Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Misplaced Optimism in Legal Pot

A new study throws cold water on hopes that more liberal cannabis policies could stem the opioid epidemic.

The paper, which I covered at the time, launched hopes that medical marijuanacould help fight the opioid epidemic. If more people used the less addictive and less harmful pot instead of opioids, the thinking went, deaths might abate.
But a new paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, throws cold water on that dream. A new set of researchers replicated part of the 2014 study’s findings: That is, from 1999 to 2010, it’s true that the introduction of medical-marijuana laws was associated with a decline in opioid-overdose deaths. But when the researchers included states that introduced laws between 2010 and 2017, the direction of the relationship reversed. Instead of a reduction in opioid overdoses, medical marijuana was associated with a 23 percent increase in overdose deaths.


Parts of Bible may have been written earlier than expected, archaeologists say

Using handwriting analysis technology, team found that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions were written by at least six different authors
Associated Press in Jerusalem
Tue 12 Apr 2016 23.28 BSTLast modified on Thu 22 Feb 2018 13.01 GMT

[[This is important to me because I have always said that the prediction of conquest  and exile in Vayikra 26 cannot be used as evidence that the Torah is true since we have no good external evidence that it was written before the event. Ephraim Cooper kindly sent me this article which puts that prediction back into serious consideration. DG]]

 The discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works. Photograph: Dan Balilty/AP
Israeli mathematicians and archaeologists say they have found evidence to suggest that key biblical texts may have been composed earlier than some scholars think.

Using handwriting analysis technology similar to that employed by intelligence agencies and banks to analyze signatures, a Tel Aviv University team determined that a famous hoard of ancient Hebrew inscriptions, dated to around 600 BCE, were written by at least six different authors. Although the inscriptions are not from the Hebrew Bible, their discovery suggests there was widespread literacy in ancient Judah at the time that would support the composition of biblical works.
The findings, released on Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an American scientific journal, contribute to a longstanding debate about when biblical texts first began to be compiled: did it take place before or after the Babylonian siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and the exile of its inhabitants to Babylon?

In recent years, many scholars have attributed the composition of a group of biblical texts, from the Book of Joshua to the second Book of Kings, to the period after the siege, according to Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who participated in the study. That theory holds that the biblical texts were written as a result of the exile to Babylon, when the composers began to think about their past and put their history to parchment.

Finkelstein, however, said he has long believed those texts were written in the late 7th century BCE in Jerusalem, before the siege. He said the study offers support for that theory.
“It’s the first time we have something empirical in our hands,” Finkelstein said.
The team – made up of doctoral students in applied mathematics, math professors, archaeologists and a physicist – examined 16 ink inscriptions on ceramic shards discovered at the site of an ancient military fortress in Arad in southern Israel. It used multispectral imaging to reconstruct Hebrew letters that had been partially erased over time, and then used a computer algorithm to analyze the writings to detect differences in handwriting strokes.
Doctoral student Arie Shaus, who helped develop the algorithm, said it was the first time such technology has been used to reconstruct and perform handwriting analysis on ancient Hebrew inscriptions.


The inscriptions themselves are not biblical texts. Instead, they detail troop movements and expenses for provisions, indicating that people throughout the military chain of command down to the fort’s deputy quartermaster were able to write. The tone of the inscriptions, which suggest they were not written by professional scribes, combined with the fortress’s remote location, indicate a wide spread of literacy at the time, according to the study.

A high level of literacy would support the idea that some biblical texts had already been authored by this time. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known collection of certain biblical texts, are believed to date several centuries later.

Shmuel Ahituv, an Israeli Bible scholar who did not participate in the study, also believes literacy in ancient Judah was widespread before 586 BCE and that the biblical texts in question were written before the siege of Jerusalem. He said he believes this is apparent through a literary analysis of the biblical texts alone.

“I don’t need algorithms,” Ahituv chuckled.



