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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

NIH Stops Remdesivir Study

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

STAT

5/21/20

Inside the NIH’s controversial decision to stop its big remdesivir study

By Matthew Herper @matthewherper

May 11, 2020

The drug maker Gilead Sciences released a bombshell two weeks ago: A study conducted by a U.S. government agency had found that the company’s experimental drug, remdesivir, was the first treatment shown to have even a small effect against Covid-19.

Behind that ray of hope, though, was one of the toughest quandaries in medicine: how to balance the need to rigorously test a new medicine for safety and effectiveness with the moral imperative to get patients a treatment that works as quickly as possible. At the heart of the decision about when to end the trial was a process that was — as is often in the case in clinical trials — by turns secretive and bureaucratic.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has described to STAT in new detail how it made its fateful decision: to start giving remdesivir to patients who had been assigned to receive a placebo in the study, essentially limiting researchers’ ability to collect more data about whether the drug saves lives — something the study, called ACTT-1, suggests but does not prove. In the trial, 8% of the participants given remdesivir died, compared with 11.6% of the placebo group, a difference that was not statistically significant.

 

EGGS

A top NIAID official said he had no regrets about the decision. “There certainly was unanimity within the institute that this was the right thing to do,” said H. Clifford Lane, NIAID’s clinical director. “While I think there might’ve been some discussion, [because] everyone always tries to play devil’s advocate in these discussions, I think there was a pretty uniform opinion that this was what we should do.”

From the standpoint of the agency, he said, the study had answered the question it was designed to answer: The median time that hospitalized Covid-19 patients on remdesivir took to stop needing oxygen or exit the hospital was, at 11 days, four days shorter than those who were on placebo. “How many patients would we want to put at risk of dying,” he asked, for that last little bit of proof? Remdesivir, he noted, was not a home run, but is probably better than nothing.

Steven Nissen, a veteran trialist and cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, disagreed that giving placebo patients remdesivir was the right call. “I believe it is in society’s best interest to determine whether remdesivir can reduce mortality, and with the release of this information doing a placebo-controlled trial to determine if there is a mortality benefit will be very difficult,” he said. “The question is: Was there a route, or is there a route, to determine if the drug can prevent death?” The decision is “a lost opportunity,” he said.

Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, agreed with Nissen. “The core understanding of clinical research participation and clinical research conduct is we run the trial rigorously to provide the most accurate information about the right treatment,” he said. And that answer, he argued, should ideally have determined whether remdesivir saves lives.

The reason we have shut our whole society down, Bach said, is not to prevent Covid-19 patients from spending a few more days in the hospital. It is to prevent patients from dying. “Mortality is the right endpoint,” he said.

Most experts contacted by STAT expressed opinions that fell between Nissen and Lane, believing that the decision was a difficult case, with several defending the NIAID.

“I think it was a really tough call,” said Janet Wittes, a prominent statistician and the president of Statistics Collaborative.

When the remdesivir results were announced, the NIH said the data came from an “interim” analysis. This means that a study was stopped early because a drug’s benefit was so undeniable that it would be unethical to continue the study. But Lane said this was incorrect. The data come from a preliminary final analysis, a point at which the study would normally end.

Related:

With remdesivir, Gilead finds itself at strategic crossroads, with its reputation (and far more) at stake

The ACTT study (short for Adaptive Covid-19 Treatment Trial) began in late February. The first patient dosed in the study was an American repatriated from the Diamond Princess, a British cruise ship where there was an outbreak of more than 800 Covid-19 cases. By the terms of the study, hospitalized patients were randomly assigned to receive either intravenous remdesivir or a placebo. On day 15, the study would score patients on a scale from 1 (dead) to 8 (not hospitalized, with no restrictions on activities).

As results from other Covid-19 studies conducted in China started to trickle in, Lane and his team began to worry that looking at the outcome on only the 15th day could lead the study to fail even if the drug was effective. On March 22, with only 77 patients enrolled in the study, members of the NIAID team had a conference call on which they decided to change the measure that would be used. Instead of measuring patients on an eight-point scale on one day, the study would measure the time until the patients scored one of the best three outcomes on the scale. This decision was finalized on April 2; it was posted to clinicaltrials.gov, a government registry of clinical trials, on April 16.

Ironically, Lane said, the study would still have been positive if the change had not been made. But the change in the study’s main goal also changed the way the study would be analyzed. Now, the NIAID decided, the analysis would be calculated when 400 patients out of the 1,063 patients the study enrolled had recovered. If remdesivir turned out to be much more effective than expected, “interim” analyses would be conducted at a third and two-thirds that number.

