What is your counsel?

Question: What is your counsel?

Jim Woolsey: Well individuals are citizens and can write in and encourage things, and speak out, and write up in the paper and so forth.  They’re also voters so they can get in touch with their individual Congressman.  And a lot of them are also shareholders through mutual funds or otherwise of automobile companies, utilities.  The other day I just got an email from a solar company that says Connecticut and New York have great provisions for integrating rooftop solar into their grid, and Pennsylvania just won’t hear of it.  Well you know, if you’re a shareholder of Pennsylvania Utilities, you can get in touch with them and say, “Hey, what’s with you guys?”  So there are various things I think that one can do.  There is an outfit called Plug-in Partners, and that’s their URL –  www.pluginpartners.org, I think – that is taking soft orders for plug-ins to ship off to automobile companies and so forth so that no one can say there’s not an interest in plug-ins.  As you can tell, I genuinely think plug-ins are going to have a huge impact.  Once people realize that they can not only go into a showroom and buy a reasonably priced car, that they can plug-in to their garage socket, drive for much of the day on effectively a penny a mile electricity – because off peak, overnight power is about a nickel a kilowatt a hours in the country; five-kilowatt charge.  Say it’s something between one and two cents a mile.  Nevertheless gasoline now is 10, 12, 14 cents a mile.  So you’re driving at something close to 1/10 the cost that you’re usually driving.  That makes a big difference in some people’s budgets.  And the other thing is that there’s a concept called V2G, or “vehicle to grid”, in which after you’ve charged your plug-in hybrid . . .  Let’s say you get it charged by midnight, you have a timer on it, you can make it available to the utility from midnight to 6:00 a.m. when let’s say you leave for work, for stabilization of the grid, and for what you call spinning reserves – that is power outages.  Those two together are only about five percent of what utilities need to buy, about 12 billion dollars a year worth of fossil fuels.  Mainly natural gas, because natural gas tends to be what’s turned on and off quickly since it’s amenable to that.  Well that amount of money, if it’s divided up fairly between the utilities and the consumers . . .  There’s a professor at the University of Delaware, … who is writing articles about this and saying, you know, do you realize that can be something in the range of $2,000 a year for the owner of a plug-in hybrid?  Now let’s think about this a minute.  Not only am I driving at a tenth of the cost, but somebody’s paying me close to $200 a month?  Heck, that’s a major share of my car payment.  Just to leave car plugged in overnight?  Hey, where’s that dealership?  (Laughter)  So I think once … And different utilities are interested in this to different degrees.  But in California, if you talk to PG&E for example, they are really enthusiastic about this concept.  So there could be, I think, substantial interest in a lot of people in moving toward plug-in hybrids once they’re available.

Jim Woolsey counsels more direct activism in promoting new approaches to old problems, especially to promote alternative energy.

Videos
  • A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
  • The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
  • But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.


Do calories even count? Research counters a longstanding assumption.

The calorie is the basic unit of measure of food — and it might be off.

Tourists enjoy a traditional 'Zapiekanka' at Krakow's Main Square. On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Krakow, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • In a new article in 1843, Peter Wilson argues that counting calories is an outdated form of weight management.
  • Research shows that labels are up to 20 percent off true caloric totals; 70 percent in frozen processed foods.
  • Not all digestive systems are created equally; humans process foods at different rates under varying conditions.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.