Category Archives: Virus

New York Restaurants Closed By 2021 Says Study


  • Most New York restaurants will be closed by 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions
  • No new economic relief coming for restaurant owners

It is now September and indoor dining is still prohibited in New York State, drastically reducing the workforce and sales in the restaurant industry. New York restaurants closed due to air circulation having a detrimental effect of spreading the virus fast in other countries.

According to a recent study by the New York State Restaurant Association, over half the remaining restaurants will be closed, estimated at a whopping 66% permanent closures.

Upwards of 66% of the state’s cafés, bars and restaurants could be gone for all time by the end of this year on the very likely chance that they don’t get considerable government help, as per the study. The review surveyed 1,042 of the state’s 50,000+ eateries and discovered that 63.6 percent of restaurateurs were “likely” or “fairly likely” to close their doors completely in the following four months ahead. The greater part of those who responded said they would be compelled to close their entryways before November in the event that they don’t get some type of monetary alleviation.

Numerous cafés got advances through the widely popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) when the pandemic first hit and a stimulus was created through congress, yet more and more establishments have been shutting down as that cash runs out and further monetary alleviation is withheld from the bargaining table in the state congress.

Reviews like those from the NYSRA are simply expectations, but on the other hand they’re probably the best proportions of the pandemic’s cost for the New York restaurant industry at the present time, given that there’s no state or government organization reporting eatery terminations progressively.

Recently, the NYSRA anticipated that upwards of 11 percent of the state’s eateries and bars — amounting to roughly about 5,500 organizations — would shudder their doors by May 2020 due to COVID-19. In all reality, however, specialists state that number is likely a lot higher and will just keep on ascending without an unmistakable guide for indoor eating or considerable government mediation, including the $120 billion bill to help free eateries from the perils of this unprecedented economic downturn.

Fake Time? Bill Maher and AntiVaccination


Bill Maher threw softballs at the most famous anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on”Real Time”

Kennedy isn’t the only prominent vaccine denier but he’s the current media darling for whatever reason. After several hints in the past about vaccine paranoia,  Maher took it to the next level and had a notable anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist on the show for a one on one interview. His normally pro-science stance and no-bullshit interview style was strangely abandoned and at one point Maher himself actually went on an anti-vaccination rant, falsely claiming the anit-vaccination crowd has some kind of legit point. I’ll unpack the rant after the video, below.

“Why can’t we have a kind of grand bargain on this?”

Because a lot of people will die, many of them children, if we don’t act appropriately. The anti-vaccination rhetoric isn’t just easy to fall for, it’s catchy. People hear the soundbites and repeat them, or share articles off of persistent tabloid sites that feed off of the traffic it causes. Spreading false or controversial medical data isn’t without it’s consequences.

“It just seems like we’re calling each other kooks and liars.”

That’s because spreading fear about vaccines is a kooky lie, since there isn’t any data supporting the accusations that vaccines are dangerous. That’s crazy, and if you participate in the lie, you are, in fact, lying. On other subjects, like, say, Climate Change Denial-ism, Bill Maher would be first in line to tell an anti-science arguer they are being crazy or outright lying. The point is that the pro-vaccine side of the debate has an abundance of reliable data supporting it’s efficacy- so much that neither Maher nor his guest tried to make a case that vaccines don’t work. Vaccines aren’t just safe, they are saving people from untimely, rather unpleasant deaths. Denying that is kooky at best.

“It seems like common sense that vaccines, even thimerosal, probably don’t hurt most people — if they did, we’d all be dead, because they’re in a lot of vaccines that we all took — but some do.”

therimosal

Saying Thimerisal “contains” mercury is like saying table salt contains a dangerous explosive just because one of the atoms in the molecule is sodium. Sodium explodes violently on contact with water. Is there an anti-table salt movement? nope.

