Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                                                            Interactive science series

Q: How and why do beliefs survive when there is no evidence to support them?

Krishna: Good question. Yes, why do so many beliefs still survive despite tremendous scientific advancement that can shatter all those weaklings?

The reason is majority of the people still support them!

You show evidence to bust a belief. Then how many people will understand it the right way? With the minds conditioned by cultures, religions, emotions (like fears, love, respect, motivation), and politics, can they take things in the right and neutral way? With several cognitive biases screwing up your thought processes how can anybody come to a right conclusion?

How many people can re-consider their original views or will have the capacity to consider evidence? How many people will have the critical thinking capabilities ? How many people can conquer their biases, fears and go against the flow? How many people can conquer their weakness of mind? How many people can get convinced? How many people can talk to their loved ones or argue against their own and kin's firm beliefs?

Only when a person can do all these things, he can come to a conclusion based on (scientific) evidence. And if only a few people can do this, it will not be sufficient. Only when majority of the people in a given society consider and accept the evidence, can a belief be banished.

Just saying facts don't win arguments.

You got to be more than a scientist or a social worker - a person of high authority - to make people consider your evidence! You got to have a very high EQ too to convince the majority. Emotions, not evidence, rules the world. Somehow Emotional Quotients screw your evidence and you end up with a mixed bag.

No wonder irrationality still rules the world.

Will the day come when IQ can overtake EQ? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind!

Q: Can a donor blood be sterilized like heating it etc. before injecting into a recipient to contain diseases?

Krishna: No! Blood can't be heated because blood contains living cells!

Denaturation ( losing their structure) occurs to plasma proteins at higher temperatures.  

However, a technology called "pathogen inactivation" (PIT) is being promoted as the solution. A chemical added to a donated bag of blood is supposed to break up the genetic material of any viruses or bacteria lurking inside so they can't infect, essentially offering the first way to sterilize blood. This is still in 'testing mode' and we still have to wait to answer several of these Qs by researchers : Does the cleaning alter blood so it doesn't function normally? Does the leftover cleanser residue pose any risk, or alter any cells in a way that might encourage cancer formation? Studies are still being conducted.

When blood is divided into its respective components*, cell-free blood components, such as human plasma, are pathogen-inactivated with solvent-detergent (SD) for large plasma pools or by the addition of methylene blue (MB) for single plasma products in small-sized blood establishments (1, 2, 3, 4). But these  methods are not transferable to cell-containing blood components as they heavily damage platelets and erythrocytes.

Mirasol: Pathogen reduction using riboflavin and UV light is a method by which infectious pathogens in blood for transfusion are inactivated by adding riboflavin and irradiating with UV light. ... This is a type of approach to increase blood safety.

The same riboflavin-based PIT which was successfully evaluated for platelets and plasma is now being further developed for whole blood to achieve the ultimate goal of a single PIT platform that is able to ‘inactivate’ all three blood components simultaneously (5). 

Meanwhile, the procedures recommended  by WHO and followed usually by blood banks to make blood transfusions safe are...

 1) recruit donors from populations that are known to have low rates of infection for blood borne diseases, such as voluntary, unpaid donors and people with no history of intravenous drug use.

2) ask donors a series of additional screening questions (these will vary by region) to help identify those who may be at higher risk of infection. Phlebotomists must adhere strictly to the rules for including and excluding blood donors.

3) screening donated blood for infections common in the area before processing it for use for various therapeutic purposes.

4) minimize exogenous contamination of a donated blood unit or its derived components, particularly contamination from the skin flora of the donor's arm. 

5) blood donations  collected only by  well trained and qualified blood transfusion services personnel

6) collecting blood at a very clean environment

7) transfer the blood unit to a proper storage container according to the blood center requirements and the product 

8) ensure that collected blood samples are stored and delivered to the laboratory with completed documentation, at the recommended temperature, and in a leak-proof, closed container

*Blood components:  

Whole Blood is a highly specialized tissue composed of more than 4,000 different kinds of components.  Four of the most important ones are red cells, white cells, platelets(~45% of volume), suspended in plasma (~55% of volume).

Red cells or erythrocytes, carry oxygen from the lungs to your body’s tissue and take carbon dioxide back to your lungs to be exhaled.
White cells or leukocytes exist in variable numbers and types but make up a very small part of blood's volume--normally only about 1% in healthy people.  Leukocytes are not limited to blood.  They occur elsewhere in the body as well, most notably in the spleen, liver, and lymph glands.  Most are produced in our bone marrow from the same kind of stem cells that produce red blood cells.

Platelets or thrombocytes, are small, colorless cell fragments in the blood whose main function is to interact with clotting proteins to stop or prevent bleeding.

