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Most of the "whoops" tales are people that didn't listen to their scientists telling them not to, didn't have scientists at all, or were from long enough ago that we can discard their stories as irrelevant in the same way that we'd discard things like "spaceflight is impossible" and "nukes will end war". We've now traced the food chain around malaria mosquitoes out to three or four degrees of separation, including things like the diseases they carry. Their entire ecological niche is trivially replaced by close relatives that don't carry malaria. They're not even common enough to have major food-chain or crowding effects like you'd see with ants, rabbits, kudzu, or sparrows. Everything that we can find says that the damage from eradication would be zero. Not "small", or "manageable". None. They're small enough and unimportant enough that we should be thinking of them as disease organisms rather than insects. And I'm sure you're perfectly happy with the eradication of bot flies, polio, and smallpox. Reevaluate your beliefs.

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.




>Most of the "whoops" tales are people that didn't listen to their scientists telling them not to, didn't have scientists at all, or were from long enough ago that we can discard their stories as irrelevant....

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?


> 2060: "Oh yeah, everyone used to carry around little electromagnetic devices and put them next to their brain, but we know better now".

This one is easy to debunk: look at the spectrum:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_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're missing the entire point.

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"


We already know now much more than we apply. Global warming is the most obvious example. It's true, the hypothetical people in 50 years will consider the current and earlier generations barbarian in their approach to the use of the fossil fuels. But we actually even now know fantastically good the exact effects the electromagnetic waves, and that at least since 1905 work of Einstein for which he received Nobel prize. So there was a lot of time already to check if we got that wrong. Don't worry about a few watts your phone produces, worry about the Sun and anything that produces that kind of radiation (or worse, but in that direction), the one which is on the opposite side of the radio waves and visible light and the one for which we know exactly how damaging it is:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymine_dimers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet_index

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).


Part of the problem with this idea is that your cell phone exposes your brain to trivial quantities of EM radiation in both absolute and relative terms. If EM in that spectrum had any kind of effect, we'd have seen it long since in people that live near radio masts, people that work with radar units and radio transmitters (military, mostly), people that sleep next to their wifi modems, people working in electrical generator rooms and physics labs, and people with old microwave ovens. Ever had a house where the WiFi would cut out when someone nuked a pizza? Standing near that is way worse than your cell phone. You can't even claim long-term effects, because we've been working with radios and microwaves of this strength in these frequencies for 70+ years. There's nothing there. Please stop with the fear mongering, or at least pick something more likely to be a problem. Maybe the effect of switching from memorization to Google assisted indexization, or long-term psychological effects of social networks in relation to Dunbar's number, or sugar substitutes and gut flora. All of those are reasonable "whoops" sites. Cell phones giving you cancer isn't a potential whoops.


Again, you miss the point.

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.


So what do you want to do instead? Do you intend to only do things that we know are safe? If so, how do you intend to prove anything to be absolutely safe? Or, if not, do you intend to do things that we're "pretty sure" are safe, or things that seem to be the least dangerous? Because, the way you're thinking, absolutely anything could have catastrophic results, and you don't give us any useful way to differentiate between stuff we should be doing and stuff we shouldn't be doing.

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.


I agree with you.

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...


Maybe in 2060 we'll discover that NOT radiating our brains was killing us. You can't just arbitrarily guess which things are dangerous -- you have to raise legitimate scientific questions.

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...


> It's amazing we're not all dead yet, isn't it?

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.


> Tens of thousands ... are extinct thanks to our meddling.

Probably much more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction

"the present rate of extinction may be up to 140,000 species per year,[2] making it the greatest loss of biodiversity since the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event."


The problem with your "point" isn't the point itself, it's that you demonstrate illiteracy in the science of the last 100 years or more while making your point. There were always the limits of what we know, but we also got better in knowing where the limits are, and they aren't in the infrared and radio area effects.

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.


"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."

(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.


Malaria is not a sentient organism that feels cornered and will lash out because of that. The chance that it will mutate to an other infection mechanism is directly related with the number of specimens in circulation. Killing off it's carrier will reduce it.


> Their entire ecological niche is trivially replaced by close relatives that don't carry malaria

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.


Layman here.

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?


> 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.


>Evolution doesn't have an intent. Diseases can't "evolve themselves."

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?


> I know. But when you remove mosquitoes from the picture, aren't you putting selection pressure on the diseases to be airborne?

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.


That would be true if you are going to eradicate mosquitoes overnight...

Also, I am just putting forward one possibility other than the effect on the food chain...


> aren't you putting selection pressure on the diseases to be airborne?

> 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.


Sorry. I have no idea what you are talking about.