The job of reviewing these analyses would fall to a committee of outside experts on what is known as an independent data and safety monitoring board, or DSMB. Though they generally go unseen, DSMBs are among the most important and powerful forces in medical research. They are allowed to analyze the data from a trial while it’s ongoing, even as drug companies, doctors, and patients are kept from knowing who is getting the medicine and who is getting placebo. These boards have two jobs: to make sure that patients aren’t being harmed by the experimental drug, and to ensure that it’s not already clear beyond a doubt that a medicine is effective.

Those decisions bring moments of triumph, despair, and, occasionally, confusion.

When Merck decided to withdraw the painkiller Vioxx in 2004, it was because a DSMB had recommended stopping a study of the drug when it became clear the medicine increased the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In 2014, when a study of the cancer immunotherapy Opdivo first proved that drug extended survival in melanoma, it was because a DSMB had found the result incontrovertible and recommended stopping the study.

But the DSMB for the remdesivir study did not ever meet for an interim efficacy analysis, Lane said. All patients had been enrolled by April 20. The data for a DSMB meeting was cut off on April 22. The DSMB met and, on April 27, it made a recommendation to the NIAID.

That recommendation was not about whether the patients on placebo should receive remdesivir. Instead, the DSMB recommended that in the next phase of the study, testing Eli Lilly’s arthritis drug Olumiant against remdesivir, there was no need for a placebo-only group.

That decision, Lane said, led the NIAID to conclude that patients who had been given placebo should be offered remdesivir, something that started happening after April 28.

This is where Nissen and Bach disagree. There were 1,063 patients in the study, but only 480 had recovered at the time of the analysis. Researchers could have collected more data, they argue, and perhaps have learned if remdesivir saves lives. They were already close, both note. Results are considered “significant” if a measure called a p-value is less than 0.05; the value for mortality in the preliminary analysis was 0.059. “How many patients would we want to put at risk of dying to get that 0.01 on the p-value,” Lane retorted.

Marc Pfeffer, a cardiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said he believes NIAID made the right call. He said that he was “very sympathetic” to the fact that researchers were getting this study done during a pandemic. “If you make the decision that remdesivir should be part of everybody’s therapy in the next phase, then those volunteers taking the risks in the current trial should be switched to the active therapy now considered effective,” he said.

Should this decision have been left to the DSMB, not the NIAID? DSMBs are technically only advisory panels, said Richard Chaisson, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Chaisson remembers running an NIH-funded study of a preventative treatment for tuberculosis. The DSMB recommended continuing the trial, but he decided not to, because it was putting patients at too much risk. “The NIH had no problem with me not following the DSMB’s advice, and were even relieved I made the decision I did,” he said.

Wittes, of Statistics Collaborative, said she is glad she wasn’t on this DSMB, adding, “I don’t know where I would have come out.” And she said that when full results of the study are available, she would be “shocked” if the NIAID had not done things properly.

“I think there are groups of people who you’d really respect who would not have stopped a study like this without a mortality benefit,” Wittes said. “And I think you can argue that both ways.”

But she also worried that the evidence might not be strong enough to make the decision society is now making: that every new Covid-19 treatment must be given with or compared to remdesivir.

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“The danger is now it’s the treatment for everybody,” she said. “Now this is the base drug and everything is going to be that plus something or the control. I think we don’t know if it’s strong enough for it to be the standard of care. I don’t think we know who should be treated.”

Steven Joffe, an ethics expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said he believes the NIAID likely took the right steps in making its decision to give remdesivir to the placebo patients. But he worries about deciding to use time to improvement, not death, as the measure of success, in the first place.

“I don’t find this endpoint very compelling, and to me the real issue is the decision to design the trial around the endpoint of time to recovery defined in the way they defined recovery,” Joffe said. “To me, the decisions that are this weighty ought to be based on clinically important endpoints.”

All of this would normally wait until the full results were published, at which point the roster of the DSMB may be revealed. (Lane would not share their names.) But what is unusual in this case is that, before the data are even fully analyzed, the FDA has authorized remdesivir’s use. A Chinese study, meanwhile, failed to show remdesivir had a benefit. Several more studies of the drug expected to read out soon.

Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who traveled to New York two weeks ago to treat Covid-19 patients, said that he does worry that we have missed “a fleeting opportunity” to understand how well remdesivir works. “It is sad to me that we’re not going to get a complete answer about it.”  But he said he also thinks the issue is “inside baseball.” Remdesivir, as several experts have pointed out, is not a game changer.

The real problem, Weiss said, is not the handling of this particular study but that there aren’t more like it.  He said he wished the U.S. had built the infrastructure needed to do more studies like this when the pandemic in New York was at its height. He wished there were more studies, with more DSMBs.