Plasma  is a fluid, composed of about 92% water, 7% vital proteins such as albumin, gamma globulin, anti- hemophilic factor, and other clotting factors, and 1% mineral salts, sugars, fats, hormones and vitamins.

Q: Do science and spirituality compliment each other?

Krishna: Scientific quest itself is a spiritual journey. Unraveling the mysteries of the universe and trying to know the truth and meaning of our existence..

Science and Spirituality

Q: How do scientists determine the age of trees? 

Krishna: The age of a tree can be determined by counting  the annual rings of wood growth. Annual rings can be counted using two different methods. You can extract an increment core from the tree using an increment borer. Most people, however, do not have access to an increment borer, and in fact this instrument does result in an injury to the tree. For trees that are dead and have been cut down, you can count the rings on the stump.



Slice through a figured oak tree

Tree rings: Photo credit : Getty

This provides an accurate estimate, but for live trees it just won’t work!

However, you can estimate the age of a living tree, without knowing when the tree was planted by using the following method: First you have to measure the circumference (c) of the tree trunk using a measuring tape that measures in feet and inches. This should be done at 4.5 feet above the ground.  Then calculate the diameter (d) and radius (r) of the trunk in inches. Divide the circumference by 3.14, a constant known as “pi”. c/3.14 = d 154 inches/3.14 = 49 inches. Divide the diameter by 2 to get the radius. /2 = r 49 inches/2 = 24.5 inches. You should deduct at least .5 inch from the radius for the width of the tree’s bark, and more for trees with very thick bark (1.0 inch), less for trees with very thin bark (.25 inch). In our example, we will deduct .5 inch, for a radius of 24 inches. While you will use the radius to calculate tree age, the trunk diameter of a tree is a commonly used measurement. The trunk diameter measured at 4.5 feet above the ground is officially known as “diameter at breast height”, or “dbh”.

Determine the average width (w) of an annual ring of wood for the species of tree you have measured. In ring-porous species of trees (distinct annual rings), the annual ring will contain both early or spring wood (large vessels) and late or summer wood (small vessels). In diffuse porous woods, it is much more difficult to see where the rings begin and end. A hand lens or magnifying glass is useful.

The width of an annual ring of wood for a particular species depends upon many factors, including:  genetic differences, tree age , height above ground , local site and climatic conditions , competition from other trees , water availability , nutrient availability , presence of insects or diseases  and  general tree health.

You can also calculate the average width of an annual ring using cross sections of wood from the same species. Measure the radius from just inside the bark to the center of the trunk, count the number of rings, and divide the radius by the number of rings. The result will be the average width per ring. 10 inches/50 rings = .2 inches/ring Conversely, if we divide the number of rings by the number of inches, the result will be the average number of rings per inch. 50 rings/10 inches = 5 ring/inch If the absence of actual data for white oak we will use in our example an assumed average of .2 inches per ring, or 5 rings per inch.

Divide the radius (r) by the average width (w) of one annual growth ring to get the approximate age of the tree. r/w = approximate age 24 inches/.2 inches per year = 120 years! (6)

Q: What are superstitions? Should we believe in them or not?

Krishna: Superstitions are baseless beliefs that your mind clings to when it is in a chaotic state with low confidence and when fear rules it.

No, you should not believe in them if you really want to strengthen your mind in the right way! What is the right way? A rational and scientific analysis of a problem and finding solutions with creative knowledge. Like this…

Science's rules are unyielding, they will not be bent in any way fo...

Science and superstitions : How rational thinking can make you work...

Q: What is genetic profiling of tumours?

Krishna: Not all patients and tumours react in the same way for cancer treatment. By screening patients for genetic glitches associated with the disease,  scientists are starting to use detailed information about patients' tumour genomes to decide which treatments might benefit them most. 

About a quarter of patients with drug-resistant tumours lived for longer after genetic screening of their tumours allowed them to be switched to better targeted treatments. Researchers believe that this type of personalized medicine, in which treatments are designed around an individual's genetic profile, may be the future of cancer treatment.

Molecular information obtained from cancer patients' blood is an emerging and powerful research tool with immense potential as a companion diagnostic for patient stratification and monitoring. Blood, which can be sampled routinely, provides a means of inferring the current genetic status of patients' tumours via analysis of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) or circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).

Alterations in genes encoding cellular signaling molecules, especially protein kinases (an enzyme that catalyses the transfer of a phosphate group from ATP to a specified molecule) can result in cancers. Drugs targeting mutant kinases are efficacious in cancer patients. The sensitivity of such drugs is related to the genetic makeup of individual tumors. Thus, mutational profiles of tumor DNA help prioritize anti-cancer therapy and direct patient management (7).

