Topic: An evening salon and reading of specially commissioned pieces of fiction on AI futures
Description: Artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies permeate all aspects of our lives. Their proliferation increasingly leads to encounters with ‘mutant algorithms’, ‘biased machine learning’, and ‘racist AIs’ that sometimes make familiar forms of near-future fiction pale in comparison.
In these examples, AI and machine learning tools inscribe a certain future based on predictions from past observations and they foreclose a multitude of other possible futures.
Faced with this potential to limit and constrain what might be, can fiction and narrative offer alternatives for how AI could and should be?
This evening salon will present near-future fiction pieces commissioned by the Ada Lovelace Institute’s JUST AI project to inspire and expand our thinking about our possible relationship to AI and data.
Join the event to listen to the first reading of two commissioned pieces and to discuss with the authors and invited experts.
Live (real-time) captioning will be provided for this event, if you have questions or request for access, please contact: email@example.com.
Chair: – Alison Powell, Associate Professor, London School of Economics
Speakers: – Adam Marek – writer of futuristic and fantastical short stories – Squirrel Nation – reimagining and designing how to live in a warming world – Tania Hershman – poet, writer, teacher and editor – Yasemin J. Erden, Assistant Professor in Philosophy, University of Twente
Time: Mar 3, 2021 06:30 PM – 8 PM [GMT]
This artwork accompanying the Almost future AI announcement reminds me of a circuit board. In any event, I found this image and a bit more information about the Just AI programme/network and about their event on this Almost future AI webpage,
The JUST AI (Joining Up Society and Technology in AI) programme is an independent network of researchers and practitioners, led by Dr Alison Powell from LSE [London School of Economics], supported by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The humanities-led network is committed to understanding the social and ethical value of data-driven technologies, artificial intelligence, and automated systems. The network will build on research in AI ethics, orienting it around practical issues of social justice, distribution, governance and design, and seek to inform the development of policy and practice.
We are using Zoom for virtual events open to more than 40 attendees. Although there are issues with Zoom’s privacy controls, when reviewing available solutions we found that there isn’t a perfect product and we have chosen Zoom for its usability and accessibility. Find out more here.
I’m glad to see they’ve taken privacy concerns seriously enough to explain why they’re using Zoom. I wish more organizations took the time to inform participants in virtual and online events which technology is being used and to include a reference to or comment on privacy issues.
it’s a relief to see this level of congruence between Just AI’s and the Ada Lovelace Institute’s stated principles and its preliminary actions.
Before moving onto the next item and due to a very confused approach to naming (Ada Lovelace Day being both a ‘day’ and an organization), it seems like a good idea to mention that the Ada Lovelace Institute is not associated with the Ada Lovelace Day organization as per the Ada Lovelace Institute’s About webpage,
The Ada Lovelace Institute was established by the Nuffield Foundation in early 2018, in collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute, the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Statistical Society, the Wellcome Trust, Luminate, techUK and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
One more March 2021 event
Staying on the Ada Lovelace theme, there’s an event on March 8, 2021 International Women’s Day being hosted by the organization called Ada Lovelace Day (there’s more confusion to come). Here’s more about the upcoming March 2021 event from the 2021 International Women’s Day event webpage,
Monday 8 March 2021 [1900 GMT]
We are celebrating International Women’s Day with an hour long live-streamed panel discussion titled Comedy and Communication, looking at how we can all use comedy techniques in our STEM communications and teaching.
The Ada Lovelace Day organization is at findingada.com, which is also the name for one of the organization’s initiatives, the ‘Finding Ada Network’. I find the naming conventions confusing, especially since there is an Ada Lovelace Day celebrated internationally and hosted by this organization (whatever it’s called) each year. In 2021, Ada Lovelace Day will be celebrated on Tuesday, October 12.
The Cajal exhibit of drawings was here in Vancouver (Canada) this last fall (2017) and I still carry the memory of that glorious experience (see my Sept. 11, 2017 posting for more about the show and associated events). It seems Cajal’s drawings had a similar response in New York city, from a January 18, 2018 article by Roberta Smith for the New York Times,
It’s not often that you look at an exhibition with the help of the very apparatus that is its subject. But so it is with “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, one of the most unusual, ravishing exhibitions of the season.
Explorations led by local and Spanish scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs who will share their unique perspectives on particular aspects of the exhibition. (2:00 pm on select Tuesdays and Saturdays)
Tue, May 8 – Mark Harnett, Fred and Carole Middleton Career Development Professor at MIT and McGovern Institute Investigator Sat, May 26 – Marion Boulicault, MIT Graduate Student and Neuroethics Fellow in the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering Tue, June 5 – Kelsey Allen, Graduate researcher, MIT Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines Sat, Jun 23 – Francisco Martin-Martinez, Research Scientist in MIT’s Laboratory for Atomistic & Molecular Mechanics and President of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology Jul 21 – Alex Gomez-Marin, Principal Investigator of the Behavior of Organisms Laboratory in the Instituto de Neurociencias, Spain Tue, Jul 31– Julie Pryor, Director of Communications at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Tue, Aug 28 – Satrajit Ghosh, Principal Research Scientist at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, and faculty member in the Speech and Hearing Biosciences and Technology program in the Harvard Division of Medical Sciences
Drop in and explore expansion microscopy in our maker-space.
Drawing of the cells of the chick cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, from “Estructura de los centros nerviosos de las aves,” Madrid, circa 1905
Modern neuroscience, for all its complexity, can trace its roots directly to a series of pen-and-paper sketches rendered by Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His observations and drawings exposed the previously hidden composition of the brain, revealing neuronal cell bodies and delicate projections that connect individual neurons together into intricate networks.
As he explored the nervous systems of various organisms under his microscope, a natural question arose: What makes a human brain different from the brain of any other species?
At least part of the answer, Ramón y Cajal hypothesized, lay in a specific class of neuron—one found in a dazzling variety of shapes and patterns of connectivity, and present in higher proportions in the human brain than in the brains of other species. He dubbed them the “butterflies of the soul.”
Known as interneurons, these cells play critical roles in transmitting information between sensory and motor neurons, and, when defective, have been linked to diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and intellectual disability.
Despite more than a century of study, however, it remains unclear why interneurons are so diverse and what specific functions the different subtypes carry out.
Now, in a study published in the March 22  issue of Nature, researchers from Harvard Medical School, New York Genome Center, New York University and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have detailed for the first time how interneurons emerge and diversify in the brain.
Using single-cell analysis—a technology that allows scientists to track cellular behavior one cell at a time—the team traced the lineage of interneurons from their earliest precursor states to their mature forms in mice. The researchers identified key genetic programs that determine the fate of developing interneurons, as well as when these programs are switched on or off.
The findings serve as a guide for efforts to shed light on interneuron function and may help inform new treatment strategies for disorders involving their dysfunction, the authors said.
“We knew more than 100 years ago that this huge diversity of morphologically interesting cells existed in the brain, but their specific individual roles in brain function are still largely unclear,” said co-senior author Gordon Fishell, HMS professor of neurobiology and a faculty member at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad.
“Our study provides a road map for understanding how and when distinct interneuron subtypes develop, giving us unprecedented insight into the biology of these cells,” he said. “We can now investigate interneuron properties as they emerge, unlock how these important cells function and perhaps even intervene when they fail to develop correctly in neuropsychiatric disease.”
A hippocampal interneuron. Image: Biosciences Imaging Gp, Soton, Wellcome Trust via Creative Commons
Origins and Fates
In collaboration with co-senior author Rahul Satija, core faculty member of the New York Genome Center, Fishell and colleagues analyzed brain regions in developing mice known to contain precursor cells that give rise to interneurons.
Using Drop-seq, a single-cell sequencing technique created by researchers at HMS and the Broad, the team profiled gene expression in thousands of individual cells at multiple time points.
This approach overcomes a major limitation in past research, which could analyze only the average activity of mixtures of many different cells.
In the current study, the team found that the precursor state of all interneurons had similar gene expression patterns despite originating in three separate brain regions and giving rise to 14 or more interneuron subtypes alone—a number still under debate as researchers learn more about these cells.