An Introduction to Archaeology and Tanakh
Rabbi Chaim JachterMay 29, 2018
There have been extensive archaeological excavations conducted in the Middle East during the past two hundred years. There are some who seek to marshal evidence from these discoveries to disprove the authenticity of the Tanakh.  Orthodox scholars, such as Rabbi Amnon Bazak, have presented a cogent response to such criticism.
Many of the stunning discoveries made in that time corroborate the narrative of the Tanakh, such as the discovery of the tunnel dug by Hezekiah to bring water to Jerusalem,[1] which is now an enormously popular site visited each year by thousands.
Another example is the Sennacherib Prism displayed at the British Museum.  It is a chronicle of many of Sennacherib’s military victories, including his campaign in Judah, as is recorded in Kings.[2]
Interestingly, Sennacherib boasts only that he set siege to Jerusalem and that he trapped Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage”[3].  In this case – unlike other recordings of his military campaigns – Sennacherib does not specifically mention that he conquered Jerusalem.  This fits with the Tanakh record of Sennacherib setting siege to Jerusalem, but failing to conquer it.[4]  Sennarcherib’s failure to record the miracle of the great plague in which 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were smitten by an angel – which is recorded in Tanakh[5] – is not surprising since in the ancient world, it was unusual for kings to record their defeats and failures.  Sennacherib, following this pattern, would record only that he surrounded Jerusalem, but would not record his miraculous defeat.[6]
Excavations of Tanakh sites in Israel are an exciting and ongoing enterprise.  For example, in the summer of 2015, an archaeological team from Bar Ilan University discovered the enormous gate to the city of Gath.[7]   In the fall of 2015, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem unearthed the seal of King Hezekiah,[8] in 2016 an artifact was unearthed which corroborates the Biblical account[9]of King Hezekiah’s campaign to eliminate idolatry[10] and a 3,000-year-old King David era seal was discovered by the Temple Mount Sifting Project.[11]
Critics, however, draw conclusions negating the veracity of the Tanakh text based on the lack of archaeological evidence for certain events.  A first response to such assertions is to note the highly precarious approach of drawing conclusions from absence of evidence.  This is particularly true in archaeology where little from the ancient world has been preserved and precious little of what has been preserved has been excavated.
Many situations validate the peril of drawing conclusions from the absence of archaeological evidence.  The December 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine featured an article entitled “Kings of Controversy” by Richard Draper noting that until the 1993 discovery of an ancient stele[12]inscribed with “House of David”, there was no non-biblical evidence that David actually existed.  Similarly, the Temple Mount Sifting Project has revealed evidence of a time period whose “historical credibility” archaeologists had questioned for years.  With these findings, however, “the existence of the House of David came to be accepted as historical fact by the vast majority of scholars.”[13]  Rabbi Amnon Bazak cites Ben Gurion University archaeologist Dr. Zipora Talshir who describes the intellectually dishonest reaction of militant secularists to the discovered evidence of King David’s existence:
The appearance of the House of David as a consolidated political concept represented a real problem for deniers of Ancient Israel. They went to great lengths to try to rid themselves of this most inconvenient evidence. Davis proposed impossible alternative readings, which no self-respecting scholar would dare to mention; Lemke, despairing of any other solution, decided that the inscription was a forgery. No other scholar in the academic world has cast the slightest doubt on the reliability of the inscription, the circumstances of its discovery, or its epigraphic identity. There is nothing problematic about this inscription, other than the fact that it deals a mortal blow to a priori claims against the history of the House of David. [14]
Another instance of a faulty conclusion that “undermined” the authenticity of the Torah was made regarding the domestication of camels in the ancient Near East.  Militantly secular archaeologists had argued that the absence of evidence of domesticated camels in the Near East prior to the twelfth century BCE “proved” the inaccuracy of the book of Genesis, which describes the use of camels during the time of the Patriarchs (approximately seventeenth century BCE).  However, later archaeological findings demonstrate that camels were domesticated as early as the end of the third millennium B.C.E., but that widespread domestication did not occur until the twelfth century B.C.E.  Rabbi Bazak writes:
