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May 15, 2007

Could Anti-Radiation Drug Protect Us On Earth…And Mars?

Posted by in categories: biological, space

If humanity ever meets lifeforms beyond Earth (or discovers our solitude in our galaxy) one thing will be sure–galactic historians will remark how interesting it must have been living in the nuclear age that “we now enjoy” (assuming we survive of course).

Speaking of nuclear, it seems that some scientists are utilizing a new drug that is showing major promises of fighting against radiation exposure, ensuring that victims not only survive, but remain “semi-healthy” as well.

(Space War) But now researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report they have developed an agent that protects cells from the lethal effects of radiation, regardless of whether it is given before or after exposure.

Using this agent in mice, the investigators found that the treatment helped shield rapidly dividing cells that are most vulnerable to radiation-induced death, providing proof in principle that it is possible to fend off radiation damage, according to a study published in the April issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

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May 4, 2007

US flu control strategy flaws and suggested improvements

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks

In a report to be published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Computational Biology and currently available online, Sally Blower, a professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and Romulus Breban and Raffaele Vardavas, postdoctoral fellows in Blower’s research group, used novel mathematical modeling techniques to predict that current health policy — based on voluntary vaccinations — is not adequate to control severe flu epidemics and pandemics unless vaccination programs offer incentives to individuals.

According to the researchers, the severity of such a health crisis could be reduced if programs were to provide several years of free vaccinations to individuals who pay for only one year. Interestingly, however, some incentive programs could have the opposite effect. Providing free vaccinations for entire families, for example, could actually increase the frequency of severe epidemics. This is because when the head of the household makes a choice — flu shots or no flu shots — on behalf of all the other household members, there is no individual decision-making, and adaptability is decreased.

While other models have determined what proportion of the population would need to be vaccinated in order to prevent a pandemic, none of these models have shown whether this critical coverage can actually be reached. What has been missing, according to Blower, a mathematical and evolutionary biologist, is the human factor.

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Apr 11, 2007

Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World

Posted by in categories: geopolitics, sustainability

The Oxford Research Group has published “Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World”. The report focus on the disproportionate attention given to terrorism compared to the imminent threat from environmental degradation. The report looks at climate change, competition over resources, “marginalisation of the majority world” and global militarisation.

Read the entire report here.

Apr 10, 2007

More advice on best actions to survive a nearby nuclear blast

Posted by in categories: existential risks, military, nuclear weapons

Carnegie Mellon researchers Keith Florig and Baruch Fischhoff offer simple, practical advice: on whether it is worth citizens’ time to stock supplies needed for a home shelter, how urgently should one seek shelter following a nearby nuclear detonation, and how long should survivors remain in a shelter after the radioactive dust settles.


“A number of emergency-management organizations recommend that people stock their homes with a couple dozen categories of emergency supplies,” said Florig of Carnegie Mellon’s engineering and public policy department. “We calculated that it would cost about $240 per year for a typical family to maintain such a stock, including the value of storage space and the time needed to tend to it.”

Their research also suggests that many families who could afford to follow the stocking guidelines might think twice about whether the investment was really worth it, given the low probability that stocked supplies would actually be used in a nuclear emergency.

They advocate simple rules for minimizing risk based on how far people are from the blast. If you are within several miles of the blast, there will be no time to flee and you will have only minutes to seek shelter. If you are 10 miles [downwind] from the blast, you will have 15 to 60 minutes to find shelter, but not enough time to reliably flee the area before the fallout arrives,” said Florig.

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Apr 2, 2007

Decisive, immediate action can reduce Pandemic Deaths

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks, lifeboat

Cities that quickly closed schools and discouraged public gatherings had fewer deaths from the great flu pandemic in 1918 than cities that did not, researchers reported on Monday. Experts agree that a pandemic of some virus, most likely influenza, is almost 100 percent certain. What is not certain is when it will strike and which virus it will be.

In Kansas City, no more than 20 people could attend weddings or funerals. New York mandated staggered shifts at factories. In Seattle, the mayor told people to wear face masks.

No single action worked on its own, the researchers found, it was the combination of measures that saved lives. Peak death rates can be 50% to eight times lower. St. Louis authorities introduced “a broad series of measures designed to promote social distancing” as soon as flu showed up. Philadelphia downplayed the 1918 flu.

Philadelphia ended up with a peak death rate of 257 people per 100,000 population per week. St. Louis had just 31 per 100,000 at the peak.

