Covid-19: Was it really a bat?

We know that the Covid-19 pandemic came from a bat in a Wuhan “wet market”, where live wild animals were being sold alongside farm animals, right? And therefore the obvious solution is to ban these markets. Or is it?

In Today on BBC Radio 4 this morning there was an interview with Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London, who explained why things, as usual, aren’t so simple.

For a start, it may not have been a bat. Two-thirds of human infectious diseases have an animal source but this is more often a rodent than a bat. (When did you last encounter a bat?)

It’s not the animals’ fault that we are acquiring their diseases more frequently and easily. Deforestation and urban expansion are bringing us more into contact with animals and the increase in the human population makes it more likely that contacts will occur.

Banning the “wet markets” probably isn’t the answer, although they shouldn’t include wild animals. They are really farmers’ markets and are an important source of protein for the urban poor.

A ban might have uninitended consequences. It might drive them underground, where they would be uncontrolled and more dangerous. It might also result in intensification of pig farming, which would increase the risk of transmission from wild animals to pigs and then to humans, especially if the farms were sited in rain forests. We are more in contact with pigs and poultry than we are with wild animals.

In summary, predicting the next (perhaps more lethal) pandemic is difficult. It’s a really complicated ecological problem.

Mathematics and Me

Fear of mathematics is common. Many of us experience it and there is is a page in Wikipedia titled Mathematical Anxiety. An aversion to maths is almost a badge of honour for some. People who would be embarrassed to admit to indifference to art, music, or literature often have no hesitation in proclaiming they are unable to understand maths.

I was in that category myself for many years. I think this was at least partly the result of bad teaching. My earliest memory of maths at school is of being a member of a class, aged perhaps six or seven, chanting the multiplication tables in chorus. Rote learning without insight remained a feature of maths for me for many years afterwards.  Continue reading.