February 20, 2024

The Science Rant's Most Read Post of the last 12 months is from 2018: Hockey Pucks and Locks for Classroom Doors


By far, the most-read post in The Science Rant over the last several months into 2024, and over the entire existence of this blog, continues to be from 2018:

"Run, Hide, Fight: Is Your Kid's University Campus Unprepared for a Campus Shooter?"

This was a post I wrote during the moment when my university, Oakland University, decided to address the installation of door locks that could be activated from inside the classroom by professors and students during an active shooter situation. This post continues to be the most read over the last year and the last few months and I think interest renews every time we have another shooting on an American campus. 

While there are no guarantees for absolute safety when a killer has a gun, the inability to lock doors was sadly brought to the public's attention last year at Michigan State University. At that moment anyone who might have thought that students and faculty at Oakland University lobbying publically for interior classroom door locks was excessive learned that OU made a wise decision in 2018. The administration listened to its community and they made one essential step for trying to protect our community. 

The sad situation is that while most grade schools and high schools in this country have interior lockable classroom doors and active shooter practice drills for all staff and students, that is not the case when your children arrive at most colleges. 

So ask your college-attending kids this week if the doors of all their classrooms are lockable from the inside.

You can check out the popular 2018 post here and read about the famous Hockey Puck campaign of 2018: Run Hide Fight

February 16, 2024

COVID-19 Vaccine has performed well against recent variants so far this season.

 The CDC reports that the current updated COVID-19 vaccine has performed well against strains of the virus so far this Fall and Winter (2023/2024). That includes the JN.1 variant.

CDC Vaccine Performance Update

August 29, 2023

Show this to your Parents: Scientific Truth about WHY Your TUITION is so Expensive?

I may be a university professor now, but I was an undergraduate student in college in the 1980s. The education cost in 1980 was about $4,500 per student. Most States provided about 70% of that to the university and the remainder, called tuition, was the student's share of the cost. It was about $1,200 a year then, which paid for an entire year (September to April) of a full-time student course load. Not $1,200 per course, $1,200 total. To put that in perspective, we could get a full-time summer job, make $500 per month, and save our next year's tuition after 2-1/2 months of work. Then the rest of the Summer was money we could use for other things. So how do we get to $15,000 plus per year in 2023? Its is very simple when you compare the education cost and the tuition between the 80's and now. 

February 22, 2023

Rare Disease Day 2023 - the last day of February each year.

It has been 40 years since the Orphan Drug Act was passed by the United States Congress to incentivize the development of treatments for "orphan", meaning rare, diseases. In 2022 Congress also passed the Rare Diseases Act to amend the Public Health Service to form an Office for Rare Diseases within the National Institutes of Health. One of the research areas within my laboratory targets orphan inherited pediatric retinal diseases. Diseases rarer than Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) which is itself considered rare. These conditions include FEVR (Familial Exudative Vitreo-Retinopathy), Norrie Disease, Persistent Fetal Vascular Syndrom, and Retinoschisis. The first three conditions cause incomplete development of the blood supply for the neural retina within our eyes, causing blindness. The latter condition results in a very delicate neural retina where the layers of the retina can separate and become filled with liquid. This condition also causes blindness. All of these orphan diseases affect infants and children of all ages. Our lab at Oakland University, in the Eye Research Institute, carries out research DNA-sequencing for Families with these conditions who present at Associated Retinal Consultants here in Michigan. Families are from all over the country and also outside of the United States. Funding is difficult to find for rare disease research, but we seek support from a few private foundations so that no Family pays for the research DNA sequencing that we do. OU science students and OUWB medical students take part and learn about applied human genetics.

In North America, the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), is a partner with several similar regional organizations to facilitate awareness and support for rare diseases around the globe. While rare diseases may have fewer affected persons, there are many different rare diseases and together they impact over 300 million people around the world. Do you have a rare disease or know someone with a rare disease? Seeking information? Please visit the NORD website. Please also share this blog post to increase awareness. February 28th is Rare Disease Day in 2023. 


Ken Mitton

PS Thanks to the Carls Foundation and Pediatric Retinal Research Foundation of Michigan for making our lab's research DNA-sequencing for Families possible in 2023. 

December 16, 2022

Twitter under Musk has Suspended Core American Reporters from our Free Press, and this Scientist has Suspended Twitter by Quitting it.

