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Science and pseudoscience, art and dilettantism – on pandemics

How does a good scientist and a good artist recognize that a new and significant value has been created in their field?
Why is it that this cannot always be immediately recognized in science and art? There is still an objective algorithm in science controlling quality: do we still believe it is objective? Are there paradigm shifts in modern science? What are the characteristic features of pseudoscience? Can we still trust in the wisdom of time that will separate art and pseudo-art, science and pseudoscience, the real and the false? What does success and popularity prove? Do critics, aesthetes, and other gatekeepers still guard any entrances? An art historian, literary critic, fine artist, and a research biologist look for answers and ask each other questions.

Brigitta Muladi, art historian
Ferenc László, literary critic
Tayler Patrick, artist
Gábor Földvári, research biologist

Concert: HIPERKARMA

Source: Garden on the cube

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Urbanization, anthropods and biological defense – natural control of insect pests is weaker in inhabited areas

At least half of the insect species on our planet feed on plants (i.e., herbivores). Insect pests among them pose one of the greatest threats to both cultivated and naturally occurring plants. Regulating their numbers is therefore essential for both the economy and plant health. Unfortunately, pest control in most ecosystems relies primarily on the use of synthetic chemicals, which cause significant damage to the environment and human health. To mitigate these adverse effects, environmentally friendly methods are needed, especially in cities where more than half of the world’s population lives.

The biological defense mechanism is one of the most important features provided by biodiversity, with an estimated economic value of more than $ 400 billion annually worldwide. Biological control of pest insects is provided by natural enemies, helping to keep the size of their populations below a threshold where they can no longer be considered pests. Natural enemies can be predators that kill and consume their prey, such as ladybugs feeding on aphids, or so-called parasitoids whose larvae parasitize and thus kill the host, such as ichneumon wasps that lay eggs on caterpillars.

The impact of cities on this feature of the ecosystem was examined in a global study by an international research team from the Centre for Ecological Research (Hungary), the Technical University of Munich (Germany) and the National Agricultural Research Institute (France). Their results were published in the international journal Science of the Total Environment.

The researchers used a statistical method called meta-analysis, which combines the results of several scientific papers on the same issue. Fifty-two studies were conducted in different cities around the world. Compared to more natural rural areas, urban areas have been found to have higher numbers of insect pests that feed on plant sap ( that is, insects that suck plant sap with their piercing-sucking oral organs, such as aphids and shield lice) while the number of their natural enemies of arthropods with poor propagation was lower. Researchers have also shown that the level of biological regulation provided by arthropods has weakened as the rate of urbanization has increased.

Their results show that natural regulation of plant-sap-feeding pest populations is not effective enough in cities. The first author of the study, Dr. Dávid Korányi, a researcher at the Centre for Ecological Research, said: “These insects are one of the most problematic plant pests in cities, as they can severely degrade plants and produce large amounts of honeydew from plants that result in sticky sidewalks and other surfaces. The results suggest that natural enemies, in particular predators with poorer transmission capacity (such as earwigs and some beetles), may play a significant role in the effective biological defense against pest insects.

The leader of the study, Dr. Péter Batáry, a scientific advisor at the Centre for Ecological Research, said: “We can help these beneficial arthropods with more cohesive and less intensively treated, more natural green spaces in cities. For example, diverse vegetation (including trees, shrubs, and taller herbs), less mowing, preserving moorlands and dead trees provide them with hiding places and a suitable environment, contributing to their continued presence in urban areas as well.

Accordingly, this study urges the development of nature-based solutions and the reduction of artificial surfaces in cities to restore ecological communities and their functioning, thereby reducing the ecological footprint of urbanization.

Source: Science of The Total Environment

News

New EASAC Report on European Regenerative Agriculture

The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC), the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) and the Academia Europaea Budapest Knowledge Hub will present the EASAC’s latest report “Regenerative Agriculture in Europe” at a jointly organised public symposium on 6 April, in the main building of the HAS.

