Fast Radio Bursts: closer to identifying but still mysterious

They’re called Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) simply because they are fast: they last only a few thousandths of a second and because they are radio waves: they are part of electromagnetic spectrum around 1 Gigahertz.

Image: Space.com

That’s about it.

However, there are a few more clues to their origins since first being discovered -somewhat by chance- by Professor Duncan Lorimer. In 2007 he gave an assignment to his student to search through archival data recorded in 2001 by a radio dish in Australia.

It would have been a tedious assignment, pouring over old data. But it paid off and now the Lorimer Burst FRB 010724 is famous for being the first Fast Radio Burst.

FRBs are remarkable because of their incredible energy. A burst of a few thousandths of a second produces as much energy as the sun does in a month.

They are also a glimpse back in time. Energy from FRBs was sent from mysterious distant explosions billions of light years away, at a time when the Earth was so hot that water boiled on its surface and the atmosphere so toxic that life couldn’t exist.

I first wrote about FRBs in 2018. Back then, I asked Paul Scholz, Research Associate at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Penticton what they might be: Cosmic strings, Neutron stars, Supernovae, evaporation of black holes?  His terse reply:

“This is what we hope to answer!”

We now know that these explosions happen at least 800 times a day all over the sky, and they are one of the most exciting topics in astrophysics. Although much about FRBs remains unknown, in just the past year a clearer picture has emerged.

“I think we’re closer to understanding what some FRBs are,” says Ziggy Pleunis, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto. “But as we’ve been going on this quest, new discoveries have led to new questions (Scientific American, June, 2022).”

It looks like some of them come from magnetars. Research teams detected an enormous blast of radio energy coming from our neighbourhood; a magnetar located in our Milky Way.

Magnetars are an extreme kind of neutron star, a city-sized remnant left behind when a massive star dies in a supernova. A magnetar’s magnetic field can be so strong that approaching within 1,000 kilometers of one would disrupt your body’s atomic nuclei and electrons, causing you to effectively dissolve.

Magnetars are not the whole story, however. Because FRBs vary in brightness, duration and other properties, it is unlikely that any single observation can explain them all.

The radio telescope at Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory that was being upgraded in 2018 to detect FRBs is now complete and making progress. In its first year of operation in 2021, the radio telescope released a catalog of 536 FRBs, quadrupling the number known.

The bursts come in two distinct flavours-those that repeatedly flash their signals and those that are one-off events.

Given recent history, more FRB excitement is likely in the coming years, Professor Lorimer says: “Just when you think things are settling down, you have a year with all these remarkable discoveries.”

Mentally ill street people need institutional health care

While I don’t want to see a return of the warehousing of mentally ill patients, some institutional care facilities need to be built to care for the mentally ill people left to their own resources on the street.

I’m well aware of the old mental hospitals because my father was a patient in one. It was located north of Edmonton in Oliver, built in 1923 when eugenics was popular.

image: The Eugenics Archives

Based on animal husbandry, eugenics promoted the idea that undesirable traits could be bred out of human genetic lines.

My dad admitted himself to Oliver with “manic depression,” now called bipolar disorder, and died there in 1970.

I visited him often and wished that the drugs that were being developed could be used to treat him. I was convinced that with medication other than shock treatment, he could have led a functional life.

With advent of drug treatment and de-stigmatization of mental illness, mental hospitals were closed. Patients were supposed to be transferred to group homes and care facilities in the community. But in their haste to save money with the closure of expensive hospitals, not enough care facilities were provided and mentally ill people were left to their own resources on the streets.

Not just Alberta but all of Canada emptied their mental hospitals with few places for them to go. In B.C., Riverview hospital was the mental hospital.

Opened in 1913, Riverview was designed to hold 480 patients but had twice that number by the end of the year. With further expansion of the buildings, numbers swelled to 4,306 by 1959.

The Social Credit government of the day closed the hospital with plans to integrate patients into the community, but more often patients ended up in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Mentally ill people on the street need more than housing. They need treatment. And when they are incapable of realizing the downward trajectory of their lives, they must be forcibly institutionalized.

The forcible treatment of ill people goes against a notion of freedom: that everyone should be free to choose medical treatment.

But involuntary care is something that premier-apparent David Eby has talked about as a possibility, a stance that produced criticism from people who said forcing drug users into sobriety is inhumane and ultimately not workable.

Mayors of B.C. cities have identified mental illness as a major issue with increasingly difficult behaviour problems, along with the separate issue of repeat criminal activity in public places.