It’s hard to even follow this because Maher’s conversational grammar is confusing. His grasp of the topic isn’t really demonstrated. It appears he thinks thimerisal is the name of a vaccine. Or maybe he left some words out? It’s hard to decipher a position that is illogical and wrong in the first place.

Marketed under the trade name Merthiolate, Thimerisal can be used as a preservative in vaccines. It has several other uncontested uses: immunoglobulin preparations, skin test antigens, antivenins, ophthalmic and nasal products, and tattoo inks. European Union, and a few other countries freaked out about it after an erroneous report of its link to autism back in the 1980’s. The current scientific consensus has repeatedly assured the public that it isn’t dangerous but the rumor of mercury poisoning and other ailments has persisted.

 

 

Obviously some minority gets hurt by this stuff.

Uh, no, actually it’s not obvious. What stuff? Thimerisal? Vaccines in general?

 

I don’t understand why this is controversial?

Because an embarrassingly ignorant internet meme successfully increased every American’s exposure to measles. It’s making people sick, dude.

 

Why we have this emotional debate about something that– there is science there.

No, There is no science supporting the anti-vaccine side. None.

It astounds me that liberals, who are always suspicious of corporations… and defending minorities, somehow when it comes to this minority that’s hurt…

It’s not about corporations. Liberals want people, including corporate entities to behave ethically. In this situation, the unethical behavior is not on behalf of a corporation. Secondly, there is no wounded minority. No one is getting hurt. Just the opposite.

 

It’s like, ‘You know what? Shut the fuck up and let me take every vaccine that Merck wants to shove down my throat.’

 

No, it’s not like that, obviously. If there was any alarming study demonstrating a dangerous aspect of vaccination the anti-science vaccination deniers wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. By putting anti-vaccination talking heads on tv and lending legitimacy to their wolf-cries, Bill Maher is helping to confuse the general public. Bill Maher references a vague minority that doesn’t actually exist. There is no evidence of anyone being hurt by vaccines. Liberals might defend oppressed minorities but there general public, the mainstream are the ones being threatened by a dangerous minority opinion in this case.  If liberal America impartially stood up for all minorities, they would be defending climate deniers and Ku Klux Klan members. The fact that the anti-vaccine rhetoric has to put words in an imaginary opposition’s mouth should speak for itself.

I’m surprised Bill Maher took this position but he did hint at it last February, when he told guests and audiences he’s an “anti-flu shot guy” and has a problem with anti-vaccinators being told to  “shut the fuck up” and “don’t ask any questions.” It might be appropriate to tell someone in a crowded theater to shut the fuck up if they keep yelling fire, or persistently asking the audience if the theater is on fire despite no smoke or alarms. Yelling fire is dangerous and gives people wrong information that may lead to a percentage of the hypothetical crowd being injured or killed in the ensuing panic.

Back in February, Real Time guest Marianne Williamson, agreed with Maher and objected to anti-vaccination supporters being called “anti-science” or “kooks”, which is silly because it is a blatantly anti-science position and that makes it pretty kooky to give it airtime.

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

Why is CRISPR the Science Buzzword of Early 2015?


CRISPR isn’t just the cutting edge of genetic modification – it is re-framing our understanding of evolution.

