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The Future Is Here – Bionic Eye Helps Blind Man See Again

If there is anything the internet likes it is a feel-good, happy story. The only thing that could be better than that is a feel-good happy story that involves some pretty incredible science.

Take for instance, the story of Allen Zderad who suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare degenerative eye disorder. When someone suffers from RP, which is genetic, there is a loss of cells called photoreceptors in the retina. Most people who suffer from RP experience night blindness, but in Allen’s case it caused him to go totally blind. He slowly started losing his vision almost 20 years ago, and despite being completely blind and having to quit his job as a chemist, he was able to teach himself how to continue with his hobby of woodworking.

A Solution for an Incurable Condition
An ophthalmologist at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Raymond Iezzi got wind of Allen’s situation and was interested in helping him. Iezzi was actually heading a clinical trial of a brand new bionic eye. Iezzi explains that although RP causes a degeneration of photoreceptor cells in the retina, the rest of the eye remains healthy. Most importantly, the cells which form the optic nerve are intact. So naturally, Allen signed himself up and became Iezzi’s first patient to be fitted with the prosthesis, which is made by a company called Second Sight.

The Bionic Eye
Because the optic nerve is intact, the idea was to replace the function of the photoreceptors by bypassing the damaged retina, and sending visual signals directly to the retina. They did this by implanting a multi-electrode chip with 60 points of contact directly into the eyeball with an electronics package surrounding the outside of the eye. The electronics package is then hooked up to a pair of glasses featuring a camera that is hooked to a small patient-worn computer. The images from the camera are sent to the computer, which interprets them as light signals, and sends them to the brain – via the bionic eye and optic nerve.

He Once was Blind…
So let’s say you’ve been blind for 20 years, and you see for the first time – just imagine that sensation. Allen could barely contain himself, but when he saw the image of his wife for the first time in 20 years, the emotions take over. It’s just a beautiful scene…

It is amazing how science can change someone’s life.

The device still needs further development, and Allen is undergoing physical therapy to get used to wearing the device, but in the end it has improved his quality of life tremendously. He can already see things like human forms, and outlines of objects that allows him to walk without a cane. As the device develops, the images that allen see are getting clearer, and science has proven that there is almost nothing that it cannot fix.

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national

National Science Foundation ‘urgent’ coronavirus grants miss target

The country is feeling a lot of stress thanks to the coronavirus, and it’s got the National Science Foundation intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on more than 25 studies of how various demographics are handling stress. There’s the study of New York parents handling the pains of…

National Science Foundation ‘urgent’ coronavirus grants miss target

The country is feeling a lot of stress thanks to the coronavirus, and it’s got the National Science Foundation intrigued.

So intrigued, in fact, that it is spending millions of taxpayer dollars on more than 25 studies of how various demographics are handling stress. There’s the study of New York parents handling the pains of being forced into helping homeschool their children, and the study of how “at-risk” people are adjusting to the stress of the virus.

There’s a study of whether access to green space has helped college kids cope when campuses closed and they were sent back home. Which is not to be confused with the $163,033 study of how graduate students are coping with stress. Or the $75,319 study of how undergraduate engineering students are handling stress.

The NSF has doled out more than $75 million in what is known as Rapid Response Research or “RAPID” grant funding over the last couple of months, as it seeks to improve understanding of the pandemic.

Much of the money seems like a good bet. There are projects to test how to extend the life of the N95 masks that can filter out the coronavirus, or to use algorithms to try to figure out which already approved drugs can be repurposed to try to treat COVID-19.

And then there are more experimental ideas such as testing whether drones can be used to apply disinfectant over a large area, or whether smarter ventilation in public buildings can reduce the spread of the virus.

But the NSF is also spending millions of dollars on softer social sciences, such as sociology and cultural anthropology investigations that critics say look a lot like the sort of work journalists publish, free to taxpayers, every day.

Congress, eager to help, allocated an additional $75 million to the agency in the coronavirus stimulus law in March, which has already been spent, and the agency dipped into its regular budget to fund what it considers “urgent” research.

“NSF is specifically supporting fast-track, fundamental, and transformational research activity associated with (i) improving our understanding of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19; (ii) developing a predictive understanding of the spread of the virus; and (iii) enabling approaches that mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on public health, society and the economy,” NSF spokesman Mike England told The Washington Times in an email.

But spending watchdogs said some of the projects stray far from urgent needs, particularly at a time when the federal budget is already stretched to breaking by other coronavirus obligations such as boosting unemployment payments, paying small businesses to keep their doors open and funding food assistance programs.

“The National Science Foundation should focus on the hard sciences during the peak of this pandemic. Instead, the agency is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on soft and superfluous studies that will not impact the lives of regular people in a meaningful way,” said Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, which tracks government spending.

His organization flagged projects such as the $200,000 spent on an oral history archive recording New Yorkers’ experiences during the pandemic; a $198,985 study of whether people who search online for coronavirus information in Spanish get different information than those who Google in English; and a $135,825 examination of the psychology of panic-buying.