Mayors Krog and Basran, of Nanaimo and Kelowna respectively, say involuntary treatment is not about forced sobriety, but about making sure there is secure housing to protect people with brain damage and severe mental illness from hurting themselves and others.

“We have no problem doing that for someone who has Alzheimer’s,” said Mayor Basran. “Why wouldn’t we have a scenario where we do the same for these people?”

We’ve come a long way from eugenics. Mentally ill people represent a wide range of illness from behavior issues to brain disease. Surely, we can determine which of those are seriously ill and help them

When I see the bedlam on the streets of Kamloops, I can’t help but remember how much better the lives of patients were at Oliver.

The glow has gone off Non Fungible Tokens

During the pandemic, a particular fever called Non Fungible Tokens gripped the crypto world.

NFTs raised the level of abstract art to the ultimate level of abstraction. Using the same technology as cryptocurrencies, art could be purchased that existed in an ethereal digital form only.

image: SiouxieEMart NFT – Pulp fiction Girl

NFT art held both promise and hype. Finally, artists could make a living selling their art by bypassing the middlemen -the galleries and agents who take a cut of sales. Now artists could market their work directly to buyers.

NFTs promised could solve another problem: resale. Artists often sell their work to art speculators for very little. This is especially true for Indigenous artists who work in remote, sometimes Arctic, locations. Speculators sell the art for many times more than what they paid. The price can escalate with each sale, leaving the artist with a fraction of the eventual sales. NFT contracts could include a clause that requires a percentage of the resale price go to the artist.

I didn’t realize that my art was non-fungible two years ago but that was only because I didn’t know what the word “fungible” meant.

Fungible things can be exchanged for something else of the same kind: they are equivalent. A twenty dollar bill is fungible because it can be exchanged for a ten and two fives. A house is not fungible because you can’t exchange it for a garage and two sheds. They are not equivalent.

My art is non-fungible. One of my acrylic paintings can’t be exchanged for a charcoal sketch and two plastic-fork mobiles.

However, my non-fungible art is not in a digital form whose ownership is established by the cryptocurrency ledger called blockchain -it’s not a token. You can hang my art on the wall.

Scott Martin, an artist from Hamilton, Ontario, did very well selling NFTs. After studying art at college, he sold used car commercials. . In 2020, a friend encouraged him to sell his work as NFTs. His first attempt netted a few thousand dollars. “The more exciting part was just knowing somebody would want to pay for my work without actually being able to hold it,” he says.

Then he and partners released 10,000 drawings under the name Doodles. The series sold out within minutes. Since then, more than US$520-million worth of Doodles have traded hands, making it one of the most popular NFT collections in the world.

Not everyone thinks NFTs are a serious investment. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates alluded to the “greater fool” theory to describe NFTs which says that investors can make money on the most worthless asset so long as someone else is gullible enough to buy it at a higher price.

With the pandemic fever waning, investments in phantom money and art are losing their appeal. In general, the value of NFTs has been slashed in half.

The glow has gone off of NFTs. Investors are looking for safe havens, and it’s hard to think of a riskier asset than a JPG. “The bubble has burst, or still has to burst,” says Pedro Herrera, head of research at DappRadar. “Ninety to 95 per cent of the projects that we currently see in the market, in two years, will be worth close to zero.”

Export of Canada’s hydrogen to Germany by 2025 is a pipedream

I admire Germany for doing so much to reduce greenhouse gases. Too bad that the initiative has left them dependent on the import of natural gas –half of it from Russia.

image: Utility Analytics Institute

Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, came to Canada and signed a “Declaration of Intent” that would see hydrogen exported to Germany by 2025. Dream on.

Talk of hydrogen during Scholz’s visit has set Newfoundland abuzz with plans to build wind turbines to generate electricity and produce green hydrogen for export. But no turbines have been built, nor plants to produce hydrogen from electricity, and no facilities to convert the hydrogen into ammonia for transport.

Scholz also wants our liquefied natural gas. The chances of exporting of LNG from the east coast are close to zero.

First of all, there are no LNG export terminals on the East Coast. And even if there were, there is no pipeline to supply them. In fact, there are no operational LNG export terminals in all of Canada –the only one under construction will ship LNG from Kitimat, B.C., to Asia.