“Mature interneuron subtypes exhibit incredible diversity. Their morphology and patterns of connectivity and activity are so different from each other, but our results show that the first steps in their maturation are remarkably similar,” said Satija, who is also an assistant professor of biology at New York University.
“They share a common developmental trajectory at the earliest stages, but the seeds of what will cause them to diverge later—a handful of genes—are present from the beginning,” Satija said.
As they profiled cells at later stages in development, the team observed the initial emergence of four interneuron “cardinal” classes, which give rise to distinct fates. Cells were committed to these fates even in the early embryo. By developing a novel computational strategy to link precursors with adult subtypes, the researchers identified individual genes that were switched on and off when cells began to diversify.
For example, they found that the gene Mef2c—mutations of which are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and neurodevelopmental disorders in humans—is an early embryonic marker for a specific interneuron subtype known as Pvalb neurons. When they deleted Mef2c in animal models, Pvalb neurons failed to develop.
These early genes likely orchestrate the execution of subsequent genetic subroutines, such as ones that guide interneuron subtypes as they migrate to different locations in the brain and ones that help form unique connection patterns with other neural cell types, the authors said.
The identification of these genes and their temporal activity now provide researchers with specific targets to investigate the precise functions of interneurons, as well as how neurons diversify in general, according to the authors.
“One of the goals of this project was to address an incredibly fascinating developmental biology question, which is how individual progenitor cells decide between different neuronal fates,” Satija said. “In addition to these early markers of interneuron divergence, we found numerous additional genes that increase in expression, many dramatically, at later time points.”
The association of some of these genes with neuropsychiatric diseases promises to provide a better understanding of these disorders and the development of therapeutic strategies to treat them, a particularly important notion given the paucity of new treatments, the authors said.
Over the past 50 years, there have been no fundamentally new classes of neuropsychiatric drugs, only newer versions of old drugs, the researchers pointed out.
“Our repertoire is no better than it was in the 1970s,” Fishell said.
“Neuropsychiatric diseases likely reflect the dysfunction of very specific cell types. Our study puts forward a clear picture of what cells to look at as we work to shed light on the mechanisms that underlie these disorders,” Fishell said. “What we will find remains to be seen, but we have new, strong hypotheses that we can now test.”
As a resource for the research community, the study data and software are open-source and freely accessible online.
A gallery of the drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal is currently on display in New York City, and will open at the MIT Museum in Boston in May 2018.
Christian Mayer, Christoph Hafemeister and Rachel Bandler served as co-lead authors on the study.
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01 NS074972, R01 NS081297, MH071679-12, DP2-HG-009623, F30MH114462, T32GM007308, F31NS103398), the European Molecular Biology Organization, the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation.
Here’s link to and a citation for the paper,
Developmental diversification of cortical inhibitory interneurons by Christian Mayer, Christoph Hafemeister, Rachel C. Bandler, Robert Machold, Renata Batista Brito, Xavier Jaglin, Kathryn Allaway, Andrew Butler, Gord Fishell, & Rahul Satija. Nature volume 555, pages 457–462 (22 March 2018) doi:10.1038/nature25999 Published: 05 March 2018
This would usually be a simple event announcement but with the advent of a new, related (in my mind if no one else’s) development on Facebook, this has become a roundup of sorts.
Facebotlish (Facebook’s chatbots create their own language)
The language created by Facebook’s chatbots, Facebotlish, was an unintended consequence—that’s right Facebook’s developers did not design a language for the chatbots or anticipate its independent development, apparently. Adrienne LaFrance’s June 20, 2017 article for theatlantic.com explores the development and the question further,
Something unexpected happened recently at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab. Researchers who had been training bots to negotiate with one another realized that the bots, left to their own devices, started communicating in a non-human language.
In order to actually follow what the bots were saying, the researchers had to tweak their model, limiting the machines to a conversation humans could understand. (They want bots to stick to human languages because eventually they want those bots to be able to converse with human Facebook users.) …
Here’s what the language looks like (from LaFrance article),
Here’s an example of one of the bot negotiations that Facebook observed:Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i i i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have 0 to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to Bob: you i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
It is incomprehensible to humans even after being tweaked, even so, some successful negotiations can ensue.
Facebook’s researchers aren’t the only one to come across the phenomenon (from LaFrance’s article; Note: Links have been removed),
Other AI researchers, too, say they’ve observed machines that can develop their own languages, including languages with a coherent structure, and defined vocabulary and syntax—though not always actual meaningful, by human standards.
In one preprint paper added earlier this year  to the research repository arXiv, a pair of computer scientists from the non-profit AI research firm OpenAI wrote about how bots learned to communicate in an abstract language—and how those bots turned to non-verbal communication, the equivalent of human gesturing or pointing, when language communication was unavailable. (Bots don’t need to have corporeal form to engage in non-verbal communication; they just engage with what’s called a visual sensory modality.) Another recent preprint paper, from researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Tech, describes an experiment in which two bots invent their own communication protocol by discussing and assigning values to colors and shapes—in other words, the researchers write, they witnessed the “automatic emergence of grounded language and communication … no human supervision!”
The implications of this kind of work are dizzying. Not only are researchers beginning to see how bots could communicate with one another, they may be scratching the surface of how syntax and compositional structure emerged among humans in the first place.
LaFrance’s article is well worth reading in its entirety especially since the speculation is focused on whether or not the chatbots’ creation is in fact language. There is no mention of consciousness and perhaps this is just a crazy idea but is it possible that these chatbots have consciousness? The question is particularly intriguing in light of some of philosopher David Chalmers’ work (see his 2014 TED talk in Vancouver, Canada: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_chalmers_how_do_you_explain_consciousness/transcript?language=en runs roughly 18 mins.); a text transcript is also featured. There’s a condensed version of Chalmers’ TED talk offered in a roughly 9 minute NPR (US National Public Radio) interview by Gus Raz. Here are some highlights from the text transcript,
So we’ve been hearing from brain scientists who are asking how a bunch of neurons and synaptic connections in the brain add up to us, to who we are. But it’s consciousness, the subjective experience of the mind, that allows us to ask the question in the first place. And where consciousness comes from – that is an entirely separate question.
DAVID CHALMERS: Well, I like to distinguish between the easy problems of consciousness and the hard problem.
RAZ: This is David Chalmers. He’s a philosopher who coined this term, the hard problem of consciousness.
CHALMERS: Well, the easy problems are ultimately a matter of explaining behavior – things we do. And I think brain science is great at problems like that. It can isolate a neural circuit and show how it enables you to see a red object, to respondent and say, that’s red. But the hard problem of consciousness is subjective experience. Why, when all that happens in this circuit, does it feel like something? How does a bunch of – 86 billion neurons interacting inside the brain, coming together – how does that produce the subjective experience of a mind and of the world?
RAZ: Here’s how David Chalmers begins his TED Talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
CHALMERS: Right now, you have a movie playing inside your head. It has 3-D vision and surround sound for what you’re seeing and hearing right now. Your movie has smell and taste and touch. It has a sense of your body, pain, hunger, orgasms. It has emotions, anger and happiness. It has memories, like scenes from your childhood, playing before you. This movie is your stream of consciousness. If we weren’t conscious, nothing in our lives would have meaning or value. But at the same time, it’s the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe. Why are we conscious?
RAZ: Why is consciousness more than just the sum of the brain’s parts?
CHALMERS: Well, the question is, you know, what is the brain? It’s this giant complex computer, a bunch of interacting parts with great complexity. What does all that explain? That explains objective mechanism. Consciousness is subjective by its nature. It’s a matter of subjective experience. And it seems that we can imagine all of that stuff going on in the brain without consciousness. And the question is, where is the consciousness from there? It’s like, if someone could do that, they’d get a Nobel Prize, you know?
CHALMERS: So here’s the mapping from this circuit to this state of consciousness. But underneath that is always going be the question, why and how does the brain give you consciousness in the first place?