“We’ve squandered an incredible opportunity to do good science,” Weiss said. “If we could ever go back and do something all over, it would be the infrastructure to actually learn something. Because we’re not learning enough.”

 

About the Author

Matthew Herper has covered medical innovation ––––for two decades chronicling the rise of genetic medicine and the ballooning cost of new drugs. Along the way he profiled major figures from Martin Shkreli to Bill Gates. From 2000 to 2018, he covered science and medicine for Forbes, writing 17 covers and building the Forbes Healthcare Summit into an industry leading event.

 

US-China Confrontation Will Define Global Order

Friday, May 8th, 2020

China is the source of COVID-19 that is presently destroying our world. China is America’s most serious enemy both economically and militarily. Somehow, after the VIRUS are gone, we will need to deal with the Chinese. Victor Davis Hanson lays out some interesting ideas.

Victor Davis Hanson: US-China Confrontation Will Define Global Order

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hoover Institution, Stanford University

The United States is at a crossroads with an increasingly aggressive China, which could define America’s security and the international order for decades to come, Hoover scholar Victor Davis Hanson says.

Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, studies military history and the classics. Last year, Hanson won the Edmund Burke Award, which honors people who have made major contributions to the defense of Western civilization. He is the author of the 2019 book The Case for Trump, and 2017’s The Second World Wars. He was recently interviewed on US policy toward China:

What is the Trump strategy behind these tariffs, short term and long term?

Hanson: Short term, Trump feels that he can take the hit of reciprocal Chinese tariffs, given that quietly his opposition, the Democrats, have been raging about Chinese cheating for decades, and, second, that the US economy is so huge and diverse that China simply cannot cause serious damage.

Remember the United States is a country one-third the size of China that produces over double China’s annual gross domestic product and fields a military far more formidable with far more allies—while enjoying a far more influential global culture and a far more sophisticated system of higher education and technological innovation. China’s Asian neighbors and our own European Union allies quietly are hoping Trump can check and roll back Chinese mercantilism, while publicly and pro forma chiding or even condemning Trump’s brinksmanship and his resort to fossilized strategies such as tariffs and loud jawboning.

Long term, Trump believes that if present trends are not reversed, China could in theory catch and surpass the US. And as an authoritarian, anti-democratic superpower, China’s global dominance would not be analogous to the American-led postwar order, but would be one in which China follows one set of rules and imposes a quite different set on everyone else—perhaps one day similar to the system imposed on its own people within China.

Is China a more formidable rival now than Russia was during the Cold War, and if so, why?

Hanson: Yes. Its population is five times greater than that of even the old Soviet Empire’s. Its economy is well over twenty times larger, and over a million Chinese students and business people are in European and American universities and colleges and posted abroad with Chinese companies. So, unlike the old Soviet Union, China is integrated within the West, culturally, economically, and politically. The Soviets—like Maoist China—never leased Western ports, or battled Hollywood over   unflattering pictures, or posed as credible defenders of Asian values or owned large shares of Western companies or piled up huge trade surpluses with Western nations. Soviet propaganda and espionage were crude compared to current Chinese efforts.

What is China doing in terms of cheating on trade and intellectual property as the Trump administration says, and how can the United States stop this behavior? 

Hanson: China does not honor patents and copyright laws. It still exports knock-off and counterfeit products. It steals research and development investment through a vast array of espionage rings. It manipulates its currency.

Its government companies export goods at below the cost of production to grab market share. It requires foreign companies to hand over technology as a price of doing business in China. And, most importantly, it assumes, even demands, that Western nations do not emulate its own international roguery—or else.

The result is a strange paradox in which the United States and Europe assume that China is an international commercial outlaw, but the remedy is deemed worse than the disease. So, many Western firms make enormous profits in China through joint projects, and so many academic institutions depend on China students, and so many financial institutions are invested in China, that to question its mercantilism is to be derided as a quaint nationalist, or a dangerous protectionist, or a veritable racist. China is an astute student of the Western science of victimology and always poses as a  target of Western vindictiveness, racism, or puerile jealousy.

Remedies? First, we must give up the 40-year fantasies that the richer China gets, the more Western and liberal it will become; or that the more China becomes familiar with the West, the greater its admiration and respect for Western values; or that China has so many internal problems that it cannot possibly pose a threat to the West; or that Western magnanimity in foreign policy and trade relations will be appreciated and returned in kind. Instead, the better paradigm is imperial Japan between 1930 and 1941, when Tokyo absorbed Asian allies; had sent a quarter-million students and attachés to the West to learn or steal technology and doctrine; rapidly Westernized; declared Western colonial powers and the US as tired and spent, and without any legitimate business in the Pacific; and considered its own authoritarianism a far better partner to free market capitalism than the supposedly messy and clumsy democracies of the West.

