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  1.  (8501.21)
    That's the thing, the people who live past 100 are typically mentally alert and physically healthy until the last few months of their life.

    So rather than having to support people for another 20 years we're potentially looking at unlocking the skills and wisdom of people currently languishing in old folk's homes.
  2.  (8501.22)
    @Mr. Duffield As we've reached the realm where the intention of the funding cut nine years ago as well as the scientific progress are purely matters of opinion, I will respectfully disagree with you and acknowledge that you may, indeed, be totally right. Also, holy hell, page 5 today is beautiful. Either through argument or art, you've expanded my mind a little.

    Deadly pandemic: AIDS fits the definition, but I assume they're aiming for something more timely like an increased-lethality flu (or, god forbid, a hemhorragic fever pandemic). I'm always dubious of the "OMG we are SO overdue for one!" arguments that seem to conveniently ignore a number of factors. What worries me more than a single pandemic is the increasing antibiotic resistance we see across the board thanks to uneducated and demanding patients, managed care and the prescribing practices of physicians or drug policies of certain countries. This tends to be a bit of a loaded issue, though. When people talk about pandemics being a big problem they tend to mean "the ones that reach and rankle first world countries." It's problematic to say the least.

    I'm in emerging pathogens research. I don't know if this is necessarily the thread to start talking about the possibility of a massive-mortality pandemic virus, or other pathogen, but I would be happy to discuss it. Maybe it should get its own thread? If people are interested, that is. I think the main reason that AIDS doesn't really qualify there is that it's pretty slow to both spread and kill, so we're all kind of jaded that there is this deadly virus that is capable of destroying our species. Woo. We'll probably have it beat before it's too late.

    On the somewhat related topic of life extension, have you guys heard about the singularity-like Methuselarity folks? Because they're kind of interesting. Probably 100% wrong, but kind of interesting nonetheless. The tl;dr: If research can consistently extend human life expectancy by one year in a period of time less than one year, people will (sort of) live forever.
  3.  (8501.23)
    I'm in emerging pathogens research.

    I'm sold. What do you do?

    I don't know if this is necessarily the thread to start talking about the possibility of a massive-mortality pandemic virus, or other pathogen, but I would be happy to discuss it. Maybe it should get its own thread?

    Getting its own thread seems like it would guarantee a mod-lock; this thread seems fine to discuss it. I could be wrong on either or both counts, though.

    Don't get me wrong, I full admit the deadly and potentially disastrous nature of HIV and AIDS. I've lost two friends to AIDS. Not downplaying it at all. But I don't see it as an extinction-level event kind of thing, as things stand right now. I'd love to read whatever you have that says different, though. I'm not locked into my position through anything more than limited general knowledge.

    Have never heard of the Methuselarity, thanks for bringing it up. Looks like I have some reading to do.
    • CommentTimeJul 9th 2010
    One of the big potential changers, of course, is harnessing one of the three remaining fundamental forces. I'm all for that force being gravity, because damned if I want anybody playing with the weak force yet. I like my atoms properly assembled. And nobody is allowed to touch the strong force. At all.
  4.  (8501.25)
    @John Skylar
    Understood :) I just wanted to add an alternative possibility, since people tend to gravitate towards (and I tend to be wary of) explanations in which "government" might easily be substituted for an individual acting out a clear plan.
    Thanks about FA :D
  5.  (8501.26)
    Getting its own thread seems like it would guarantee a mod-lock; this thread seems fine to discuss it. I could be wrong on either or both counts, though.

    All right, I'll try to start it here and if our keen-eyed masters should decide to kill it or that I should take it elsewhere, so be it.

    I'm sold. What do you do?

    Our department is an RNA viruses department with a focus on negative-standed viruses. We have an emerging pathogens institute which works on: Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever virus (CCHFV), Dengue virus (DENV), SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), Ebola virus (EboV), Nipah virus (NiV), Lassa fever virus, and Chikungunya virus (CHIKV, but I love saying this one's full name).

    NiV is my pet. It's maintained in more-or-less asymptomatic bats, and causes about 75% mortality in humans. This is the kind of virus where you work in a rubber space suit and take a shower when you're done; Biosafety level (BSL) 4. I work with viral component proteins so that I can work in a BSL2 environment.

    About the odds of a deadly virus emerging: There's three basic elements to any given virus. They are pathogenicity (how sick it makes you), transmissibility, and immunogenicity (how strongly it recruits an immune response). These are all interrelated, and they all affect spread.

    The golden rule is that viruses evolve to spread better. The actual spread of the virus is a function of all three things. Too pathogenic (EboV) OR too immunogenic (Sendai virus), OR not transmissible enough (H5N1 Influenza A, NiV), and you won't spread. So either it's reduce your pathogenicity or immunogenicity (usually, make yourself less deadly), or a third, dangerous option.