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
CHALMERS: Right now, nobody knows the answers to those questions. So we may need one or two ideas that initially seem crazy before we can come to grips with consciousness, scientifically. The first crazy idea is that consciousness is fundamental. Physicists sometimes take some aspects of the universe as fundamental building blocks – space and time and mass – and you build up the world from there. Well, I think that’s the situation we’re in. If you can’t explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals – space, time – the natural thing to do is to postulate consciousness itself as something fundamental – a fundamental building block of nature. The second crazy idea is that consciousness might be universal. This view is sometimes called panpsychism – pan, for all – psych, for mind. Every system is conscious. Not just humans, dogs, mice, flies, but even microbes. Even a photon has some degree of consciousness. The idea is not that photons are intelligent or thinking. You know, it’s not that a photon is wracked with angst because it’s thinking, oh, I’m always buzzing around near the speed of light. I never get to slow down and smell the roses. No, not like that. But the thought is, maybe photons might have some element of raw subjective feeling, some primitive precursor to consciousness.
RAZ: So this is a pretty big idea – right? – like, that not just flies, but microbes or photons all have consciousness. And I mean we, like, as humans, we want to believe that our consciousness is what makes us special, right – like, different from anything else.
CHALMERS: Well, I would say yes and no. I’d say the fact of consciousness does not make us special. But maybe we’ve a special type of consciousness ’cause you know, consciousness is not on and off. It comes in all these rich and amazing varieties. There’s vision. There’s hearing. There’s thinking. There’s emotion and so on. So our consciousness is far richer, I think, than the consciousness, say, of a mouse or a fly. But if you want to look for what makes us distinct, don’t look for just our being conscious, look for the kind of consciousness we have. …
Vancouver premiere of Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness
Baba Brinkman’s new hip-hop theatre show “Rap Guide to Consciousness” is all about the neuroscience of consciousness. See it in Vancouver at the Rio Theatre before it goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August .
This event also features a performance of “Off the Top” with Dr. Heather Berlin (cognitive neuroscientist, TV host, and Baba’s wife), which is also going to Edinburgh.
Wednesday, July 5
Doors 6:00 pm | Show 6:30 pm
Advance tickets $12 | $15 at the door
*All ages welcome!
*Sorry, Groupons and passes not accepted for this event.
“Utterly unique… both brilliantly entertaining and hugely informative” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Broadway Baby
“An education, inspiring, and wonderfully entertaining show from beginning to end” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – Mumble Comedy
There’s quite the poster for this rap guide performance,
In addition to the Vancouver and Edinburgh performance (the show was premiered at the Brighton Fringe Festival in May 2017; see Simon Topping’s very brief review in this May 10, 2017 posting on the reviewshub.com), Brinkman is raising money (goal is $12,000US; he has raised a little over $3,000 with approximately one month before the deadline) to produce a CD. Here’s more from the Rap Guide to Consciousness campaign page on Indiegogo,
Brinkman has been working with neuroscientists, Dr. Anil Seth (professor and co-director of Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science) and Dr. Heather Berlin (Brinkman’s wife as noted earlier; see her Wikipedia entry or her website).
There’s a bit more information about the rap project and Anil Seth in a May 3, 2017 news item by James Hakner for the University of Sussex,
The research frontiers of consciousness science find an unusual outlet in an exciting new Rap Guide to Consciousness, premiering at this year’s Brighton Fringe Festival.
Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, has teamed up with New York-based ‘peer-reviewed rapper’ Baba Brinkman, to explore the latest findings from the neuroscience and cognitive psychology of subjective experience.
What is it like to be a baby? We might have to take LSD to find out. What is it like to be an octopus? Imagine most of your brain was actually built into your fingertips. What is it like to be a rapper kicking some of the world’s most complex lyrics for amused fringe audiences? Surreal.
In this new production, Baba brings his signature mix of rap comedy storytelling to the how and why behind your thoughts and perceptions. Mixing cutting-edge research with lyrical performance and projected visuals, Baba takes you through the twists and turns of the only organ it’s better to donate than receive: the human brain. Discover how the various subsystems of your brain come together to create your own rich experience of the world, including the sights and sounds of a scientifically peer-reviewed rapper dropping knowledge.
The result is a truly mind-blowing multimedia hip-hop theatre performance – the perfect meta-medium through which to communicate the dazzling science of consciousness.
Baba comments: “This topic is endlessly fascinating because it underlies everything we do pretty much all the time, which is probably why it remains one of the toughest ideas to get your head around. The first challenge with this show is just to get people to accept the (scientifically uncontroversial) idea that their brains and minds are actually the same thing viewed from different angles. But that’s just the starting point, after that the details get truly amazing.”
Baba Brinkman is a Canadian rap artist and award-winning playwright, best known for his “Rap Guide” series of plays and albums. Baba has toured the world and enjoyed successful runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and off-Broadway in New York. The Rap Guide to Religion was nominated for a 2015 Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatrical Experience” and The Rap Guide to Evolution (“Astonishing and brilliant” NY Times), won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and a Drama Desk Award nomination for “Outstanding Solo Performance”. The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos premiered in Edinburgh in 2015, followed by a six-month off-Broadway run in 2016.
Baba is also a pioneer in the genre of “lit-hop” or literary hip-hop, known for his adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh. He is a recent recipient of the National Center for Science Education’s “Friend of Darwin Award” for his efforts to improve the public understanding of evolutionary biology.
Anil Seth is an internationally renowned researcher into the biological basis of consciousness, with more than 100 (peer-reviewed!) academic journal papers on the subject. Alongside science he is equally committed to innovative public communication. A Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow (from 2016) and the 2017 British Science Association President (Psychology), Professor Seth has co-conceived and consulted on many science-art projects including drama (Donmar Warehouse), dance (Siobhan Davies dance company), and the visual arts (with artist Lindsay Seers). He has also given popular public talks on consciousness at the Royal Institution (Friday Discourse) and at the main TED conference in Vancouver. He is a regular presence in print and on the radio and is the recipient of awards including the BBC Audio Award for Best Single Drama (for ‘The Sky is Wider’) and the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize (for EyeBenders). This is his first venture into rap.
Professor Seth said: “There is nothing more familiar, and at the same time more mysterious than consciousness, but research is finally starting to shed light on this most central aspect of human existence. Modern neuroscience can be incredibly arcane and complex, posing challenges to us as public communicators.
“It’s been a real pleasure and privilege to work with Baba on this project over the last year. I never thought I’d get involved with a rap artist – but hearing Baba perform his ‘peer reviewed’ breakdowns of other scientific topics I realized here was an opportunity not to be missed.”
Brinkman isn’t the only performance-based artist to be querying the concept of consciousness, Tom Stoppard has written a play about consciousness titled ‘The Hard Problem’, which debuted at the National Theatre (UK) in January 2015 (see BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] news online’s Jan. 29, 2015 roundup of reviews). A May 25, 2017 commentary by Andrew Brown for the Guardian offers some insight into the play and the issues (Note: Links have been removed),
There is a lovely exchange in Tom Stoppard’s play about consciousness, The Hard Problem, when an atheist has been sneering at his girlfriend for praying. It is, he says, an utterly meaningless activity. Right, she says, then do one thing for me: pray! I can’t do that, he replies. It would betray all I believe in.
So prayer can have meanings, and enormously important ones, even for people who are certain that it doesn’t have the meaning it is meant to have. In that sense, your really convinced atheist is much more religious than someone who goes along with all the prayers just because that’s what everyone does, without for a moment supposing the action means anything more than asking about the weather.
The Hard Problem of the play’s title is a phrase coined by the Australian philosopher David Chalmers to describe the way in which consciousness arises from a physical world. What makes it hard is that we don’t understand it. What makes it a problem is slightly different. It isn’t the fact of consciousness, but our representations of consciousness, that give rise to most of the difficulties. We don’t know how to fit the first-person perspective into the third-person world that science describes and explores. But this isn’t because they don’t fit: it’s because we don’t understand how they fit. For some people, this becomes a question of consuming interest.
There are also a couple of video of Tom Stoppard, the playwright, discussing his play with various interested parties, the first being the director at the National Theatre who tackled the debut run, Nicolas Hytner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7J8rWu6HJg (it runs approximately 40 mins.). Then, there’s the chat Stoppard has with previously mentioned philosopher, David Chalmers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BPY2c_CiwA (this runs approximately 1 hr. 32 mins.).