How is China able now to leverage its arguably less powerful military to confront the United States globally?

Hanson: Global naval dominance is not in the Chinese near future. Its naval strategy is more reminiscent of the German Kriegsmarine of 1939 to 1941, which sought to deny the vastly superior Royal Navy access at strategic points without matching its global reach. China is carving out areas where shore batteries and coastal fleets can send showers of missiles to take out a multibillion-dollar American carrier. And its leasing of 50 and more strategically located ports might serve in times of global tensions as transit foci for armed merchant ships. But for now they do not have the capabilities of the American carrier or submarine fleet or expeditionary Marine forces—so the point is to deny America reach, not to emulate its extent.

Why are the current administration policies different than those in the past in confronting China on many different fronts and levels?

Hanson: Trump believes that economic power is the key to global influence and clout. Without it, a military wilts on the vine. A country with GDP growth at a 3 percent annual clip, energy independence, full employment, and increasing labor productivity and trade symmetry can renegotiate Chinese mercantilism and reassure China’s Asian neighbors that they need not appease its aggression. Past administrations might have agreed that China violated copyright and patent laws, dumped subsidized goods, appropriated technology, and ran a massive global espionage apparatus, but they considered remedies either impossible or dangerous and so essentially negotiated a slowing of the supposed predestined Chinese global hegemony. Trump was willing to confront China to achieve fair rather than free trade and take the ensuing heat that he was some sort of tariff-slapping Neanderthal.

Any other thoughts?

Hanson: I think Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s State Department is the first to openly question the idea that China will eventually rule the world and has offered a strategic plan to check its trade and political agendas. In this regard, a number of Hoover Institution scholars, currently working with Hoover fellow Kiron Skinner, director of policy planning at the US Department of State, are offering alternatives to orthodox American approaches of the past, with the caveat that the most dangerous era in interstate relations is the transition from de facto appeasement to symmetry—given that the abnormalities of the  past had become considered “normal,” and the quite normal efforts of a nation to recalibrate to a balanced relationship are damned as dangerously “abnormal.”

Victor Davis Hanson is also the chairman of the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict Working Group at the Hoover Institution. 
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Space Travel? Yes or No?

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

The following article is quite interesting and perhaps prophetic. I have just completed another novel that discusses this issue at great lengths with similar but somewhat different questions. Certainly, with the amazing progress in Astrophysics and space travel, we should be addressing these issues.

 

Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space

We’re getting closer and closer to the final frontier. What could go wrong?

Nautilus | Phil Torres

My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall. Illustration by David Revoy / Blender Foundation / Wikicommons.

There are lots of reasons why colonizing space seems compelling. The popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that it would stimulate the economy and inspire the next generation of scientists. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, argues that “there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multiplanetary … to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.”  The former administrator of NASA, Michael Griffin, frames it as a matter of the “survival of the species.” And the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has conjectured that if humanity fails to colonize space within 100 years, we could face extinction.

To be sure, humanity will eventually need to escape Earth to survive, since the sun will make the planet uninhabitable in about 1 billion years. But for many “space expansionists,” escaping Earth is about much more than dodging the bullet of extinction: it’s about realizing astronomical amounts of value by exploiting the universe’s vast resources to create something resembling utopia. For example, the astrobiologist Milan Cirkovic calculates that some 1046 people per century could come into existence if we were to colonize our Local Supercluster, Virgo. This leads Nick Bostrom to argue that failing to colonize space would be tragic because it would mean that these potential “worthwhile lives” would never exist, and this would be morally bad.

But would these trillions of lives actually be worthwhile? Or would colonization of space lead to a dystopia?

In one article in Futures, which was inspired by political scientist Daniel Deudney’s forthcoming book Dark Skies, I decided to take a closer look at this question. My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall.

Consider what is likely to happen as humanity hops from Earth to Mars, and from Mars to relatively nearby, potentially habitable exoplanets like Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. Each of these planets has its own unique environments that will drive Darwinian evolution, resulting in the emergence of novel species over time, just as species that migrate to a new island will evolve different traits than their parent species. The same applies to the artificial environments of spacecraft like “O’Neill Cylinders,” which are large cylindrical structures that rotate to produce artificial gravity. Insofar as future beings satisfy the basic conditions of evolution by natural selection—such as differential reproduction, heritability, and variation of traits across the population—then evolutionary pressures will yield new forms of life.

