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Joel Eissenberg



Articles by Joel Eissenberg

Vaccination works

16 hours ago

Other than among Jehovah’s Witnesses, vaccination rightly gained widespread trust and acceptance in America. Innoculation against smallpox was around for hundreds of years before Jenner described the eponymous vaccine. Polio was a scourge in the US through the 1950s until it was virtually eliminated by vaccination. Many deadly diseases like whooping cough and measles were all but elimated in my lifetime through vaccination.Now, thanks to rank politicization, COVID vaccination rates are way down and measles vaccination rates are falling. While I respect personal freedom, your freedom ends where my nose (and life) begins. Viruses don’t respect politics, and measles is one of the most contagious viral pathogens:“Measles is one of the most contagious

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Just askin’ questions in Utah

2 days ago

In January, the governor of Utah signed the “Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act.” The law sets up a process for the state to overrule or otherwise ignore federal rules and decisions.For now, the law is just performative right-wing Republican bafflegab. While it appears to set up a challenge to the US Constitution’s “Supremacy Clause,” Governor Sandall denies this:“Our attorneys have indicated to me that the process that’s in place is constitutional,” he said. “It doesn’t have a constitutional (issue) simply because it’s a process. Any kind of resolution may or may not be deemed constitutional.”Of course, the Constitution only means what the SCOTUS says it means.It remains to be seen whether Utah has the testicularity to actually defy federal law. For

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The end of IVF in Alabama?

3 days ago

One of the corollaries to the “life begins at conception” view is that all zygotes created by in vitro fertilization are fully human, so their deliberate destruction is ipso facto murder. This would effectively end IVF, since most zygotes will never be implanted. So sayeth the Alabama Supreme Court:“An embryo created through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is a child protected by Alabama’s wrongful death act and the Alabama Constitution, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Friday.“In a case originating from Mobile, LePage v. Mobile Infirmary Clinic, Inc., the Supreme Court held in a 7-2 decision that parents of frozen embryos killed at an IVF clinic when an intruder tampered with an IVF freezer may proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic

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Review of Beyond the wall: A history of East Germany by Katja Hoyer

9 days ago

I first met my friend Gunter at a scientific meeting on the Greek Island of Crete in 1986. He was from East Germany. I knew his published work at the time, and when I shared my unpublished data, he agreed to send me some Drosophila stocks that would advance my research.At the meeting, he and the other scientists from behind the “iron curtain” had no western currency, so as to discourage defections. Collections were taken up for them among the western attendees to allow them to join the rest of us in the nearby town of Chania for an evening meal.In the 1990s, Gunter hosted me for three visits in his hometown of Halle. By then, the Berlin Wall had fallen and Gunter had traded in his Trabant for a BMW. I returned the favor by hosting him for a seminar in

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Fusion power won’t save us

11 days ago

“Using the Joint European Torus (JET) — a huge, donut-shaped machine known as a tokamak — the scientists sustained a record 69 megajoules of fusion energy for five seconds, using just 0.2 milligrams of fuel. That’s enough to power roughly 12,000 households for the same amount of time.”Progress, yes, but incremental.“And myriad challenges remain. Khan points out that the team used more energy to carry out the experiment than it generated, for example.”The promise of fusion is “limitless energy.” If there’s net energy consumption, that’s not limitless. It’s not even commercializable.“The record was announced the same day that the European Union’s climate and weather monitoring service, Copernicus, confirmed that the world has breached a global warming

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Is the genome a “blueprint for life?”

12 days ago

Not all genes, their mutations, and the conditions caused by those mutations are overwhelmingly complex. We’ve known for decades that sickle cell disease is caused by a specific nucleotide change at a specific position in the human adult beta globin gene, and we can predict the consequences to a patient with the disease to a high degree of accuracy. The fact that there are so many CRISPR trials underway now is testament to the clarity of our understanding of the target genes.Yes, there’s a lot we don’t know about human genes. Some of that is because ethically we can’t do the experiments necessary to test hypotheses. But yeast, bacteria and viruses also have genes and we know a great deal about those genes and the pathways they subserve. This book seems

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Why does the GOP hate capitalism?

13 days ago

From a comment thread over at jabberwocking.com:“The walls are more a sign of desperation than power. A better way is to fix Central America so there is a larger buffer between the US and the problems in South America. Fixing includes making conditions in the continent prosperous enough for all that we don’t have hordes desperately attempting dangerous journeys.”Exactly. Walls don’t work. But the GOP would rather spend billions on futility than spend it on foreign aid to stem economic and political migrants/refugees in the first place. Never mind that most foreign aid also creates jobs in America. Why doesn’t the GOP trust American capitalism?
Tags: Foreign aid, The border

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What’s holding back Alzheimer Disease therapy?