This finding sits well with the biblical account, in which camels did not play a central role, and their numbers were relatively small, until the time of the Judges. In the story of Avraham’s servant and Rivka, the Torah mentions ‘ten of his master’s camels’ (Bereishit 24:10); in the gifts that Yaakov offers Esav, we find ‘thirty milk camels with their young’ (ibid. 32:16); and in the account of the sale of Yosef we find a “caravan of Yishme’elim came from the Gil’ad, with their camels carrying gum balm and ladanum” (ibid. 37:25). We may therefore conclude that camels were not common, and were used mainly to carry expensive merchandise. The camels that Avraham’s servant brought with him apparently represented a factor in the estimation of the avaricious Lavan (ibid., 30-31). In other narratives in the Torah, camels are absent: in the descent of Yosef’s brothers to Egypt we find only donkeys (ibid. 42:26-27, and elsewhere); in the spoils seized from Midian we find ‘sixty-one thousand asses’ (Bamidbar 31:34), but no mention of any camels. In contrast, from the period of the Judges onwards we find a great many camels. In the war of the children of Gad and the children of Reuven against the Hagri’im, we find: ‘And they captured their cattle, [and] of their camels fifty thousand’ (Divrei Ha-yamim I, 21). Iyov, at the end of his life, had six thousand camels (Iyov 42:12). [15]
Thus, findings that seemed at first to conflict with the Tanakh account end by confirming it.
Rabbi Amnon Bazak offers a fairly comprehensive review of the archaeological record in regard to Tanakh.[16]  He states that there is no archaeological evidence that contradicts the Torah.[17]  In turn, he writes there are “many findings that do conform to the biblical narratives from the time of the Avot(forefathers), and indicate that these narratives were indeed written with a profound familiarity with the period.”  He notes the same regarding the era of enslavement and subsequent exodus from Egypt.[18]
In regards to excavations that appear, on a superficial level, to contradict Tanakh texts, the conflicts emerge from either insufficient or inaccurate archaeology or from a flawed understanding of Tanakh.  An example of the first variety of error is the conclusion of some archaeologists that the battle of Ai described in the book of Joshua did not occur, a conclusion based on excavations at Ai showing that the city was not inhabited at the time of Joshua’s entry into the land of Yisrael.[19]   Others, however, argue that the wrong area had been excavated.  They claim to have found the correct location of Ai, which, when subsequently excavated, yielded evidence that it was in fact inhabited during the time of Yehoshua’s conquest.[20]
Rabbi Bazak deals persuasively with the sensitive issues regarding the periods of Joshua, the Judges, King David and King Solomon.  He combines his trademark, superior analysis of Tanakh with extensive knowledge of archaeology to provide an extraordinary treatment of the conflict.  Rabbi Bazak concludes his discussions by noting:
Our review has also revealed the transience of some central theories in the world of archaeology.  The Merneptah Stele is a proof of utmost significance as to the existence at that time of an entity known as ‘Israel’, and “had it not been discovered, quite coincidentally, the research on this subject would be in a completely different situation to what it is today.”[21]
Had the Dan Stele inscription not been discovered some twenty years ago, many scholars today would probably still deny the existence of David and Shlomo, arguing that “no findings to concretely confirm their existence have yet been discovered.”  The amount of material that has been excavated and studied is extremely small, relative to what remains, and we must also take into consideration the fact that in the most important regions, such as the City of David and the Temple Mount, excavations are highly problematic if not altogether impossible.
However, archaeology has contributed, and will continue to contribute greatly to our understanding and appreciation of Tanakh.  A walk through the sites where the stories of the Tanakh took place, or standing before archaeological findings from that period, is a powerful and moving experience.  Archaeological research also influences and deepens our understanding of different parts of Tanakh.  Without the discoveries on the ground, it is doubtful whether we would make the proper differentiation, for instance, between the descriptions of settlement in Sefer Yehoshua and those in Sefer Shoftim.  In addition, archaeological findings have shed light on the events described in the text, such as the campaign of Shishak and the war against Mesha, king of Moav.  It seems reasonable to assume that further discoveries with ramifications for this sphere of research still await us, and will continue to interest all those who hold the Tanakh dear.[22]