But the process of “cyborgization”—that is, of using technology to modify and enhance our bodies and brains—is much more likely to influence the evolutionary trajectories of future populations living on exoplanets or in spacecraft. The result could be beings with completely novel cognitive architectures (or mental abilities), emotional repertoires, physical capabilities, lifespans, and so on.

In other words, natural selection and cyborgization as humanity spreads throughout the cosmos will result in species diversification. At the same time, expanding across space will also result in ideological diversification. Space-hopping populations will create their own cultures, languages, governments, political institutions, religions, technologies, rituals, norms, worldviews, and so on. As a result, different species will find it increasingly difficult over time to understand each other’s motivations, intentions, behaviors, decisions, and so on. It could even make communication between species with alien languages almost impossible. Furthermore, some species might begin to wonder whether the proverbial “Other” is conscious. This matters because if a species Y cannot consciously experience pain, then another species X might not feel morally obligated to care about Y. After all, we don’t worry about kicking stones down the street because we don’t believe that rocks can feel pain. Thus, as I write in the paper, phylogenetic and ideological diversification will engender a situation in which many species will be “not merely aliens to each other but, more significantly, alienated from each other.”

But this yields some problems. First, extreme differences like those just listed will undercut trust between species. If you don’t trust that your neighbor isn’t going to steal from, harm, or kill you, then you’re going to be suspicious of your neighbor. And if you’re suspicious of your neighbor, you might want an effective defense strategy to stop an attack—just in case one were to happen. But your neighbor might reason the same way: she’s not entirely sure that you won’t kill her, so she establishes a defense as well. The problem is that, since you don’t fully trust her, you wonder whether her defense is actually part of an attack plan. So you start carrying a knife around with you, which she interprets as a threat to her, thus leading her to buy a gun, and so on. Within the field of international relations, this is called the “security dilemma,” and it results in a spiral of militarization that can significantly increase the probability of conflict, even in cases where all actors have genuinely peaceful intentions.

So, how can actors extricate themselves from the security dilemma if they can’t fully trust each other? On the level of individuals, one solution has involved what Thomas Hobbes’ calls the “Leviathan.” The key idea is that people get together and say, “Look, since we can’t fully trust each other, let’s establish an independent governing system—a referee of sorts—that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. By replacing anarchy with hierarchy, we can also replace the constant threat of harm with law and order.” Hobbes didn’t believe that this happened historically, only that this predicament is what justifies the existence of the state. According to Steven Pinker, the Leviathan is a major reason that violence has declined in recent centuries.

The point is that if individuals—you and I—can overcome the constant threat of harm posed by our neighbors by establishing a governing system, then maybe future species could get together and create some sort of cosmic governing system that could similarly guarantee peace by replacing anarchy with hierarchy. Unfortunately, this looks unpromising within the “cosmopolitical” realm. One reason is that for states to maintain law and order among their citizens, their various appendages—e.g., law enforcement, courts—need to be properly coordinated. If you call the police about a robbery and they don’t show up for three weeks, then what’s the point of living in that society? You’d be just as well off on your own! The question is, then, whether the appendages of a cosmic governing system could be sufficiently well-coordinated to respond to conflicts and make top-down decisions about how to respond to particular situations. To put it differently: If conflict were to break out in some region of the universe, could the relevant governing authorities respond soon enough for it to matter, for it to make a difference?

Probably not, because of the immense vastness of space. For example, consider again Epsilon Eridani b, Gliese 674 b, and Gliese 581 d. These are, respectively, 10.5, 14.8, and 20.4 light-years from Earth. This means that a signal sent as of this writing, in 2018, wouldn’t reach Gliese 581 d until 2038. A spaceship traveling at one-quarter the cosmic speed limit wouldn’t arrive until 2098, and a message to simply affirm that it had arrived safely wouldn’t return to Earth until 2118. And Gliese 581 is relatively close as far as exoplanets go. Just consider that he Andromeda Galaxy is some 2.5 million light-years from Earth and the Triangulum Galaxy about 3 million light-years away. What’s more, there are some 54 galaxies in our Local Group, which is about 10 million light-years wide, within a universe that stretches some 93 billion light-years across.

These facts make it look hopeless for a governing system to effectively coordinate law enforcement activities, judicial decisions, and so on, across cosmic distances. The universe is simply too big for a government to establish law and order in a top-down fashion.

But there is another strategy for achieving peace: Future civilizations could use a policy of deterrence to prevent other civilizations from launching first strikes. A policy of this sort, which must be credible to work, says: “I won’t attack you first, but if you attack me first, I have the capabilities to destroy you in retaliation.” This was the predicament of the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War, known as “mutually-assured destruction” (MAD).