18 days ago

My dad died a few years ago with dementia. The diagnosis was Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia (FTD), based on a psychiatric evaluation and brain imaging. After he died, we had a brain autopsy done, which returned a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. So which was it? As far as I know, it could be both. But what this little anecdote illustrates is the tension between diagnosis of dementia in a living patient and the use of histopathological diagnostic criteria postmortem.The New York Review of Books has a review of “How not to study a disease: The story of Alzheimer’s” by Karl Herrup. The review itself is paywalled, but I’ve attached a link to a summary of the book’s premise by the author. Alzheimer’s disease was first described in 1906, based on a single

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Getting control of the border

24 days ago

The single most significant thing Republicans could do to reduce undocumented immigration is to require E-Verify for all hires and jail employers who don’t use it or who hire in spite of it. Why not use this?“At the same time, ordinary economic migrants could be most effectively dealt with via E-Verify. If you make it hard to hire undocumented workers, they’ll stop coming. The problem is that even immigration hawks tend to downplay this because it might actually work, and that would piss off the business community that wants lots of cheap foreign labor.”Follow the money, peeps.How do we get control of the border?
Tags: E-verify, economic migrants, Southern Border

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Messaging the 2024 election

27 days ago

This post is long and flirts with the 10% fair use limit, but I’ll try to keep under it.Dave Kellogg has a blog post up from a few days ago comparing the messaging of Team Trump vs Team Biden. Read the whole thing, but here are some core points. Kellogg distills the Democratic two-word message to “Save Democracy” and the GOP two-word message to “Save America.”In short: • “Republicans want to save the country, Democrats want to save an idea. Saving the country is infinitely more visceral and motivating.

• “Republicans want to fight crises, Democrats want to fight a man. This positions the Republicans as trying to help the average American and the Democrats as fighting a personal battle.“Logically, the Republican message almost auto-justifies

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Personalized medicine

29 days ago

I went to an optometrist yesterday. Among the various gizmos I was assaulted with was a device that imaged the back of my eye. The doc showed me the images. In addition to my blood vessels, my optic nerves and my macula visible directly, the software also supplies tomography at various position across the field to reveal the thickness of my retina at any position. It was very cool.I had a similar experience with imaging in the dental surgery office when I had my dental implants a few years back. The x-rays immediately showed up on a large monitor, where I could see the details of jaw bone tissue relative to the implant base. Again, very cool.Of course, imaging has been a feature of colonoscopies for many years, but I missed it because I elected to be

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Sports Illustrated RIP

January 21, 2024

I remember reading SI occasionally when I was a kid. I liked the writing and the photos. As a long-distance runner, I was mostly interested in articles on track, cross-country and marathons. I wasn’t interested in ball sports. And don’t get me started on calling auto racing a “sport.”I see where Sports Illustrated is on the ropes. It’s another symptom of the collapse of the dead tree journalism industry. I’ve certainly contributed to that collapse by moving mostly to online news and blogs. Hell, I read most books on my Samsung ereader these days. But I still get the dead tree issues of The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.Is the world poorer without SI? Probably not. Sports is entertainment. The scientific world still needs journals. History

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“On-the-fence voters” are OK with Trump’s contempt

January 20, 2024

According to yesterday’s navel-gazing piece in the Boston Globe*, “on-the-fence” voters are edging to supporting Trump because they feel looked down upon by Democrats. WTF? Do they seriously believe that Trump *doesn’t* look down on his supporters? It is blindingly obvious that the only person on the planet that Trump cares about is Donald Trump. The toolkit of Trump and the Trump GOP consists entirely of cultivating resentment: resentment of American laws, American law enforcement, the American judicial system and anything that will distract his base from the fact that he’s a billionaire under criminal indictments exploiting the very system he’s telling his base is exploiting them.In the polls I’m reading, the American people place the economy at the

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The medium is the message

January 19, 2024

The alleged “appeal” of Ron DiSantis is that he’s “Trump without the baggage.” So why is DiSantis (and Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, the other Trump imitators) doing so poorly? The answer is that the Trumpenproletariat *want* the Trump baggage. To them, that’s his appeal.The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan nailed this decades ago: the medium is the message. Trump is the medium and thus Trump is the message. Anyone else is a different medium and thus cannot be the same message. If you, like me, listen to the actual, you know, content of Trump’s speech and are puzzled, it’s because you don’t understand McLuhan’s point.I had the same problem with Reagan. When I listened to him, he always sounded to me like a genial old fool. After his debates, I

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Is America a racist country?