I gather ‘consciousness’ is a hot topic these days and, in the venacular of the 1960s, I guess you could describe all of this as ‘expanding our consciousness’. Have a nice weekend!
What do you wonder?” That is the question the Science Museum has been asking for many months now, in posters, celebrity videos and in online images. It’s been part of the museum’s strategy to ramp up excitement around its new “Wonderlab” gallery, a space full of interactive science exhibits designed to inspire children. But what many have been wondering is how Statoil, a major oil and gas company with plans to drill up to seven new wells in the Arctic [emphasis mine], was allowed to become the gallery’s title sponsor? Welcome to Wonderlab – the Science Museum’s latest ethical contradiction.
In Australia, Statoil is still considering plans to drill a series of ultra deepwater wells in the Great Australian Bight – an internationally recognised whale sanctuary – despite the decision this week of its strategic partner, BP, to pull out. …
The company’s sponsorship of Wonderlab may look like a generous gesture from outside but in reality, Statoil is buying a social legitimacy it does not deserve – and it is particularly sinister to purchase that legitimacy at the expense of young people who will inherit a world with an unstable climate. This is an attempt to associate the future of science and technology with fossil fuels at a time when society and policy makers have finally accepted that that it is not compatible with a sustainable future and a stable climate. As the impacts of climate change intensify and the world shifts away from fossil fuels, the Science Museum will look ever more out of touch with the words “the Statoil gallery” emblazoned upon its walls.
The Science Museum has previously had sponsorship deals with a range of unethical sponsors, from arms companies such as Airbus, to other fossil fuel companies such as BP and Shell. When Shell’s influence over the Science Museum’s climate science gallery was unearthed last year following Freedom of Information requests, the museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, sought to defend the museum’s engagement with fossil fuel funders. He wrote “When it comes to the major challenges facing our society, from climate change to inspiring the next generation of engineers, we need to be engaging with all the key players including governments, industry and the public, not hiding away in a comfortable ivory tower.”
In reality, Blatchford is the one in the ivory tower – and not just because of the museum’s ties to Statoil. Wonderlab replaces the museum’s Launchpad gallery, a hub of interactive science exhibits designed to engage and inspire children. But unlike its predecessor, Wonderlab comes with an entry charge. Earlier this year, the science communication academic Dr Emily Dawson noted that “charging for the museum’s most popular children’s gallery sends a clear message that science is for some families, but not for all”. Thus Wonderlab represents a science communication mess as well as an ethical one.
While the museum’s decision to offer free school visits will allow some children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to experience Wonderlab, Dawson argues that “it is not enough to use school visits as a panacea for exclusive practice”. Research recently undertaken by the Wellcome Trust showed that likelihood of visiting a science museum or centre is related to social class. Entry charges are not the only obstacle in the way of public access to science, but perhaps the most symbolic for a major cultural institution – particularly where the primary audience is children.
Garrard does note that museums have challenges, especially when they are dealing with funding cuts as they are at the Science Museum.
The sponsorship issue may sound familiar to Canadians as we had our own controversy in 2012 with Imperial Oil and its sponsorship of the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s show currently named, ‘Let’s Talk Energy‘ still sponsored by Imperial Oil. Here’s more from my June 13, 2012 posting,
They’ve been going hot and heavy at Canada’s national museums in Ottawa this last few months. First, there was a brouhaha over corporate patronage and energy in January 2012 and, again, in April 2012 and now, it’s all about sex. While I’m dying to get started on the sex, this piece is going to follow the chronology.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website has a Jan. 23, 2012 posting which notes the active role Imperial Oil played in a November 2011 energy exhibit (part of a multi-year, interactive national initiative, Let’s Talk Energy) at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (from the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting),
Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.
The Ottawa museum unveiled the exhibition last year despite criticism from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which questioned why it was partly funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000 over six years.
Apparently, CBC reporters got their hands on some emails where the Imperial Oil Foundation president, Susan Swan, made a number of suggestions,
In an Oct. 3  interview on CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day, host Alan Neal asked exhibit curator Anna Adamek whose idea it was to include in the exhibit a reference that says oilsands account for one-tenth of one percent of global emissions.
“This fact comes from research reports that are available at the museum, that were commissioned by the museum,” Adamek told Neal.
But earlier emails from Imperial Oil Foundation president Susan Swan obtained by Radio-Canada through an Access to Information request show she had recommended that information be included back in May [2011?].
Swan, who also served as chair of the advisory committee to the project, also asked that information be included that the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.
Not all of Swan’s requests made it into the final exhibit: in one point, she asked that an illustration for Polar Oil and Gas Reserves be changed from red to blue, arguing red “has a negative connotation” bringing to mind “blood oil.” The change was not made.
Personally, I love Swan’s semiotic analysis of the colour ‘red’. I wonder how many graphic designers have been driven mad by someone who sat through a lecture or part of a television programme on colour and/or semiotics and is now an expert.
A few months later, Barrick Gold (a mining corporation) donated $1M to have a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature renamed, from the April 24, 2012 posting on the CBC website,
Environmental groups are upset over a decision to rename a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after corporate mining giant Barrick Gold.
Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new “Barrick Salon” is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.
The decision had activists protest at the museum Tuesday, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.
“It’s definitely not a partnership, it’s a sponsorship,” said Elizabeth McCrea, the museum’s director of communications. “We’re always looking at increasing self-generated revenue and this is one way that we’re doing it.” [emphasis mine]
Monarchs and wealthy people have been funding and attempting to influence cultural institutions for millenia. These days, we get to include corporations on that list but it’s nothing new. People or institutions with power and money always want history or facts * presented in ways that further or flatter their interests (“history is written by the victors”). They aren’t always successful but they will keep trying.
It’s hard to be high-minded when you need money but it doesn’t mean you should give up on the effort.
Scientific and technological breakthroughs are more important than ever as a key agent to drive social, economic, and political changes and advancements in today’s world. The World Economic Forum (WEF), an international organization that provides one of the broadest engagement platforms to address issues of major concern to the global community, will discuss the effects of these breakthroughs at its 10th Annual Meeting of the New Champions, a.k.a., the Summer Davos Forum, in Tianjin, China, June 26-28, 2016.
Three professors from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) will join the Annual Meeting and offer their expertise in the fields of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics to explore the conference theme, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Its Transformational Impact.” The Fourth Industrial Revolution, a term coined by WEF founder, Klaus Schwab, is characterized by a range of new technologies that fuse the physical, digital, and biological worlds, such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and automation.
Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department will speak at the Experts Reception to be held on June 25, 2016 on the topic of “The Summer Davos Forum and Science and Technology in Asia.” On June 27, 2016, he will participate in two separate discussion sessions.
In the first session entitled “What If Drugs Are Printed from the Internet?” Professor Lee will discuss the future of medicine being impacted by advancements in biotechnology and 3D printing technology with Nita A. Farahany, a Duke University professor, under the moderation of Clare Matterson, the Director of Strategy at Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom. The discussants will note recent developments made in the way patients receive their medicine, for example, downloading drugs directly from the internet and the production of yeast strains to make opioids for pain treatment through systems metabolic engineering, and predicting how these emerging technologies will transform the landscape of the pharmaceutical industry in the years to come.
In the second session, “Lessons for Life,” Professor Lee will talk about how to nurture life-long learning and creativity to support personal and professional growth necessary in an era of the new industrial revolution.
During the Annual Meeting, Professors Jong-Hwan Kim of the Electrical Engineering School and David Hyunchul Shim of the Aerospace Department will host, together with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and AnthroTronix, an engineering research and development company, a technological exhibition on robotics. Professor Kim, the founder of the internally renowned Robot World Cup, will showcase his humanoid micro-robots that play soccer, displaying their various cutting-edge technologies such as imaging processing, artificial intelligence, walking, and balancing. Professor Shim will present a human-like robotic piloting system, PIBOT, which autonomously operates a simulated flight program, grabbing control sticks and guiding an airplane from take offs to landings.