But could this work in the cosmopolitical realm of space? It seems unlikely. First, consider how many future species there could be: upwards of many billions. While some of these species would be too far away to pose a threat to each other—although see the qualification below—there will nonetheless exist a huge number within one’s galactic backyard. The point is that the sheer number would make it incredibly hard to determine who initiated a first strike, if one is attacked. And without a method for identifying instigators with high reliability, one’s policy of deterrence won’t be credible. And if one’s policy of deterrence isn’t credible, then one has no such policy!

Second, ponder the sorts of weapons that could become available to future spacefaring civilizations. Redirected asteroids (a.k.a., “planetoid bombs”), “rods from God,” sun guns, laser weapons, and no doubt an array of exceptionally powerful super-weapons that we can’t currently imagine. It has even been speculated that the universe might exist in a “metastable” state and that a high-powered particle accelerator could tip the universe into a more stable state. This would create a bubble of total annihilation that spreads in all directions at the speed of light—which opens up the possibility that a suicidal cult, or whatever, weaponizes a particle accelerator to destroy the universe.

The question, then, is whether defensive technologies could effectively neutralize such risks. There’s a lot to say here, but for the present purposes just note that, historically speaking, defensive measures have very often lagged behind offensive measures, thus resulting in periods of heightened vulnerability. This is an important point because when it comes to existentially dangerous super-weapons, one only needs to be vulnerable for a short period to risk annihilation.

So far as I can tell, this seriously undercuts the credibility of policies of deterrence. Again, if species A cannot convince species B that if B strikes it, A will launch an effective and devastating counter strike, then B may take a chance at attacking A. In fact, B does not need to be malicious to do this: it only needs to worry that A might, at some point in the near- or long-term future, attack B, thus making it rational for B to launch a preemptive strike (to eliminate the potential danger). Thinking about this predicament in the radically multi-polar conditions of space, it seems fairly obvious that conflict will be extremely difficult to avoid.

The lesson of this argument is not to uncritically assume that venturing into the heavens will necessarily make us safer or more existentially secure. This is a point that organizations hoping to colonize Mars, such as SpaceX, NASA, and Mars One should seriously contemplate. How can humanity migrate to another planet without bringing our problems with us? And how can different species that spread throughout the cosmos maintain peace when sufficient mutual trust is unattainable and advanced weaponry could destroy entire civilizations?

Human beings have made many catastrophically bad decisions in the past. Some of these outcomes could have been avoided if only the decision-makers had deliberated a bit more about what could go wrong—i.e., had done a “premortem” analysis. We are in that privileged position right now with respect to space colonization. Let’s not dive head-first into waters that turn out to be shallow.

Phil Torres is the director of the Project for Human Flourishing and the author of Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks.

This article was originally published on July 23, 2018, by Nautilus, and is republished here with permission.

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Multiverses

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

Sure, there really are loads of universes out there, a multiverse. You just have to go looking. You will like this.

 

 

Rui Sonofel, Lifetime gathering knowledge from multiple areas

Updated Jun 30, 2019 · Upvoted by Abhas Mitra, Ph.D. Astrophysics, Head, Theoretical Astrophysics Section, BARC. Best Young Physicist Prize in 198… · Author has 6.1k answers and 12.6m answer views

Originally Answered: Though some physicists are avid believers of the Multiverse Theory, is there any factual evidence to support it?

Though some physicists are avid believers of the Multiverse Theory, is there any factual evidence to support it?

Yes. One. The fact that we are here is the biggest evidence. Although it isn’t in any way proof. At best it’s a big question mark.

I know some people are also great supporters of Stephen Hawking theory about the creation of the universe. And although the idea seems good it isn’t flawless. Hawking theory fails to explain where the “ground” came from, what is the “ground”, and what mechanism actually “creates the mount” while “digging the hole”.

So far there’s data that supports the idea that this universe is finite, but none that supports the idea that’s infinite. So if the universe if finite, then that initial energy had to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is a great unknown. But if it came from somewhere then we can theorize there’s something else beyond this universe.

One generalized theory is that of the Multiverse. But even the idea of Multiverse isn’t seen exactly the same by everyone. There’s actually 5 theories about what the Multiverse actually may be.

The first theory is directly connected to Black Holes. It states that when a black hole is created, and the singularity in it, that eventually the singularity bursts and inflates into another new universe. That remains connected to our universe until the black hole dissipates. Here’s a little show and tell…

So first when the black hole is formed, it creates a singularity. A point of energy of nigh infinite density.

Eventually that singularity expands into a new universe. Creating new space-time.

And we get something like this. Where each black hole is nothing more than the creation point of a new universe. And that our universe was created in the same way.

There’s also another theory that defends that each universe is actually created apart from each other. Where we have what can be called a extradimension, that most people call Multiverse. And from the fabric/composition of that Multiverse, is from each of the universes are formed.