The concept of regenerative agriculture aims to create sustainable, resilient, healthy, equitable and climate-friendly food systems. It can be defined as a system of farming principles and practices that, while maintaining agricultural productivity, seeks to increase biodiversity, enrich soils, restore watersheds and improve ecosystem services, including increasing the carbon sequestration potential.
The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) prepared its report on this wide range of issues, which will published on 5 April 2022, and then presented at a public event in Budapest, on Wednesday 6 April at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and in Stockholm, on Thursday 7 April at the Royal Swedish Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

The report has been prepared by a dedicated expert working group within the EASAC Environment Steering Panel. The 26-member working group, whose members were nominated by EASAC member academies, worked on the issue for a year. Hungarian experts are regularly nominated to EASAC expert working groups by HAS as an EASAC member academy. In this way a Hungarian researcher, Orsolya Valkó (Centre for Ecological Research), was nominated to the working group on regenerative agriculture. Orsolya Valkó participated as co-chair of the working group, the other co-chair being Lars Walloe, Chair of the EASAC Environmental Steering Panel.

The public session, chaired by Széchenyi Prize winner HAS member Gábor Stépán, will be opened on behalf of the HAS by Ervin Balázs, Chairman of the Department of Agricultural Sciences, followed by a series of speeches by academics and researchers – Lars Walloe, Orsolya Valkó, Thomas Elmquist, Anders Wijkman, Diána Ürge-Vorsatz – who will not only present the report in a narrow sense, but also shed light on the policy implications and the wider links with climate policies. The academic event will be available live on the HAS’s YouTube channel.

Source: MTA

News

Inspiration and intuition in the light of music and evolution

30 April 2022 – Scholarly discussion, garden picnic and jazz concert during tulip blossom.
Is there a cultural evolution, namely are there similar processes operating behind the changes in fashions and habits as those that drive the living world?
Can inspiration be created by a machine or is it exclusively human?
What are the physical, biological and cultural influences that determine the concept of “musical beauty”?

Company on the cube

Evolutionary biologist András Szilágyi, music historian Ádám Bősze and journalist András Stumpf explore in their conversation the above questions: to some they know the answers already, some they suspect, and for some they can offer the thrill of asking the question.

Concert Binder Trio

Károly Binder, pianist, composer and head of department at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music
Tamás Hidász, drummer with a master’s degree, prize-winner of international jazz competitions
Tibor Fonay jazz bassist – Junior Príma award-winning musician, permanent member of several well-known Hungarian ensembles

Source: Kert a köbön

News

Drought is one of the greatest ecological threats of the coming decades

In a recent study published in the prestigious journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers from the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (CER) compared the results of field experiments on the consequences of droughts with data from actual drought observations in a global synthesis. The researchers found that although the experiments themselves predicted serious consequences, the data from observations far outweighed them.

The consequences of rapid climate change are relatively slow to emerge on a human scale, and the effects can often be masked by other processes, making it difficult to assess the ecological impacts of climate change. Researchers most often take one of two approaches: they observe natural phenomena and try to link changes in biota to changes in climate, for example, or they carry out field experiments to try to reproduce a particular component of climate change.

Both methods have their advantages and limitations. Experiments can be used to artificially accelerate the process of climate change, so that we do not have to wait 50-100 years to see the effects, as opposed to observing them continuously. An additional advantage of the experiments is that the effects of different elements of the climate can be investigated simultaneously under several scenarios and in isolation. The advantage of observations is that they show real changes, but we cannot be sure that the observed changes are caused by the changing climate.

In the current study, the CER researchers investigated the reliability of field experiments simulating the effects of drought, a method that has recently become more widespread, as one of the greatest threats to human life and wildlife in the coming decades will be the increasing frequency of droughts. They conclude that the experiments significantly underestimate the effects of droughts and may show a more positive vision of the future. This is probably due to the small size of the field experiments and the fact that the experiments only simulate a lack of precipitation, whereas in real droughts the weather is warmer, sunnier and drier. The researchers argue that the impact of natural droughts is a better indicator of the likely consequences of future droughts.