In addition, the two professors will join Professor Lee, who is also a moderator, to host a KAIST-led session on June 26, 2016, entitled “Science in Depth: From Deep Learning to Autonomous Machines.” Professors Kim and Shim will explore new opportunities and challenges in their fields from machine learning to autonomous robotics including unmanned vehicles and drones.
Since 2011, KAIST has been participating in the World Economic Forum’s two flagship conferences, the January and June Davos Forums, to introduce outstanding talents, share their latest research achievements, and interact with global leaders.
KAIST President Steve Kang said, “It is important for KAIST to be involved in global talks that identify issues critical to humanity and seek answers to solve them, where our skills and knowledge in science and technology could play a meaningful role. The Annual Meeting in China will become another venue to accomplish this.”
I mentioned KAIST and the Ideas Lab at the 2016 Davos meeting in this Nov. 20, 2015 posting and was able to clear up my (and possible other people’s) confusion as to what the Fourth Industrial revolution might be in my Dec. 3, 2015 posting.
Science has been gaining prominence at music festivals in Britain if nowhere else. I wrote about the Glastonbury Festival’s foray into science in a July 12, 2011 posting which featured the Guerilla Science group tent and mentioned other of the festival’s science and technology efforts over the years. More recently, I noticed that Stephen Hawking was scheduled for the 2015 Glastonbury Festival (he had to cancel due to personal reasons).
The 2015 Latitude Festival seems to have more luck with its science-themed events. according to a July 22, 2015 posting by Suzi Gage for the Guardian’s science blogs,
Why do people go to music festivals? When I was 18 years old and heading to Reading festival the answer was very much ‘to listen to Pulp and Beck in a field while drinking overpriced beer and definitely not trying to sneak a hip flask on to the site’. But I’ve grown up since then, and so, it seems, have festivals.
At Latitude this weekend, I probably only watched a handful of bands. Not to say that the musical lineup wasn’t great, but there was so much more on offer that caught my attention. The Wellcome Trust funded a large number of talks, interactive sessions and demos that appeared both in their ‘hub’, a tiny tent on the outskirts of the festival, but also in the Literary Tent at the heart of the festival and at other locations across the site.
The programming of the science content was imaginative, often pairing a scientist with an author who had written on a similar topic. This was effective in that it allowed a discussion, but kept it from becoming too technical or full of jargon.
Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, an expert in psychedelics, was paired with Zoe Cormier, author of ‘Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll’ in the Literary Tent, to discuss the use of psychedelics as ‘medicine for the soul’. [emphasis mine] Robin was very measured in his description of the trials he has been involved with at Imperial College London, being clear that while preliminary findings about psilocybin in treatment-resistant depression might be exciting, there’s a long way to go in such research. Talking about drugs at a festival is always going to be a crowd pleaser, but both Robin and Zoe never sensationalized.
A highlight for me was a session organised by The Psychologist magazine, featuring Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Fiona Neil, author of The Good Girl. Entitled ‘Being Young Never Gets Old’, it claimed to ‘debunk’ teenagers. …
Gage’s piece is a good read and I find it interesting she makes no comment about a literary tent at a music festival. I don’t know of a music festival in Canada that would feature literature or literature and science together.
I highlighted Zoe Cormier’s name as a participant (born in Canada and living in London, England) as she is a founder of Guerilla Science, the group I mentioned earlier with regard to the Glastonbury Festival. A science communicator with some fairly outrageous events under her belt, her and her co-founder’s ‘guerilla’ approach to science is exciting. I mentioned their annual Secret Garden event in a Aug. 1, 2012 posting where they sang and danced the Higgs Boson and otherwise celebrated elementary particles. The 2015 Secret Garden Party featured rest, noise, and neuroscience. (Perhaps it’s not too early to plan attendance at the 2016 Secret Garden Party?) Here’s an excerpt from this year’s lineup found in Louis’ July 15, 2015 posting on the Guerilla Science website,
Friday [July 24, 2015]
12:00 – Rest & Noise Shorts
Crash, bang, shush, zzz… four short talks about rest and noise from artist Zach Walker, psychologist Will Lawn and neuroscientists Ed Bracey and Melissa Ellamil.
13.00 Speed, Synapse… Go!
Two teams go head-to-head in a competition to see whose neurotransmitters can move the fastest. What happens when cocaine, marijuana and ketamine are introduced? Join us for some fast and furious neuroscientific gameplay.
15.00 Craft a Connectome
Help us transform the Guerilla Science tent into a giant model brain with a tangle of woolen connections. Neuroscientists Julia Huntenburg and Melissa Ellamil will be on hand to conduct our connectome and coax it into a resting state.
16.00 Sound, Fire and Water
We test out our new toy: a fire organ that visualises sound in flames! Join engineers from Buro Happold and artist Zach Walker as we make fire, water and cornstarch dance and jump to the beat.
Saturday [July 25, 2015]
11.00 Hearing the Voice
Philosopher Sam Wilkinson explores the idea of the brain as a hypothesis testing machine. He asks whether thinking about the mind in this way can help explain mental illness, hallucinations and the voices in our heads.
15.00 – The Unquiet Mind
Hallucinations are our contact with the unreal but are also a window into human nature. Neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Vaughan Bell reveals what they tell us about brain function and the limits of human experience.
Sunday [July 26, 2015]
12.00 Phantom Terrains
Frank Swain and Daniel Jones present their project to listen in to wireless networks. By streaming wi-fi signals to a pair of hearing aids, Frank can hear the changing landscapes of data that silently surround us.
13.00 Rest and Nose
Join chemists Rose Gray and Alex Bour and neuroscientist Ed Bracey to explore the links between relaxation, rest and sense of smell. Create a perfume to lull yourself to sleep, help you unwind and evoke a peaceful place or time.
In the Northern Hemisphere countries it’s time to consider one’s sunscreen options.While this Oregon State University into animal-based sunscreens is intriguing, market-ready options likely won’t be available for quite some time. (There is a second piece of related research, more ‘fishy’ in nature [pun], featured later in this post.) From a May 12, 2015 Oregon State University news release,
Researchers have discovered why many animal species can spend their whole lives outdoors with no apparent concern about high levels of solar exposure: they make their own sunscreen.
The findings, published today in the journal eLife by scientists from Oregon State University, found that many fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds can naturally produce a compound called gadusol, which among other biologic activities provides protection from the ultraviolet, or sun-burning component of sunlight.
The researchers also believe that this ability may have been obtained through some prehistoric, natural genetic engineering.
Here’s an amusing image to illustrate the researchers’ point,
Gadusol is the gene found in some animals which gives natural sun protection. Courtesy: Oregon State University
The news release goes on to describe gadusol and its believed evolutionary pathway,
The gene that provides the capability to produce gadusol is remarkably similar to one found in algae, which may have transferred it to vertebrate animals – and because it’s so valuable, it’s been retained and passed along for hundreds of millions of years of animal evolution.
“Humans and mammals don’t have the ability to make this compound, but we’ve found that many other animal species do,” said Taifo Mahmud, a professor in the OSU College of Pharmacy, and lead author on the research.
The genetic pathway that allows gadusol production is found in animals ranging from rainbow trout to the American alligator, green sea turtle and a farmyard chicken.
“The ability to make gadusol, which was first discovered in fish eggs, clearly has some evolutionary value to be found in so many species,” Mahmud said. “We know it provides UV-B protection, it makes a pretty good sunscreen. But there may also be roles it plays as an antioxidant, in stress response, embryonic development and other functions.”
In their study, the OSU researchers also found a way to naturally produce gadusol in high volumes using yeast. With continued research, it may be possible to develop gadusol as an ingredient for different types of sunscreen products, cosmetics or pharmaceutical products for humans.
A conceptual possibility, Mahmud said, is that ingestion of gadusol could provide humans a systemic sunscreen, as opposed to a cream or compound that has to be rubbed onto the skin.
