Polar Bear Hoax, Mini Brains

Grind for October 27th
“Never have more children than you have car windows.”
– Erma Bombeck

You’re Fired

The Headline

Climate change skeptic loses job based on polar bear research

The Grind

In May, the University of Victoria rejected the renewal application of Susan Crockford, a world-renowned expert in animal bone identification who had represented the school through its Speakers Bureau for 10 years.

The denial, which Crockford claims is related to her controversial research about polar bears, revokes her affiliation with the school and deprives her ability to apply for research grants.

In her 2019 book The Polar Bear Catastrophe that Never Happened, Crockford explains that polar bears are thriving (despite melting ice) and that scientists have concealed polar bear population growth after the species was falsely listed as “threatened.”

“When push came to shove, UVic threw me under the bus rather than stand up for my academic freedom,” laments Crockford.

The Details

Susan Crockford earned her doctorate from UVic in interdisciplinary studies (biology and anthropology) in 2004 and was later awarded a Ph.D. for her research on the evolution of dogs from wolves.

In 2006, she published groundbreaking research about the thyroid and how it drives evolutionary change. One year later, she was featured in a PBS documentary on dog domestication.

Ms. Crockford is a signatory of the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change’s Manhattan Declaration, which argues that human activity has had little effect on Earth’s climate.

Between 2011 and 2013, Crockford was paid by The Heartland Institute to share research that was overlooked by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

For example, the IPCC’s report “Global Warming 1.5° C” (which is often cited by activists as proof of impending doom) contains nothing to suggest the world will burn or that humans will become extinct. Nearly all claims in the report are listed ‘medium confidence,’ which is essentially a 3 of 5 rating.

In 2017, UVic canceled Crockford’s lectures after activists complained her talks ‘lacked balance.’ One year later, her work was featured in Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world.

“Put it this way: religion, race, evolution, gender, indigenous peoples, nuclear power, polar bears, deforestation…Any views on these topics that don’t fall in line with the ‘consensus’ are taboo,” explains UVic Economics Professor Cornelis van Kooten. “Think the extent to which free speech has been banned from campuses across much of the West in the name of political correctness.”

Citing a headline in the National Post of Toronto, Crockford argues she was fired for “telling school kids politically incorrect facts about polar bears.”

UVic Associate Vice President Michele Parkin denied the accusation, but failed to provide a reason for Crockford’s termination.

This month, Crockford begins a five-country speaking tour in Europe, where she will talk about her research as an internationally-recognized scientist not affiliated with any university.

Worst Nightmare

The Headline

Scientists warn: growing human brains in the lab is unethical

The Grind

Speaking this week at a national meeting for the Society for Neuroscience, a group of concerned researchers warned against using “mini-brains” in the lab.

As the name suggests, “mini-brains” are miniature human brains grown from stem cells and studied in a laboratory environment.

While mini-brains don’t approach the complexity of real human brains, they do allow scientists to study neurological development directly in a structure that is more similar to a human brain than an animal model.

Concerned scientists worry the brains could achieve sentience, and would, therefore, be subject to the horror of life without body or senses.

“We’re already seeing activity in organoids that is reminiscent of biological activity in developing animals,” argues Elan Ohayon, director of the nonprofit Green Neuroscience Lab in San Diego.

The Details

In a study published August 2019 in the journal Cell Stem Cell, researchers working with mini brains detected brain waves similar to those observed in preterm babies.

“The level of neural activity we are seeing is unprecedented in vitro,” explains biologist Alysson Muotri. “We are one step closer to having a model that can actually generate these early stages of a sophisticated neural network.”

The mini-brains, which are about the size of a pea, are “very rudimentary,” continues Muotri. “We don’t have other brain parts and structures…It might be in the future, we will get something that is really close to the signals in the human brain that control behaviors, thoughts, or memory…But I don’t think we have any evidence right now to say we have any of those.”

Ohayon and his colleagues at the Green Lab insist the possibility of sentience is enough to halt all work with mini-brains. “If there’s even a possibility of the organoid being sentient, we could be crossing that line,” cautions Ohayon. “We don’t want people doing research where there is potential for something to suffer.”

In Muotri’s opinion, the mini-brains could facilitate better understanding of neurological conditions like epilepsy, autism, and schizophrenia.

“As a scientist, I want to get closer and closer to the human brain,” says Muotri. “I want to do that because I see the good in it. I can help people with neurological conditions by giving them better treatments and better quality of life. But it’s up to us to decide where the limit is.”

Did you know… In 2000, Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to the Pokemon franchise, saying the games did not have “any harmful moral side effects” and were based on “ties of intense friendship.”