Another idea being floated is the dual use of LNG plants for compressing hydrogen. That’s also unlikely say Johanne Whitmore, chair in energy sector management at HEC Montréal and Paul Martin, a chemical engineer:

“However, hydrogen-ready LNG terminals do not actually exist today because both gases have different properties which require different infrastructure. Repurposing existing infrastructure would require extensive retrofitting at great expense. New infrastructure will take years to build, which won’t help Europe meet near-term energy needs, or abate its emissions (Globe and Mail, August 8, 2022).”

Hydrogen can be made from natural gas or electricity. When made from natural gas, it is classified as “grey” if none of the carbon produced in the process is sequestered and classified as “blue” if at least 90 per cent of the carbon is captured. When hydrogen produced from renewable electricity sources is classified as “green.”

It takes a lot of energy to make hydrogen. The use of natural gas to make hydrogen is more polluting than LNG without carbon sequestration. And most of the hydrogen produced in Canada is grey. Canada’s ambitious Shell Quest sequestration project has carbon capture rates of less than 50 per cent, well below the threshold that would classify it as blue.

Exporting liquid hydrogen is not only technically challenging, there are huge energy losses using natural gas production (30 per cent, compared to LNG’s 8 per cent).

 “As academics and engineers with decades of experience in energy,” say Whitmore and Martin, “we are concerned that Canada’s dash to build new LNG infrastructure in the hope of exporting hydrogen is not only scientifically baseless, but risks locking both Canada and Germany into a fossil-based economy.”

Newfoundland’s concept would overcome the shipping problem, somewhat, by transporting hydrogen as ammonia. But more energy would be lost in converting ammonia back into hydrogen at the end.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dreaming when he told a G7 in June that Eastern Canada LNG infrastructures could be expanded on the basis “they could then be used for hydrogen exporting,” thereby “keeping it consistent with Canada’s longer term climate goals.”

Dreams and hydrogen have one thing in common: they are both lighter than air and float away.

New Russian movie villains won’t look like the old ones

In the 1950s, Russian villains were seen as alien invaders with superior weapons and mind control in science fiction films. The possibility of a Russian invasion of North America and nuclear annihilation generated a lot of anxiety, and those fears were expressed as alien invasions.

In the 1953 movie War of the Worlds, based on a H. G. Wells novel, a spaceship that looks like a meteor falls near a small California community and a famous nuclear physicist guesses that it is a Martian spaceship. Actually, the ship is part of a mass invasion. Meteors fall all over the world, opening up to release flying machines with attached death rays.

image: ArtStation

From a sadistic former KGB operative in The Avengers to the Russian evildoers in A Good Day to Die Hard, there was no shortage of Russian villains on the screen.

The fictional boxer Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (1985) is typical of the old-style Russian villain: huge and seemingly unstoppable. Played by the Swedish actor and real-life martial artist Dolph Lundgren, Drago is an Olympic gold medalist and an amateur boxing champion from the Soviet Union. He is billed at 6 ft 6 in and 261 pounds. In a fight with former champion Apollo Creed, Drago lands a savage punch that kills him.

Drago is remorseless. He coldly states “if he dies, he dies”, claiming he will soon “defeat a real champion”.

Even the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 didn’t bring an end to Russian villains onscreen -Russians remained the studios’ favoured villains.

There’s the evil Yuri Komarov from the totally forgettable A Good Day To Die Hard (2013); and Grigori Rasputin as the fictional supervillain in the comic book series Hellboy (2004).

Lately, I’ve been watching the Netflix series Stranger Things about how small town kids save the world from Russian bad guys. The Russians are so evil that they beat up and drug children on a regular basis and kick women in the stomach. The characters are almost comical: two-dimensional and flat. There’s even an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type whose only job is to look menacing and choke people mid-air.

The new Russian villains have yet to be portrayed in movies but Vladimir Putin is a good start on the stereotype.

Many credit Putin’s persona to an early career as a KGB officer. That’s true to an certain extent says author Douglas Century but he is also a gangster and thug. Putin and Russian organized crime have been inextricably linked almost from his emergence as a public figure in the early 1990s.

“Not very tall,” says Century “Putin developed a technique in street fights: He’d jump on the backs of taller khuligans (hooligans) and start punching them in the face from behind. In other words, he learned the principles of asymmetrical warfare at a very young age (Globe and Mail July 23, 2022).”

The portrayal of Russians as villains as a “safe” enemy is probably because they look so European, yet beneath the blond exterior conceals a sinister side. The use of visible minorities would be disastrous. The association of COVID with China, for example, has led to an increase in violence against Asians.

Russian villains will probably remain a durable stereotype. What the new Russian villain looks like in fiction remains to be seen.