January 17, 2024

Decades ago, I read a column by Andrew Young, the former Atlanta Mayor and UN representative, in which he wrote that you should never trust anyone who says they aren’t racist. You should say I’m working on my racism.Recently, the former South Carolina governor and current GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley omitted to mention that slavery was a cause of the Civil War (it was *the* cause–see the Cornerstone Document, as just one exhibit). Now, Haley says this: “We’re not a racist country, Brian. We’ve never been a racist country.”As a country, the United States was conceived in chattel slavery. That’s encoded in the Constitution. Those slaves weren’t White, they were Black, and the reason for their enslavement was racist, full stop.Never mind that

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Advances in Parkinson’s research

January 17, 2024

Every day brings new of “breakthroughs” in biomedical research. Most of these are incremental advances, and many you never hear about again because they couldn’t be replicated, failed in early clinical trials, or some other problem.But as described in this link from Wired, I think this could be real progress for Parkinson’s therapy research. While I’ve checked for all the known risk alleles in genes like SNCA, PINK1, LRRK2, PARK7, etc. in my genome sequence and I don’t have ’em, there are sporadic cases that aren’t associated with specific genetic risk. It looks like there are now new tests–one involving cerebrospinal fluid and one scratch-and-sniff test–that predict Parkinson’s years before the pathological symptoms appear. This will impact drug

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Capitalism prevails

January 15, 2024

I’m reading Homelands: A personal history of Europe by Timothy Garton Ash. The book is organized by decades, and the decade of 1980-89 was a historically significant one for Central Europe. By the end of the decade, the “communist” dictatorships in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia had collapsed.Real history resists simplification, but to simplify, the seemingly permanent division of communist East and capitalist West succumbed to the reality that the economic regime of the East was fanciful. It simply couldn’t compete in delivering material goods and innovation. The physical and regulatory barriers separating the two systems were too porous.I’ve thought for years that the reason Castro survived for so long in Cuba was that US

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The People’s State (book review)

January 12, 2024

My friend Gunter grew up in the German Democratic Republic (“East Germany”). He eventually established himself as a professor at the Genetics Institute at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenburg, He first came to my attention through a series of papers he published in the early 1980s that I read as a postdoc. Then, in the summer of 1986, I got to attend a meeting on the Molecular and Developmental Biology of Drosophila, sponsored by the European Molecular Biology Organization on the island of Crete. There, I met Gunter in person, where he shared with me some unpublished data that helped advance my research at the time. He later sent me some useful fly stocks, for which I included him on a publication from my lab.After the wall fell, I visited Halle

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It ain’t over, folks

January 8, 2024

Here we are in a presidential election year, and one of the two major party candidates certain to get the nomination is still claiming the last one was stolen from him. Now, he refers to the criminals who were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison over their Jan 6 crimes as “hostages.” When did the party of “law and order” become the party that attacks the American criminal justice system?“The ongoing Republican defense of the failed coup means January 6th never really ended. Politically we’re still living in an open-ended January 6th. You can see it every time an elected Republican refuses to admit who won the 2020 election, the refusals to admit that Trump attempted a coup and failed. You have to look long and hard to find an elected Republican

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I love predictions

January 1, 2024

As a career research scientist, I’ve made many predictions in my time. It was fun and rewarding to design controlled experiments to test my predictions. And the wonderful thing about science is that, if your prediction is wrong, you learn something new. I don’t make many predictions myself these days. But I’m interested in the predictions of others. Not because I necessarily trust them. But when someone shows their work, you can weigh their judgment going forward.About ten years ago, I was following a blog of a guy I went to high school with. In the comment threads, there were forever these dire predictions of hyperinflation in America around the corner because of the national debt. Of course, they proved wrong, and foreseeably so. People who know

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The future of higher education in America looks bleak.

December 31, 2023

I got my BA from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1977. At the time, the university charged no tuition, but “fees” were about $165/quarter for a full load. Of course, as a state university, it was heavily subsidized by state tax dollars. Quite a feat for a state that has no income tax.The business model for higher education has been changing for a while. Small private colleges are closing or merging because of declining enrollment. State universities are raising in-state tuition as well as out-of-state tuition to compensate for legislature cuts to education, putting a college degree out of reach of many working class learners.For now, higher education in America is a magnet for foreign students, who are willing to pay full tuition. But as

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An honorable Republican

December 30, 2023

I’ve only voted for a Republican once (John Anderson, in a presidential primary in North Carolina), but if I lived in Vermont, I might vote for Republican governor Phil Scott:“Many point to his steady hand during crises, including last summer’s historic flooding and the pandemic, when he appeared in daily, low-key televised briefings to reassure Vermonters and encourage them to take social distancing and mask wearing seriously. Vermont, a sparsely populated state, had the nation’s lowest incidence of COVID and lowest death rate.“Perhaps even more attractive in a state where Democrats and independents outnumber Republicans four to one is Scott’s willingness to buck Republican orthodoxy. He repudiated President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and

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Trump University 2.0

December 27, 2023

Remember the wildly successful Trump University? Me neither.But elect Donald, and he promises to build on that success by stealing the endowments of major universities to create a national diploma mill.Click the link.Trump University 2.0

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Abortion, eugenics and Kate Cox

December 13, 2023

Eugenics is the practice of arranging reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. Setting aside who gets to decide which human traits are desirable and undesirable, we simply don’t know enough about the genetic basis for things like industriousness, fidelity, thrift, honesty and countless other human behaviors to pursue a selective breeding program to enhance the frequency of those qualities in humans.

