Sunday 23rd of January 2022

ramblings from the top paddock...

top paddock

I had a dream the other night... I was taking a long short-cut through a dry university complex — the cross-bridges of which were too low over the main hot tortuous road — while being on roller-blades, pushing a wheelbarrow full of old bricks.

I had to deviate and skate through yellow grasses and immense plains of shifting sands which demanded a feat of ingenuity. Thus the street cleaners, appreciative of my success, offered me a job as a university lecturer — a lecturer in ... fudge.

I can skate — roller skate and ice-skating at speed — sure... but I must have been fudging all my life...

Unlike a Ducky Rummy who fudged motives for war on Iraq — or unlike the deniers of climate change who don't even bother to study the possibility beyond saying no — by saying I fudge, I mean that I am a can-do person.

I can-do many things, even if I don't know the whatever of what has to be done. I learn on the job and on most occasion perform far better than "experts". I am the trial-and-error method grand-master. Obviously I would not do this caper without some basic skills, a large bank of quirky knowledge and a propensity for sharp analysis — especially when a ton of bricks is about to fall my way.

It's no point being enthusiastic about doing something with hammer and nails when the first and last thing you do is squash your thumb. I am deeply respectful of those people — especially men — who say with confident humble acceptance that they are totally inept at handy things. I feel a genuine gut pity. Poor sods. My hands and my brains are my best tools, whatever is my profession of doing "things"... Artistry is being able to go beyond...

To a great extend, I am highly apprehensive when starting a new project the like of which I've never done before. Mind you I have the same jitters when starting projects I know (and forgotten) the process a hundred times over... There is always some little new niggles that will change the fabrication — including a split-second of inattention that can ruin the result. Some results can look magnificent and perform poorly while an ad-hoc string and duct tape stuff-up will do the job impeccably. I know failures — failures that can lead to glorious success.

I've been lucky. Since early childhood, I have been handy at building things from canoes made of a pea-shell with a matchstick, to constructing huge projects — via making model aeroplanes and blowing up the backyard of a friend with the biggest bangers we could put our hands on... It was called experience...  But even then, I made sure of the "safety factor" (which we called: let's be careful here) — not so much helmets, knee-pads and stuff that did not exist "in my days" but an appreciation of the fact one did not pick up a loose war grenade and launched it to see what would happen. Distance after a quick dash and a rocky outcrop would suffice in the case of the bangers. When using sharp or dangerous tools, we'd made sure we developed a turn of hand that would be the safest. Soon one understands how materials react and how to make things — by just doing it over and over... I have thus a great affinity with that Scrapheap Challenge programme on TV. I am also quite fast at analysing complex systems though I sometimes have to remind myself of basic physics such as aerodynamics and why 600 tonnes of plane can fly.

This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck.

I am rebuilding a website at the moment. It should be reasonably easy but the programme I use has far too many inbuilt original bugs in it. It's the genuine article not a copy of a copy but the great company that created it — along with many other great computer programmes — scrapped that one after a couple of years. I guess It knew it had created a dud... I've got friends who could fiddle with the source-code line by line like I drink water (not much mind you), but there are far too many million annoying bugs for comfort. Buying another program is an option, but it means learning new awkward tricks, new funky functions and spend extra money... Thus I decided to plod through it.

Money is my great weakness. I don't know the value of money. Never did... Thus I leave the fudging of money to the experts and the economists — though I often find them totally inept and confused — more confused than me and less likely to fudge it properly... Most economist have no idea about the derivative market, for example, yet I must say when I do the accounts, I am anal about every cent in every columns... I can add... But this does not mean I know the VALUE of money... See, a sharky currency-trader might change my dollars into pesetas, and half of what I had vanishes overnight... I was listening to an enlightened economist, on Radio National the other day, who with great pomposity and doubly-lengthy words was edging his bets 50/50. Even the dog I don't have can do better tricks. On the money front, consider this: a which-bank shifts nearly a trillion dollars to make a paltry 3 billion half-yearly profit. It's barely 6 per cent per annum... That's outrageous. It should make at least three times that much. But I digress because I'm comparing potatoes with melons ...