BC Housing reboot: there’s a lot of catching up to do

Image: BC Housing

BC HOUSING CORPORATION is suffering growing pains and no wonder. After years of neglect in building affordable housing, there ís a lot of catching up to do.

The provincial housing agency’s budget has increased 140 per cent from five years ago to $2 billion. It ís expected to rise to $7 billion in the next decade.

I’m not surprised that BC Housing would require review but the shakeup was dramatic. The government fired the entire board after an independent probe of BC Housing uncovered serious problems.

Not only was the board fired. The CEO of BC Housing, Shayne Ramsay, announced his retirement in a rambling statement. “I no longer have confidence I can solve the complex problems facing us at BC Housing,” he said.

Ramsay added that he’s been watching with growing alarm at violence perpetrated against homeless people. He said “something shifted” for him in May as he watched police converge on a Downtown Eastside park where a man lay fatally stabbed, an incident that occurred just minutes after Ramsay had left the area while walking his dog.

The independent probe by Ernst & Young found the agency had grown exceptionally fast and was handing out multimillion-dollar contracts without rigorous review and no clear documentation for why some contracts were awarded.

Included in the top 10 funding projects in 2021 were Coast Foundation ($10-million); Pacifica Housing ($9.4-million); Affordable Housing ($9.1-million); ASK Wellness of Kamloops ($7.8-Million); and More Than a Roof ($7.5-million).

The probe found two programs in particular as being notable for unclear documentation or criteria for awarding contracts. While the review did not name one of them specifically, Atira is the largest provider of those programs.

The executive directors at Atira were earning substantial wages considering that they are non-profit society.

An investigation by the Globe and Mail found that, according to 2021 Revenue Canada reports, Atira’s top-paid executive was making in the $200,000-to-$250,000 range, while the next two highest-paid staff were in the $160,000-to-$200,000 range.

It’s no accident that there is a shortage of affordable housing. The shortage of affordable rental units is the result of deliberate government policy starting with the Mulroney Conservatives in the 1990s and carried on with the Liberals.

Governments stopped investment in affordable rental units for a number of reasons: strong wage growth from 1996 to 2006 coupled with declining interest rates and modest housing prices enticed more renters into home ownership.

That period also saw a shift in politics in which government off-loaded the building of affordable housing to the private sector.

However, all that changed by the mid-2000s. Stagnant wages and the growth of low paying jobs along with escalating housing prices pushed people out of home ownership and into rentals.

A half-century ago, governments got housing built. The mid-1990s austerity ended all that. Since then, the private sector has failed to meet the needs of low to moderate income earners.

There’s a lot of catching up to do and BC Housing needs to refocus to the task. B.C.’s premier-apparent, David Eby, is determined to get affordable housing done right. His board replacements are competent former deputy ministers and bureaucrats with financial expertise.

It’s time to get B.C.’s housing in order.

The green-washing of B.C.’s wood pellet industry

Our wood pellet industry is clear cutting the province under the pretense that pellets are a green source of fuel.

Much of the industry is in B.C.’s inland rainforests and it doesn’t get a lot of attention from environmental groups. Not like the coastal rainforests where protesters lay their bodies in front of heavy machinery.

image: CBC

BC’s inland rainforest, which once totalled over 1.3 million hectares, is endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Their study found that if current logging rates continue, inland rainforests could experience ecological collapse within a decade.

From the comfort of my car, it seems like B.C.’s forests go on forever but that’s an illusion. The study from the conservation group looked at forests beyond 100 metres from a road and found them to be in danger. It found that 95 percent of its core habitat had been lost since 1970.

How could our inland forests be under threat when lumber mills are shutting down and B.C. has lost 50,000 forestry jobs since 2000?

The answer is automation and the wood pellet industry.

The Wood Pellet Association of Canada says that B.C.’s forests produce more pellets than anywhere else in the world and Prince George is the industry’s epicentre.

The pellet industry claims that burning wood, unlike coal and other fossil fuels, is “carbon neutral” and helps slow climate change. Their fuzzy logic tries to convince us that when new trees are planted to replace those that are cut, then emissions from burning are balanced by the sequestration of carbon. The Paris Climate Agreement agrees.

But tree pellets burn in an instant and trees take decades to grow. The climate crisis is immediate. We can’t wait decades before tackling the problem.

Many scientists disagree with the fuzzy logic. In an open letter from 500 scientists and economists, they warned that burning pellets “is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

Mary Booth, director of the non-profit Partnership for Policy Integrity, says: “The whole thing boils down to the obvious fact that burning things emits carbon quickly and re-growing things to sequester carbon takes a long time, (Walrus, March 28, 2022).”