 What is CRISPR?
CRISPR is a DNA sequence that can do something most other genes can’t. It changes based on the experience of the cell it’s written in.  It works because of a natural ability for cells to rewrite their own genetic code, first discovered in 1987. The name CRISPR was coined in 2002, and it stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. They function as a method of inserting recognizable DNA of questionable or dangerous viruses into DNA strands so that the offspring of the cell can recognize what its ancestors have encountered and defeated in the past. By inserting a CRISPR-associated protein into a cell along with a piece of RNA code the cell didn’t write, DNA can be edited.A 2012 breakthrough  involved, in part, the work of Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna. Doudna and the rest of the team at UC Berkley were the first to edit human DNA using CRISPR.  Recently, in March 2015, she warned this new genome-editing technique comes with dangers and ethical quandaries, as new tech often does. Dr. Doudna in a NYT article, she called for a planet-wide moratorium on human DNA editing, to allow humanity time to better understand the complicated subset of issues we all now face.
CRISPR-related tech insn’t only about editing human genes, though. It affects cloning and the reactivation of otherwise extinct species. It isn’t immediately clear what purpose this type of species revival would have without acknowledging the scary, rapidly increasing list of animals that are going extinct because of human activity. Understanding and utilizing species revival could allow humans to undo or reverse some of our environmental wrongs. The technique may be able to revive the long lost wooly mammoth by editing existing elephant DNA to match the mammoth‘s, for instance. Mammoths likely died out due to an inability to adapt to natural climate change which caused lower temperatures in their era, and are a non-politically controversial choice but the implications for future environmentalism are promising.
Each year, mosquitoes are responsible for the largest planetary human death toll. Editing DNA with CRISPR bio-techniques could help control or even wipe out malaria someday. The goal of this controversial tech is to make the mosquito’s immune system susceptible to malaria or make decisions about their breeding based on how susceptible they are to carrying the disease. The controversy around this approach to pest and disease control involves the relatively young research behind Horizontal Gene Transfer, where DNA is passed from one organism to an unrelated species. A gene that interferes with the ability of mosquitoes to reproduce could end up unintentionally cause other organisms to have trouble reproducing. This info is based on the work of , , http://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2014/12/27/013276
Even more controversial are the startups claiming they can create new life forms, and own the publishing rights. Austen Heinz’ firm is called Cambrian Genomics which grows genetically-controlled and edited plants. The most amazing example is the creation of a rose species that literally glows in the dark. Cambrian is collaborating with the rose’s designer, a company called Glowing Plant, whose projects were eventually banned from kickstarter for violating a rule about owning lifeforms. Eventually, Heinz wants to let customers request and create creatures: http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Controversial-DNA-startup-wants-to-let-customers-5992426.php#photo-7342819
The final example in an ongoing list of 2015 breakthroughs involving CRISPR is this CRISPR-mediated direct mutation of cancer genes in the mouse liver might be able to combat cancer. It’s the second cancer-related breakthrough in 2015 that affects the immune system, the first was on Cosmos about a week back: Accidental Discovery Could Turn Cancer Cells Into Cancer-Attacking Immune Cells.

Other Related Cosmoso.net articles:

Pre-Darwinian Theory of Heredity Wasn’t Too Far Off

Wooly Mammoth Poised to be the First De-Extincted Animal, Son~!

 

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

So much has changed since the first HIV test was approved 30 years ago


Thirty years ago today, on March 2, 1985, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new HIV test. It was the result of nine months of round-the-clock labor by dozens of scientists. Immediately adopted by the American Red Cross and other institutions, the blood test marked the beginning of a new era in HIV medicine.

Life before the test

In the early 1980s, gay men and injection drug users in coastal cities in the United States were dying of unusual infections, and nobody knew why. Clinical rarities like Pneumocystis pneumonia, Toxoplasma encephalitis and Kaposi sarcoma became common entities in a short span of years.

Scientists scrambled for answers, doctors fought a protean array of oddball diagnoses, and activists tried to protect a largely marginalized population of patients from systematized neglect.

Patients with HIV, caught in the crossfire between high-minded science and low-brow politics, wondered what would come next, and almost universally discovered it wasn’t good. Their partners and friends in turn wondered if they too would be hospitalized with a mysterious pneumonia or develop the stigmatizing purple skin spots of Kaposi sarcoma.

Finally, when the first HIV test came out in 1985, doctors and patients could know who was or was not infected. We could at least name our viral enemy. Famously, the AIDS activists Act Up proclaimed “Silence = Death,” the converse of which was the radical concept that speaking up about the diagnosis of HIV restored some measure of power to the powerless. On the other hand, in those days a positive test result was sometimes seen as an identity-changing death sentence. As Susan Sontag wrote in AIDS and Its Metaphors, “Fear of sexuality is the new, disease-sponsored register of the universe of fear in which everyone now lives.”