[1] II Kings 20:20.
[2] II Kings18:13.
[3] The discovery of Sennacherib’s words sheds light on Isaiah’s words, “As flying birds, so will Hashem protect Jerusalem; He will deliver it as He protects it, He will rescue it as He passes over” (Is. 31:5).
[4] II Kings 19.
[5] II Kings19:35.
[6] Also on display at the British Museum are very large bas-reliefs of Sennacherib’s conquest of Lakhish found on a palace wall of Sennacherib (Sennacherib’s conquest of Lakhish is mentioned in II Kings 18:13-14).  The fact that Sennacherib set up an eight foot by eighty foot depiction of his conquest of Lakhish and did not set up a mural of a conquest of Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah and seat of the Jewish Temple, also indicates that he did not conquer Jerusalem.
[7] http://www.timesofisrael.com/archaeologists-unearth-the-gate-to-goliaths-hometown/.  This report also mentions that evidence was found of a massive earthquake in the eighth century B.C.E., which might be the earthquake described in Amos 1:1.
[9] Kings II 18:3-4.
[12] A stele is an ancient monument; this stele is commonly referred to as the Tel Dan Stele. This artifact of monumental importance is displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  There is a possible contradiction, though, between the Tel Dan Stele and the Tanakh.  The Stele indicates that the Aramean king killed both the Israelite king Jehoram son of Ahab and the Judean king, Ahaziah son of Jehoram. II Kings 9:14-27 records that the Aramean king only wounded Jehoram and that Jehu subsequently killed Jehoram and Ahaziah.  However, one could explain that since the wounding of Jehoram by the king of Aram drew Ahaziah to visit him ( II Kings 8:29) creating the opportunity for Jehu to kill both Jehoram and Ahaziah, the king of Aram took the credit for killing them.
[14] Ibid.
[15] http://etzion.org.il/en/shiur-6c-tanakh-and-archaeology.  In the same lecture, Rabbi Bazak further notes that the militant secularists of the “minimalist school” of archaeology continued to write that the reference to camels in Genesis is anachronistic.  In response he cites Kenneth Kitchen, a well-respected scholar of biblical archaeology and Professor Emeritus at Liverpool University, to the effect that “camels are not anachronistic in the early second millennium (Middle Bronze Age).”
[16] Shiurim 6a through 6i on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s virtual Beit Midrash (www.etzion.org/vbm).
[17] Regarding geological evidence for the Flood Dr. Gerald Schroeder (Genesis and the Big Bang 28) writes: “Any ’proof’ for or against the occurrence of the biblical Flood of Noah’s time is weak.  In Genesis we are told that the downpour lasted only forty days and the resulting flood persisted for only 150 days.  Sediments from so brief a period would probably not be extensive and, therefore, firm archaeological evidence may never be found.”
[18] Shiurim 6d and 6e on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s virtual Beit Midrash (www.etzion.org/vbm).
[19] Encyclopedia Judaica II, 471-472.
[20] For further discussion of Ai and the archaeological record see Rabbi Amnon Bazak’s Ad HaYom haZeh, available in English at http://etzion.org.il/en/shiur-6ftanakh-and-archaeology-continued-%D6%A0yehoshua-and-conquest-land.
[21]This quote is from J. Hoffman, “Historia, Mythos v’Politika,” in Y.L. Levine and A. Mazar, HaPulmus al HaEmet veHistoria BeMikra, Jerusalem, 5761, 31-32.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.


