Granted, we can never be certain about it. We're not deities, we're still limited by information theory and epistemology. But we're pretty damn sure. Way more than we need to be to go save half a million people a year.
It fascinates and terrifies me that we humans constantly think we know what we're doing and won't mess up again, like somehow we're superior to our ancestors because we have a little more knowledge. "Oh yeah, they put lead in gasoline because they didn't know better. We know better, what we're doing now is perfect".
2050: "Oh yeah, they used to use nasty stuff in fracking compounds, but we know better now"
2060: "Oh yeah, everyone used to carry around little electromagnetic devices and put them next to their brain, but we know better now".
It's it clear that anything major we do now will be looked back on as a complete f-up, once the next generations have more knowledge.
We seem to think we know best, when in reality we have absolutely no idea what's going on. When will we learn to leave well enough alone?
This one is easy to debunk: look at the spectrum:
UV and everything in that direction: dangerous.
Infrared and everything in that direction: not dangerous.
The Sun emits on both sides, and we really know very good which side we have to protect us from.
You think it's safe by 2016 standards, in the same way we thought lead in gas, or agent orange was safe by the standards of those years.
In 50 years we'll know a lot more than we do now, and hindsight will be a magical thing.
By 2060 standards, we're downright uneducated. Think about how little we knew in the late 1960's, and the stupid stuff that was done based on "we know what we're doing"
Regarding lead poisoning, it was since forever known that lead is poisonous, the "safe level" was something that was better established in last 50 years and enforced by better policies. There's no parallel for infrared and radio waves (that is, lower frequencies and energies of photons) but there is for UV or gamma rays (that is, higher frequencies and energies of photons).
The certainty with which you make these statements is the exact same certainty that scientists 50 or 100 years ago used to justify doing all kinds of shit we now know caused unforeseen harm.
Don't focus on the one example I gave, focus on that fact that we continually mess with stuff we don't understand, with consequences we can't comprehend. Then 50 years later we just say "we know better now" and proceed to mess it all up in different ways. Repeat.
Of course, I doubt that any of that went through your head. You just pointed at something that caught your attention, completely failing to consider all of the other things that are likely similarly dangerous like aluminum cans, pickled vegetables, soap, clothing, light bulbs, the English language, and so on and so forth. All of those are just as potentially dangerous as cell phones.
I think that you would be well served by studying epistemology, philosophy of science, and rational utilitarianism. I believe that you will find some ideas that will be useful to to you in the future.
But you will provoke people by saying things like this. I have been heavily down voted else in this thread for saying something like this
I guess it is because people have great difficulty in looking from outside their current time frame. For example, people always thing that they are living in "modern times".
We were living in modern times in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, just like we are living in modern times now. People find it hard to comprehend that their times will once be old, and their beliefs and assumptions about the world obsolete, and their scientists proved wrong. It just does not occur to them.
This might be giving some kind of false belief that we know nearly all there is to know, which lead to fallacies like the parent comment. He implies we know all there is to know about the exposure to radiation.
A quote from Mark twain comes to mind.
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so"
Human beings should learn to be modest. How small we are, and how little we know. Then may be we will proceed with more caution and be less reckless with imposing our will upon the other living things on this planet...
It's amazing we're not all dead yet, isn't it? messing with everything like we have, vastly extending expected lifespan and years of health...
Tens of thousands of living things that used to call this planet home are extinct thanks to our meddling. I'd say that's proof enough we're badly f'ing things up.
Probably much more:
"the present rate of extinction may be up to 140,000 species per year, making it the greatest loss of biodiversity since the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event."
We (as humanity) do "mess with the stuff" and we (as in scientists) even know exactly where and how much we (as in "political and economic forces") do that. The amount of fossil fuels use is one good example. And having huge nuclear stockpiles ready for launch is another. And we "know better" (as in knowing that the effects won't be desirable for "us") even now, but look how many forces pretend we don't.
