Granddaughter’s fifth birthday approaches. I have decided to get her a microscope. Well, I have been forbidden to buy her a crossbow, sword or power tools so it’s the next best thing. She’s very keen on child level ‘science lab’ stuff and I feel we’re going to need some real scientists in the future. The real ones we have left are being gradually pushed out in favour of the new breed of antiscientist. I won’t buy her a chemistry set, the modern ones are crap. I’ll make one for her myself.
Grandson will turn three later in the year. I know he’d love some dynamite but I bet that’ll be on the ‘no’ list too. I’ll have to think of something else. Maybe a motorbike. Ooo, I see they make child sized backhoe diggers…
Back to antiscience. I have noticed a marked rise in the lunacy of humanity of late. Oh sure, we’ve always had those madmen and eccentrics but they seem to be rapidly increasing in number and noise. There has been a Flat Earth Society for as long as I can remember but we’d just ignore them and let them get on with it. The contortions of logic required to explain why the southern hemisphere sees completely different stars to the northern hemisphere, for example, are most entertaining.
Yet now, there are those who claim that Antarctica is an ‘ice wall’ surrounding the flat earth (with no explanation of how someone can traverse Antarctica and still be on the same planet). They claim Mars is just another world beyond the ice wall, and not actually orbiting the Sun as our telescopes and even naked eye observations have made clear for really quite some time. It has expanded well beyond the old ‘turtles all the way down’ line and its proponents are really quite vociferous.
The ancient Greeks worked out that the world was a globe and made a remarkably accurate estimate of its diameter. Yet the flat earth idea isn’t just still around, it’s getting stronger. Is there something in it?
Anyway. Back to microscopes. I can’t give my granddaughter my ex-lab one, it’s a bit overcomplex for a five year old and it takes a lot of practice to use the 1000x oil immersion lens without driving it right through the slide. I have seen many ‘toy’ ones claiming 1200x magnification. It’s impossible to get to that level in air, you need an oil immersion lens to get the right refractive index so that your focus point is actually in front of the lens (and still not by very much!) rather than behind it. I certainly don’t believe a microscope priced at £14 can do it. You’d need a couple more zeros behind that number at least.
Besides, her parents are not going to let her cultivate bacteria to examine with it. All the stuff to do that is in my garage… give her a few years of growth first ;D
So, she’s likely to start with leaves, insects… probably around 200x would be fine as a starting point. 500x and she’d have a really good view of protozoa, single celled algae like Spirogyra and Chlamydomonas, diatoms, and yeasts. We can come back to the bacteria.
Of course, no light microscope can see a virus – although I think I recall reading about one that was just big enough to see – but most will need an electron microscope. A little out of my budget to buy, and likely to be out of her parents’ budget to run.
There has been a progression in antiscience here too. It started out with people denying that Covid-19 was real. Now that is a definite possibility. It entirely replaced the flu count in a single winter. Could it be simply rebranded flu? There is a very plausible argument that it was. However, it’s not exactly like flu. Its attachment protein – the ‘spike’ – is unlike any seen in any other coronavirus and it really does look as if it was constructed in a lab. So far, I’m going with it being a real virus but a manmade one, not a natural one. More on that another time.
Antiscience claims there are no such things as viruses at all. They are simply bits of waste disposal from cells. So why are there so many types, and why do they infect and kill other cells? Have you ever seen an image of a bacteriophage? These viruses infect bacteria and they have developed a remarkable system for punching through bacterial cell walls. Human viruses only have to get through a fatty membrane but at the scale they live at, the bacteriophage has to get through the equivalent of reinforced concrete. This is not some bag of waste, it’s a complex microstructure.
There really are viruses. People get sick from them all the time. So do animals. And plants. Even bacteria.
Speaking of bacteria, the antiscience now claims that even bacteria are not the cause of disease. We are creeping back to the science before Van Leeuwenhoek developed his first microscopes, when diseases were transmitted by ‘the aether’ and bad smells could make you sick.
If someone has anthrax, you will, 100% of the time, isolate Bacillus anthracis from the infected person. If you isolate and grow Bacillus anthracis (it’s really not that hard) and get it to sporulate (a little harder) and get those spores into a dry powder (very hard to do without infecting yourself) and then shoot that powder at someone… they will get anthrax.
If you have an eye infection you might find a doctor using a UV light on your eye. Why? Because Pseudomonas species are a common cause of eye infections and the nasty ones fluoresce green under UV. So you can be diagnosed in moments and the correct antibiotics prescribed.
Vibrio cholerae is the cause of cholera. Clostridium difficile causes devastating gut infections. You can isolate these from 100% of cases and if you’re especially villainous, you can use them to induce the same disease in healthy people. Some bacteria definitely do cause disease. There’s no getting away from it. Otherwise, why would you worry about Salmonella or Campylobacter in chicken? You want to eat raw chicken? Go ahead, I won’t be joining you.
I have isolated and grown many of these bacteria. I have seen them under the microscope. Heck, I once grew enough Cl. difficile to wipe out most of Aberdeen if I only had a Scwab villian suit and an underground lair. I suppose that’s why I also had massive public indemnity insurance… fortunately I’m retired and not paying for that any more.
If you think viruses are not real… how can you blame Bill Gates for polio outbreaks that were caused by a not-quite-dead polio virus in immunisations in Africa and India? How can you blame Dr. Fauci for gain of function research in viruses that were only in the imagination? Gain of what function, if they didn’t exist in the first place? And what were all those scientists paid to do, play computer games? You can’t have both at once. If viruses aren’t real then all the supposed crimes cannot possibly be real either.
The natural world is real and it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. It’s nasty out there, far nastier than most mollycoddled modern humans can even contemplate. There are parasites that take control of their hosts and drive them to kill themselves so the parasite can complete its life cycle. And not just in insects. There are things that burrow into you and live inside you so you feed it and shed its eggs without ever knowing it’s there. Nature is not some motherly being taking care of its creations. Nature is Thunderdome – you get in, you might not leave.
Humans used to know that, until we separated ourselves and pretended we were the ones tasked with taking care of Nature. Nature gives not a single shit about us, we are just another thing it came up with and like Velociraptor or Tyrannosaurus, if we don’t work out, Nature will move on to the next thing.
The best way for a species to survive is to do what the Coelocanth did. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Stay quiet, stay out of sight and Nature will ignore you. Start trying to take over and boom – you’re gone.
We are not the owners of this planet. No, not even you, Klaus. We are a species that happens to live on it for the moment. Monkeys with fancy toys. Nature has no need of us and absolutely no need of our protection, nor of our ridiculous notion that we have some kind of control over it all. When we are extinct, Earth will move on.
Maybe this is what the cats are waiting for.