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How Spanish, not English, was nearly the world's language

The reason has to do with how the wind was blowing in a particular part of the world in August of 1588. It's that specific.

John Lewis Gaddis: I think the favorite lesson that I like to teach is the Spanish Armada in 1588, sent there by King Philip II of Spain, and the defense against the Spanish Armada led by Queen Elizabeth I, and what happened to the Spanish Armada in that situation. 

The reason I like to teach it is because Spain was the global superpower in that period. Spain had conquered almost the entire new world. Britain had not—England as it was at that time—had not even begun to develop colonies. 

And the issue, of course, was Catholicism, and was Catholicism going to be brought back to England after it had been kicked out by Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII. 

So this was what led Philip (believing that he was an agent of the Almighty) to send this largest of all naval forces north into the English Channel as a launch pad for the reconquest by Catholicism of England. And that’s August of 1588. 

Elizabeth’s strategy was not to attempt to directly confront that fleet, because she didn’t have a fleet that was capable of doing that. She certainly could not have confronted directly a Spanish army because she had virtually no army of her own.But she is thinking in terms of geography. She’s thinking in terms of what direction the winds blow in normally in the English Channel. 

And she saw that if she just allowed the Spanish fleet to advance slowly up the English Channel—which it had to do because it was cumbersome—with a few English ships pursuing it and then pick them off as they pursue, and then as they got up to the border of what’s now Belgium and France (where they were going to disembark their troops) realized that taking advantage of the winds, if you just set a few old English ships on fire with explosives on them and send them into the middle of this huge Spanish fleet, that’s going to cause terror and that in itself will be enough to defeat the Spanish. 

So it’s all happening on one evening with the winds in the right direction with eight ships used, and the Spanish completely panicked to the extent of cutting their own anchor cables so more than 100 ships self-destructed in terms of losing control of the ability to navigate. 

The only thing they could do then was to flee, but because of the winds, they had to flee around all of England, around Scotland, down the Irish coast. And by the time they staggered back into Spain they were profoundly depleted. That’s the turning point.

That’s the moment at which it can be said the Spanish Empire reached its high point and then started descending. 

And it’s also the moment at which we can say the English began to become very gradually a superpower. 

And I’m fascinated by the fact that it all can be reduced to a single night in the English Channel, and to the direction in which the winds blew. So that testifies to the importance of seizing the moment. It testifies to the importance of not micromanaging but macromanaging in the sense of delegating authority to the experts, in this case, her own sea captains. Trusting them to do the right thing. Trusting them to take advantage of spontaneous moments. They didn’t have time to consult Elizabeth about the fire ships. 

They didn’t have time to wonder if they sacrificed eight ships, will she get mad and cut off their heads? They figured no, it’s unlikely because she’s a strategist herself. She will understand what that sacrifice achieved. And, of course, that’s what happened. So it’s her great triumph. It’s Spain’s great failure, and you can argue it leads to the development of North America by the British and to the fact that we are sitting here speaking English and not Spanish now.

Want to know the reason much of North America speaks English and not Spanish? It all boils down to a single day in the English Channel in August of 1588, says Yale University history professor John Lewis Gaddis. The Spanish Armada was cleverly chased out of British waters by a rag-tag British fleet that set old ships on fire and pointed them right at the anchored Spanish fleet, causing the Spaniards to cut anchor and flee. Because of the way the wind was blowing, the Spanish ships had to sail all the way around the British Isles (about 2,000 nautical miles) to get home and were soundly defeated. That led, John posits, to the rise of the British empire. John's latest book is the fascinating On Grand Strategy.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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