There are some types of glioblastoma ( one type of brain cancer) that are very responsive to chemotherapy, but those generally happen in younger people. The types of tumor that can be particularly responsive to immunotherapy generally happen in older people, or people who have genetic factors that allow their tumors to acquire a lot of mutations—so that the tumor has a lot of different antigens that are recognized by the immunotherapy .

In such cases genetic profiling helps a lot in treating a patient more efficiently. 

Q: Are Tardigrades really that tough and can survive a catastrophe outlasting all living beings like it was reported in the press?

Krishna: When I read those reports I smiled. It is another eye-ball catching press report that the journalism falls for! :) And I didn't report it here!

Several experiments conducted showed tardigrades are not that tough after all.

 One such experiment, using ESA’s ‘Biopan-6’ orbital platform, exposed two species of desiccated (i.e. already ‘hibernating’) adult tardigrades to a mix of vacuum and ultraviolet radiation over 10 days. The tardigrades all dealt with basic vacuum very well, but when UV solar radiation was added to the mix the story wasn’t so clear cut. In fact, even the specimens that were revived (rehydrated) had high mortality rates, and one of the species was effectively wiped out but for one plucky individual.

Moreover, when everything else perishes, including tardigrades' food - plant and animal (eukaryotic) cells by sucking out the innards - sometimes they gobble up entire rotifers or even other tardigrades. When active they live in marine and semi-aquatic, or moist environments – such as the mosses and lichens - it is better to realize that tardigrades will only survive as long as their food does.

Scientists think that the conditions of tardigrade survival yield interesting limits on what life can do, they may lead us to significantly overestimate the true range of viable living systems in the universe. At least based on terrestrial biochemistry.

But tardigrades definitely cannot survive a strong catastrophe and will be eliminated along with other life forms.

Q: What are some mind-blowing scientific reasons behind some of our superstitions?

Krishna: There are no real scientific reasons behind superstitions. There are only pseudo-scientific reasons people ‘invent’ to authenticate their irrational beliefs.

Scientists don’t dismiss all explanations because they are highly creative. You can always argue in any way but they don’t stand strict scientific scrutiny and fall wayside when real science takes charge. People try to bring ‘some science’ creatively to explain things creating great pseudo-science in the process. The explanations given earlier clearly prove this… for instance…

We have the greatest respect for the religious and cultural beliefs of others, but we are forced to say that there is a considerable amount of rubbish associated with what we will call magnetic effect on sleeping positions or directions.

Because the human body is transparent to magnetism .

And the iron in the blood is in an organically-bound form which doesn't produce any personal field or localised magnetic disturbance whatsoever.

The Earth's magnetic dipole is several hundred miles under the ground. And it is very weak to effect the human brain although the magnetic field extends outer into space.

Strong magnetic fields can affect the brain. For example this article from MIT shows how. However, the magnetic fields used in these studies are much, much stronger than Earth's magnetic field. There is no reason for such an effect to occur with Earth's magnetic field. Sleep studies are often done in (f)MRI machines with fields thousands of times stronger.

There have been some reports of evidence for magnetoception in humans, but these claims are consistently ‘’non-reproducible’’ when further studies were done.

The intense fields used by medical scanners, which are around 100,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, can trigger nausea, dizziness and a metallic taste in the mouth, but these effects are temporary.

International guidelines for public exposure to magnetic fields set an upper limit of 40 millitesla – several times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field whose magnitude at the Earth's surface ranges from 25 to 65 microteslas.


Love Science, not its impostors!

Q: How can some Godmen create things out of nothing? How can science explain it?

Krishna: Nobody can create things out of nothing! They just trick you into believing that. A professor told me a story recently. It seems a scientist went to a Godman's show. To impress the scientist, the Godman  created an apple and put it before the scientist and looked at him triumphatically and asked him, "Do you believe in my miracles now?''. Then the scientist smiled and said, 'just one more request, sir, can you please move the apple without touching it and put it in my hand?'. The Godman was dumbfounded because he cannot do that. Imagine a person who could create a few things out of nothing, cannot move an apple even a millimeter without touching it!

That is what miracles done by Godmen are!


1.  Lindholm PF, Annen K, Ramsey G. Approaches to minimize infection risk in blood banking and transfusion practice. Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2011;11:45–56. [PubMed]

2. Bryant BJ, Klein HG. Pathogen inactivation: the definitive safeguard for the blood supply. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2007;131:719–733. [PubMed]
3. Klein HG, Anderson D, Bernardi MJ, Cable R, Carey W, Hoch JS, Robitaille N, Sivilotti ML, Smaill F. Pathogen inactivation: making decisions about new technologies. Report of a consensus conference. Transfusion. 2007;47:2338–2347. [PubMed]
4. Prowse CV. Component pathogen inactivation: a critical review. Vox Sang. 2013;104:183–199.[PubMed]

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