The pellet industry makes a number of green boasts; one that that pellets are a sustainable by-product of forests already being cut. This may have been true at first when pellets were made from lumber waste, such as sawdust and slash. But that’s no longer true.

The tiny volunteer environmental group, Conservation North, has discovered stacks of logs at the pellet facility at the Medowbank Facility, 75 kilometers south of Prince George. Most trees were under a foot thick, but some were much larger.

The pellet industry claims that it is not cutting old growth forests. While that may be technically true -old growth trees in the interior are defined as 140 years old- nonetheless, they are very close to that age.

Large swathes of our interior rainforests are being clear cut. Not only are those forests home to flora and fauna but when those trees die, they replenish the soil for future growth.

Our forests are being sacrificed to satisfy some misguided notion that pellets are “green” source of energy like wind, solar and hydro. 

A chapter closes in Canada’s worst mass murder

They parked their SUV at 7:00 in the morning of July 14 in front of his family business and waited for him. When Ripudaman Singh Malik arrived a few hours later, he was shot dead in a volley of gunfire.

While little is known of the motives of the two arrested and charged in connection with the killing, Malik is known for his acquittal in Canada’s worst mass murder.

image: dailyO

Canadians might be hard pressed to remember what Canada’s worst mass murder was.

Here are some hints.  It was the biggest terrorist attack in Canada’s history. It was the most expensive to investigate.  Relative to our population, as many Canadians died on June 23, 1985, as did Americans on September 11, 2001.

It was the Air India bombing in which 329 people died, including 280 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, 86 of them children. The flight originated in Vancouver and exploded off the coast of Ireland.

Canadians can be forgiven for not knowing much about the terrorist attack. Even Prime Minister Mulroney at the time seemed a bit confused. He gave condolences to the Indian prime minister, as if it was mostly Indians who died in the attack.

Air India flight 182 took off from Canada to England, destined for Mumbai (Bombay) India. All seemed normal for the passengers who awoke after a long overnight flight.  What they didn’t know was that a time bomb was ticking in a suitcase stored in the forward cargo hold.  The suitcase had been loaded by a “Mr. Singh” in Vancouver who was suspiciously not aboard. The flight ended violently in the early morning of June 23 off the coast of Ireland.

Now, of course, that wouldn’t happen. Passengers can’t load unaccompanied luggage –a lesson learned from the explosion of Air India flight 182.

Three were charged with the bombing but only one was convicted. Inderjit Singh Reyat served 30 years for lying during two trials and for helping to make the bombs in his Vancouver Island home. He was released in 2016.

In 2005, Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, a saw mill worker from Kamloops, were acquitted of mass murder and conspiracy charges in connection to the Air India bombing. A judge determined that two key witnesses used by the crown were unreliable.

A public inquiry issued a report in 2010 that blamed the failure to prosecute on a “cascading series of errors” by police, intelligence officers and air safety regulators and prompted then-prime minister Stephen Harper to apologize to the victims’ families.

Gunfire justice is not uncommon in the disputes between Sikh militants and India.  

Two newspaper publishers were gunned down after they met with Bagri in London few months after the bombing. Tara Singh Hayer, a publisher of a Vancouver newspaper, and Tarsen Singh Purewal a British newspaper publisher were killed after they renounced extremism and printed newspaper articles critical of Sikh militants.

Talwinder Singh Parmar, said to be the mastermind behind the Air India bombing, was killed in a gun fight with Punjab Police in 1992.

Malik’s son said that his father devoted his life to Sikh teachings of love, honesty and the betterment of humanity.

Rest in peace, Ripudaman Singh Malik.

Dr. Day’s marathon to commercialize health care

He may be down but he’s not out. Dr. Brian Day has lost court case after court case but he’s not giving up. I’ve got to hand it to Dr. Day for his perseverance.

image: Eoin Kelleher

He started 13 years ago and isn’t finished yet.

He started his mission in 2009. In echoes of today’s economic turmoil, the Great Recession cast a cloud over the land and Stephen Harper was prime minster. The number one song in Canada was I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas.

Dr. Brian Day launched his lawsuit after he learned his clinics were going to be audited by the B.C. Government. The audit was triggered by dozens of patients who complained that they’d been illegally overbilled at Day’s Cambie clinic.

