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Science: Medical Monitoring & The Little Ice Age

By Bob Snodgrass
Posted: 08/07/2022

We had a pleasant meeting on July 18th. It had been delayed one week because I was in hospital on July 11th. I was discharged on the 12th and felt better in a few days. Sharon was our first speaker. She brought interesting experiences when she served as health care executor for a sick friend. Many monitoring devices were used with her friend but they often had negative effects on the patient. Our culture assumes that more patient monitoring is always a good thing. It can be for certain cardiac conditions but there is a tradeoff- patients vary in their reactions to monitoring – it’s mostly noise, but some monitoring devices are themselves uncomfortable. Many physicians never consider this issue unless the patients brings it up. It would be reasonable for patients to say when monitoring devices are first mentioned that they sleep poorly and would wan to be convinced that monitoring was essential for their medical care. This discussion generally won’t apply to ICU patients, because today ICU patients often receive powerful intravenous medications that require close monitoring of patient response.


Barbara had a related issue, taken from an article in The Verge. One of their examples was a 70 yr. old woman successfully treated for atrial fibrillation, a common and important arrhythmia. Wearing a smart watch she was very anxious and printed out 916 electrocardiograms via the watch between two physician visits. She associated every notification from the watch with a possible worsening of her condition. Again, the monitoring device, the watch, is a tradeoff and may worse some patients’ overall condition. I note that the media usually adopt a cheerleader posture with every new monitoring device. Patients are often totally uneducated about the tradeoffs that come with monitoring.


Barbara also reported on the process by which astronomers are assigned time on the James Webb Space Telescope. Requests to use the viewing time on the telescope greatly exceed the time available. With a more thoughtful approach, each investigator submits a request. For time and an explanation of its potential payoff. Names are removed from these requests, so that women and graduate students are treated fairly. This system has been fairer than the ‘old boys’ system used 20 years ago on the Hubble telescope, which was launched in 1990.


Sally A presented information about the so-called medieval Little Ice Age, This was a period of irregular regional cooling, in no way analogous to the present period of climate change. The Little Ice Age affected the North Atlantic region most of all. There were three particularly cold periods, separated by intervals of modest warming:


The first began about 1660, the second about 1770, and the last in 1850. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report considered that the timing and the areas affected by the Little Ice Age suggested largely independent regional episodes, whose cause is only partly established. The Little Ice Age had a gradual onset, possibly about 1300 when warm summers stopped being dependable in Northern Europe. We must remember 1816, the year without a summer.


After an unremarkable early spring, temperatures in the eastern United States plunged back below freezing, and communities from New England to Virginia experienced heavy snowfalls and crop-killing frost during June, July and August. Poor North Americans were reduced to eating hedgehogs and scrounging for turnips. Around the northern hemisphere, there was severe famine.


We now believe that this unusual cold weather and lack of sunshine was cause by a gigantic volcanic eruption, much more powerful than the famous Krakatoa. Mount Tambora in Indonesia produced a powerful eruption in 185, reducing sunlight all over our planet. Tambora, Krakatoa and many other active volcanoes are part of the so-called ring of fire.

Bruce also remined us of a CNET program that pointed out how much of the recorded early universe and last 50,000 years are based on European records and give insufficient attention to Asia and Africa.


Bob spoke about the large effects that viruses have had on human evolution and the differences between prokaryotic cells (no nuclear membrane) and the eukaryotic cell, whose cytoplasm if filled with membranes Retroviruses are RNA viruses like HIV virus. Retroviruses incorporate their nucleic acid, DNA made by the enzyme reverse transcriptase from RBA into the host genome, thereby changing future generations. COVID is an RNA virus but not a retrovirus.


Our August meeting comes Monday, August 8th at 4 PM. Belinda has sent the ZOOM log in material. I know that some people are away, this being summer and family vacation time. I hope that we may have interesting and informative discussions, which requires your finding presentations.

Best wishes

Bob Snodgrass


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