I take on challenges: I create my own tricks to counter-act the idiosyncrasies of anything including that blasted difficult programme. It could be a breeze for "experts" mind you... For example I place a slightly smaller picture in a space and then enlarge it to fit, rather that place a bigger one that would repulse everything to smithereens, forcing me to start from scratch again... It's delicate brain surgery in reverse. I WILL make it work, despite. That's the spirit.

It's like my "organic" veggie patch. I try different things. It's a weltering jungle out there and my "permaculture" is only half working. Lots of leaves, some fruit. Reasonable but nothing spectacular. I should read books about "companion planting"... Different plants require different soils and different water requirements. Books (or the net) would tell me about the necessary pH to grow this or that. But I like experimenting for myself and it would mean fiddling with the existing poor soil — probably leaded by years of exhaust fumes in the city air — beyond my addition of natural compost.

I know, some people recommend peeing on citrus trees to double the yield. But I'm lazy after 9 PM and can't see myself, half asleep, entertaining the wildlife at midnight. The spiders are huge and quite numerous, as I do not use any pesticide...

I usually place a time limit on my creative work, including my cartoons. This is derived from my days in technological productions... A certain amount of time is allocated for each step. In creative work when the steps are still undefined, the work relies on the vision of the end-product rather than the processes. Thus in order to avoid muddying the work and accept that the work is completed, I need to place a time limit... beyond this, the work would become "laboured" and demands ten times the effort or a total redo to eliminate the feel and restore "freshness" of original idea and purpose...

It can be complicated. I often get carried away with the didactic aspect of things... I think too much. I see the grey areas too far in advance... I see the pitfalls and the soft edges... For example the cartoon by Moir in the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago was direct, no soft question about, say, is it too one-sided? It is a gem in fast brief rendition that tells about a moment of inattention. In it, a brave gnarly Abbott throws a bucket of slop into the wind and gets most of it back on his face... to which he says : "it happens..." BRILLIANT. Having worked on ships, I know that one never spits into the wind. That's why our arse is at the back... Nature knows these things.

This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck.

And this is where some fellow is annoyed that "faith has disappeared from the public discourse"... to which I would say good riddance...
I find religions oppressive and depressive, apart from finding them also as great organised lying swindles, in whichever flavour they come. Sure some people cannot accept the premise that we live and die and that's it. So we invent the thereafter. I can live, with them believing that... But the constructs of religions and their mantras is a massive brainwash. The prayers and the codes are con-tricks designed to make people submit, bend-over, kneel, arse up in the air... Mind you, a religion like the Catholic Church is elastic with sin and is all forgiving... The Muslim religion, on the other hand, is black and white. Stiff physical penalty shall be given for a benign trespass or even an alleged trespass if someone points the finger at you. Death shall be punishment for a misdemeanour or a non-approved love. Total lack of redemption. No forgiveness... Annoying lack of elasticity... Fear at the extreme... The Jews just banish people in subtle ways for 2000 years, while the Yahweh faithfuls keep banging their head at a sacred wall... All of this religious theatre having nothing to do with humanity on this little planet, but to do with the control of people. Especially in regard to sex, money and slavery.

But I digress... I was on my way to talk about en-ter-tain-ment and global warming... Not pain, death and sins...

While battling the computing programme with ruses and cunning approach, I was watching the 879th re-run of "Some Like it Hot"... No-one can sing yoopidoopeedoo like Marilyn Monroe. No-one can shout "I am a man!" like Jack Lemon — while dressed as a woman with lipstick aka the Joker in Batman, to escape some crazy gangsters — to which his male suitor replies : "no-one's perfect..."

Battling the website idiosyncrasy carried on through the evening... with Adam Hills new program on the ABC...