Something like this…

There’s also the idea that our universe is actually a multiverse. That during the inflation, speed wasn’t evenly all throughout space-time. And our universe is actually a multiverse divided in sections.

And here there are two sub-theories, that say A) it goes on forever B) as the final most advanced section of the multiverse comes to an end, a new Big Bang happens and thus the Multiverse is constantly renewing itself in a endless cycle.

Something like this…

This would be an example of the sectioned multiverse. Where there’s a limited amount of sections that endlessly recycle each other.

Weird Galactic Connections

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
There’s Growing Evidence That the Universe Is Connected by Giant Structures

Scientists are finding that galaxies can move with each other across huge distances, and against the predictions of basic cosmological models. The reason why could change everything we think we know about the universe.

By Becky Ferreira Nov 11 2019, 8:00am
ABSTRACT THREADS. IMAGE: ANDRIY ONUFRIYENKO/GETTY IMAGES

The Milky Way, the galaxy we live in, is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies strewn across the universe. Their variety is stunning: spirals, ring galaxies shaped like star-studded loops, and ancient galaxies that outshine virtually everything else in the universe.

But despite their differences, and the mind-boggling distances between them, scientists have noticed that some galaxies move together in odd and often unexplained patterns, as if they are connected by a vast unseen force.

Galaxies within a few million light years of each other can gravitationally affect each other in predictable ways, but scientists have observed mysterious patterns between distant galaxies that transcend those local interactions.

These discoveries hint at the enigmatic influence of so-called “large-scale structures” which, as the name suggests, are the biggest known objects in the universe. These dim structures are made of hydrogen gas and dark matter and take the form of filaments, sheets, and knots that link galaxies in a vast network called the cosmic web. We know these structures have major implications for the evolution and movements of galaxies, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of the root dynamics driving them.

Scientists are eager to acquire these new details because some of these phenomena challenge the most fundamental ideas about the universe.

“That’s actually the reason why everybody is always studying

these large-scale structures,” said Noam Libeskind, a cosmographer at the Leibniz-Institut for Astrophysics (AIP) in Germany, in a call. “It’s a way of probing and constraining the laws of gravity and the nature of matter, dark matter, dark energy, and the universe.”

Why are distant galaxies moving in unison?

Galaxies tend to form gravitationally bound clusters that belong to even larger superclusters. Earth’s long-form cosmic address, for instance, would have to note that the Milky Way is part of the Local Group, a gang of several dozen galaxies. The Local Group is inside the Virgo supercluster, containing more than 1,000 galaxies.

On these more “local” scales, galaxies frequently mess with each other’s spins, shapes, and angular velocities. Sometimes, one galaxy even eats another, an event known as galactic cannibalism. But some galaxies show dynamic links across distances too great to be explained by their individual gravitational fields.

For instance, a study published in The Astrophysical Journal in October found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away.

“This discovery is quite new and unexpected,” said lead author Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, in an email. “I have never seen any previous report of observations or any prediction from numerical simulations, exactly related to this phenomenon.”

Lee and his colleagues studied 445 galaxies within 400 million light years of Earth, and noticed that many of the ones rotating in a direction toward Earth had neighbors that were moving toward Earth, while those that were rotating in the opposite direction had neighbors moving away from Earth.

“The observed coherence must have some relationship with large-scale structures, because it is impossible that the galaxies separated by six megaparsecs [roughly 20 million light years] directly interact with each other,” Lee said.

Lee and his colleagues suggest that the synchronized galaxies may be embedded along the same large-scale structure, which is very slowly rotating in a counter-clockwise direction. That underlying dynamic could cause the kind of coherence between the rotation of the studied galaxies and the motions of their neighbors, though he cautioned that it will take a lot more research to corroborate his team’s findings and conclusions.

While this particular iteration of weirdly synced up galaxies is novel, scientists have observed odd coherences between galaxies at even more mind-boggling distances. In 2014, a team observed curious alignments of supermassive black holes at the cores of quasars, which are ancient ultra-luminous galaxies, that stretch across billions of light years.

Led by Damien Hutsemékers, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, the researchers were able to observe this eerie synchronicity by watching the universe when it was only a few billion years old, using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The observations recorded the polarization of light from nearly 100 quasars, which the team then used to reconstruct the geometry and alignment of the black holes at their cores. The results showed that the rotation axes of 19 quasars in this group were parallel, despite the fact that they were separated by several billion light years.

The discovery, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, is an indicator that large-scale structures influenced the dynamics of galaxies across vast distances in the early universe.