“The agricultural and ecological importance of drought is very high. If there is not enough rainfall in summer, yields are lower and the natural vegetation’s ability to store carbon is reduced. Total precipitation in Hungary is not expected to decrease, but summers will be drier and precipitation will be more unevenly distributed throughout the year. In other words, the same amount of precipitation will be seen in the form of less, but more intense rainfall,” said György Kröel-Dulay, head of the Experimental Vegetation Ecology Research Group at the CER Institute of Ecology and Botany, first author of the study. He added: “Southern Europe will become drier and northern Europe wetter. Since Hungary is on the border between the two regions, there is more uncertainty about the future of the climate here.”

“As we emphasise in our study, there is no suggestion that field experiments are bad overall and not worth looking at. I am also an experimental person, and I know that this method has many advantages,” said György Kröel-Dulay. “At the same time, it is very important to approach any problem using multiple methods in parallel and to evaluate the results of these methods together, rather than narrowing down our research to one approach that we think is better. Although the experiments show the same trends as the observations – for example, that already drier areas are more vulnerable to drought – it is clear that the experiments tend to underestimate the ecological consequences of the expected drought. However, to predict and manage change effectively, we need accurate data,” he noted.

Related link(s):

Nature.com

Source: ELKH

News

Bayes and Darwin: How replicator populations perform Bayesian calculations

Statistical inference is an essential component of both animal behavior and artificial intelligence algorithms. It focuses on two main tasks: combining information learned from the past and perceiving the present to try to predict the future (our teammate passes the ball to us, how to move to catch it, knowing our teammate and seeing the arc of the ball) while trying to make use of various past experiences for this prediction.

A new study by IE researchers shows that the population of the basic units of evolution, the self-reproducing replicators, are capable of performing exactly these calculations. The basis of this analogy is to view the competition of replicators as a competition for hypotheses about the future.

Bayesian learning theory and evolutionary theory both formalize adaptive competitive dynamics in a multidimensional, changing, and noisy environment. In this study, we discuss structural and dynamic analogies and their limitations, both at the computational and algorithmic-mechanical levels. We point out the mathematical equivalences between their basic dynamic equations, generalizing the isomorphism between Bayesian inference and replicator dynamics. We discuss how these mechanisms provide analogous responses to the challenge of adapting to a stochastically changing environment across multiple time scales. We shed light on the algorithmic equivalence between sampling approximation, particle filters, and the Wright-Fisher model of population genetics. These equivalences suggest that the frequency distribution of types in replicator populations optimally encodes the regularities of the stochastic environment to predict future environments, without reference to known mechanisms of multilevel selection and evolution. A unified approach to the theories of learning and evolution comes to the fore.

This theoretical link may lead to a better understanding of the diverse adaptations of biological evolution by showing a new adaptation goal emerging at the level of the population and not the individual. On the other hand, using this exact mathematical analogy, artificial evolutionary systems can become a more fundamental building block of intelligence.

Dániel Czégel, Giaffar Hamza, Josh Tenenbaum and Eörs Szathmáry
Bioessays. 2022 Feb 25: e2100255

News

Where could the successor of the coronavirus come from – and how should we prepear for it?

What can we do to avoid an unexpected close acquaintance with another rapidly spreading newcomer after the coronavirus? Biologists Gábor Kemenesi and Gábor Földvári also answered these questions in their science lecture, the recording of which is published on the MTA YouTube channel (the link is available in the article on mta.hu).

To talk about an age of epidemics is no longer an exaggeration. The current coronavirus epidemic was predicted by science, but the list of viruses signed up to be the cause of the next epidemic is not over yet. In the lecture, Gábor Kemenesi talks about the basic knowledge related to the research of emerging infectious diseases. We can also get an idea of what may be the possible causes of future epidemics and where we can expect their emergence.