The existence of gadusol had been known of in some bacteria, algae and other life forms, but it was believed that vertebrate animals could only obtain it from their diet. The ability to directly synthesize what is essentially a sunscreen may play an important role in animal evolution, and more work is needed to understand the importance of this compound in animal physiology and ecology, the researchers said.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
De novo synthesis of a sunscreen compound in vertebrates by Andrew R Osborn, Khaled H Almabruk, Garrett Holzwarth, Shumpei Asamizu, Jane LaDu, Kelsey M Kean, P Andrew Karplus, Robert L Tanguay, Alan T Bakalinsky, and Taifo Mahmud. eLife 2015;4:e05919 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.05919 Published May 12, 2015
This is an open access paper.
The second piece of related research, also published yesterday on May 12, 2015, comes from a pair of scientists at Harvard University. From a May 12, 2015 eLife news release on EurekAlert,
Scientists from Oregon State University [two authors are listed for the ‘zebrafish’ paper and both are from Harvard University] have discovered that fish can produce their own sunscreen. They have copied the method used by fish for potential use in humans.
In the study published in the journal eLife, scientists found that zebrafish are able to produce a chemical called gadusol that protects against UV radiation. They successfully reproduced the method that zebrafish use by expressing the relevant genes in yeast. The findings open the door to large-scale production of gadusol for sunscreen and as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals.
Gadusol was originally identified in cod roe and has since been discovered in the eyes of the mantis shrimp, sea urchin eggs, sponges, and in the dormant eggs and newly hatched larvae of brine shrimps. It was previously thought that fish can only acquire the chemical through their diet or through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria.
Marine organisms in the upper ocean and on reefs are subject to intense and often unrelenting sunlight. Gadusol and related compounds are of great scientific interest for their ability to protect against DNA damage from UV rays. There is evidence that amphibians, reptiles, and birds can also produce gadusol, while the genetic machinery is lacking in humans and other mammals.
The team were investigating compounds similar to gadusol that are used to treat diabetes and fungal infections. It was believed that the biosynthetic enzyme common to all of them, EEVS, was only present in bacteria. The scientists were surprised to discover that fish and other vertebrates contain similar genes to those that code for EEVS.
Curious about their function in animals, they expressed the zebrafish gene in E. coli and analysis suggested that fish combine EEVS with another protein, whose production may be induced by light, to produce gadusol. To check that this combination is really sufficient, the scientists transferred the genes to yeast and set them to work to see what they would create. This confirmed the production of gadusol. Its successful production in yeast provides a viable route to commercialisation.
As well as providing UV protection, gadusol may also play a role in stress responses, in embryonic development, and as an antioxidant.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the second paper from this loosely affiliated team of Oregon State University and Harvard University researchers,
One final bit and this is about the journal, eLife, from their news release on EurekAlert,
eLife is a unique collaboration between the funders and practitioners of research to improve the way important research is selected, presented, and shared. eLife publishes outstanding works across the life sciences and biomedicine — from basic biological research to applied, translational, and clinical studies. eLife is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust. Learn more at elifesciences.org.
It seems this journal is a joint, US (Howard Hughes Medical Institute), German (Max Planck Society), UK (Wellcome Trust) effort.
I’ve not actively kept up with the situation in the West African countries suffering an outbreak of the ebola virus other than to note that it is ongoing. My Aug. 15, 2014 post provides a snapshot of the situation and various new treatments, including one based on tobacco, which could be helpful but appeared not to have been tested and/or deployed. There was a lot of secrecy (especially from Medicago, a Canadian company) regarding the whole matter of treatments and vaccines.
There seem to have been some new developments on the treatment side, involving yet another Canadian company, Tekmira, according to a Sept. 23, 2013 news item on Azonano,
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation, a leading developer of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics, today announced that the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] has authorized Tekmira to provide TKM-Ebola for treatment under expanded access protocols to subjects with confirmed or suspected Ebola virus infections.
A Sept. 22, 2014 Tekmira news release, which originated the news item, expands on the topic of regulatory issues associated with bringing this treatment to the areas suffering the outbreak,
“Tekmira is reporting that an appropriate regulatory and clinical framework is now in place to allow the use of TKM-Ebola in patients. We have worked with the FDA and Health Canada to establish this framework and a treatment protocol allowing us to do what we can to help these patients,” said Dr. Mark J. Murray Tekmira’s President and CEO.
“We have insisted on acting responsibly in the interest of patients and our stakeholders,” added Dr. Murray. “Today we are reporting that, working closely with regulators in the United States and Canada, we have established a framework for TKM-Ebola use in multiple patients. In the US, the FDA has granted expanded access use of TKM-Ebola under our Investigational New Drug application (IND) and Health Canada has established a similar framework, both of which allow the use of our investigational therapeutic in more patients.”
“We have already responded to requests for the use of our investigational agent in several patients under emergency protocols, in an effort to help these patients, a goal we share with the FDA and Health Canada. TKM-Ebola has been administered to a number of patients and the repeat infusions have been well tolerated. However, it must be kept in mind that any uses of the product under expanded access, does not constitute controlled clinical trials. These patients may be infected with a strain of Ebola virus which has emerged subsequent to the strain that our product is directed against, and physicians treating these patients may use more than one therapeutic intervention in an effort to achieve the best outcome,” said Dr. Murray. “Our TKM-Ebola drug supplies are limited, but we will continue to help where we can, as we continue to focus on the other important objectives we have to advance therapies to meet the unmet needs of patients.”
TKM-Ebola is an investigational therapeutic, being developed under an FDA approved IND, which is currently the subject of a partial clinical hold under which the FDA has allowed the potential use of TKM-Ebola in individuals with a confirmed or suspected Ebola virus infection.
About FDA Expanded Access Program
Expanded access is the use of an investigational drug outside of a clinical trial to treat a patient, with a serious or immediately life-threatening disease or condition, who has no comparable or satisfactory alternative treatment options. FDA regulations allow access to investigational drugs for treatment purposes on a case-by-case basis for an individual patient, or for intermediate-size groups of patients with similar treatment needs who otherwise do not qualify to participate in a clinical trial. (Source: www.fda.com)
About TKM-Ebola, an Anti-Ebola Virus RNAi Therapeutic
TKM-Ebola, an anti-Ebola virus RNAi therapeutic, is being developed under a $140 million contract with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Medical Countermeasure Systems BioDefense Therapeutics (MCS-BDTX) Joint Product Management Office. Earlier preclinical studies were published in the medical journal The Lancet and demonstrated that when siRNA targeting the Ebola virus and delivered by Tekmira’s LNP [Lipid Nanoparticle] technology were used to treat previously infected non-human primates, the result was 100 percent protection from an otherwise lethal dose of Zaire Ebola virus (Geisbert et al., The Lancet, Vol. 375, May 29, 2010). In March 2014, Tekmira was granted a Fast Track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the development of TKM-Ebola.
About Joint Project Manager Medical Countermeasure Systems (JPM-MCS)
This work is being conducted under contract with the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Project Manager Medical Countermeasure Systems (JPM-MCS). JPM-MCS, a component of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, aims to provide U.S. military forces and the nation with safe, effective, and innovative medical solutions to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. JPM-MCS facilitates the advanced development and acquisition of medical countermeasures and systems to enhance biodefense response capability. For more information, visit www.jpeocbd.osd.mil.
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation is a biopharmaceutical company focused on advancing novel RNAi therapeutics and providing its leading lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology to pharmaceutical partners. Tekmira has been working in the field of nucleic acid delivery for over a decade and has broad intellectual property covering LNPs. Further information about Tekmira can be found at www.tekmira.com. Tekmira is based in Vancouver, B.C. Canada.
Forward-Looking Statements and Information
This news release contains “forward-looking statements” or “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable securities laws (collectively, “forward-looking statements”). Forward-looking statements in this news release include statements about Tekmira’s strategy, future operations, clinical trials, prospects and the plans of management; an appropriate regulatory and clinical framework for emergency use of TKM-Ebola in subjects with confirmed or suspected Ebola infections; FDA grant of expanded access use of TKM-Ebola under Tekmira’s IND; Health Canada’s establishment of a similar framework for TKM-Ebola; Tekmira’s response to requests for the use of TKM-Ebola in several patients under emergency protocols and the results thereon; the current supply of TKM-Ebola drug; the partial clinical hold on the TKM-Ebola IND by the FDA (enabling the potential use of TKM-Ebola in individuals with a confirmed or suspected Ebola virus infection); the quantum value of the contract with the JPM-MCS; and Fast Track designation from the FDA for the development of TKM-Ebola.