Testing has changed how we think about HIV.
Akintunde Akinleye /Reuters

Technology has changed, but so have we

We have come so far since then. Over 70 million people have been diagnosed with HIV worldwide, and once-politicized HIV testing is becoming a routine governmental health recommendation. The US Preventive Services Task Force, for instance, recommends HIV testing for all US adolescents and adults. Worldwide HIV testing drives and shapes the allocation of dozens of billions of dollars of funding for HIV treatment and prevention programs.

HIV testing technology too has evolved with time. Despite sensitivity and specificity rates over 99%, early generation HIV tests still could remain falsely negative for months after initial infection. This meant newly infected patients went unconnected to lifesaving prevention and treatment opportunities and often did not know how important it was for them to alter risky behaviors that could transmit HIV?

Fortunately HIV tests have steadily gotten better through the years. The latest fourth generation tests can detect nearly all cases of HIV from the first few weeks of initial infection, and can do so in hours. As a result, in 2014 the CDC updated its testing guidelines recommended a new testing algorithm that uses fourth generation HIV tests.

The technology of HIV testing isn’t the only thing that has evolved significantly in the last 30 years. The science of HIV treatment and prevention has evolved as well, in turn changing the way a positive HIV test is perceived.

HIV test kits in Kuala Lumpur, November 29, 2004.
Bazuki Muhammad BM/FA/Reuters

Diagnosis now means treatment

Perhaps the most critical change has been the development of safe and effective HIV treatments. People with HIV who promptly access and take HIV therapy now live as long as people without HIV infection, and are at least a hundred times less likely to transmit HIV than they were off of therapy. These are major accomplishments for an infection unheard of 35 years ago.

It is never good news to learn you have HIV but at least now people with HIV have options. Beyond HIV treatment, another option is serosorting, in which people with a positive HIV test elect to have sex only with others with the same serostatus, thereby reducing the risk of transmission to people without HIV. This is yet another example of how HIV testing can empower people with HIV to help contain the epidemic.

Decades of public health messaging and activism have also changed the societal context of HIV testing. When the HIV epidemic was first recognized, public mention of homosexuality in particular was stigmatized, and governmental squeamishness with the issue is widely credited for exacerbating the early US AIDS epidemic. We are still a long way from providing optimal care to everyone who needs it, but every time I see patients with HIV in clinic I am reminded of the distance we have traveled. A married gay patient recently told me that, besides the few seconds it takes to swallow his nightly pill, “I completely forget I even have HIV.”

In 2015, there is hope we will beat HIV. From a partially active vaccine to Timothy Ray Brown, the only person ever cured of HIV, many in the HIV field are newly starting to hope for an HIV cure for all. Until that day comes – and it will! – one of our best tools in the fight against AIDS is HIV testing, at 30 years and counting.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Could Ebola mutate faster than we can develop treatments?


By Peter White

As the worst known epidemic of the Ebola virus continues in West Africa, scientists around the world are trying to develop treatments for those infected. But a process of viral mutation, known as “genetic drift”, could potentially compromise their efforts.

Genetic drift is one reason why RNA viruses, such as influenza and norovirus, cause global epidemics of disease (pandemics) about every three years. To understand how it works, we need to go back to basics.

Ebola is an RNA virus, the fastest-evolving genetic entity we know. These viruses continually change their genetic sequence because the enzymes responsible for making more copies of their genetic code often make mistakes. The process is akin to photocopying a photocopy: the image changes slowly over time. And these changes are known as genetic drift.

Genetic drift lets the new viruses change the surface protection proteins that the immune system targets. This enables them to infect people who have immunity against previous versions.

The main candidates

The World Health Organisation’s November 2014 report Potential Ebola Therapies and Vaccines lists four classes of medicines for Ebola: i) immunomodulators, ii) antiviral drugs, iii) immunoglobulins and iv) antiviral small inhibitory RNA (or RNA therapies).