 I have decided that my participation in Twitter is now simply helping Twitter under Musk operate as he promotes anti-democratic groups, and racist groups, and has now blocked important access of real American Journalists who make up our Free Press. 

So this day, December 15, 2022 is my personal day of infamy when I not only uninstalled the twitter app from my devices but I canceled my twitter account as long-term user of well over a decade. I now have a Mastodon server-based account at https://techhub.social/@kpmitton and am already enjoying the democracy and values of like-minded individuals. No ads, no crap, just people like me who want to make the world a better place, but on a platform were no billionaire crazy autocrat can interfere with our communications. 

Check out my previous post here on The Science Rant if you want to know how to get rolling in the Mastodon environment. Most of the journalists that I follow, and scientists, and entertainers have accounts in the Mastodon Fediverse too. I really like the Mastodon App and its functionality. No control forcing things into my feed that I do not follow, no ads. For my chosen Mastodon homebase, techhub.social, many of us who use this node donate a modest few dollars per month to our server manager's Patreon fund and we are ad-free and in control of our own worldwide communication and sharing. It is like supporting public radio. It belongs to us and Musk can simply go sit on it. Twitter will be filing for bankruptcy early in 2023. 

Looking forward to 2023. Stay safe out there. Get those vaccinations and take care of each other. Welcome to the Dolphin crowd. Dolphins work together, they even kill sharks who try to hurt them. Swim smart out there.

Ken Mitton

November 20, 2022

Ok, What is this Mastodon Social Networking Thing and How Do I Move In?

 Mastodon, how do I move in?

So, you are on Twitter and have used the platform for many years like I have. (I was @kpmitton on Twitter for 12 years) Now we have had to deal with conmen, conwomen, narcissistic ex-presidents, white supremacists, liars, Nazis, anti-democratic power mongers, bigots, racists, and Elon Musk banning real free speach. So we all would like a place where the servers are not owned by one company, or one billionaire, and where fake news and misinformation are not permitted. That is where Mastodon servers were born designed to take the best of the earliest forms of networking on the Internet when it was mostly UNIX-based, command-line computers and accounts. Think nodes, think neurons, think decentralized networks, yet think also about being able to follow and be followed by anyone with an account on any of many Mastodon servers. Still able to have followers as you could on Twitter but Elon Musk and Donald Trump have no say at all about the Network nor can they permit hate and lies with the excuse (used wrongly) of freedom of speech. This is how Mastodon works. Imagine following other people and posting your own short thoughts just like twitter but there are NO ads. Imagine that you get to pick and choose all that shows up in your feed. Twitter was like that for its first three years. Where can you find this wonderful twitter replacement. Where do you find it, and how do you join it? It's as easy or as hard as it was when we all joined Twitter. We may fumble around a for a few days until we get the hang of it, but here is how to get there and how it works. It is no more complicated than Twitter, but better moderated by its users. That would be you and me. It does not run on commercial advertising revenue and it is not governed by algorithms that companies can pay to control who and what you see in a 1984 senario. How? Read on.

I will tell you right now that the easiest way to start with Mastodon is to use the App on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You can make an account from those apps. You can also go to a joining website portal. Before making your account, know this. It is possible to have your own username. On Twitter, I am kpmitton and in the Mastodon universe, I am also kpmitton. There is no one collection of servers run by "Mastodon". You might find you can make accounts with the same user name on different servers in the network, but that would not serve you well because users on any server can follow you and be followed by you from any server you live at. 

Mastodon is really the communication protocol that people use to set up servers which are called "instances" or "Mastodon Instances". They are really similar to different people having their own websites on their own servers. For social interaction and communication, it is like having many Facebook servers and different people grouped on different ones. This is kind of true about the Facebook platform. Yet everyone can connect with each other in Facebook. You are oblivious to the fact that you and your best friend may have Facebook accounts that are residing on completely different servers. However, Facebook controls it all, they own rights to use your words and videos, and images as you store them there for free. They can also change the name of the game, and the rules of the game at any time and you have no control over it. If Facebook decided to start charging $10 a month for your Facebook account, they could, they are a private company, and fundamentally a business that exists to make a profit. Same for Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp.

In the Mastodon universe, you see and know what server your account resides at. It is like your server is a particular town or city and your username is also linked to that address. Mastodon users with accounts on other servers can find you by searching your user name (kpmitton for me), or they can directly find your account with your full address. My "town" server is called "TechHub.Social" and it was started by a guy named Nic. A programmer. 