With respect to the forward-looking statements contained in this news release, Tekmira has made numerous assumptions regarding, among other things, the clinical framework for emergency use of TKM-Ebola. While Tekmira considers these assumptions to be reasonable, these assumptions are inherently subject to significant business, economic, competitive, market and social uncertainties and contingencies.
Additionally, there are known and unknown risk factors which could cause Tekmira’s actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained herein. Known risk factors include, among others: TKM-Ebola may not prove to be effective in the treatment of Ebola infection under the emergency use framework, or at all; any uses of TKM-Ebola under emergency INDs are not controlled trails, and TKM-Ebola may be used on Ebola strains that have diverged from the strain to which TKM-Ebola is directed, and physicians treating patients may use more than one therapeutic intervention in addition to TKM-Ebola; the current supply of TKM-Ebola is limited, and Tekmira may not be able to respond to future requests for help in the current Ebola outbreak; the FDA may not remove the partial clinical hold on the TKM-Ebola IND; the FDA may refuse to approve Tekmira’s products, or place restrictions on Tekmira’s ability to commercialize its products; anticipated pre-clinical and clinical trials may be more costly or take longer to complete than anticipated, and may never be initiated or completed, or may not generate results that warrant future development of the tested drug candidate; and Tekmira may not receive the necessary regulatory approvals for the clinical development of Tekmira’s products.
A more complete discussion of the risks and uncertainties facing Tekmira appears in Tekmira’s Annual Report on Form 10-K and Tekmira’s continuous disclosure filings, which are available at www.sedar.com or www.sec.gov. All forward-looking statements herein are qualified in their entirety by this cautionary statement, and Tekmira disclaims any obligation to revise or update any such forward-looking statements or to publicly announce the result of any revisions to any of the forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect future results, events or developments, except as required by law.
In the midst of all those ‘cover your rear end’ statements to investors, it’s easy to miss the fact that people are actually being treated and the results are promising, if not guaranteed,
Tekmira has distributed a Sept. 23, 2014 news release touting its membership in a new consortium, which suggests that in parallel with offering treatment, human clinical trials will also be conducted,
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation (Nasdaq:TKMR) (TSX:TKM), a leading developer of RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics, today reported that it is collaborating with an international consortium to provide an RNAi based investigational therapeutic for expedited clinical studies in West Africa.
Led by Dr. Peter Horby of the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford and the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC), the consortium includes representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control, Médecins Sans Frontières – Doctors without Borders (MSF), ISARIC, and Fondation Mérieux, among others.
The Wellcome Trust has announced it has awarded £3.2 million to the consortium to fund this initiative. The award will include funds for the manufacture of investigational therapeutics as well as the establishment of an operational clinical trials platform in two or more Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) treatment centers in West Africa. RNAi has been prioritized as an investigational therapeutic and may be selected for clinical trials at these centers.
The objective of the clinical trials is to assess the efficacy and safety of promising therapeutics and vaccines, reliably and safely, in patients with EVD by adopting strict protocols that comply with international standards. It is hoped this initiative will permit the adoption of safe and effective interventions rapidly.
The genetic sequence of the Ebola virus variant responsible for the ongoing outbreak in West Africa is now available. Under this program, Tekmira will produce an RNAi based product specifically targeting the viral variant responsible for this outbreak. The ability to rapidly and accurately match the evolving genetic sequences of emerging infectious agents is one of the powerful features of RNAi therapeutics.
“We commend the Wellcome Trust for their leadership in providing the necessary funds to launch and expedite this ground breaking initiative. We are gratified that RNAi has been prioritized as a potential investigational therapeutic to assist in the ongoing public health and humanitarian crisis in Africa,” said Dr. Murray, Tekmira’s President and CEO.
“We are an active collaborator in this consortium and through our ongoing dialogue with the WHO, NGOs and governments in various countries; we have been discussing the creation of appropriate clinical and regulatory frameworks for the potential use of investigational therapeutics in Africa. This initiative goes a long way towards achieving this aim. Many complex decisions remain to fully implement this unique clinical trial platform. At this time, there can be no assurances that our product will be selected by the consortium for clinical trials in Africa,” said Dr. Murray.
About Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. For more information, visit www.wellcome.ac.uk
I’m glad they’re being careful while giving people treatment, i. e., trying to do something rather than waiting to conduct human clinical trials as has sometimes been the case in the past. This business of running the trials almost parallel to offering treatment suggests an agility not often associated with the international health care community.
ETA Sept. 23 2014 1200 hours PDT: For more information about the status of the Ebola outbreak read Tara Smith’s Sept. 22, 2014 article Slate titled, Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola; Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten (Note: Links have been removed).
Now, terms like “exponential spread” are being thrown around as the epidemic continues to expand more and more rapidly. Just last week, an increase of 700 new cases was reported, and the case count is now doubling in size approximately every three weeks.
A Doctors Without Borders worker in Monrovia, Liberia, named Jackson Naimah describes the situation in his home country, noting that patients are literally dying at the front door of his treatment center because it lacks patient beds and assistance; the sufferers are left to die a “horrible, undignified death” and potentially infect others as they do so: …
… Health care workers who are treating the sick are dying because they also lack basic protective equipment, or because they have been so overwhelmed by taking care of the ill and dying that they begin to make potentially fatal errors. They have gone on strike in Liberia because they are not being adequately protected or even paid for their risky service.
Fear and misinformation are as deadly as the virus itself. Eight Ebola workers were recently murdered in Guinea, in the area where the virus first came to the world’s attention in March. Liberia’s largest newspaper featured a story describing Ebola as a man-made virus being purposely unleashed upon Africans by Western pharmaceutical companies. Reports abound of doctors and other workers being chased away, sometimes violently, by fearful families. …
It’s not a pleasant read but, I think, a necessary one. For anyone who may think the panic and fear are unique to this situation, I once worked with a nurse who described being lifted by her neck after someone came through the door of a clinic demanding a vaccine and had been refused. He was in such a panic and so fearful he wasn’t going to take a ‘no’. The incident took place in Vancouver (Canada) in a ‘nice’ part of town.
ETA Sept. 24, 2014: Kelly Grant has written a Sept. 22, 2014 article for the Globe and Mail which provides more information about Tekmira, some of which contradicts the details I have here about TKM-Ebola and clinical trials in Africa although the key points remain the same. She also provides more information about the ZMapp therapy (mentioned in my Aug. 15, 2014 post) noting yet a third Canadian connection.* Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory was somehow involved in developing ZMApp, unfortunately, Grant does not or is not able to provide more details about that involvement.
ETA Oct. 16, 2014: David Bruggeman recommends a digital journalism site Ebola Deeply for some in depth reporting in his Oct. 16, 2014 posting.
* This sentence “She also provides more information about the ZMapp therapy mentioned in my Aug. 15, 2014 post mentioning yet a third Canadian connection.” was altered for grammatical purposes on Dec. 4, 2014.
Earlier this month there were notices about the UK’s Wellcome Trust making their images freely available which I promptly forgot about. Thanks to Mark Lorch’s Jan. 30, 2014 post on the Guardian science blogs I’ve been reminded (Note: Links have been removed),
The UK’s leading medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, has donated a treasure trove to the world: more than 100,000 images covering the history of all aspects of medicine, science and technology are now freely available to any and all.
The database contains pictures of weird and wonderful medical instruments, copies of historical documents and stunning examples of science-related works of art, from Van Goghs to cartoons. It’s a joy just to peruse the library, jumping from one fascinating image to the next.But, being a chemist, I was of course particularly drawn to the documents and apparatus depicting the history of my chosen field. …
Lorch includes a number of images including a copy of what appears to be some graffiti written by James Crick (of Watson & Crick & the double helix) but my favourite is this periodic table of elements model (Note: A link has been removed),
Model showing the periodic elements of chemistry Photograph: Wellcome Images
Finally, the mundane but no less fascinating. How about a cunning 3D representation of the periodic table lovingly mounted in a jam jar!
