Last week I made you do math, or at least watch me do math. So we’ll keep things simple this week, especially in light of the holiday. Here are a few of the things from the domain of science that I am thankful for. I’d be glad to hear any items you might wish to add. And I hope that those of you observing Thanksgiving in the United States are able to celebrate in a joyful and healthy context.
The unreasonable effectiveness of masks: At first consideration, a thin piece of fabric with holes larger than the virus does not seem like it should be an effective barrier. But one of the things that is exciting about science is that it does not always turn out as you might expect. And so while not perfect, even our DIY masks have proven to be an important mitigation tool. And while we’re here, I’m also thankful for all the people who have been wearing masks, a great way to show love to your neighbor.
Rigorous review processes: Earlier this year I wrote about the possible detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. While it might have been a clue pointing towards microbial life in the Venusian clouds, further review suggests there may be less than was first reported. That adjustment may be disappointing to those hoping for first contact with alien life, but it is a useful example of the way science is used to continually refine our understanding of the world around us.
A world that can be understood: Even if our understanding will forever be incomplete and in constant need of refining, that is still far preferable to living in a protean world beholden to neither reason nor rhyme. Imagine: one moment, mass bends spacetime to create an attractive gravitational force, the next timeforce masses gravitas to attract a creative spatial bend. Perhaps life could not even exist in such a universe, and if it could there would still be no sense to make of it. However unlikely the alternative, I am still grateful for the opportunity to comprehend something about creation.
Remote working and learning tools: I recognize that not everyone has equal access to these technologies, and not everyone has the sort of job that can be done from home or that makes it possible for them to have their children attend school from home. At the same time, we are far more equipped today than we would have been even just a decade ago to permit so many to pursue their livelihoods remotely. And even those who continued to go to work or school likely benefited to some degree from the overall reduction in transmission that was facilitated by extensive telecommuting.
An effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine: I’ve been fairly optimistic about vaccine efforts, but I still did not expect that on Thanksgiving we’d be talking about two candidates that are nearly 95% effective and ready to be considered for authorization. While there are still hurdles to clear for approval and distribution, we can still give thanks for having made it this far. For me, that includes being thankful for all the scientists contributed to these and other vaccines in the pipeline, both those who worked intently in the sprint to produce SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and those before them who made key discoveries working on SARS and MERS vaccines even when the immediate need for them had passed.
Feel free to share what you are thankful for, scientific or otherwise, in the comments!