Drugs in the latter two classes are clinically the most advanced, but are only in the earliest of the three stages of human clinical trials. These types of drugs are among the forerunners of a new wave of exciting RNA-based therapies. But they have not previously been widely commercialised for the treatment of viral infections.

Immunomodulators

The first class of drugs – immunomodulators – are designed to stimulate the innate immune response (which has broad antiviral effects) by triggering the production of many hundreds of antiviral proteins in infected cells.

When tested in rhesus macaques soon after an exposure to a lethal dose of the Ebola virus, this class of drug increased survival time, but failed to stop the monkeys from dying. Other treatments have resulted in better outcomes in animal models.

Immunomodulators are, so far, perhaps the weakest of the four classes of drugs that could be used against Ebola.

Antivirals

The most common type of antiviral drug is called a nucleoside analogue. Chemically, a nucleoside analogue “looks like” a sub-unit of RNA (a nucleotide), the building blocks of viral genetic codes. The virus mistakes this “rogue” building block while replicating – to its own demise. Further genome copying is shut down, reducing viral disease or even, in some cases, curing viral infections by eliminating the virus from the host.

Originally developed to fight influenza, T-705 or Favipiravir (Toyama Chemical) is a nucleoside analogue with broad antiviral activity. While its potency against Ebola is low compared to how well it works against influenza, results from the latest clinical trial show it’s ineffective for people who are very ill but works for those with low levels of the Ebola virus in their blood.

Another nucleoside analogue, known as BCX4430 (Biocryst), has protected macaque monkeys from Ebola-related Marburg virus infection and death, when administered two days after exposure.

RNA therapies

RNA drugs could be the next big thing to treat viral disease. The viral genetic code is translated into proteins through an intermediate called messenger RNA (mRNA). Once the cell is infected, the viral mRNA tells the cell to make viral proteins. By using small RNA molecules that match the viral mRNA sequence, there are a few ways to prevent the viral proteins from being made.

UK army trainers teach health service medics how to put on Ebola safety suits.
DFID/Flickr, CC BY

It’s analogous to taking out the middle man in a business arrangement. One partner makes some cakes, the middle man transports them to a shop and the third person sells the cakes. If you take out the driver, then no cakes get sold, or in the context of mRNA and Ebola, the viruses don’t replicate.

Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is developing a triple combination RNA-based drug for fighting Ebola, which is probably the most advanced. It has now been through Phase 1 human clinical trials. Another company, Sarepta Therapeutics, has used an alternative RNA therapy to target the same three Ebola messenger RNAs to prevent replication.

Both Sareota and Tekmira’s RNA-base drugs have successfully protected monkeys from dying after Ebola infection.

Immunoglobulins

Immunoglobulins, an antibody class of treatment, target a surface protein that viruses use to enter cells. It’s an obvious target for an antibody-based drug because when antibodies bind to this Ebola protein, the virus’ entry into cells is blocked and infection is prevented.

But viruses can mutate or mask their outer protein coats to evade host immune responses, so using a single antibody will eventually result in viral evasion. One way to counter this is to use a combination of antibodies to target many different parts of the viral protein coat. This reduces the viruses’ ability to escape and become resistant.

The drug ZMapp, which is an immunoglobulin, uses a cocktail of three antibodies to stop the viruses evading cells. It protects Ebola-infected monkeys from death and has been used on two people infected with the virus, who survived. Although it is not known whether they survived because of the drug, there are strong indications it has an impact.

Where to now?

Immunoglobulins and RNA therapies could both become less effective if Ebola mutates because they are based directly on viral genetic sequence. Both RNA therapies were designed against the original 1976 virus, while Zmapp was designed from the version of the Ebola virus circulating in 1995.