Having basic scientific literacy actually matters, otherwise you'll fall worrying for pure distractions, like "you should worry that mobile phones emit radio waves to your brain." No, either forget it, that's pure distraction, or at least, learn a little of physics, you'll benefit from that.
And we don't have to wait 50 years. We already know the exact problems that will be much bigger in 50 years if we don't act.
(I support eradicating mosquitos)
What is missing from this discussion, however, is the agent of malaria itself. We keep discussing this in terms of the mosquito, as if it is the mosquito that is the agent of malaria - but remember, it's just a carrier - malaria is using the mosquito to further its own ends.
The reservations I think we should have are not about the food chain or about predators/prey, etc. - it is that the sudden pressure we put on malaria itself forces it to adapt to a transmission host/vector other than mosquitos. Perhaps something more difficult to deal with.
We're pushing something dangerous into a corner, bottling it up under high pressure ... we should be worried about where it leaks out to.
We can not be sure about this; evolution is fast in arthropods. And they will bring their own diseases with them.
Mosquitoes are anything but unimportant or uncommon for the ecosystem.
Even if the impact on the food chain is zero, does it mean that there won't be other impacts?
For example, on the eradication of mosquitoes, what if the disease that are currently only spread via mosquitoes mutate/evolve themselves to be airborne?
Evolution doesn't have an intent. Diseases can't "evolve themselves." Evolution happens through random mutations* and selection of the fittest. If a mutation makes a virus or bacteria or protozoan more likely to survive, then the descendants of the mutant tend to multiply more and become more common. If the mutation makes the organism less likely to survive, descendants of the mutant tend to die out over time. (In other words, no matter how hard you hope your offspring will be born with four arms, they never will be.)
If anything, eliminating mosquitoes will make us SAFER from airborne zika or malaria. Why? Right now, there are tens of millions of infected mosquitoes out there right now. If airborne malaria is possible, there are tens of millions of chances for it to occur every day. And that would be such a powerful disease that it wouldn't matter that there also exists bloodborne malaria. If we eliminate tens of millions of malaria hosts, we reduce the number of chances for malaria to mutate into an airborne form.
As it happens, I don't think airborne malaria is likely -- the life cycle of malaria is way too complex and depends too much on stages that are specific to mosquitoes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaria But the idea is the same.
* And a few other processes, such as DNA exchange, but the effect is the same for this purpose.
I know. But when you remove mosquitoes from the picture, aren't you putting selection pressure on the diseases to be airborne?
>Evolution happens through random mutations* and selection of the fittest...
Yes. Say a virus of a disease x that normally spreads via mosquitos, gain a mutation to be airborne. But since there are an abundance of mosquitoes, an airborne strain does not have an advantage over mosquitoes borne strain. So it dies off (because of competition)
But when you eradicate the mosquitoes, or reduce their number significantly, suddenly the airborne strain has a tremendous advantage over the mosquito borne strain. Hence it can grow in numbers and eventually completely replace the mosquito borne strain...
Isn't this even remotely possible?
Organisms also need the opportunity to evolve; removing their only vector is analogous to trying to apply selective pressure to pigs to evolve to fly by throwing them off a cliff. Yes, any pig who could fly would survive and have a huge advantage over all the now-dead non-flying pigs. But it just ain't gonna happen.
Also, I am just putting forward one possibility other than the effect on the food chain...
> an airborne strain does not have an advantage over mosquitoes borne strain
There are hundreds of millions of people today who don't currently have malaria, but would be at risk to get malaria if it went airborne. Airborne malaria wouldn't be competing with mosquitoborne malaria. It'd be competing with running out of people to kill.
There seems to be a startup lesson here: your competition isn't legacy players. It's non-consumption.
Are you a biologist/ecologist or someone knowledgeable in the field?
Your question is like asking, "if we rounded up all the lions in Africa and put them in pens, would they evolve wings to escape?" Yes it's that silly.