I have dual screens. My seven year-old computer has had the EYE TV facility for years... with the mod cons like stop, rewind it if you miss something and fast forward to where the program transmission is at... Easy. Great little gadget. Comedy is a good thing and I'm all for it, like Voltaire who may have said something like "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh..."

But as mentioned before, OUR (their) ABC is on a slippery downward slope of puns in the news and en-ter-tain-ment everywhere else. It's (their) ABC new motto. In my book, god can make puns, but the ABC should not...

Channel 7 the other morning took the cake of a pissy discussion on climate change... On one side it appears there was an Irish troll and Prue McSweeny... It's my humble belief that Prue would not have a clue about the science behind global warming but her long held political views prevent her to study it in detail. I am kind in saying this... She is a sweet girl when it comes to rambling about celebrities behaving badly — or goodly — and possibly about some social issues, but when the troll was cleverly taking complete rubbish she nodded in authoritative approval...
That's the power of TV, it can, with a noddy or a silence or a clever grab, demolish a great idea and the grand propriety of a true concept. I mentioned before, Einstein would not have a look-in, in this age of cultivated ignorance for pleasure. Party politics encourage this ignorance by promoting fudgey knowledge, especially on the right hand side where the born-to-rule belief is handed down from gods to sons... That's all we need to know, let's go a-dancing...

The science of global warming is complex and cannot be sustained well by a discussion on "do you believe in global warming" in which the argumentators are given equal time and the science is basically 99.9 per cent behind. Actually the troll seem to have spoken for much longer and one could see the scientist on the other side of the set boiling with silent incredulity at the troll-crap that was presented. It's a bit like discussing do you believe in god, except there is no science to back up the neigh or yeah. It is a question of faith, while the science in general can pull apart all the fanciful religious stories, there is no scientific proof nor is there any faithful proof against or for the existence of god. There are many scientific facts that can prove that religions are idiotic and fanciful, though.

In global warming, the science is solid and furious. Climate behaviour at this point in time is about 20 years ahead of the darkest predictions by computer modelling. 20 years could seem like a very small negligible amount of time in the scheme of the earth's eons. But in the scheme of measuring present "change" it means the change is much faster, towards an increase of 2 degrees C by 2100...

This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck.

There is no linking proof that CO2 is the culprit. But there is a very strong relationship between CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming — in the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and the observation that the increase of CO2 and increase of world temperatures go hand in hand. There is undeniable proof that we, humans, are adding between 1.5 to 2 parts per million of CO2 every year in the atmosphere by "dug-up" carbon-based energy supply. We're actually adding more CO2, but some of it is absorbed by the oceans — making them "acidic".
All this is MEASURABLE. All this is increasing, including disturbances in the atmosphere.

This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck.

More ramblings to come...

(top picture of cows by Gus)

ramblings # 2

I chose the image of "happy" cows at top to illustrate the "past" versus the "super-dairy" of the now-future... Mass protein/fat-production... In England, like in many parts of the world — including Australia — dairy cows have been modernised... That is to say, incarcerated days-on-end in cagey feed-lots that are no more than concentration camps for animals. At the front end, a mixture of whatever food-crap — processed recycled animal parts, GM grains, petroleum products, vitamins, minerals, antibiotics... no grass... — is fed to the beasts while, at the back end, the crap and pee are moved via conveyor belts and pipes to a huge composting cow pat, being turned back into plant-food or more animal food...

It's efficiency to the max so that the price of milk can even come further down, below "not much". At least twice a day, the automated suction teats come and pump the milk out of the udders into big vats... Then the (fat-and-water do mix) liquid is pasteurised, homogenised, powder-ised, sugar-ised, ice-cream-ised, gelatine-ised, de-fat-ised, flavourised, de-naturalised, protein-ised as a gamut of promoted and advertised products to make us buy more of the bloody thing — in far greater quantity than we need... Price of basic milk is "regulated" (capped) by most governments, but the price of "modified" milk is not. Thus producers — I mean the resellers of milk — want you to buy the modified product so they can make a much bigger profit overall and create more cow-camps... The present dollar-a-litre-of-milk war by "super"-markets in Australia is a sorry saga of screwing those who produce the stuff, till they die or shoot themselves...  On the other side is the "happy" cows being unhappy...  I quote:

Leading the protests is Compassion in World Farming. Chief executive Philip Lymbery says the argument over happy cows is disingenuous: "Holsteins are bred to produce high yields and on this uber-scale you are pushing them to their physical limits while denying them access to grazing. The issue is a very large number of cows will be on concrete and sand and denied access to pasture for much of their lives. Cows belong in fields. The price of milk is screwed to the floor, but driving the industry to factory farming and down the lowest price cul-de-sac will not help. You can buy a litre of milk for half the price of a litre of fizzy water and that's clearly not right; the retailers have a part to play here."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/13/super-dairy-cows-lincolnshire-objections
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At least there are still quite a few "happy" dairy cows in Australia roaming the pastures as shown in the picture at top...

Meanwhile some grumpy enlightened baby-boomer tells us that we need to put our thinking skates on:


Don't be blinded by the web. The world is actually stagnating

If we want to step up the pace of invention, there has to be a huge shift in the way we think.

My grandfather grew up in the 1900s in a world of horse-drawn carts and candle-lit houses. In the following 50 years he would live through a series of astonishing transformations – electricity, the motor car, television and radio, the telephone, the refrigerator, the vacuum-cleaner, penicillin and the aeroplane, just to name a few. It was not just these things that made the 20th century what it was. Their production was industrialised. They created huge employment and wealth.

I grew up in the 1960s and have experienced no such parallel transformations. Certainly, over the past 15 years, the mobile phone and internet have changed the way we all communicate. But the world of the early 2010s is recognisably the same as the early 1960s. The technologies have all incrementally advanced but the artefacts of, say, Mad Men are essentially the same, whereas those in, say, Downton Abbey are not. We live broadly as we did 50 years ago.


--------------------

Sure, and the bag-o-fruit is also about 150 years old...

Yes, my granny was born way before planes ever flew. My parents would be edging towards 110 should they have stayed alive... But I would argue here that some of the present technological advancements are quite phenomenal, yet unseen. From the nano world to the maxi world... Some of these are beyond comprehension by mere mortals... Some of these transformations are in the realms of science fiction. Most cannot be seen to be directly applying to our "everyday life" like an instant can-opener, thus they do not appear on the en-ter-tain-ment register, nor on the gadget list nor on the "necessary" to acquire for show off. They're hard yakka to fathom. Much harder to comprehend than global warming. Yet some of these marvels work well off-stage and underpin stuff like new TV screens, mobile phones and GPSs...

The major drawback my friend is that we're still thinking according to a 2000 year-old fairy/gory-tale, in which the jews and the romans had a bit of a hypocritical relationship... Our modern thinking as a whole has not evolved passed that benchmark. It has kept us in the dark ages... We have not even comprehended the full gamut of ancient Greek philosophy let alone grasped Existentialism... The Chinese are trying hard, but they have to suppress the religious crap with unacceptable vigour... In general, we're in a sinking thinking boat, apart from a few scientists who place their binoculars on the real universe, not on our best wishes of what it should be, morally.

And we have unlocked the true secret of life, but our angry religious mentors do not want this to be acknowledged. GM crops and other genetic manipulation could not happen without having busted the secret of DNA. Could we turn a chimp into a human being? There is of course massive hurdles to achieve this feat but "it could be done". The DNA puzzle could not have been solved (yes, it is solved) without reference to EVOLUTION... Our mentors in whatever religious flavours freak out at the sound of that word... At large, we still have to place our skates on our thinking cap to accept the concept of e-vo-lu-tion... But for many grand priests of enslaving morality, it is a hard one to allow, as it demolishes their grand ficticious design of gods, allahs and yawehs.

I quote:

The hope of modern human genetics is to identify the genetic component of common diseases affecting mankind such as hypertension, heart disease, strokes, the dementias and autoimmune diseases.