Thursday, June 6, 2019


Ultra-Orthodox Jews vaccinate, too: Stop blaming one community for the measles outbreak

By Dr. Daniel Berman  and Awi Federgruen

In this year’s U.S. measles outbreak, parts of Brooklyn and Rockland County have experienced two-thirds of the reported 704 infections. The media generally blame an alleged low vaccination rate in these areas, each with a large percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Public health experts corroborate this message. Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control testified to Congress: “I do believe that…most cases that we’re seeing are in unvaccinated communities.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, declared:
“Coverage in a given community, when it falls below a certain critical level, you get the kinds of outbreaks that we’re seeing, particularly in places like New York City and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn…. his is a relatively closed community, a Hasidic Jewish community in that area — that are not vaccinating their children at a rate that would provide that broad umbrella of protection that we call herd immunity…When you drop down to the 80s or even the 70s [emphasis added] or even lower, where it is now in that community, that’s exactly the explanation of why we’re seeing the outbreaks that we’re seeing.”
However, the New York State Health Department reports the average vaccination rate for measles among the nearly 200 Jewish K-12 schools in Brooklyn — mainly in Borough Park and Williamsburg — is 96%, six percentage points higher than the statewide average among private schools. In contrast, six other New York counties have a vaccinationrate below 50%.
Moreover, the measles vaccination rate among Jewish school-age children is above the assumed 95% threshold required for “herd immunity,” i.e., protection of the community from sustained outbreaks.
What, then, explains the outbreak?
Regardless of the vaccination rate, some communities have characteristics that enhance and sustain epidemics. Population density and a community’s social mixing patterns are two critical determinants of whether an outbreak dies out or remains sustained. Orthodox Jewish communities are densely populated. Families have many children and interact frequently.
The vaccination rate of 95%, assumed to provide herd immunity, is derived from a basic model assuming the vaccine is effective 97% of the time, and that, in the absence of immunity an average infected individual transmits the infection to 12 others, the “basic reproduction number” (what we in medicine refer to as “R0”).
If, however, in a densely populated and highly interactive community, the average infected individual transmits measles to 24 others, then 99% of the community must be vaccinated in order to ensure herd immunity. If the average is 36, then even a 100% vaccination rate fails to ensure herd immunity. R0 estimates in the literature vary from 1 to 203.
Implicit in the current media coverage is the assumption that measles outbreaks should not occur anymore. But despite the fact that measles were declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, complete elimination may no longer be realistic.
Anyone born before 1957 is generally assumed to have complete natural immunity to measles, gained through childhood exposure to the virus. Today most rely on vaccination for their immunity, which is only 97% effective. Indeed, 13% of the typed 2019 cases were vaccinated.
Another obstacle to elimination is the persistence of “anti-vaxers” (though no evidence suggests that their presence among Orthodox Jews is above average). As long as there is a cohort of people refusing vaccination, together with a group which the vaccine fails to immunize, it will be extremely difficult to eliminate measles.
What remedies are available, then?
First, it is time to stop vilifying the Orthodox Jewish community when the data show their vaccination rates are as high as any. Continuing to blame this segment of the Jewish community — especially in the news media — is not only wrong. It actually jeopardizes the cooperation that is necessary to stem the outbreak.
Current recommendations are likely being revisited. In 1968, a single vaccine was believed to achieve lifelong immunity. However, from 1987 to 1992, a large outbreak infected many vaccinated young adults. The recommendation was then changed to administer two vaccine doses — the first at age one, and a second dose between the ages of 4 and 6. Upon review, the guidelines could perhaps change to recommend giving the second vaccine earlier, or even to administer a third dose.
Reducing measles here in the U.S. also calls for better international cooperation. From 2001 to 2016, 553 measles cases in the U.S. originated abroad. As of April 24 of this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to the World Health Organization — four times last year’s numbers. The trend calls for WHO to initiate a global vaccinationcampaign, similar to its successful campaign to eradicate the polio virus globally. This will, however, require large donations by first world governments and organizations like GAVI and the Gates Foundation.
Additionally, with the community’s cooperation and trust, the "identify, isolate and track” strategy, effective in containing the Ebola virus, could be implemented successfully.
Last but not least, anti-vaxers must be engaged respectfully instead of with derision or condescension. Some anti-vaxers’ concerns are, prima facie, reasonable. Their claim that vaccines are associated with autism is not. The only study ever claiming a relationship was fraudulent. And a new Annals of Internal Medicine study, once again, dispels any links.
Medical practitioners, especially, have a duty to provide clear explanations and to engage patients in joint decisionmaking. On the other hand, anti-vaxers must understand that their personal decision impacts others very significantly. We urge them to get vaccinated for the general good, as only very high vaccination rates prevent enduring outbreaks.
In summary, there is a worldwide and national surge in measles, disproportionately affecting the Orthodox Jewish community, even though its vaccination rate is similar to those elsewhere. Outbreaks are more likely in dense populations with frequent social mixing patterns. Blaming the Jewish community is therefore wrong, offensive and counterproductive by enhancing resistance and suspicion.
Vaccination rates should be maximized, nationally and globally, and the current vaccination schedule reevaluated. Finally, antivaxers should reevaluate the relative risks, understand that autism is a baseless concern, and consider the benefit vaccination provides to society.
Berman is an infectious disease attending physician at the Montefiore Medical Center. Federgruen is the Charles E. Exley Professor of Management, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University and member of the Routine Immunization to Secure Eradication (RISE) Roundtable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


EVERYTHING IS MUCH MORE COMPLEX AND INTELLIGENTLY DESIGNED THAT YOU THOUGHT
[[I will iyH be updating this post when I find new examples.]]

Immune Cells Measure Time to Identify Foreign Proteins

Immunologists confirm an old hunch: T-cells identify what belongs in the body by timing how long they can bind to it.
The white blood cells called T-lymphocytes, such as this one shown by scanning electron microscopy, have receptors that bind to specific molecular targets. New work shows that the duration of this binding is what allows the cells to distinguish between the body’s own proteins and those of invading pathogens.