Are you a biologist/ecologist or someone knowledgeable in the field?


Instead of asking for credentials, just think a little harder. If "airborne malaria" could possibly be a thing, it would already be a thing. Plasmodium isn't a work crew responsible for killing a given number of people every year, after which they relax for a bit, only getting really creative when they fall behind their quota. It is a reproducing species that will reproduce and thrive as much as possible. There is no intelligence guiding mutation. If flying were an option, Plasmodium would be flying.

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.


Sorry. I have to ask this to you also. Are you a biologists/ecologists or some one knowledgable in the field?


I can tell you both the parent and grandparent posters are knowledgeable enough to help answer your question. I think you're misunderstanding how evolution and selection pressure work at a conceptual level, and you don't need an evolutionary biologist to give expert input on it any more than you need an astronomer to explain why the moon has phases.

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.


Thanks for the explanation.

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.


> If you are thinking, how does it give more probability for the air borne strain to spread?

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.


>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...

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'm a layperson, too, for the record.)

"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.

Source: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/141003_ebola


There seems to be a mixup here between "pressure" as in "this organism is under pressure" (implying an unfavorable environment) and selection pressure, which acts on genes, not species, and is really more of a filter.

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.


So it seems that it is unlikely, but not entirely impossible.

Also, I am just putting forward a dangerous possibility other than the effect on the food chain..


Evolution does not work that way. Parasites are generally happy to keep on reproducing until their host dies - there's no reason for them to stop, since the only reasoning that evolution understands is "there tends to be more things that reproduce better". Malaria reproduces better by going through human hosts and mosquito carriers than by going airborne. If going airborne helped an individual generation of malaria, malaria would already be airborne.


Is MBTE really specific to only A. gambiae and A. funestus?


Something like 30 out of the 500 anopheles species are capable of carrying malaria. Of those, only those two matter, because the rest won't bite humans. Eradicating those two would be sufficient and another species (that doesn't bite humans) would take over. "Bites Humans" is furthermore not a strong enough competitive advantage to overcome any attempts to eradicate a successor that picks up the disease-ridden malarial torch.


Look at this problem from different angle. These two species are only abundant in areas where humans live. The malaria annual death toll is about 440000 lives. Maybe it is more worth of an effort to move humans out of there?

Since no one is going to eradicate cars worldwide just because the annual human death toll in car accidents is 1.25 million!


Let me know when you find a place that will accept and support 180MM Bangladeshis and 1B Africans.

Kill the mosquitos. It's cheaper in the long run.


Mongolia.


>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.


The benefits of human population control through disease, isn't much of a benefit at all, as child mortality and fertility tends to be correlated. The less chance of your kids dying, the less kids you'll have, in general. This probably means that while we might see a population boom in an adjustment period, we'd probably soon see drops in fertility.


Amusingly, anthropophilia versus zoophilia is genetic. If we all cleared out of Africa completely, those problematic mosquito strains may well go extinct. Now I'm wondering how fast they'd re-evolve. So it's probably more like the case I thought of at the end of my first post, where we'd have to stamp the property back out every time it evolved. It'd be pretty easy, though, and without a major animal reservoir it'd probably give us enough breathing room to eradicate the disease itself with ebola-style quarantines.


That's interesting; could another approach then be to use CRISPR to switch the anthropophilic species to zoophilic, and thus sidestep the "ecological destruction" argument that is the main objection to just destroying those species?

I think a cost-benefit analysis supports gene-drive-based mosquito eradication, but this option might be as effective and more politically palatable.


You'd be forcing them into another ecological niche, where without additional changes to adapt them to their new diet they'd likely be outcompeted and die. It'd be a complicated and inefficient route to eradicating them just as surely as if you'd killed them all.


But the ongoing cost of eliminating cars would be enormous. The ancestor post is saying that there would be only fixed costs involved in eliminating malaria-transmitting species of mosquito.


What really ailes me is that all research is concentrated on killing poor mosquitoes, not the Plasmodium, which is the real cause of the disease. Should we also kill all the cats because they carry Toxoplasmae?


If it's a matter of animal rights, cats have a hell of a lot more higher-order brain-functioning than mosquitoes do, because the latter have effectively zero.


Given the that Toxoplasmae causes detrimental brain effects in humans, yes. Absolutely 100% unquestionably yes, without a doubt.

We could keep a few cats isolated behind glass in zoos. Isolated cats don't matter.


You understand! Lets apply for IMO grant for that.


Should we also help malaria reestablish in the areas we previously eradicated it? You know, Europe, the US.


This is technically possible. I wonder what political aim of such a campaign might be?




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