BEFORE you make an account browse the servers, or instances, available. Servers have been set up in this new social network by persons with various interests, so you may find one that is for journalists, or technology persons like myself (there were no bioscience ones, but biotech is tech too). These servers can often be joined by anyone, even if you are not a techno geek you are welcome to join Techhub.social. Do not rush, servers are not going anywhere. Then pick one and make an account for yourself. Again, you can start from the phone apps for Mastodon (in the Apple Store, or Good Play) and they will let you pick your user name, register your email, and be associated with one of the many servers now set up around the globe. Even some companies and institutions and newspapers are setting up their own Instances (servers) using Mastodon's open-source code. Servers have been set up for different parts of the globe, different work interests, arts, humanities, social connections, disabilities, and different Human Communities. No Nazis though. Not permitted. 

If you want to use a website from your laptop, you can join Mastodon at  joinmastodon.org . Again, do not be confused by all the server instances. No matter which one you join, you will have access to the entire collaborative community. If you are a photographer or editor, you may want to join a server that was started with your community in mind. A good place to make contacts with others who have your immediate interests. (Currently, 11/20/2022, there is NO mastodon.org. That domain is reserved but not used. Use JoinMastodon.org for web browsers.)

I chose to join TechHub.Social, an instance of Mastodon server set up by a fellow Canadian. (Turns out he is from Quebec. I was born in Quebec as well, but alas, I am an Anglophone Quebequois, not very French. But I bet we both like the Habs? Maybe we both like St. Viature Bagels in Montreal?) The Mastodon Apps are just like the Twitter apps in your hand. You see your posts (Toots I call them, elephants and mastodons toot, right?), and who you follow and who follows you. On my laptop here is the web version of my view right now using the "Light" colored option:

And here is my view when I select the "Dark" colors option:

As you can see I have set up my profile picture from the Edit Profile option and added an Artemis-1 screen capture from NASA's mission tracker. I love NASA and space stuff :). I have started to add people that I follow, and some have started to follow me back. Here I can scroll down, like we do on Twitter, and read the posts in my personal feed from those I follow, or topics and #hashtags that I can set up to watch as well. Note that we can repost other posts too as in Twitter. In Mastodon, this is called boosting. 

In addition to seeing posts from those I set up to follow, I can click on Local and quickly see the recent posts from my local group or instance, that is the "TechHub.Social" server in the Mastodon federation. Like the Neural Retina that I study as a scientist, this federation is sort of like creating a whole field of vision from a network of photoreceptors. Vision is decentralized, in that if you lose photoreceptor "instances" in one part of your visual field, you still have the rest of your visual field. To take out your vision, you would have to neutralize the entire eye or take out the entire Internet to break Mastodon communication. Even if the Mastodon server I use was taken away, I would just move my account to a different server of which there will be thousands. All over the world. Servers are set up and communities of users chip in a few bucks to support having our servers up and running and we communicate and can share information. Follow and be followed. No Musks or Trumps or Nazis to cramp our Democracy. 

Find me on Mastodon. Look for kpmitton or kpmitton@techhub.social from inside your Mastodon. Think the bird is cute? So are Mastodons, as you can see from the info page of the techhub.social instance, set up by @Nicdex: See https://techhub.social/about


1) Use Mastodon App to set up your account, or go to the JoinMastodon.org website.

2) Browse around the different community interest servers (instances) available around the globe. Most let anyone join, but you may find one already started by persons in your career, hobby, or other interest. Some are just for social networking. It's kind of nice to belong to a specific server, yet be fully connected to the full network.

3) Make your account on the Mastodon instance (server) you choose. 

4) Just like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, edit your profile and add some information. 

5) Send your friends your user name in Mastodon and invite them to join and find each other. 

6) I am @kpmitton@techhub.social (my account is based on the server with the domain name TechHub.Social, and it links and communicates in the greater Mastodon federation).

7) Enjoy no ads, and no longer have Elon Musk control what you see or follow. Also enjoy a place where it is not permitted to participate if you post misinformation or promote hate, antivaccine information, and other such harmful activity. LGBTQ community is welcome and attacks on persons or communities are not allowed to participate in the Mastodon network. 

8) Follow George Takei, just search for him. Your very first nice person.

Remember. You can be your own scientist. Knowledge is power.