Let me take one more crack at this: think of natural selection as evaluating `if` statements: "if this organism has the ability to spread through the air, then it is more likely to survive an reproduce". That means mutations enabling that are going to propagate. Doesn't make any mutation more or less likely; it's just a question of whether it survives and reproduces or not. Importantly, it does not say "if this is a big improvement over the status quo, keep it". The forces at play here don't know what "improvement" means and they don't know what the status quo is (though see below about competition).
The point the parent and GP were making is that the advantage in being airborne exists whether or not malaria is being killed off. Right now, before any mosquito-killing-off initiatives, a plasmodium would do very well for itself and its offspring by escaping the confines of a mosquito and infecting zillions of people through the air. Its chances of reproduction in that scenario are presumably high, because there are so many people to infect. It doesn't become more likely to make that mutation and survive the results if its vector is being killed off. It doesn't know it's being killed off.
So how does selection pressure fit in? Imagine a beetle. If you change something about its environment, say, by introducing a new predator, then traits which previously provided the beetle no advantage (say, tasting bad to that predator) suddenly provide that advantage. Then the `if` statements are decidedly different now! It's not that the tasting-bad mutation is more likely to happen, it's just more likely to impact survival. So you expect more of that mutation to survive, and soon you get a whole ton of beetles that taste terrible to our new predator. But note how this doesn't help malaria go airborne because there's no "suddenly provide an advantage" part. It was always an advantage. That it might now impact whether the species survives or isn't part of the `if` statement.
One possible way in which this can be confusing is what the GP was specifically addressing: often the value of a mutation is a function of how it affects the organism's ability to compete with the rest of the species. If there's only so much food around, then being slightly better or worse at eating it affects an organism's survival because it needs to be better at eating than its brethren or it will starve. So in that case the current state of affairs gets baked into the `if` statement. The thing to note is that this logic doesn't apply to malaria going airborne; there isn't a competition over humans to infect.
But you haven't said anything that I don't know already.
>The point the parent and GP were making is that the advantage in being airborne exists whether or not mosquitoes is being killed off.
When there is an abundance of mosquitoes, an airborne strain does not have a sufficient advantage over the mosquito borne strain.
Now this is an assumption I am making. And this is where you people are hung on.
You are saying that an air borne strain has an advantage even now. But what if an air borne strain is limited
by distances it can travel before it dies of for want of a host? A mosquito borne strain can travel arbitrary distance and spread over a vast area..
So when there are mosquitoes, it is more or less an even match.
When you take mosquitoes out, suddenly the airborne strain gains a huge advantage over
the mosquito borne strain. Right? Because there are less number of mosquitoes, the spread of mosquito borne strain
is reduced. This gives the air borne strain more chance to propagate to the next generation.
If you are thinking, how does it give more probability for the air borne strain to spread? Please consider this scenario.
Let there be two indviduals A and B, A infected with an Airborne strain and B infected with a mosquito borne strain. Let there be a healthy indvidual C that is, say, 10 meters away from A and B.
Case 1: Current situtation, with an abundance of mosquitoes.
A mosquito bites B, taking in the virus and takes off. At the same time, a virus of airborne strain start from A.
Now, the mosquito proceeds to bite C right away. Now the virus enters C's body. After a while, C's immune system starts a response to fight this off. A day passes. C's immune system is still fighting the infection.
It is at this time at which the air borne strain enters C's body. But there is a fight going on in there with C's immune system in full alert and is killing of off the likes of this viruses. The small amount of air borne virus that manage to enter C's body gets slaughtered before it gets a chance to grow there. C might or might not get infected with mosquito borne strain...
But The airborne strain does not propagate to the next generation.
Case 2: Mosquitoes are being killed off.
Now there is a reduced number of mosquitoes. So when the airborne strain enters C's body, the mosquito borne strain is still not there yet. Immune system has not yet started fighting viruses of this type. So it gets a head start, and ends up successfully infecting C.