Mapping of the human genome over the last decade has identified the genetic mutations that cause many simple genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and a small percentage of cancers, such as some breast and bowel cancers.

These rare diseases are very often caused by only one mutation in a gene — either you need only one version of the mutated gene to get the disease (dominant disease) or you require two mutated versions of the gene, one inherited from your mother and the other from your father (recessive disease).

Today, most of the mutated genes causing disease in families have been found. In some cases the identification of the disease gene has led, or will shortly lead to treatment of the disease.


This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck. I am opposed to GM crops because once they're out in the open, there is no way to stop them denaturing nature in ways we cannot fathom yet. Modified genetics for humans can also be a slippery path but this is more controllable than GM canola pollens...
--------------------

But then:

From ELIZABETH FARRELLY

I have an acquaintance who, apart from being a practising professional, successful academic and author of several important books, is a pianist capable of rendering entire Bach cantatas as casually as you or I might plunk out Chopsticks. He also has seven equally accomplished children, an undisclosed number of complex relationships, a flourishing side-career as a magician and a personal presence so intensively entertaining that catching up once every few years is enough.
These days, I imagine, he would be diagnosed with ADHD and medicated into normalcy. And it's this that makes me wonder. Assuredly there are those who benefit from Ritalin, but a fourfold increase in seven years? And five times as many boys as girls, almost all of them pubescent? Surely this should give us pause for thought.

The Ritalin wars are usually treated as just another tussle between the pharmaceutical companies and the rest, but is there something else going on here as well? Is it part of a more generalised, covert war on boyhood?

Thirty years ago Australian primary schools employed five male teachers for every four females. By 2006 there was one male teacher for every four females. This overwhelming feminisation of primary education, and of culture generally, has made boy-type behaviour stuff to frown upon. Are we in danger of seeing boyhood itself as a disorder?


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Yes...  when "we" (I and my old mates — still a few of them around in Yourp) were kids, some of our male tormentors/teachers appeared like sadistic brutes, but that did not stop us from blowing up bangers, burning rubber and scratching our slates with caricatures of them... The classrooms were dark, smelly and old... Desks were solid weathered oak with benches bearing the buff from more than three centuries of butts being educated.

Discipline was tight, penalties were harsh including slaps with wooden rulers. Some of us spent time in the corner of the classroom at the front, facing the wall. Some of us spent time locked-up in the broom cupboard... Of course this "silencing" would be deemed unacceptable now. That's why we drug the kids to the eyeballs with ritalin... May as well give up on the future of half of humanity. The kids can't play anymore without being under a wide-breamed hat with half a bed sheet to cover the back of the neck, on playgrounds where all the sharp edges are covered with foam. No running, no ball games, no fighting otherwise we double the dose. Sheep pharming never had it so good...

"Back in my days", let's not mention the bicycles used to go to school with, that were launched from bridges 20 metres down onto the railway line with a dare to go and fetch... Other tricks included the removal of all the nuts from the "enemy" bicycles and see how far they could pedal without it falling apart... Friendly fighting in the streets was of course less dangerous for the brain and more healthy for the body than playing with an Xbox full of soldiers firing guns in an interminably levellled 3D warfare... At least, came dinner-time, we shook hand and planned the next day's fight.

Thus the good young female teachers despite all the training in the world would not possibly be able to understand the young male psyche roaming the top paddock with pure freedom to engage in a cow-pat fight...


This is not a question of faith. It's a question of knowing when to duck...

I will mention here again the equation that Professor May used to promote the idiosyncracies of Chaos... It relates to the numbers of individuals surviving in a specific environment.

 

equation

 

It's a powerfull equation that explain the limit on the number of individual (based on studies of fish in lakes, made by a scientists in the 1920s) to the size of the space and supply of food. We, humans, stretch the limits by changing the environment. Our next step is to discover how far we can do it without destroying the planet... But the signs of planet destruction are rarely obvious, are complex (such as global warming) and muddled by religious muddle-heads, sociopath politicians and ruthless profiteers... Collapse of environments are not that obvious until THEY COLLAPSE... It is our duty to care better for nature, including its diversity.