Over 100,000 images ranging from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Francisco Goya are now available for free download as hi-res images on our website.
Drawn from the historical holdings of the world-renowned Wellcome Library, the images are being released under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence. This means that all the historical images can be downloaded here to freely copy, distribute, edit, manipulate, and build upon as you wish, for personal or commercial use as long as the source Wellcome Library is attributed.
The historical collections offer a rich body of historical images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements. The earliest item is a 3000 year old Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings, ranging from delicate 16th century fugitive sheets, whose hinged paper flaps reveal hidden viscera, to Paolo Mascagni’s vibrantly coloured etching of an ‘exploded’ torso.
Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”
Catherine Draycott, Head of Wellcome Images says, “Wellcome Images is an invaluable visual resource for anyone interested in themes around medicine and the wider history of health and we are delighted to make our growing archive of historical images freely available to all, and provide the mechanism for direct access to them. We hope that users, both personal and commercial take full advantage of the material available.”
Our specialist team of researchers at Wellcome Images are available to advise and assist with sourcing and searching for images and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of those references to Van Gogh piqued my curiosity. Here’s one of the images you’ll find if you search Van Gogh,
Credit: Wellcome Library, London Paul Ferdinand Gachet. Etching by V. van Gogh, 1890.
Here’s the story provided by the Wellcome staff,
Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909) was a maverick physician who practised what later came to be called complementary or alternative medicine. He had a consulting room in Paris to which he commuted from his house in Auvers-sur-Oise outside the city. He was an art lover, being an amateur artist, an art collector, and a friend of many artists, one of them being the Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh. Gachet and Van Gogh only knew each other for a couple of months, from 20 May 1890 when Van Gogh arrived to stay in a lodging house in Auvers, to 27 July 1890, when he shot himself. Van Gogh, suffering from a form of mania, was producing one painting a day at that time, but, with Gachet’s help, was able to draw this etched portrait to be printed on Gachet’s printing press, probably after Sunday lunch at Gachet’s house on 15 June 1890. Gachet’s moist-eyed portrayal reflects Van Gogh’s impression that Gachet was “sicker than I am”, but it could in turn result from the fact that the sitter was looking at the artist and contemplating his lamentable mental state. This impression of the print was bought by Henry S. Wellcome from Gachet’s son, Paul Louis Gachet, in 1927, together with many other items of Gachet personalia. The cat in the bottom margin is the stamp certifying the print’s provenance from Paul-Louis Gachet.
It is a fascinating image resource although you may find, as I did, some of it is a bit creepy, e.g., the tattoo section brought up images of tattoos on excised human skin amongst the paintings of tattooed individuals and images of patterns used in tattoos.
I’m impressed that the UK’s Minister for Universities and Science is busy talking and writing about the importance of science writing. Here’s an excerpt from Willetts’ Oct. 27, 2011 posting on the Guardian science blogs website,
Meeting the finalists of the Medical Research Council’s [MRC] Max Perutz Science Writing Award recently, I was reminded of the important role of science writing. The ability of science and evidence to transcend tribal loyalties – meeting John Rawls’s test of public reason – make them vital elements of rational discourse in a modern society.
The MRC’s prize and others like the Wellcome Trust’s science writing prize demonstrate that research funders agree. Science writing is all about making information and evidence available and accessible.
Historically, we have relied on a small number of journalists and editors to decide what is important, what is true. Now we have a much greater choice. Each of us is able to choose only the sources we want to hear from. If that means people with whom we already agree, do we risk losing the important function that traditional media have played in challenging our views or preconceptions?
People will differentiate between the many voices, in part on the basis of whom they consider authoritative, who is easy to find and who has been recommended by peers. Both authority and presence can be imparted to an author by the name of the host under whose banner the article is published, a job title, or an excellent track record. That is as true online as anywhere else and, of course, trust is earned slowly and lost quickly.
Independent scientists are consistently rated as well trusted sources of information. But will that hold true throughout a crisis if the major source of reporting is from within a community under scrutiny? Is merely checking copy a threat to “the sort of science journalism that everyone claims they want to see”?
With the trend for more and more online, self-generated material, organisations do have much more control over some of the information available about them. But how is this material produced and by whom? How does a research institute manage its messages if all of its researchers are potential mouthpieces? And what is the interaction between different types of coverage? Is a tweet or blog written for peers, the public, journalists, or all of the above?
I wonder if Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of State (Science and Technology) could be persuaded to post here as a guest? I suspect not.
In any event, David Willetts has spoken previously on the importance of science writing at May 24, 2011 event. From the article by George Wigmore for the Association of British Science Writers on the events page,
Speaking at City University on Tuesday (24 May), David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, talked about the importance of science writing and public engagement.
Describing science journalists as “custodians of empiricism”, and science writers as “more GPs than hospital consultants”. The minister also described parallels between the jobs of science journalist and politician. He went on to describe the pressures that science journalists are under, including “the sheer pressure of time” and the tension “between the scientists doing the primary research, and the newsroom with its demands for a useable story with a vivid headline.”
Touching on a range of issues, including balance and open-access, Willetts stressed the government’s contributions to science writing and engagement. In particular, he mentioned libel reform, transparency, and financial support for institutions such as Science Media Centre.
“Science writing matters,” said Willetts. “It’s about making information and evidence available and accessible. It’s crucial in the public discourse.”
The article page hosts a video of the speech (approximately 55 mins.) and, of course, you can read the rest of the article.
In his posting on the Guardian Science blogs website, Willetts mentions a government initiative, the Online Media Group for Science (from their About page),
Over the next few months we’ll be posing a series of case studies on this site for discussion. They will explore how different people and organisations use online media as they communicate science to a range of audiences. The case studies are intended to be honest and interesting examples of how people and organisations have used online media; what has or hasn’t worked and why. We’re really grateful to the contributors for writing them so honestly.
We’re not intending to create a comprehensive list of what’s out there but the case studies will draw on the experiences of journalists, press officers, science communicators and many others. Rather than defining these familiar roles in an online context, or providing hard and fast rules about how you should use online media, we hope discussions here will help you think about the tools that exist and how they can be used to achieve your aims – whatever they are.
So please take part in the discussion, nominate someone else who you’d like to hear from, share stuff with colleagues or even submit your own case study!
I spotted four case studies from Research Councils UK (RCUK), Guardian News and Media, Wellcome Trust, and Ideas Lab, respectively. Here’s a paragraph from each,
Research Councils UK:
The website has origins in another age, when it was OK to use it as one big electronic document store. Even this, if done well, would perhaps have been fine, but now it is so huge that it is just unwieldy.
Guardian News and Media:
What *don’t* we use? We publish things to our website using a homegrown CMS, which also includes our blogging platform. But we use a variety of other sites and services, too. Twitter is an important way for staff to engage with (and contribute to) communities of interest – we have about 50 official accounts (like @guardiannews, @guardianfilm etc) and well over 500 individual staff members with Twitter accounts. We also use Flickr to publish photos by staff photographers and engage with photography-loving communities, and have a number of fan pages on Facebook. You can also find us at guardian.tumblr.com, where we curate interesting snippets from the day’s news.
I can’t comment on how much we spend, but we have a communications team of about 40 people that encompasses Editorial, Media Office, Web, Design and Marketing. Together we produce our print and online communications. We have to support the infrastructure to run our websites but beyond this our channels, such as the blog, are run on free services and the main resource is employee time.
We don’t have a written strategy for their [website, Twitter, Facebook, podcasting, & online video) use, but we do work to some unwritten rules:
Lo- to-no budget for online (excluding staff time).
Having a limited amount of publicly available information. Our online materials are there to encourage communication with us on the phone or face to face.
Keeping podcasts and tweets frequent and regular.
Keeping all communication very targeted – having a fixed maximum length for podcasts, and no off-topic/general Tweets.
Sharing content with third party sites where possible – letting others post our video and podcasts on their sites if they would like to.
Cross-promoting everything (such as having our Twitter name on our email signatures).
Keeping at it – even if something isn’t fantastic, just doing it regularly and building up a catalogue can pay off. It’s sometimes about quantity as well as quality.
One of these days I’ll have to go back for a longer look.