The airborne strain propagate to the next generation.
Right, that's the important thing to think about: the size of the advantage over (or even disadvantage to) the status quo doesn't matter in itself; it only matters to the degree that competition affects the viability of the new strain. I'm glad we're on the same page about that, because that's the thing I perceived that you did not understand.
On your answer to that question, if you go up to the GGP post (your first responder, Slapshot), you'll see that's exactly what they were arguing against. Most people don't have a malaria at any given time, so they're not competing for hosts. So instead of considering how our two strains battle it out in C, the dominant question -- the one that determines whether the strain is viable -- is whether it can infect A's friends D through Z, all of whom don't have malaria, presumably because they weren't bitten by an infected mosquito in the last couple weeks. Since the answer to that doesn't depend on what's happening in C, we conclude that it has about the same probability now as when mosquitos are being eliminated.
I mean, that's the whole reason we're so scared of things "going airborne", right? That they spread so much faster and frictionlessly, and they're not constrained by the vagaries of their hosts.
Not crucial to this discussion, but worth knowing: malaria isn't a virus; it's a protozoa. It does mean the immune response is pretty different.
The point is, with mosquitos, a larger percentage of population (A's friends) will already be bitten by infected mosquitos, making it harder for the airborne strain to find a fresh host...
Thanks for the info regarding Malaria..
"I know. But when you remove mosquitoes from the picture, aren't you putting selection pressure on the diseases to be airborne?"
Not necessarily that specific pressure. Except in carefully controlled laboratory situations, we can't specify the selection pressure being applied. There are too many potential pressures at work, and the mutation outcomes are too stochastic. At best we can force pressure in general. The outcome of that pressure might be entirely different from what we expect it to be.
Let's say we eradicate mosquitos. What other vectors of transmission does a virus like Zika have? What other hosts? It's possible the virus finds a new insect-borne transmission pathway: say, ticks instead of mosquitos. It's possible the virus 'focuses' (to use the term very very loosely) on other hosts, and effectively ceases to be a human concern. I'd wager that either of these outcomes is the more likely adaptation case than a leap to airborne transmission.
Evolving an entirely new means of infectious transmission seems to be a much rarer adaptation than adapting through other means (increased infectious potential; severity of infection; adaptation to new host types; etc.). It's popular in TV and movies to speak about a virus "going airborne," but in actual record, that's usually not what happens. Evolution doesn't have any agency or self-direction; it usually arrives at the 'laziest' and least costly alternative in response to imposed pressures. In this scenario, evolving airborne survivability and transmissibility is probably more costly than adapting to whatever enzyme prevents fleas and ticks from being carriers.
It's not as if an organism can "release" the "pressure" by evolving in a new direction. In your example, if we eradicate mosquitos, one transmission vector becoming less viable doesn't make other vectors more likely to arise, as if by some conservation of total population.
> least costly alternative in response to imposed pressures
Evolution is even lazier, alternatives don't arise in response to imposed pressures at all, so in this scenario the lazy thing is extinction.
Also, I am just putting forward a dangerous possibility other than the effect on the food chain..
Since no one is going to eradicate cars worldwide just because the annual human death toll in car accidents is 1.25 million!
Kill the mosquitos. It's cheaper in the long run.
Is it? A human that survives to reproduce that would have otherwise died from malaria uses more non-renewable resources than a human that dies from malaria over the course of their lifetime, and continues to do so after their death by way of their progeny.
In terms of how much time we have as a species before running out of non-renewables on earth, killing the mosquitos might cost more than our blue marble can afford.
Perhaps certain natural population controls ought not be tampered with.
I think a cost-benefit analysis supports gene-drive-based mosquito eradication, but this option might be as effective and more politically palatable.
We could keep a few cats isolated behind glass in zoos. Isolated cats don't matter.