This is not a question of faith. It's a question of growing up, scientifically knowingly away from the fairy-tales...

meat for thought...

...

A cow, which, in that context, seemed not the cutesy pet of Old McDonald's Farm but an enormous and dangerously heavy beast, came up a covered ramp and into an enclosed space where a machine pressed down upon it and gripped its head tight. A worker reached over and gently touched its skull with a tool something like an electric drill. A sound of a staple gun firing, and the animal fell, as if its life had been turned off with a switch. Another man ran the edge of a knife along its throat, opening up a huge gushing wound, before the carcass tumbled down rollers onto a platform near the floor, legs splaying and spasming.

At the time, I thought the gun killed each animal, since, when it was pulled back from their skulls, they fell, entirely still. But actually the tool was intended simply to stun, and death came only when the knife split the throat: a two-part process that, some writers suggested, served an important psychological function, since the first man could think of himself only as anaesthetising a live animal, while the second person cut a beast already inert and lifeless. The moral responsibility lay with neither: one stunned and the other bled, but neither actually killed.

The slaughter was halal – the men muttering a prayer each time they wielded the knife – but the process was clinical, scientific, efficient (again, nothing like those images from Indonesia) with the systems so carefully planned and calibrated to allow very little divergence from the approved method. The cows came up the ramp and within minutes they were dead. The slaughter was quick and efficient and by-the-numbers.

'What is truly startling in this mass transition from life to death is the complete neutrality of the act,' wrote one visitor to an abattoir in the forties. 'One does not experience, one does not feel; one merely observes.'

http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2754148.html

nothing to do with cows...

 

It's an old principle of policing - if you can't enforce the laws on the books, demand more laws.

More than 55,000 people in Victoria were booked for using their mobile phones while driving last year. That's around 150 people a day.

So on Monday, the front page of the Herald Sun reported that Victoria's chief highway patrol cop wanted the government to force drivers to switch their phone off in cars.

Never mind that a ban on phones in cars would be completely unenforceable.

Victorian road rules are clear. The Road Safety Act bans mobile phone use while a car is running. The only exception is receiving calls or using navigation functions with a commercially fitted holder. Even then, the driver cannot touch the phone at any time. The fine is $300 and three demerit points. New South Wales enacted similar laws last week.

Yet one survey suggests around 60 per cent of Victorians still use their phone while driving. That 55,000 people booked isn't a lot, considering more than two million of the state's 3.7 million licensed drivers are breaking the rules.

The Herald Sun article said "thousands of rogue motorists flout the law". No - millions do.

First things first: it is incredibly stupid to use a mobile phone while travelling at speed. Driving is a complex task. Sending a text message on a phone increases the risk of accident up to 23 times. That much is easy to demonstrate in simulations and in-car experiments.

But things get less certain from there.

The "while driving" data is a bit misleading. They include a lot of circumstances we wouldn't usually call driving - like checking your phone while stopped at a traffic light. But if the engine is running, it counts.

http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4355632.html?WT.svl=theDrum

 

My My my.... Of all people the ABC (still going down the dumb stupid road — have you seen Randling?... yucky...) can dish out on the Drum, Chris Berg is the summit of the pits (way down there) ... The ABC tells us that "Chris Berg is a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs. His latest book is In Defence of Freedom of Speech: from Ancient Greece to Andrew Bolt"... Magnificent... Whoooof....  The Institute of Public Affairs? that's crap in bed with the ABC!...

Now my personal experience is thus: traffic light is red, driver in front of my car (usually a young white female) checks her phone and responds to a few emails. The light goes green then to red again.

Should I get out of my car, take her mobile phone and throw it in front of a passing truck or b) should I use the high bean to let her know the lights have changed three times, or c) should I press the horn until she gives me the two fingers...? 

