This post is an update of my previous discussion about breaching this lake.
After 20 years of drilling, Russian scientists are about to break through 4km of Antarctic ice to reach 20 million year old Lake Vostok. Who knows what they’ll find there, but I just hope they don’t contaminate this valuable and pristine ecosystem (if anything is alive down there). And they don’t bring back something right out of a H.P. Lovecraft novel.
Erin Brockovich is really getting involved with the cluster of alleged neurological issues in teenagers in the Leroy, NY area. The article describes the symptoms as “Tourette’s-like”, but I’m troubled by the lack of a definitive description (let alone diagnosis). Brockovich, as discussed previously, is still focused on the 1970’s train derailment which spilled arsenic and tricholorethylene. The speculation about what is causing these issues run from mass hysteria, even outright feigned behavior, to something environmental, such as vaccines or chemicals.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on. I am almost certain that during the next few days or weeks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will get involved, interviewing and testing the students, and trying to determine if there is some correlation and possible causal factor. We probably should wait until the real scientists get involved and provide some real analysis with evidence.
I keep running into this story in various locations on the internet. During the past few months, 15 teenagers, mostly students at LeRoy (NY) High School just outside of Rochester, NY, reported neurological symptoms that resemble Tourette’s Syndrome.
The school district has reported that there are no known environmental issues in the air and water. Given very strict privacy laws, we don’t know if there’s some other medical link (like HPV vaccine). Of course, if HPV vaccine or some other pharmaceutical were involved, it would be very curious that only a small, rural, upstate New York town would be involved.
Right now, there is no evidence that points in any direction. If you hear that it’s vaccines, you may as well blame alien abduction, because there’s no evidence for that either. Everything is just speculation.
An interesting article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences correlates the La Niña conditions in the equatorial area of the Pacific with flu pandemics. The authors propose that the La Niña conditions (which upwell colder water to the surface, changes migration patterns of migratory birds. Since birds are one host for the influenza virus, these changed migration patterns may change how the birds interact with other species moving new influenza subtypes into different parts of the world.
We are, however, a long way from predicting a pandemic based upon a La Niña event. Right now, the authors can only correlate pandemics and the Pacific circulation patterns in just four cases: the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Asian Flu of 1957, The Hong Kong Flu of 1958, and the Swine Flu of 2009. It’s hard to make a case for causality based on these four data points, but the authors do lay out a compelling argument.
Whenever I critique a correlation vs. causation argument, I first determine if the causality is even possible. I often make the argument that MMR vaccinations cause broken arms in 12-16 year old girls, because a small, but significant proportion of kids being vaccinated get broken arms (or car wrecks, gastroenteritis, an itchy nose, and angry comments to their parents). However, there is no physiological, biological, or scientific reason why a broken arm might result from a vaccination.
In this article, the authors do make a scientifically plausible case that avian migration patterns do change in La Niña events, so they are on the path to providing outstanding evidence to support this hypothesis.
The Grand Canyon, along with Yellowstone and Yosemite, are America’s natural wonders, and should be protected. Mining is so brutal to the scenery and uranium contamination so toxic, it is clear that this is a good move on the part of the Obama administration.