Mosquitoes, diseases and the “natural” delusion

Mosquitoes have always been a major problem in the tropical regions. There are few things as unpleasant as a mosquito bite. That, however, is nothing compared to the very real threat mosquitoes pose to humans as disease vectors. Mosquitoes are known to be carriers of a variety of diseases such as malaria, dengue, filariasis and chikungunya, among others.  Zika , a viral disease spread by mosquito bites, that otherwise presents very mild symptoms, has of late become another reason for major concern worldwide. It has been found that the virus that causes the disease can be sexually transmitted, and that if a pregnant woman has zika, her child is very likely to be born with microcephaly and neurological problems that may lead to severe mental and physical handicaps or even death. And the virus, which was confined mainly to certain parts of Africa and Asia in the past, saw an outbreak in Brazil recently, and has since been spreading worldwide, because the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus are spreading, with a little help from their human friends. It is important, then, to stop the mosquitoes from doing any harm, and steps have to be taken to prevent them from spreading. Continue reading “Mosquitoes, diseases and the “natural” delusion”

“Magnetic Hill”, media and science

A short promotional video I came across yesterday claims that the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, India generates a strong magnetic field that pulls cars, bikes or “anything made of metal” with their ignition off towards it. It claims that even airplanes feel the effect of its strong magnetic field when they fly over it. Even the site I linked to has this to say:

The Magnetic hill, located close to Leh, is known for its wonderful magnetic properties…..Not only vehicle, even helicopters and aircrafts feel the same magnetic impact. Locals and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel claim that the helicopters and aircrafts that pass through the area have to fly at a greater speed to avoid the magnetic impact of the Magnetic hill. And if the aircraft comes within the radius of Magnetic Hill, it starts to jerk…..The drivers will inform you that Indian Air Force pilots always steer clear of the Magnetic Hill.

You could complain about how weakly the tourism pitch for such a wonderful, seemingly unique natural phenomenon has been made on the website. But it is difficult not to be amazed or even amused at how the vehicles seem to move against the slope towards the “Magnetic Hill,” apparently because of its rather strong magnetic field and because the vehicles are made of parts that contain ferromagnetic material. That is something we don’t often encounter in our daily life, if at all. No wonder such a place is a tourist attraction. But one question naturally arises: what causes the “Magnetic Hill” to have such a strong magnetic field? Rather, since magnetic fields can be directly measured, how strong is the magnetic field at the Magnetic Hill? Continue reading ““Magnetic Hill”, media and science”

Evolution and challenges to its understanding

I came across a rather amusing article in Scientific American today, entitled Creationism Invades Europe. It sounds rather ominous, but I think the first paragraph from the article itself will put things in perspective:

“This is outrageous!” Red-faced and visibly agitated, the 60-something was darting toward a hyperrealistic silicone reconstruction of Lucy, the world-famous, 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis. After a highly confused couple of minutes it emerged that the man was operating within a 6,000-year biblical time frame. But he did not object to the evolutionary age of Lucy. He objected to her nakedness. “You have to cover her up! It’s almost as bad as going to the beach!”

I thought it felt good to go to the beach? The waves splashing on you, the sand (making sandcastles if you are young/talented enough), the sun in all its glory (unless it’s a rainy and murky day), beach volleyball etc. But anyway, I digress. This is a well-clothed Creationist in Europe talking. Who believes that humans were created out of God’s magic fart (not exactly, of course) one fine morning just about 6000 years ago. God’s creations also include all the fossils and bones, which a variety of dating methods have shown to be hundreds of thousands of years old, many showing clear signs of following evolutionary trends. God created them for whatever reason. But because Lucy, evolutionarily one of the earliest hominids and ancestresses of humans, could not be so because a reconstructed model of hers was totally naked! Apparently the gentleman forgot to remember that people don’t exactly take birth in their diapers. Nor do certain feral children who had grown up in the wild automatically learn the social importance of clothing. Continue reading “Evolution and challenges to its understanding”

The bitter truth of sweet hearts, economy and regulation

We have frequently heard about how high sugar consumption in our daily diets is a risk factor for type II diabetes. The message is sometimes interpreted by many to mean that eating too much sugar will necessarily lead to type II diabetes, which is not true. Genetics plays a significant role in disease, and diabetes is no different. It’s a combination of genetics and lifestyle that affects pathogenesis as far as diabetes in concerned. Apart from sugar consumption, overall calorie consumption and amount of daily activity are important lifestyle factors. However, there is a definitive relationship between sugar consumption and type II diabetes in populations where risk for diabetes is moderate to high, and an individual cannot know the exact odds that they will develop type II diabetes, so it’s a good idea to have a balanced, sugar and calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise to keep the odds as low as possible. We are also usually told that excessive consumption of sweet food is bad for the teeth, because it attracts bacteria that might cause tooth decay. One warning we hear less commonly is that binging on sugar might lead to cardiovascular disease. While it’s true that there isn’t a great deal of information that can tell us to what extent sugar consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease and it’s still a matter of debate and further research, evidence from rather recent research has consistently pointed towards a positive association. And the reason why the evidence has been rather recent is, well, the sugar industry, a recent article published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests.

Continue reading “The bitter truth of sweet hearts, economy and regulation”