This is not a single occurence... Many times I have nearly been sideswiped by "young white female" drivers who are texting while driving... I will acknowledge here that they keep a safe distance with the car in front of at least 40 netres while the traffic is going ten ks an hour... and she's doing five while with her spare hand she's is finishing her make-up, but stops suddenly — on realising her boyfriend dumped her in an email...

It's only because of my 55 years driving experience that I know "she" is going to do something stupid...

My experience of males on the mobile phone is slightly different... Usually they have  a mate to do the mobile thingy... or if they don't, they make sure the call is shorter than a Benny Hill punchline.

Well!!!  I got sexism out of my system... empirically. Personal observations — unbiased.

And if police want to enforce something else about drivers with a phone in hand, let it be. It will save at least one in one hundred road kill according to Berg's own stats... That's good enough for me, nothing to do with freedom, just with basic survival... See toon and story at top... Nothing to do with mobile phones...

 

mad cow disease...

PARIS—Five public research institutions in France have imposed a 3-month moratorium on the study of prions—a class of misfolding, infectious proteins that cause fatal brain diseases—after a retired lab worker who handled prions in the past was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the most common prion disease in humans. An investigation is underway to find out whether the patient, who worked at a lab run by the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), contracted the disease on the job.

If so, it would be the second such case in France in the past few years. In June 2019, an INRAE lab worker named Émilie Jaumain died at age 33, 10 years after pricking her thumb during an experiment with prion-infected mice. Her family is now suing INRAE for manslaughter and endangering life; her illness had already led to tightened safety measures at French prion labs.

The aim of the moratorium, which affects nine labs, is to “study the possibility of a link with the [new patient’s] former professional activity and if necessary to adapt the preventative measures in force in research laboratories,” according to a joint press release issued by the five institutions yesterday.

“This is the right way to go in the circumstances,” says Ronald Melki, a structural biologist at a prion lab jointly operated by the French national research agency CNRS and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA). “It is always wise to ask questions about the whole working process when something goes wrong.” “The occurrence of these harsh diseases in two of our scientific colleagues clearly affects the whole prion community, which is a small ‘familial’ community of less than 1000 people worldwide,” Emmanuel Comoy, deputy director of CEA’s Unit of Prion Disorders and Related Infectious Agents, wrote in an email to Science. Although prion research already has strict safety protocols, “it necessarily reinforces the awareness of the risk linked to these infectious agents,” he says.

In Jaumain’s case, there is little doubt she was infected on the job, according to a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 2020. She had variant CJD (vCJD), a form typically caused by eating beef contaminated with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. But Europe’s BSE outbreak ended after 2000 and vCJD virtually disappeared; the chance that someone of Jaumain’s age in France would contract food-borne vCJD is “negligible or non-existent,” according to the paper.

A scientist with inside knowledge says the new patient, a woman who worked at INRAE’s Host-Pathogen Interactions and Immunity group in Toulouse, is still alive. French authorities were apparently alerted to her diagnosis late last week. The press release suggests it’s not yet clear whether the new case is vCJD or “classic” CJD, which is not known to be caused by prions from animals. Classic CJD strikes an estimated one person per million. Some 80% of cases are sporadic, meaning they have no known cause, but others are genetic or contracted from infected human tissues during transplantations. The two types of CJD can only be distinguished through a postmortem examination of brain tissue.

Lab infections are known to occur with many pathogens, but exposure to CJD-causing prions is unusually risky because there are no vaccines or treatments and the condition is universally fatal. And whereas most infections reveal themselves within days or weeks, CJD’s average incubation period is about 10 years.

For Jaumain, who worked at INRAE’s Molecular Virology and Immunology Unit in Jouy-en-Josas, outside Paris, that long period of uncertainty began on 31 May 2010, when she stabbed her left thumb with a curved forceps while cleaning a cryostat—a machine that can cut tissues at very low temperatures—that she used to slice brain sections from transgenic mice infected with a sheep-adapted form of BSE. She pierced two layers of latex gloves and drew blood. “Émilie started worrying about the accident as soon as it had happened, and mentioned it to every doctor she saw,” says her widower, Armel Houel.