A recent paper evaluating the impact of genetic drift since these dates has found the Ebola genome has mutated by around 3% compared to both the 1976 and 1995 Ebola predecessors. This mutation rate is lower than for other RNA viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis C virus and influenza, but not by much. All RNA viruses mutate a lot and this poses a danger to the effectiveness of immunoglobulins and RNA therapies.

The good news is that genetic drift would be unlikely to result in viral resistance against nucleoside analogues. For this to occur, mutations within the “viral engine” (the polymerase gene), which copies the genome, are needed. And this type of mutations renders the virus weak compared to their non-mutated brethren. So a virus that could evade the drug through genetic drift wouldn’t be very virulent in the first place.

But drug resistance could occur in people who are treated with these medicines. That’s because the presence of the drug creates pressure for the virus to mutate its engine to survive as only resistant viruses will be able to replicate.

Genetic drift is unlikely to render newly developed drugs ineffective. The three most advanced therapies we have were formulated on older versions of the virus but their developers don’t seem concerned. This is because each company has three separate versions of the drug in its formula.

For the virus to become resistant, three viral mutations would need to occur simultaneously, and this is very difficult. Given what’s at stake here, we should be comforted by the fact that drug developers have taken genetic drift into account.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A Cure for AIDS? Researchers May Soon Implement Human Testing of New Vaccine


For over one third of a century, the AIDS pandemic has been a dismal specter for much of the world, claiming at least 22 million lives – perhaps a great deal more before it was formally classified in 1982. Another 36.1 million people are forced to live with stages of the disease on a daily basis. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, experts suspected that advances in anti-retroviral and genetic therapy, such as a synthetic protein that signals the virus to destroy its own molecules, might lead to eradication of the disease by 2050. For the first time in many years, the goal of eradication now seems like it might be somewhere within reason, as scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have announced the development of a new vaccine.

HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS, has proven malleable enough to withstand over 30 years of research. While the majority of vaccines in existence rely on weakened viruses that a patient’s immune system uses to build a defense, even a weaker format of HIV-1 could potentially replicate itself. A traditional vaccine against HIV could potentially cause the disease it was designed to prevent. The effort involved researchers from over a dozen institutions and backed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They published their research online Wednesday in the journal Nature, ahead of the print edition.

HIV-1 has a less virulent cousin HIV-2, rare outside of Africa, which doesn’t always lead to AIDS. The new vaccine however has been proven effective in blocking both as well as SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), a monkey-borne illness that is the closest link between species for the virus. The vaccine was even tried against higher concentrations of the viruses than occur in human or primate hosts, and has been shown to be effective for at least eight months following an injection.

“Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far,” said Michael Farzan, a professor at Scripps Research and one of the effort’s leaders. “Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.”

Rather than provoke the body into developing antibodies, the new vaccine stimulates the muscle into developing a new type of protein which blocks viruses from entering cells. They act like antibodies, only with heads and tails that act as spikes against the viral receptors.

When HIV enters the body, it specifically targets the CD4 lymphocyte, a type of T cell which is pivotal for the body’s immune system. After successfully attaching to the cell, each virus then shares its own genetic material — a ribbon of single-stranded RNA which interacts with the cell’s DNA and turns it into an assembly plant for HIV.

The new study is actually the latest in a long line of discoveries made by Farzan’s laboratory, one of which revealed the presence of a co-receptor on human cells known as CCR5, which contains a specific weakness that allow it to act as a gateway for the virus. The placement of a protein over this gateway could potentially avert any infections from HIV.

In response, Farzan’s team created a protein which targets two sites on the virus’ surface, both at the same time, which prevents it from using the cell to replicate.

According to research associate Matthew Gardner, the study has also shed light on why human antibodies are generally useless against the virus and allow the infection to spread: “When antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease. We’ve developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.”