“In a national emergency, Congress should be directing taxpayer dollars toward the actual problem, not how people feel about the problem,” Mr. Andrzejewski said.

But Mr. England, the NSF spokesman, defended the multitude of studies on matters such as stress levels amid coronavirus, saying they are “consistent” with the agency’s goals, and the pandemic gives them opportunities that “cannot be replicated in a lab.”

“Once the pandemic resolves, these research opportunities will be gone,” he said. “There is overlap in some of these projects because, as with all science and engineering, we do not know for sure in advance which approaches will work, or which ones will lead to solutions that can be implemented. Therefore, we try to cast as wide a net as possible.”

For some of the projects, it’s not clear what the government might be getting back.

One proposal by researchers at Virginia Tech, which was awarded $98,185, says it will use “construal level theory by empirically distinguishing between the spatial and psycho-social dimensions of the construct of psychological distancing and calibrating the psychological impacts of immersion in online environments during a period of limited in-person interactions.”

The proposal continues: “The team investigates how digital media and technology consumption influence construal level and how the interaction of these two factors shape individuals’ risk perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors over time. Our research thus moves beyond simplistic explanations of the direct linkage between psychological distance, construal level, and judgments and decisions to a more nuanced understanding of interactions between construal mindsets and overload, stress, and fear.”

Other projects include:

• Studying two Virginia high schools to see how student-teacher relationships have changed. That is costing taxpayers $150,763.

• Tracking internet traffic patterns to see if stay-at-home orders worked, at a cost of $91,928.

• Examining whether people who are curious about science know more about the pandemic than those who are less curious. That proposal won $91,928.

• Studying how funeral homes have reacted to the crisis, at a cost to taxpayers of $97,509.

• A $197,475 look at how New Yorkers are making use of parks and other open spaces. That project is being led by Timon McPhearson, a professor of urban ecology at the New School.

“The Twitter data collection is only a portion of the research we’re conducting,” he told The Times. “We are also tracking a number of changes to New York City energy use, park use and more in order to document how much social distancing policies are driving behavior changes, and how these behavior changes in turn impact the ecological spaces and infrastructure of New York City.”

Initial results of the work are posted at www.urbansystemslab.com/covid19.

The Times reached out to a number of other researchers who won funding. Most didn’t reply, while several declined to answer questions about their work.

That included researchers at Johns Hopkins University who won $200,000 in taxpayer money for their work updating an online “dashboard” of coronavirus cases, deaths and recoveries worldwide.

That site, which has gotten heavy use from the public, reporters and even official Washington, was up and running well before the NSF awarded its grant. Hopkins researchers declined to say why they needed the additional funds.

There are also a number of coronavirus data collections online that aren’t funded by taxpayers, including several run by media organizations.

That overlap between what news organizations produce for free and what taxpayers fund through the NSF is a frequent complaint for critics of the agency.

Mr. England said they had awarded 400 COVID-related grants as of May 12, all but six of them under the RAPID program, at a cost of $77.4 million.

That’s more than the $75 million in emergency money Congress approved, but Mr. England said they’re able to tap regular NSF funds to help what they see as an “urgent” need.

He said final numbers on how many proposals were accepted versus rejected will come later.

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the NSF should be trying to save money during coronavirus, not boost spending. He suggested canceling nonessential spending and tightening the standards for new grants.

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Politics

Politics vs. science during the COVID-19 pandemic

ANALYSIS/OPINION: Just in case we needed a reminder, the debate over the desirability and duration of stay-at home orders during the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed the uncomfortable relationship that exists between science and democracy. Science points in the direction of the rule of the expert while democracy is rooted in the principle of popular…

Politics vs. science during the COVID-19 pandemic

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Just in case we needed a reminder, the debate over the desirability and duration of stay-at home orders during the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed the uncomfortable relationship that exists between science and democracy. Science points in the direction of the rule of the expert while democracy is rooted in the principle of popular sovereignty.

While the American people and scientists have competing claims to rule (popular consent vs. scientific knowledge), each actually needs the other to survive peaceably and comfortably, so neither can afford to completely discredit or abandon the other.

Modern, rights-oriented democracies like the United States desire much of what science has to offer, including a real shot at comfortable preservation for the many and not just for the few. There are good reasons, then, for democracies to be perplexed when it comes to the relationship they should seek with persons who have mastered the physical and natural sciences.  

The tension between competing claims to rule based on popular consent on the one side, and scientific knowledge on the other side, only came to a head once the democratic model of government was shown to be defensible, principally by the Founding generation in the United States.

Living with the tension between democracy and science in a responsible way requires that we distinguish the respective spheres within which “political” reasoning and “scientific” reasoning should prevail. This is easier asserted than accomplished, but doing this intelligently is critical to having a decent and competent democratic nation.

One major distinction between the realm of politics and the scientific realm is that the political arena is dominated by matters that are fundamentally variable, something that is not true in the realm of science. Additionally, political decision-makers by definition are persons of practical action who are expected to deliberate and issue commands whereas scientists are not obligated to take action or issue commands.