The shrinking of natural habitats and climate change create ecological situations that help many pathogens settle in new places and in new hosts, thus stimulating the emergence of epidemics in humans and domestic animals. Since we cannot stop or reverse the phenomenon, it is vital that we do everything we can to prevent it, prepare for its major effects, and develop a defence strategy. The currently prevalent post-event decision-making, medical or technological solutions (restrictive measures, vaccine, treatment) are not sufficient, as complex networks of evolutionary, ecological and epidemiological phenomena are in the background. Gábor Földvári’s presentation shows the connections between these and presents practical preventive solutions that would make it possible to curb epidemics such as the current one – before they break out.

About:

Gábor Földvári , a biologist, received his PhD for his results in the epidemiological and ecological studies of ticks and the pathogens they spread. He specializes in parasitology, epidemiology and pathogen ecology. Recently, his research interest has focused on how human activity and climate change affect the emergence of pathogens in new locations and new hosts.

Gábor Kemenesi is a biologist, virologist and lecturer as a university assistant professor. One of the Hungarian experts on emerging infectious diseases, he obtained his doctorate in bat virology. He also researches other aspects of emerging infectious diseases, such as viruses transmitted by mosquitoes or rodents. He conducts pioneering research on the subject on many continents.

News

Biodiversity and Climate Protection Panel at the Budapest Climate Summit

The Budapest Climate Summit was held for the second time on October 7-8, 2021, where Gábor Földvári, the head of the Emerging Pathogen Ecology Research Group of the CER Institute of Evolution, participated as a speaker at the Biodiversity and Climate Protection panel. In the panel discussion, experts in the field discussed resolving the intertwined crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The Budapest Climate Summit is a unique and exclusive forum where the leaders of key companies in Hungary and the surrounding region, senior government and EU officials, top managers of financial and consulting companies, developers of innovative technological solutions and renowned researchers discuss local and international aspects of sustainable development in the light of the 2050 climate targets. The conference was attended by 180 people in person, representing more than 80 companies and institutions from 25 countries around the world, followed by hundreds of viewers online.

Source: Budapest Climate Summit

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Opening lecture: The Beautiful, the Bad and the Sustainable – What should and could the new world be like?

Eörs Szathmáry, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, gave the opening speech at the 2021 Hungarian Science Festival, entitled ˇThe beautiful, the bad and the sustainable – What should and could the world be like?”. The lecture is available on the MTA YouTube channel.

Throughout the history of mankind, many civilizations have collapsed, often through their own fault. And the collapse of today’s globalized civilization could be global. It is not so much the mere survival of humanity but the collapse of technological civilization that would have catastrophic consequences for our quality of life – we must do everything we can to avoid this.

In his presentation, Eörs Szathmáry lists the threats to our civilization, the impending climate catastrophe, the increasingly unsustainable economic and social processes, the unprecedented destruction of nature, pandemics that are unfolding and the biggest obstacle to a solution.
the growth dilemma.

After exploring the reasons, the lecture seeks answers to the decision-making situations in which public thinking could be steered towards a form of global cooperation that would help divert our civilization from the path to collapse to a sustainable world.

Source: MTA Youtube channel

About:

Eörs Szathmáry is an evolutionary biologist, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and the chairman of the Sustainable Development Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In his research, he studied and modeled many evolutionary processes from the origin of life to the development of human language skills. His book, The Great Steps of Evolution, co-authored with John Maynard Smith, is considered a cornerstone of modern evolutionary biology.

News

Research professor Eörs Szathmáry in a BBC documentary film series

In the BBC documentary film series, The Geochemical History of Life on Earth, Justin Rowlatt explores the geochemical history of Earth and the role that humans played. In the third part of episode 4, The Great Chemistry Experiment, research professor Eörs Szathmáry talks about how climate change could be the ultimate test of whether humans can make the next big leap in the evolution of life on Earth.

Source: A Geochemical History of Life on Earth