mind you, to summarily dismiss genuinely disabled people w/ autism, simply because the truy disabled person happens to be a white male, whereas the self-diagnosed person identifies as a “queer woman of color” or whatever.

          See (link below) how one neurodiversity proponent explains how a (fictional) autistic guy’s social/behavioral problems aren’t really due to autism, but rather result from the fact that he “doesn’t seem to have learned how to not be an asshole to people”, because “as a cis white autistic man who works in tech”, he gets “a pass on being nice to people”…Literally, it is AUTISM DENIAL-she explicitly states, of his rudeness, that “none of those things are autism-related”.

    2. A specific example of what I’m talking about:
      A twitter user w/ the username “AutisticSciencePerson” (link below) -who has 47K followers-a self-proclaimed “non-binary autistic consultant with a masters in neuroscience” tweeted (this was several months ago), that, unless Simon Baron-Cohen “retracted” and apologized for his “harmful theories”-the Extreme Male Brain and Theory of Mind theories of autism-which this user deems “harmful & stigmatizing”, then in her view, Baron-Cohen is somehow complicit in the suicides of autistic people.

      While I myself am not a fan of Baron-Cohen (he has repeatedly trivialized high functioning autism, describes a hypothetical cure for autism as “eugenics” & on one occasion even invoked the Holocaust when discussing it, & his research on the cognitive profile of people w/ ASD is not relevant to me as I have the reverse profile), I think this is a great example of what I’m talking about-this user didn’t care at all whether or not SBC’s theories are scientifically accurate, all that she cared about it is whether it is “harmful”, whether or not it might offend someone….

      I guess the bottom line is that they don’t truly support the *dispassionate search for objective truth*, which is, of course, the whole point of science in the first place.

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