    The real danger is a virus that improves its spread by improving just its transmissibility. One of the reasons we are worried about NiV is that it takes two weeks to kill people, infects almost all mammalian cells, and can remain asymptomatic in patients for up to six months and THEN kill them. Thankfully, for some reason, Nipah can't sustain person to person spread. NiV, or maybe its cousin Hendra virus, is a candidate virus to cause a global high-mortality pandemic. There may be an undiscovered virus that has the same characteristics; if there is, odds are it's a bat virus, because bats are similar enough to us for their viruses to infect us, but different enough for their viruses to make us VERY sick.

    These viruses are always out there, always evolving. On a long enough timescale, the chances that one of them will evolve the capability to become a massively mortal pandemic are 100%. But with good surveillance, we can discover these viruses before they emerge, and develop vaccines and antivirals that will prevent disaster. Great virus hunters to read about are Dr. CJ Peters and Dr. Herbert "Skip" Virgin. You might also want to check out Dr. Ian Lipkin. There's also a good podcast called This Week in Virology by Dr. Vincent Racaniello.

    Whew...tried to make that as short as possible, but it's a big topic. Apologies for the length, hope it was of some value. Questions?
  6.  (8501.27)
    Another contender: cheap grid-scale electricity storage.

    That'd make at least 10% of the power plants in the world redundant.
    • CommentTimeJul 9th 2010 edited
    Peak oil really ought to be on that list.

    Not the actual exhaustion of petroleum, but a combination of price hikes and shortages that would make the 70's U.S. embargo seem like a fond memory of plenty, over a significant portion of the First World. Should also to be considered as the event that would be necessary and sufficient to trigger a number of these other potentially really major things, such as the development of fusion or a nuclear exchange.

    The end of cheap, readily available oil as we know it now wouldn't just impact cars, but all of transportation and agriculture, as most fertilizer is currently petroleum-based and dependent on refrigerated trucking. Plastics would be costly. Travel becomes rarer and dearer; people start living more densely again.
  7.  (8501.29)
    I thought for all intents and purposes we'd passed peak oil? It's just a wait until availability reflects dwindling supply.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeJul 10th 2010
    @Finagle - Peak Oil's a myth. There's plenty of oil. Getting it, mind you ...

    @John Skylar - you are my new favorite human. Who else has a pet virus? Keep us safe, John.
  8.  (8501.31)
    @mister hex Thanks! I'll try, but the odds are if anyone's keeping you safe, it's my far more experienced and skilled colleagues.

    @Finagle Have you read Out of Gas by David Goodstein? It's an interesting take on peak oil, if a little doomsaying. People have made peak oil predictions like 10 times since we started using oil, and they've never panned out. I'm kind of hoping that for the sake of the human habitat, we'll hit peak oil and fast. But I doubt it.
  9.  (8501.32)
    @mister hex
    How does being a function of "available oil" instead of "total oil" make peak oil a myth? Honestly confused here, and trying to be open minded (since I know this is a topic that causes angers to flare).

    I may be putting words into your mouth, but I encounter a lot of examples of "peak oil" being used as short hand for a point in time at which oil prices sky-rocket and society grinds to a halt. As far as I know, this is a misuse of the term.

    Peak oil (as far as I understand it) is the point at which the global rate of oil extraction begins to decline; a "highest point" on a graph of extraction-rate over time.
    As far as I'm aware, the data suggests that peak oil has happened already (obviously there's no way of saying 100% that it has, since extraction rates may rise to a new high unexpectedly), but either way it will happen. The peak is an unavoidable function of the availability of any limited resource over time, and it doesn't matter if the limiting factor is our ability to extract oil, or the total amount of oil in existence. I hope you can see why calling it a myth confused me... it's similar to calling the highest point of a parabola a "myth"!

    So, the arguments that matter are all about what impact the peak in the graph will have (or is having). After all, it could be a slow, steady decline that leaves us time and space to adapt, or it could be a sudden crash that really does lead to massive financial and social chaos. Reports of social collapse may turn out be myths (as they often do), or they may not (as occasionally happens too!) but they're still useful forms of speculation that help us to understand how our reality might play out, and what counter-measures to take.

    EDIT: Alternatively, I just thought about something I've not heard discussed, it might be that we have a series of peaks and troughs, which could actually be a worst case scenario, since it'll play havoc with any attempts at stability in one direction or another.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 11th 2010
    It looks like peak oil may already have happened.


    • CommentAuthoratavistian
    • CommentTimeJul 12th 2010
    @ John Skylar - thanks for the info; some of it I was familiar with, some of it entirely new to me (I'm a pretty regular listener of TWiV, for one). Need to look into NiV, for one. You gave me a lot of food for thought and fuel for research, and I thank ya for it.

    @ Paul Duffield - the idea of peak oil being a series of peaks and troughs scares the hell out of me. You're right about it being a worst case scenario, absolutely.

    @ Kosmopolit - fascinating graphic; my initial instinct is that the Oct 09 - Oct 12 period is more pessimistic than warranted, but I could be wrong. There's also a problem in the current context where it focuses on mbd extraction without really referencing the cost trends in that extraction (which admittedly was probably outside the scope of the project there, but is still very important, especially when talking about the Canadian Oil Sands).