In order to conduct the study, the team “built” a virus of their own, a very small adeno-associated virus that interacts with cells in a similar way to HIV, but harmless and causing no disease symptoms to the patients who were injected with it. Once the patients were injected with the trial vaccine, their cells quickly began to replicate the head and tail proteins, manufacturing enough of them to last for potentially decades, according to Farzan in a press release. The new candidate binds more effectively to the virus than most biological antibodies, and was equally effective at preventing SIV in the macaques who were also modeled in the study. Farzan’s work on the CCR5 gateway was largely ignored, but he hopes that this new vaccine will help others realize the importance of stopping infections at the gate.

James Sullivan
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and a contributor to Truth Is Cool and OMNI Reboot. He can usually be found on TVTropes or RationalWiki when not exploiting life and science stories for another blog article.

Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part Two


What role would optical illusions, graffiti and QR code technology play in weaponizing an image, sound, video or string of words to influence or control the human mind? Jonathan Howard takes a look at technology and the theoretical future of psychological warfare with the second part of an ongoing series. This installment of Can Information be Weaponized? is Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part Two in which Jonathan Howard continues the train of thought about a possible delivery system for  harmful memes by exploiting common mental weaknesses, including optical illusions, graffiti, and QR Code Technology. If you haven’t read it yet, you should start with Can Information be Weaponized? is Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part One.

It’s an aspect of human psychology most readers will already be aware of: optical illusions. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson once pointed out, “an optical illusion is just brain failure”.

People like to trust their perception of what is happening in the world around them but there are circumstances where our perception of an image or set of images can’t be relied on as accurate. An illusion doesn’t have to be optical; we’ve all experienced an earworm, a piece of music, a movie quote or other form of recorded audio, which, once heard, seems to play with vivid realism. An earworm can make a sound seem to play on infinite repeat, often leaving the victim feel plagued by a sound that is not truly there.

Being fooled is a novelty and it can be fun but the video clip below demonstrates how illusions don’t just mess with your eyes(or ears). In certain, often common, circumstances illusory effects can actually modify the way your brain works. In January, 2014, vlogger Tom Scott created a recent video to explain the nature of the McCullough Effect, an optical illusion that can change the way your brain interprets colors in relation to striped patterns.

The video mentions the McCullough Effect can have lasting effects – potentially 3 months. In the interest of remaining unbiased I have not yet experimented but some Reddit users went ahead and tried it with believable results. Try it at your own risk~!

“You couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck You’ signs in the world” ~ Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye

It would be difficult to weaponize the principle behind The McCullough Effect because the worm takes several minutes of intentional concentration to take effect. It’s a far cry from Medusa’s statue-creating gaze. Aspects of media can work much faster though. An offensive or upsetting image encountered via social media is often dubbed “cannot be unseen”.  In J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye, main character Holden Caulfield laments the human tendency to exploit written language with malice whenever he sees school kids exposed to vulgarity whenever a, “fuck you”, scrawled on a public wall. The illustration below illustrates this point by putting a gratuitous swearword in your head but has another possible harmful-meme delivery system: QR Code

Much in the way you can't unsee a curse word written in a public space, a day may come when a more complicated curse-like state might be induced via QR code.

Much in the way you can’t unsee a curse word written in a public space, a day may come when a more complicated curse-like state might be induced via QR code.

In February, 2014, Dr. Nik Thompson of Murdoch University pointed out QR codes can easily be exploited by cybercriminals because they can’t readily be interpreted by humans without the aid of a machine adding, “There have already been cases of QR codes used maliciously to install malware on devices, or direct them to questionable websites.”

Technically, by exploring the idea of exploited QR code, I’m making the same mistake as Diggins and Arizmendi, regarding compromised computer-assisted operating systems as a form of sixth domain warfare, when that would actually count as the fifth domain, cyber warfare. A compromised operating system on a phone or other smart device might seem like your brain is being attacked but the device is the only thing you’d be losing control of.

