Numlock News: May 27, 2020 • Psilocybin, The Blob, Sterile Worms

By Walt Hickey

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The Thin Wormy Line

For a cost of $15 million per year to the United States government, once a week several planes drop 14.7 million sterilized screwworms over the Panama-Colombia border, in what’s generally agreed to be one of the most successful parasitic containment and eradication programs in the world. In the late 1950s, the USDA began to eliminate screwworms — vicious flesh-eating larvae that devour cattle and other living things by entering their bodies through wounds — from the U.S. by introducing sterilized male screwworms en masse. Realizing the U.S.-Mexico border was an onerous 2,000 mile range to police, a deal was struck to carry the front lines of screwworm defense south through Mexico to a more feasibly treatable area. And since then, screwworms have been driven to the Isthmus of Panama, a continental line of defense held by weekly dumps of sterile bugs from planes. The bugs are grown and sterilized to the tune of 20 million a week in labs in Panama. For that $15 million federal investment, American farmers save an adjusted $1.3 billion in losses.

Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

College

For a certain type of private university — undercapitalized, low-margins, a bit of debt — a reality where admittance takes a dip this fall is poised to be catastrophic. Smaller, private colleges like to keep their finances discreet for this reason, but according to outside analyst Edmit, it’s bad. Looking at 937 private universities and estimating a conservative 10 percent in tuition losses in 2020 and 20 percent in 2021, even cutting salaries by 10 percent, 345 private colleges will still be on track to run out of money within six years, an increase of 50 percent compared to the baseline estimate. Last year, 419 colleges were accepting applications after the normal May 1 deadline; this year, that number is 754.

Kevin Carey, The New York Times

Suits

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit gave the green light to San Francisco, Oakland and San Mateo County to pursue lawsuits in state courts against major oil companies concerning their role in climate change. In two cases — Cty. of Oakland v. BP Plc, and Cty. of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp. — the appeals court held that the oil companies hadn’t gone far enough to prove the cases should be thrown out, and this may open the door to more suits against emitters from cities and counties trying to recover funding needed to ameliorate the effects on climate change.

Ellen M. Gilmer, Bloomberg Law

Groups You Should Not Join

An internal 2016 presentation at Facebook stated that 64 percent of the time when someone joined an extremist group on Facebook, it was the result of Facebook’s own recommendation tools, primarily the “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms. The same presentation found that a third of large German political groups on the platform hosted loads of extremist content. Taking action would entail partnering with academics and nonprofits to combat the algorithmic polarization inherent in the product’s design, but that would take work, so obviously it did not happen.

Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman, The Wall Street Journal

Back to School?

A USA Today and Ipsos poll of 505 kindergarten through high school teachers found 18 percent would leave their job if asked to return in person in the fall. Looking at educators aged 55 and up, that figure was 25 percent. Most teachers are of the mind classes will resume in September: 65 percent think it’s very or somewhat likely classes at their school will resume in the fall. A gradual increase was seen very favorably: 69 percent of teachers favored a return where kids would physically go to school two or three days per week.

Emma Coleman, Route Fifty

Magic Mushrooms

Psilocybin, the psychoactive component of psychedelic mushrooms, is entering into mainstream medicine by way of a number of studies about the use of the drug in the treatment of depression, anxiety and PTSD. There is a side effect to medicalization, namely that a drug that grows out of the ground for free and can go for approximately $10 per gram is getting a dose of medical drug pricing. Johns Hopkins researchers working with psilocybin in the lab paid $7,000 to $10,000 per gram for magic mushrooms. Talk about getting ripped off by your dealer. And even if it does pan out, that steep price isn’t going to go down: the market for antidepressants was valued to be $14 billion in 2018 and is projected to grow to $16 billion in three to five years.

Shayla Love, Vice

The Blob 2

Since the 1950s, the fjords of British Columbia have warmed at six times the rate of the rest of the ocean. One reason is the Blob, a marine heatwave that began in the northeast Pacific in 2013 and died in 2016. It stretched from Alaska to California, and its water was about 3 ˚C warmer than usual. But the Blob’s death may have been preliminary; it may not have dissipated, but rather just sank, with the warmer water now 100 meters below the surface, deep enough to make it into the fjords. Based on data from four of the over 50 fjords, the water at around 200 meters down warmed 0.18˚C per decade from 1951 to 2019, a rate six times higher than the average warming at that depth.

Nicola Jones, Hakai Magazine

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