June 3, 2019
To mount a successful defense against invading organisms, the immune system must quickly and accurately identify which cells belong in the body and which do not. That might seem straightforward enough, but it’s not such an easy feat to achieve. The responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of T-cells, white blood cells with specialized receptors embedded in their surface that allow them to bind uniquely to diverse peptide fragments. Once bound, the T-cells can then initiate a focused attack against the target.
“It’s an amazing needle in a haystack that they’re trying to identify,” said Orion Weiner, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco. “Being able to find that incredibly rare [foreign] peptide in a sea of quite similar self-peptides is an amazing challenge. It requires a degree of both specificity and sensitivity that’s really at the limits of what’s physically possible.”
But there’s a problem: During development, millions of T-cells with distinctive receptors are produced randomly — the immune system’s way of covering all its bases, of preparing for the astronomical diversity of peptides it might encounter. Many of those peptides, however, are inevitably parts of proteins that belong in the body. While most of the T-cells that react to such “self” molecules are eliminated as development progresses, some of them continue to circulate throughout life, protecting against infected and abnormal cells without harming the body. Something keeps them in check.
How these T-cells are able to make the distinction between self and non-self, between something that should be left alone and something that shouldn’t be, has been one of the central questions driving immunology research.
Now, researchers seem prepared to hand down a definitive answer. A pair of studies, published in eLifein April, have experimentally confirmed a theory that has enjoyed growing support since the 1990s. The key lies in the timing of things: Substances that bind to T-cell receptors for less than about five seconds are deemed safe, while longer-binding molecules are slated to be destroyed. “The cell could have some way of taking very, very tiny differences in the duration of the receptor binding,” said Weiner, an author of one of the papers, “and amplifying that to a much larger cellular response.”


Paradoxical Crystal Baffles Physicists
At super-low temperatures, a crystal called samarium hexaboride behaves in an unexplained, imagination-stretching way.
Interactions between electrons inside samarium hexaboride appear to be giving rise to an exotic quantum behavior new to researchers.
Andrew Testa for Quanta Magazine
In a deceptively drab black crystal, physicists have stumbled upon a baffling behavior, one that appears to blur the line between the properties of metals, in which electrons flow freely, and those of insulators, in which electrons are effectively stuck in place. The crystal exhibits hallmarks of both simultaneously.
“This is a big shock,” said Suchitra Sebastian, a condensed matter physicist at the University of Cambridge whose findings appeared today in an advance online edition of the journal Science. Insulators and metals are essentially opposites, she said. “But somehow, it’s a material that’s both. It’s contrary to everything that we know.”
The material, a much-studied compound called samarium hexaboride or SmB6, is an insulator at very low temperatures, meaning it resists the flow of electricity. Its resistance implies that electrons (the building blocks of electric currents) cannot move through the crystal more than an atom’s width in any direction. And yet, Sebastian and her collaborators observed electrons traversing orbits millions of atoms in diameter inside the crystal in response to a magnetic field — a mobility that is only expected in materials that conduct electricity. Calling to mind the famous wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics, the new evidence suggests SmB6 might be neither a textbook metal nor an insulator, Sebastian said, but “something more complicated that we don’t know how to imagine.”

Suchitra Sebastian, an experimental condensed matter physicist at the University of Cambridge, said the discoveries she and her colleagues have made “mean that something needs to be rewritten completely.”
Courtesy of Suchitra Sebastian
“It is just a magnificent paradox,” said Jan Zaanen, a condensed matter theorist at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “On the basis of established wisdoms this cannot possibly happen, and henceforth completely new physics should be at work.”
It is too soon to tell what, if anything, this “new physics” will be good for, but physicists like Victor Galitski, of the University of Maryland, College Park, say it is well worth the effort to find out. “Oftentimes,” he said, “big discoveries are really puzzling things, like superconductivity.” That phenomenon, discovered in 1911, took nearly half a century to understand, and it now generates the world’s most powerful magnets, such as those that accelerate particles through the 17-mile tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
Theorists have already begun to venture guesses as to what might be going on inside SmB6. One promising approach models the material as a higher-dimensional black hole. But no theory yet captures the whole story. “I do not think that there is any remotely credible hypothesis proposed at this moment in time,” Zaanen said.
SmB6 has resisted classification since Soviet scientists first studied its properties in the early 1960s, followed by better-known experiments at Bell Labs.