“Galaxy spin axes are known to align with large-scale structures such as cosmic filaments but this occurs on smaller scales,” Hutsemékers said in an email, noting that theoretical studies have proposed some tentative explanations of this process.

“However, there is currently no explanation why the axes of quasars are aligned with the axis of the large group in which they are embedded,” he noted.

The truth behind synchronized galaxies could change everything

The secret of these synchronized galaxies may pose a threat to the cosmological principle, one of the basic assumptions about the universe. This principle states that the universe is basically uniform and homogenous at extremely large scales. But the “existence of correlations in quasar axes over such extreme scales would constitute a serious anomaly for the cosmological principle,” as Hutsemékers and his colleagues note in their study.

However, Hutsemékers’ cautioned that more of these structures would need to be spotted and studied to prove that this is a serious wrinkle in the cosmological principle. “Other similar structures are needed to confirm a real anomaly,” he said.

For the moment, the dynamics behind these quasar positions are not well understood because there are few observational techniques to refine them. “As far as large-scale alignments are concerned, we are essentially waiting for more data,” Hutsemékers’ said. “Such studies are statistical and a step forward would require a large amount of polarization data, not easy to gather with current instrumentation.”

Future radio telescopes, such as the Square Kilometre Array, might be able to probe these mysterious alignments in more detail.

“One of the great things about science is that you can have a model built with thousands of pieces of data but if one thing doesn’t stick it starts to crack. That crack either has to be sealed or it’s going to bring the whole house down.”

 

Quasar alignments are not the only hurdles that oddly synchronized galaxies have presented to established models of the universe. In fact, one of the most contentious debates in cosmology these days is centered around the unexpected way in which dwarf galaxies appear to become neatly aligned around larger host galaxies such as the Milky Way.

These satellite galaxies are currently a thorn in the side of what is known as the ΛCDM model, which is a theoretical timeline of the universe since the Big Bang. Simulations of the universe under the ΛCDM model predict that small satellite galaxies will end up in a swarm of random orbits around larger host galaxies.

But over the past decade, new observations have revealed that a huge chunk of the satellite galaxies around the Milky Way are synced up into one tidy orbital plane. At first, scientists wondered whether that simply meant something weird was going on with our own galaxy, but a similar plane of satellites was then observed around Andromeda.

The alarm bells really started ringing in 2015, when astronomers published observations of the same phenomenon a third time around Centaurus A, an elliptical galaxy about 10 million light years from the Milky Way.

This discovery “suggests that something is wrong with standard cosmological simulations,” according to a subsequent 2018 study in Science, led by Oliver Müller, an astronomer at the University of Strasbourg in France.

“At the moment, we have observed this at the three closest galaxies,” Müller said in a call. “Of course, you can always say that it’s only three, so it’s not statistical yet. But it shows that every time we have good data, we find it, so it could be universal.”

In a 2015 study, Libeskind and his colleagues suggested that filaments in the cosmic web might be guiding these organized galaxies, a process that could cohere with the ΛCDM model. Ultimately, though, there’s no conclusive answer to this dilemma yet.

“One of the great things about science is that you can have a model built with thousands of pieces of data but if one thing doesn’t stick it starts to crack,” said Libeskind. “That crack either has to be sealed or it’s going to bring the whole house down.”

The next generation of galaxy research

This tantalizing uncertainty has motivated astronomers like Marcel Pawlowski, a Schwarzschild Fellow at AIP and co-author on the 2018 Science study, to make this problem a focus of their research. Pawlowski is looking forward to data from the next generation of huge 30-meter class observatories that could show whether other big galaxies are surrounded by either isotropic or organized patterns of satellite galaxies.

“What we have to do now is expand our search to more distant satellite systems, and find satellite galaxies as well as measure their velocities,” said Pawlowski in a call.

“The field really advanced because of this debate going on in the literature,” Pawlowski added. “It’s been really good to see how the observational evidence became more and more solid.”

Whether it’s the strange motions of dwarf galaxies in our own galactic neighborhood or the eerie alignment of galaxies over millions or billions of light years, it’s clear that the dance moves of galaxies are an essential key to unlocking the large-scale structure of the universe.

The galaxies we see captured in static positions in beautiful deep-field shots are actually guided by many complex forces we don’t yet fully comprehend, including the cosmic web that undergirds the universe.

“What I really like about this stuff is just that we are still at the pioneering phase,” said Müller. “That’s super exciting.”

TAGGED: UNIVERSE, GALAXY, COSMOLOGY, MILKY WAY, GALAXIES, ANDROMEDA, COSMIC WEB, FILAMENTS, LARGE-SCALE STRUCTURES

 


William S. Frankl, MD, All Rights Reserved