Acid burn: how ocean acidity might make climate change worse

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

I was at the University District Farmer’s market this past weekend, thinking about making paella, and so I stopped by the shellfish booth and bought a pound of clams.  As I wandered around, looking for some tomatoes and onions, I swung my canvas bag, now heavy with thick-shelled Manila clams, and thought back to some time I spent in Spain during my first postdoc.  That’s when I learned to make paella.  That’s also where I studied calcification in the green alga Acetabularia acetabulum, which grows thick in the shallows of the waters of the Mediterranean.

Calcification is the process of depositing calcium carbonate along, within or around a biological structure.  It’s an important process in the oceans, contributing to ecological roles like protection via the shells of mollusks like the clams in my bag.  And it’s getting harder to do for ocean creatures to do because the oceans are becoming more acidic. Continue reading

Mulally and Microsoft

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

When news broke on Tuesday that some groups were lobbying for Alan Mulally to get a look as the next CEO of Microsoft, I was pretty positive.  Since then Jon Talton has written a more nuanced and cautionary view of this, suggesting, among other things, that celebrity CEOs are not always able to perform the miracles people are hoping for, and also that the history of CEOs switching fields and succeeding is sketchy.  These are good points, but I still find myself in the Mulally camp for two reasons.

One, in turning around Ford, Mulally demonstrated the ability to do what I think is one of the most important things a CEO can do.  He changed the culture.  To illustrate this let me relate a story that Mulally told at a lunch benefit for Leadership Tomorrow last year (disclosure: I’m on the board of Leadership Tomorrow, and Alan Mulally is one of the more well-known graduates of the program).  He related how when he came to Ford he was introduced to their weekly  status meeting, in which management representatives across the globe phoned in to a telecon for a status report.  And, in familiar corporate fashion, each representative was to indicate, via a green-yellow-red chart, how things were going with his or her domain.  At the first meeting, everything was green.  This from a company that was losing billions.  At that meeting Mulally stressed that what he wanted was the real story, and that no heads would roll because of it. Continue reading

Jeff Bezos is the anti-unbundler or, can the founder of Amazon make us eat our greens?

All opinions are may own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

h/t to @Frank_S_David for tweeting the link.

People have wondered and speculated and analyzed why exactly Jeff Bezos decided to buy the Washington Post.  Late last week Timothy B. Lee of the Washington Post offered some clues.  He reported how Bezos, in remarks to the Post staff, described wanting to get back to “that glorious bundle that the paper did so well.”  What Bezos wants is to find a way to make the Post such a destination that people will choose to visit regularly and not just read individual articles but stay and scan through many, presumably in one sitting, as people used to do as their morning ritual.

Timothy Lee is skeptical and I’ll just briefly summarize his points and urge you to go read his great article for the details.  Lee points out that news distribution has become unbundled due to the influence of the internet.  (For some nice posts on the concept of unbundling see this one by Leigh Drogan and this one by Frank David).  People consume news in individual article-sized chunks, often following links provided by friends and colleagues and search engines, without much loyalty to specific outlets or writers.  Lee also points out that while the Post has excellent writers, they’re still a miniscule fraction of the writers on the internet and most of the best writers are not on the Post’s staff.  Lee uses this as a launching point to talk about the increasingly important skillset of attracting clicks, largely through evocative headlines.  You know, like the one I tried to write for this post.  Did it work?

Jeff Bezos’ ambition is quite interesting on a couple of different levels.  The first is the basic question of why Bezos thinks he can do this?

The answer, I believe, is that he already succeeded once.

Continue reading

What would you want to do with genome sequence data?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

In the same issue of Nature that reported the HeLa sequence and the NIH agreement, Martin Bobrow of the University of Cambridge wrote a column discussing how we as a society choose to balance individual privacy and public good that arises from making data gathered from private samples public.

We are entering a strikingly different period of biological and biomedical research, as a number of different areas of research and technology are reaching a critical point of cross-fertilization.  Moore’s law has resulted in computers of amazing power that can analyze really stupendous amounts of data.  I was at the Seattle Museum of History and Industry recently, and in one of their displays they showed a 1980 IBM PC, and while showing it to my son, I pulled out my smartphone and told him that my phone today is just as powerful as that computer was.  Of course, I was wrong.  My phone is actually about 2.5 orders of magnitude more powerful than that PC. Continue reading

Hanging with the herd, for the immunity of it all

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

When I hear about events such as the recent outbreak of measles among a small group in Texas, I am reminded of how complex, complicated and difficult public health efforts can be. In the US, for example, there are conflicting imperatives:  the rights of people to practice their beliefs versus the right of the community to be protected against preventable health threats.  This particular situation involved members of a church congregation, many of whom had not gotten vaccinated for measles due to worries about a link between autism and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine.  While no scientific evidence has been found to support any such link, many had chosen not to be vaccinated “just in case.”

One day I hope to write about the link between the phenomenon of science denial and personal identity (one perspective can be seen here), but for now I just want to point out how this event and a recent publication by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on rotavirus vaccines demonstrate nicely the concept of herd immunity (article behind paywall, but writeup here).  There are different usage patterns for the term, so I’ll say up front I am using “herd immunity” to describe not just the proportion of individuals within a population who are immunized to a given pathogen but also the indirect effects for non-immunized individuals.  The term was first used in a publication in 1923, by Topley and Wilson, in the context of how to describe the host side of their studies in bacterial infection among mice.  The concept later gained mathematical underpinnings, including formulas describing how the different ratios of vaccinated to nonvaccinated individuals defines the degree of herd immunity depending upon how infectious a disease agent is. Continue reading