Political officials who are reputed to be “prudent” are persons who excel at adjusting policies to changing circumstances, including changing public opinions, and who recognize that “contingency” is a characteristic of political life. The prudent decision-maker understands that promoting the common good requires the continuous adjustment of a complex array of matters (e.g., political, economic, cultural, etc.) that are highly variable in nature.  

The most esteemed political decision-makers are persons who are adept at adjusting policies in such a way as to promote what is good for human beings, which requires a recognition that some ways of behaving and conducting human affairs are better than other ways. Knowledge of this kind benefits more from good intuition and extensive experience than from the mastery of some body of scientific knowledge. 

Admittedly, national and state officials who seek to act prudently need the knowledge that scientists possess in order to give people a good shot at enjoying the full benefits of living in a modern, right-oriented democracy. Political decision-making, however, ultimately should prevail in a democracy over the knowledge of scientists when it comes to matters bearing on the quality of life of the people, for example, deciding whether churches provide “essential” services.

A political community that abdicates decision-making to experts on fundamental issues related to the way of life of the people is no longer a democratic community. Additionally, the kind of knowledge required to make intelligent decisions about what constitutes a healthy life for human beings (e.g., risk taking as community service and as a source of personal distinction) transcends the realm of purely scientific knowledge in the direction of morality.

While good scientific knowledge may help when it comes to knowing how to survive, the consummate political knowledge of a George Washington or Winston Churchill makes survival with dignity possible. Consider how Founding-era Americans distinguished themselves for all time by following the prudent counsel of Washington and James Madison. 

All of this accentuates the enormous responsibilities that fall to the people in a democracy. Nurturing a citizenry that is up to the task of selecting persons for public office who are capable of deliberating and acting prudently when it comes to the common good is enormously difficult. It was among the greatest challenges facing the Founders.  

Carrying out this task well requires that citizens appreciate the extremely complex decision-making that is required to protect, restrain and/or balance diverse religious, racial, ethnic, economic and political interests, while also recognizing that political decision-making at its best should satisfy human longings that transcend creature comforts and mere survival.

Despite the protestations of many journalists and political pundits, nothing about all of this is easy. Preserving the integrity and vitality of the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic will require that the American people possess the knowledge and the courage to insist on a prudential relationship between science and politics that preserves the democratic bona fides of our constitutional republic and also points us in the direction of rational, dignified existence — an existence that requires the discipline to control our fears and face adversity with the dignity appropriate to a free people — at this point, we have left the realm of scientific knowledge.     

• David Marion is Elliott Emeritus Professor of Government and a faculty fellow at the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest at Hampden-Sydney College.

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Science

Millions of masks produced in record time as new rules unveiled

Cream skimmed from milk may be called “sweet cream” to distinguish it from cream skimmed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making. Whey cream has a lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and “cheesy”. In many countries, cream is usually sold partially fermented: sour cream, crème fraîche, and so on. Both forms have many culinary uses in sweet, bitter, salty and tangy dishes.

Produced by cattle (particularly Jersey cattle) grazing on natural pasture often contains some natural carotenoid pigments derived from the plants they eat; this gives it a slightly yellow tone, hence the name of the yellowish-white color: cream. This is also the origin of butters yellow color. Cream from goats milk, water buffalo milk, or from cows fed indoors on grain or grain-based pellets, is white.

Cream is used as an ingredient in many foods, including ice cream, many sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and some custard bases, and is also used for cakes. Whipped cream is served as a topping on ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, lassi, eggnog, sweet pies, strawberries, blueberries or peaches. Irish cream is an alcoholic liqueur which blends cream with whiskey, and often honey, wine, or coffee. Cream is also used in Indian curries such as masala dishes.

The Secret Life Of Benjamin Franklin

Both single and double cream (see Types for definitions) can be used in cooking. Double cream or full-fat crème fraîche are often used when cream is added to a hot sauce, to prevent any problem with it separating or “splitting”. Double cream can be thinned with milk to make an approximation of single cream.

The French word crème denotes not only dairy cream, but also other thick liquids such as sweet and savory custards, which are normally made with milk, not cream.

Different grades of cream are distinguished by their fat content, whether they have been heat-treated, whipped, and so on. In many jurisdictions, there are regulations for each type.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 2.5.2 – Defines cream as a milk product comparatively rich in fat, in the form of an emulsion of fat-in-skim milk, which can be obtained by separation from milk. Cream must contain no less than 350 g/kg (35%) milk fat.

Canadian cream definitions are similar to those used in the United States, except for “light cream”, which is very low-fat cream, usually with 5 or 6 percent butterfat.

Regulations allow cream to contain acidity regulators and stabilizers. For whipping cream, allowed additives include skim milk powder (0.25%), glucose solids (0.1%), calcium sulphate (0.005%), and xanthan gum (0.02%).

Russia, as well as other EAC countries, legally separates cream into two classes: normal (10–34% butterfat) and heavy (35–58%), but the industry has pretty much standardized around the following types:

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