Science

The case for a national Covid-19 Memorial Day

We have a tendency to forget how bad pandemics can be.

By 1983, Steve Jobs had grown frustrated with the computer industry. He told the press that the industry hadn’t had “a real technical innovation in five years” and was ready to correct that oversight. Today, in 1983, Apple introduced the Lisa.

One of the technical innovations Jobs was likely referring to was a graphical user interface, or GUI. The ability to interact with a computer through graphical icons and sounds made using the machines infinitely easier. The first computer to be designed to support a GUI had been released in 1973, the Xerox Alto.

While the Alto had wowed Silicon Valley, Xerox had no real interest in developing the machine for mass commercial use. But Jobs was impressed, and in 1979, he offered a trade that would change computer history. In exchange for shares in Apple, Xerox would give his employees demonstrations of a GUI in action.

Apple’s developers took the hints and the results wowed users. ''You get into the screen so quickly you forget it's a computer,'' one client told the New York Times. Its software, which the Times described as “most unusual,” allowed users to draw on the screen “to create organizational charts or even freehand drawings.”

But if the Lisa had one hitch, it was its price. At $10,000, the Lisa cost approximately $25,000 in 2020 dollars. The astronomical price made the Lisa a creative machine outside the price range of all the highest bidders, but it had set the stage for much greater heights.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for January 19, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.

Personalized brain stimulation could relieve a mental health disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is often dismissed as a quirky hand-washing tic or preoccupation with checking locked doors. In reality, the mental health condition affects almost a billion people's quality of life every year.

Effective treatments are limited, and the most common therapy — cognitive behavioral therapy — doesn't work for as many as 40 percent of people with the condition, according to one scientific review.

A new approach proposes taking a different tack: bringing the treatment for OCD directly to the brain. In a new paper, neuroscientists show how directly stimulating the brain's reward processing center could help curb OCD.

Just 30 minutes of stimulation for five days could have lasting effects up to three months after treatment. In some study participants, the approach reduced their OCD-related behaviors by 30 percent.

The researchers suggest their personal brain stimulation approach could treat other forms of compulsive behaviors, including overeating, shopping, or gambling.

Into the brain →

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A declining insect population spells trouble for us

Apart from bug-loving entomologists and innovative roboticists, most humans regard insects with a mixture of disdain and disgust.

Our aversion to insects means we neglect to consider their role in the climate crisis. Instead, we give attention to starving polar bears and awe-inspiring megafauna.

A special publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new reason to think about how climate change has affected the world's insects.

"Nature is being cut, rended, burned, despoiled — tortured by a thousand cuts" →

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Why do so many people hate cheese?

For all of the cultural and internet love that cheese inspires, cheese haters still walk among us.

While obviously not all people hate cheese — a single French citizen ate about 25.9 kilograms of cheese per year in 2013 — the number of people who dislike cheese was high enough to surprise Jean-Pierre Royet, a neuroscientist and the author of what appears to be the first and only scientific study on the brains of cheese-haters.

In his 2016 study, "The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study," he found as many as six percent of 332 people disliked cheese so much that they were disgusted by it.

Part of the hatred may come down to negative experiences with cheese, like the misery of lactose intolerance.

But some people find it purely disgusting, even without prior negative experiences.

The study found that a key brain area associated with reward, the ventral palladium, is deactivated in cheese haters. Instead, disgust is triggered.

Are you passionate about cheese? Hit reply to this email and tell us your story.

Is cheese .... bad (?) →

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Coming soon ...

From Mister Miracle to Green Lantern, Tom King has brought a singular vision to comics, one that's unafraid to deal with complex issues but one also showing moments of true warmth and intimacy between characters.

King has also brought that vision to, well, The Vision, his Eisner-winning take on Marvel's android superhero who desperately wants to be human. And now that WandaVision is out, King's influence on the character is more apparent than ever.

Coming soon on Inverse, an interview with comic author Tom King.

Scientists are baffled by these glow-in-the-dark animals

A group of German scientists recently discovered a species of gecko has a surprising hidden talent. Under UV light, the web-footed gecko glows a bright fluorescent green around its eyes and down its sides.

The same researchers also found fluorescence in chameleons in 2018. In that case, thin, raised scales provided a “window” to view the fluorescent bones beneath.

In most cases, scientists are unconvinced that fluorescence helps animals, though it could play a role in camouflage, mating, or communication.

Why do these animals glow? →

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The case for a national Covid-19 Memorial Day

One day in the future, we'll file into a stadium, heads filled with anxiety about the game instead of catching Covid-19.

The vaccinated crowd will take a moment to remove their hats and bow their heads. Players will impatiently rock back and forth, ready to take the field in this moment of silence.

It won’t be perfectly silent, but it will be quite enough to prompt reflection.

We’ll be asked to remember the hundreds of thousands of people we lost to a microscopic virus that, through our own negligence and arrogance, ended countless lives.

But then again, we might not.

It’s not that the United States doesn’t know how to remember tragedy. Each year on September 11, two blue lights surge from Ground Zero, a tribute to the 2,977 people who died on that day in 2001.

But when it comes to pandemics, we have short memories. As President Barack Obama recalls in his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land, the last pandemic to hit the US – the swine flu – killed more than 12,000 people in the US between 2009 and 2010. Yet, “news that the pandemic had abated by mid-2010 didn’t generate headlines,” Obama writes.

Given our well-documented history of social forgetting, it's imperative for our governmental leaders to strengthen this tragedy in our national memory — its failings, its ugly politicization, the heroic work of medical workers, the shared sacrifice of everyone who put others before their own needs, all of it — to ensure we remember.

As you'll read in our latest feature, grief leadership — when elected leaders guide the public in that critical process — is a valuable strategy for cementing those memories and ensuring we are prepared for future challenges.

Why we need to establish a Covid-19 Memorial Day →

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