In November 2017, Jaumain developed a burning pain in her right shoulder and neck that worsened and spread to the right half of her body over the following 6 months, according to the NEJM paper. In January 2019, she became depressed and anxious, suffering memory impairment and hallucinations. “It was a descent into hell,” Houel says. She was diagnosed with “probable vCJD” in mid-March of that year and died 3 months later. A postmortem confirmed the diagnosis.

 

INRAE only recently admitted the likely link between Jaumain’s illness and the accident. “We recognize, without ambiguity, the hypothesis of a correlation between Emilie Jaumain-Houel’s accident … and her infection with vCJD,” INRAE chair and CEO Philippe Mauguin wrote in a 24 June letter to an association created by friends and colleagues to publicize Jaumain’s case and lobby for improvements in lab safety. (Science has obtained a copy of the letter, which has not been made public.)

Jaumain’s family has filed both criminal charges and an administrative suit against INRAE, alleging a range of problems at Jaumain’s lab. She had not been trained in handling dangerous prions or responding to accidents and did not wear both metal mesh and surgical gloves, as she was supposed to, says Julien Bensimhon, the family’s lawyer. The thumb should have been soaked in a bleach solution immediately, which did not happen, Bensimhon adds.

Independent reports by a company specializing in occupational safety and by government inspectors have found no safety violations at the lab; one of them said there was a “strong culture” of risk management. (Bensimhon calls the reports “biased.”)

The government inspectors’ report concluded that Jaumain’s accident was not unique, however. There had been at least 17 accidents among the 100 or so scientists and technicians in France working with prions in the previous decade, five of whom stabbed or cut themselves with contaminated syringes or blades. Another technician at the same lab had a fingerprick accident with prions in 2005, but has not developed vCJD symptoms so far, Bensimhon says. “It is shocking that no precautionary measures were taken then to ensure such an accident never happened again,” he says.

In Italy, too, the last person to die of vCJD, in 2016, was a lab worker with exposure to prion-infected brain tissue, according to last year’s NEJM paper, although an investigation did not find evidence of a lab accident. That patient and the lab they worked at have not been identified.

After Jaumain’s diagnosis, “We contacted all the research prion labs in France to suggest they check their safety procedures and remind staff about the importance of respecting them,” says Stéphane Haïk, a neuroscientist at the Paris Brain Institute at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital who helped diagnose Jaumain and is the corresponding author on the paper. Many labs tightened procedures, according to the government inspectors’ report, for instance by introducing plastic scissors and scalpels, which are disposable and less sharp, and bite and cut-resistant gloves. A team of experts from the five research agencies is due to submit proposals for a guide to good practice in prion research to the French government at the end of this year.

The scientific community has long recognized that handling prions is dangerous and an occupational risk for neuropathologists, says neuropathologist Adriano Aguzzi of the University of Zurich. Aguzzi declined to comment on the French CJD cases, but told Science his lab never handles human or bovine prions for research purposes, only for diagnostics. “We conduct research only on mouse-adapted sheep prions, which have never been shown to be infectious to humans,” Aguzzi says. In a 2011 paper, his team reported that prions can spread through aerosols, at least in mice, which “may warrant re-thinking on prion biosafety guidelines in research and diagnostic laboratories,” they wrote. Aguzzi says he was “totally shocked” by the finding and introduced safety measures to prevent aerosol spread at his own lab, but the paper drew little attention elsewhere.

The moratorium will “obviously” cause delays in research, but given the very long incubation periods in prion diseases, the impact of a 3-month hiatus will be limited, Comoy says. His research team at CEA also works on other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and will shift some of its efforts to those.

Although Jaumain’s diagnosis upset many in the field, it hasn’t led to an exodus among researchers in France, Haïk says: “I know of only one person who resigned because they were so worried.”

 

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