Eugenics fell into bad odor when it was used as a justification for forced sterilization and killing. People may decide to breed selectively, believing their children will possess qualities they desire, but even if that met the threshold for eugenics, it isn’t coercive. People

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Why vote?

December 6, 2023

On our trip to Colorado for Thanksgiving, the boarding announcements for each flight began with an invitation to active service people and veterans to board first, always followed with “thank you for your service.”People join the military for many reasons. Some out of a sense of patriotism, others because that was the best-paying job they could find at the time. My dad went to OCS and served two years as an officer in the Naval Reserve to avoid the Korean War draft.Many of the houses in my neighborhood have flagpoles in their front yards flying the American flag. Not the defaced versions like the black-and-white flag or the one with one of the white stripes colored blue, but the old fashioned flag we used to have to say the pledge to in elementary and

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You keep using that word . . .

December 5, 2023

In the film, “The Princess Bride,” Wally Shawn repeatedly exclaims “inconceivable.” Finally, Mandy Patinkin (as Inigo Montoya) replies: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”Whenever GOP politicians announce their belief that the age for Social Security and Medicare Benefits should be raised, the mainstream media report this as “reform.” I saw this most recently in a CNN headline “Nikki Haley wants to reform Social Security and Medicare. Donors are paying attention.”Feh. Haley and GOP megadonors aren’t interested in reform, they’re interested in destruction. Read further and you’ll see these programs referred to as “entitlements.” That’s a tell. They want to turn these programs into entitlements so they can shrink

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Basic research and the origins of CRISPR gene editing

December 4, 2023

I’ve always done basic research. I’ve never done any research specifically aimed at a clinical goal. I’ve never patented anything I’ve done. None of that motivated my curiosity. I’ve been a medical school professor for over 36 years and was Principal Investigator on three NIH grants and one from the American Cancer Society, and I never once gave a thought to how my findings would cure disease.There are two types of people in the world: game people and puzzle people. Game people are motivated by winning, by beating others. Puzzle people are motivated by discovering how the pieces of a problem fit together. I’m a puzzle person.I don’t have any personal insight into the motivations of the people who discovered CRISPR, but I do know that it first existed

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CRISPR to the rescue!

December 4, 2023

The Boston Globe has an article announcing the imminent approval of Casgevy, a CRISPR-based treatment for sickle cell disease that has already been approved in Britain.It is hard to overstate how transformative CRISPR has been for genetics research, and how promising it is for gene therapy. Sickle cell disease was always the low-hanging fruit, but there are plenty of other conditions that are being targeted for CRISPR therapy.To explain how Casgevy works, it’s first important to understand what sickle cell disease is:Sickle cell disease is caused by a specific mutation in the human beta globin protein, part of the hemoglobin protein that carries oxygen in our blood. It persons who carry the sickle cell mutation in both beta globin gene copies, their

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My turn in the barrel

December 1, 2023

In August 2020, I got my first jab of the Moderna COVID vaccine as part of their Phase III trial. One month later, I got the booster. 12 hrs after that, I had the classic symptoms–headache, fever, muscle and joint pain–indicating that I was in the vaccine arm of the trial and not the control. I went on to get a blood draw and have myself tested to confirm the inference. Since then, I’ve had three additional jabs, most recently about three weeks ago. I’ve been pretty assiduous about social distancing.Last night, I slept fitfully with congestion and a mild cough. No fever or headache, but that may be because I took an ibuprofen. Since I was scheduled for a dental checkup, I tested myself with a home kit and came up mildly but unambiguously positive. So

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Comparing energy efficiency of boiling water: household appliances

November 26, 2023

Comparing energy efficiency of boiling water: household appliances

Michael D. Eissenberg, BSME, PE, Leed AP*, and Joel C. Eissenberg, Ph.D.*

*co-corresponding authors

Abstract

Kitchen appliances use various mechanisms to heat, with differences in energy sources and geometry. The goal of this study was to compare energy efficiency across common household appliances. To facilitate comparison, 1 L of water was used as the heating substrate and onset of boiling was chosen as the endpoint. In this comparison, heating in an electric kettle proved to be the most energy efficient, and heating in a pot on a gas cooktop was the least energy efficient. In most cases, a closed cover added to the efficiency.

IntroductionWith the proliferation of

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