Dr. Day figures that the best defence is an offence. As soon as he learned that the province was going to check into his illegal billing, he launched a court case arguing that B.C.’s Medicare Protection Act violated patient’s freedom under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It’s so typical. Whenever someone is up to no good they throw up a smoke screen. The guy who’s caught speeding? He’s not breaking the law; he’s taking his terminally ill child to the hospital.

After years of legal delays, the audit by the B.C. Government in 2012 uncovered 170 instances of extra-billing to patients which were contrary to the Act. The audit only sampled 468 services over 10 years, so there were probable many more.

The investigation also uncovered 93 instances of “double-dipping”, in which 19 doctors including Dr. Day charged a total of $66,734 to the province while charged patients $424,232 for the same treatment.

Oh no, said Dr. Day in his defence, we don’t charge patients for treatments, we charge them for “consulting fees,” and “facility fees” for equipment and staff. And no, we don’t pay doctors extra beyond what any doctor would bill the provincial Medical Services Plan.

Financial records later filed in court showed that wasn’t true.

They showed that clinics, including Dr. Day’s,  paid 140 people, mostly doctors, $1.5-million or more per year in “consulting fees,” over five years. That included a total of $1.36-million paid to Dr. Day during that period.

Dr. Day is soldiering on, determined to create a two-tiered health care system in which doctors are pulled out of public health care into lucrative private practices.

British Columbia’s highest court recently upheld a lower court’s ruling that countered Dr. Day’s claim that Canadians should have the constitutional right to pay for private health care. B.C. Supreme Court ruled that Dr. Day’s model would undermine the very basis of universal health care.

In the ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court supported the value of public good.  It’s a concept that greedy heath care salesmen don’t understand. It’s like those “freedom fighters” who don’t get the concept of public good. Public health during a pandemic is paramount; individual rights to refuse a vaccine are outweighed by the need to protect all.

But Dr. Day will continue to try to undermine our health care system which, while struggling, is superior to any private system.

I want an improved health span, not life span

I probably won’t die of “old age.” More likely, I’ll die of some disease associated with growing older.

For too many of us, health span is reduced by disease, not old age. Many those diseases are preventable, or could be made less deadly through research, but little money is put into cures because old people get them. It’s ageism, pure and simple.

image: Die at your peak

We are living longer but not necessarily better. While the average lifespan of Canadians is 82 years, the health span is only 72 years. That means a lot of seniors live their last 10 years in poor health. In some cases, it’s a life not worth living.

By “health span,” I mean living healthy, independent and strong lives. Health span can be measured of the quality of life that includes: Mind & cognition (processing speed, short term memory); Body (maintenance of muscle mass, functional movement, freedom from pain).

Andrew Steele, biologist and the author of Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old, told CBC Radio’s Spark:

“Until now, we’ve been treating medicine in this very unsystematic way. So what we could do by understanding these hallmarks is to potentially come up with treatments to intervene in them directly. And that means preventative treatments; treatments can go in earlier and stop people getting ill in the first place (April 29, 2022).”

Researchers who want to improve the quality of life by reducing the diseases of aging are often met with pushback. Critics say that dying of disease is natural and keeping seniors healthy as they age will result in them living longer. The illogical thinking doesn’t escape Andrew Steele:

“Let’s say I had written a book on cancer research and how I think we’re going to cure leukemia in the next 20 years. Nobody would write me an email saying, ‘Hi, Andrew, you know, this cancer research, aren’t you really worried about all these extra people who are going to be surviving cancer and cluttering up the planet’?”

If we want to improve the health of children by reducing disease, why wouldn’t we want to improve the health of everyone?

The answer is ageism. Another guest on the radio show has done research on how positive attitudes on aging can actually improve the health of seniors.

Becca Levy, a psychologist and epidemiologist at Yale University, found that ageism results in more than hurt feelings or discriminatory behavior. It affects physical and cognitive health and well-being in measurable ways and can take years off one’s health span.

So rather than treating aging as a single, inevitable change in our bodies, it’s more like a series of processes brought about by disease. If those processes can be prevented, or even reversed, then the health span of people could dramatically increase, along with being able to live considerably longer.

Life span has increased by improving health span. Better public health measures such as clean water, antibiotics, and vaccines mean we live longer and healthier.

But diseases that develop with aging remain a barrier to improved health span.

To maximize longevity, we need to delay the onset of the three largest killers of humans: cerebrovascular and cardiovascular, cancer, and neurodegenerative. These three causes of death will kill 75% of us.

For me, the ideal would be a health span equal to my life span.