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Mar 29, 2007

Lifeboat Foundation Site Redesign

Posted by in category: lifeboat

Here at the Lifeboat Foundation, we are pondering a website redesign. Are there any professional web designers in the audience who might be able to devote some evening/weekend time to brainstorming possible improvements and implementing them? If so, please get in contact with me via email.

Here is a small banner to put on your site if you want to link to us:

And one more:

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Mar 29, 2007

Rehearsing the Future

Posted by in category: futurism

Never underestimate the power of a “do-over.”

Video gamers know exactly what I’m talking about: the ability to face a challenge over and over again, in most cases with a “reset” of the environment to the initial conditions of the fight (or trap, or puzzle, etc.). With a consistent situation and setting, the player is able to experiment with different strategies. Typically, the player will find the approach that works, succeed, then move on to the next challenge; occasionally, the player will try different winning strategies in order to find the one with the best results, putting the player in a better position to meet the next obstacle.

Real life, of course, doesn’t have do-overs. But one of the fascinating results of the increasing sophistication of virtual world and game environments is their ability to serve as proxies for the real world, allowing users to practice tasks and ideas in a sufficiently realistic setting that the results provide useful real life lessons. This capability is based upon virtual worlds being interactive systems, where one’s actions have consequences; these consequences, in turn, require new choices. The utility of the virtual world as a rehearsal system is dependent upon the plausibility of the underlying model of reality, but even simplified systems can elicit new insights.

The classic example of this is Sim City (which I’ve written about at length before), but with the so-called “serious games” movement, we’re seeing the overlap of gaming and rehearsal become increasingly common.

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Mar 28, 2007

Dr. Vinge: We Must Reduce Launch Costs Now

Posted by in category: space

Mathematician and science fiction author Vernor Vinge, who coined the term “Singularity”, is an advocate of the Lifeboat Foundation’s mission: get some people off the Earth and get them self-sustaining as soon as possible, as an insurance policy against existential risk. In his “What if the Singularity does not happen?” talk for the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, Vinge calls the continuing pursuit of space under current-day launch costs as a “sham”:

Well, launch to LEO still runs $5000 to $10000/kg. As far as I can tell, the new Vision for Space Exploration will maintain these costs. This approach made some sense in 1970, when we were just beginning and when initial surveys of the problems and applications were worth almost any expense. Now, in the early 21st century, these launch costs make talk of humans-in-space a doubly gold-plated sham:

    • First, because of the pitiful limitations on delivered payloads, except at prices that are politically impossible (or are deniable promises about future plans).
    • Second, because with these launch costs, the payloads must be enormously more reliable and compact than commercial off-the-shelf hardware — and therefore enormously expensive in their own right.

I believe most people have great sympathy and enthusiasm for humans-in-space. They really “get” the big picture. Unfortunately, their sympathy and enthusiasm has been abused.

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Mar 27, 2007

United Kingdom Destroys “Legacy” Chemical Weapons Stock

Posted by in category: chemistry

Via the Global Security Newswire:

WASHINGTON — The United Kingdom announced today that it had finished destroying thousands of decades-old chemical weapons (see GSN, June 6, 2002).

The elimination of the last known “legacy” munitions containing agents such as sulfur mustard and phosgene is in keeping with the nation’s obligations under the Chemical Weapon Convention, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

The British military began using chemical weapons in World War I, and maintained an offensive program until 1956. The Porton Down research facility was already regularly destroying weapons when the treaty entered into force in the United Kingdom in 1997. A total of 7,000 munitions have been destroyed since 1989, with work ending on March 7.

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Mar 27, 2007

China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US most vulnerable to asteroids

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, existential risks, lifeboat, space

Using maps of population density, the researchers charted the places likely to suffer the most casualties from asteroids. As might be expected, countries with large coastal populations turned out to be most vulnerable, with China, Indonesia, India, Japan and the US in the top five spots.

The team focused on smaller asteroids because they hit the Earth more frequently. An asteroid a few hundred metres across hits the planet about once every 10,000 years, on average, while those larger than 1 kilometre hit only every 100,000 years or so. Small asteroids are also harder to spot. They considered a range of impact energies corresponding to asteroids between 100 and 500 metres across, striking with typical solar system speeds of about 20,000 kilometres per second.


Simulations show the asteroid impact locations that would produce the most casualties in red. The Pacific coast of Asia is a particularly deadly place for an asteroid to strike because of tsunamis, while a direct strike on some densely populated inland areas could also cause a heavy toll (Illustration: Nick Bailey et al/University of Southampton)

The US faced the worst potential economic losses, since it has a lot of infrastructure on coastlines facing two different oceans. China was second, followed by Sweden, Canada, and Japan.

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