A truly weaponized piece of media might combine various elements of what I’ve described.  Weaponized information would have to be:

  • immediately absorbed like graffiti
  • difficult or impossible to unsee like an offensive or disgusting image on the web
  • able to induce or catalyze lasting changes in the mind like the McCullough Effect
  • able to exploit the theoretical, bicameral firmware of the human mind as described in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind(nonfiction) possibly in the manner of Snow Crash(fiction)
  •  possibly able to exploit the Fifth Domain of Warfare(Cyberspace) to reach the Sixth(The Mind) examples include human reliance on Brain-Computer Interface(BCI) is a major weakness in the modern human psyche, as described by Chloe Diggins and Clint Arizmendi or QR code Malware.

Thanks for reading Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part Two~! You can go back and read Part One here. Any suggestions, contradictions, likes, shares or comments are welcome.

Jonathan Howard posted this on Monday, February 9th, 2015

contact.jonhoward@gmail.com

 

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part One


Can an image, sound, video or string of words influence the human mind so strongly the mind is actually harmed or controlled? Cosmoso takes a look at technology and the theoretical future of psychological warfare with Part One of an ongoing series. This installment of Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part One is about a possible delivery system for harmful memes. You can click here to jump to Part Two.

Chloe Diggins and Clint Arizmendi wrote an article for Wired Magazine back in Dec., 2012 entitled, Hacking the Human Brain: The Next Domain of Warfare. The piece began:

It’s been fashionable in military circles to talk about cyberspace as a “fifth domain” for warfare, along with land, space, air and sea. But there’s a sixth and arguably more important warfighting domain emerging: the human brain. ~Hacking the Human Brain by Chloe Diggins and Clint Arizmendi, 2012, Wired Magazine

Hacking the Human Brain  concentrated on the vulnerabilities of Brain-Computer Interface or BCI, giving some examples about how ever-increasing human reliance of computer-aided decision making in modern warfare opens users to security risks from weaponized hacking attempts. It’s a great article but the article is not actually discussing that sixth domain it claimed to in that opening paragraph I quoted above.  The attacks described by Diggins and Arizmendi are in the nature of exosuits and mind-controlled drones being overridden by hackers, exhibiting the fifth domain of warfare of the given paradigm. What kind of attack would truly compromise, subjugate the sixth domain, the domain of the mind?

“Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?” ~ From Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash, 1992

In Neil Stephenson‘s 1992 novel, Snow Crash, the hero unravels a complicated conspiracy to control minds using a complicated image file which taps into the innate, hardwired firmware language the human brain uses as an operating system. By simply viewing an image, any human could be susceptible to a contagious, self-replicating idea. The novel was ahead of its time in describing the power of media and the potential dangers posed by creating immersive, interactive virtual worlds and memes with harmful messages or ideas that can spread virally via social media. In the world of Snow Crash, a simple 2d image was the only technology needed to infect the human mind, forcing the victim to comply. The word and much of the concept of a meme had yet to be developed in 1992 but as the above quote points out, there are several, well tested mind control systems in existence already, including viruses, drugs and religions(Check out Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson at Amazon.com).

Stephenson waxed academic about language, history and the idea that ancient Sumerians had already uncovered this ability to hack the human mind. He later credited a 1976 book by Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind as an influence and inspiration for Snow Crash. In Origin of Consciousness, Jaynes coined the term bicameralism,  hypothetical psychological supposition that the human mind used to be divided into 2 main language functions. One part of the human mind was for speaking and the other was for listening, aka bicameralism. Jaynes claimed this state was normal in primates until a relatively recent change in language and cognition happened to humanity, supposedly about 3000 years ago. Stephenson’s fictional technology attacks modern man’s anthropologically latent compulsion to automatically accept orders when the orders are presented in the correct language.

snow crash

Is a mind-control meme only the stuff of science fiction? In real life, how susceptible are humans to this kind of attack? Check out Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain Part Two.

Thanks for reading Can Information be Weaponized? Memetic Warfare and the Sixth Domain: Part One~! Any suggestions, contradictions, likes, shares or comments are welcome.

Jonathan Howard posted this on Monday, February 9th, 2015

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Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY