"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Friday, April 30, 2004

Smores and Science 

Great science project for kids: Calculate the speed of light with marshmallows in a microwave. Then have a snack. Now you know why I love science!

More on microwave abuse, particularly fun is Paula Helm Murray's Peep Jousting, in the Making Light thread where I learned of this.

Finding MORE Things 

Scientists at UC-Berkeley have developed a promising new technique for identifying rapidly-evolving and stable regions of pathogens' genomes. This is interesting, and important for lots of reasons stated in the release, which also has a nice overview of the whole codon/protein thing for those who aren't up to speed on that.

[EDIT, 9:25AM] I also have long wondered about whether or not the redundant codons (say, six for Arginine, etc.) are really totally redundant. I mean, it seems to work that way, but what if things like "water memory" are actually valid (not totally impossible in my mind)...that would mean that maybe the proteins can "tell" which codons their arginines, etc. came from, and maybe it makes a difference.

Finding Things 

Some of us humans are notorious for our inability to get from a given point A to given point B without help. I have certain friends who, it can be said, would get lost on the elevator between floors 1 and 5. There are others who have to have GPS in the car to get out of the driveway. Sea turtles don't share this problem: they navigate thousands of miles of open ocean each year between set feeding and mating grounds, without getting lost. Being human/scientists, of course, we want to know how this is done. It turns out that they seem to use the Earth's magnetic field (also a great band), as a sort of built-in GPS. This would come in handy: how long till I can get my own?

Breathing Easier 

Or not. The American Lung Association has released its "State of the Air" reports for cities across the country. Big surprise, DC gets "F" marks across the board. Too bad I have to really hope Dubya won't be here long enough to get some of that emphysema he seems to think isn't such a problem.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


I sincerely hope that Dr. Gloria Gilmer won an IgNobel® Prize in Mathematics, for her, uhm, groundbreaking?, work on "MATHEMATICAL PATTERNS IN AFRICAN AMERICAN HAIRSTYLES." I think the title pretty much says it all.


Dave Barry points us to an issue that shouldn't be an issue: sex in space, and NASA's policies vis. a long trip to Mars. Now really, this is bloody stupid. No matter what the "policy" is, people cooped up alone together, male, female, gay, straight, are gonna have urges. If you were to respect that fact, and prepare the astronauts for it (pre-trip counseling, etc.), and not make a big deal out of it, then there would be no problem.

Instead, people are talking about chemical sterilization. First off, sterilization doesn't stop you from getting horny, just from getting pregnant. Plus, this is a situation where we need the crews to be in perfect health and condition: mucking with their hormones is not a good idea: everything has side effects. F'rinstance: dropping the men's Testosterone levels might (although not necessarily) drop their sex drive, but it'll also KO their immune systems, muscle maintenance and growth, and overall reaction times. Sounds like a really good idea, huh?

Sounds like someone on the Bush science team thought that shit up.

Things to See and Do 

The new Science Museum on the National Mall. Now with actual science!

New Alternatives, Continued 

Gene therapy is a very cool thing, with lots of potential to make life better. A new GT method for Alzheimers is underway: A Phase 1 trial (designed to assess basic safety and toxicity issues) of genetically modified cell grafts into deep cholinergic brain regions of early-stage AD patients has been deemed a success. Skin cells were harvested from patients, grown and engineered in culture to produce NGF, and then reimplanted. Both PET and diagnostic tests showed improvement in disease process (increased metabolism and decreased rate of decline, respectively) 1-1.5 years after the procedure. This is fuckin' awesome!!

Grafting pigments from spinach onto the retina may help restore vision in some types of blindness. Pretty cool: I'm just waiting for those thingeys like the blind guy on Star Trek wore.

Science on and in the Pot 

The science of marijuana research has been tainted for a long time by political motives. Regulators desperately need reasons that this plant is more criminalized than most actual crimes. It's easier to get out on parole for violent crimes than pot possession. And it's shit like this that helps. So some kids who smoked pot also had strokes. I bet they also had genetic risk factors, they probably smoked tobacco, and might have been, say, overweight and inactive (as is the trend these days). Calling marijuana a 'risk factor' by pure correlational data is what's known as a Hack Job. Let's say it slowly together....Haaaa-ck. Joa-buh. Goooood.

More bad science, or really science journalism, comes from research saying that since the invention of sign language, deafness has become more common. It makes sense: now that deaf people can communicate with each other better than with non-deaf (who don't usually learn sign language), they get married more and have more kids. Thus passing on recessive deafness genes. Well yeah. Duh. Obviously. But my problem here is the title of the article: "Signing 'Increases Deafness Rates,'" as if to say that sign language itself causes deafness. Fucking stupid.

Move Over, "Lassie" 

Move over "Skippy," too. Lulu, a kangaroo raised by an Australian family after her mother was killed by a car, may well have saved her adoptive dad's life, by stirring up a ruckus and alerting others to his being trapped under a tree branch. She may also have turned him over, while he was unconscious, "to keep [his] airway clear." The last bit may sound a stretch, but it's also entirely plausible. Plus, kangaroos are ever so cute....I want one!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

PCR No More? 

In college, we did a good deal of PCR, and I commented at the time how funny it was that here we were, casually using a technique that wasn't even imagined when we were born! And now it may be obsolete, and next year's class may get to use a technique that didn't exist when they were freshmen!

This new technology, "Bio-Bar-Code Amplification" has ever so many potential applications: clinical, diagnostic, epidemiological, and research. But, of course, it can't do everything PCR does: it can't help in amplification of an unknown gene, or be of much use in cloning. It seems to me more of a potential replacement for ELISA or other fluorescent detection systems.


Smart cars are coming to America in 2006. I'm very excited! They're ever so cute. And I could even afford to put gas in one! Of course, the problem of being squished by those *&#$$!@!!! SUVs might be a problem, but hey, at least my survivors will get a big settlement.

It's about time Amurcans got wise to the whole small-efficient-practical car thing that's so popular everywhere else....hell, if people here didn't view gas for said SUVs a [mostlywhiteanglosaxonprotestant]God-given right, we'd already have them. Hope they catch on quick!


My feelings of genetically modified crops are mixed. I see the potential and understand that no, eating GM foods won't turn me into a mutant too. I also see the problems associated with Monsanto's empire of dubious business practices, and with shouldering out native strains. I also have a number of other, less politically correct opinions on increasing crop yields.

There's no doubt, however, that reducing the need for pesticides, preservatives and fertilizers is a good thing. And this very cool piece tells us that we don't even need all that high-cost super-advanced gene splicing and dicing to do it: using old breeding techniques guided by modern genomic knowledge, farmers can breed super-crops. Cool!

Lipid Lab 

Rockefeller University scientists have discovered a gene, Pcsk9 (again with no cool name), the overexpression of which leads to high blood LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. The gene blocks the liver's LDL receptors, which are needed to remove LDL from the blood.

This is cool research, and I'm glad we know more about this subject, as heart disease is a big problem in this country. However, I wonder if we aren't focusing too much on LDL, and ignoring triglyceride levels, which may be more crucial to heart problems?


Genetically engineered pets are the wave of the future:

People are paying $50,000 to have their cats cloned. I think that's pretty creepy. I mean, there are kagillions of other cats around, and unless you have, for instance, the last remaining Bengal tiger on your porch, cloning it is silly.

In the barnyard, transgenic pigs and chickens are being produced at much higher efficiency, yielding such useful traits as phosphorescence. Because meant that glows green is a good thing?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Fatty McOversized, Again 

A gene defect seems to be behind a number of cellular problems associated with obesity syndrome. More later when I can think clearly.

Health Research Roundup 

You know how your girlfriend can always remember what you each wore on your first date, how someone looked at a party, etc.? Well, there's a reason she can and you (if male) can't. Women remember appearances better than men.

A defective regulatory gene, PASG, seems to cause premature aging. Why doesn't it get a cool name, like "IDplease," or "Poncedeleon"?

New HIV treatment routine shows lots of promise. I'm still waiting for the vaccine.

Seasonal Variation 

American researchers have found that blood lipid ("cholesterol") levels vary seasonally, being highest in winter and lowest in summer. I will read the paper when it's released, but I'm dubious about this sort of thing: is the result controlled for exercise, diet, sunlight, or stress levels which may vary socially by season? Interesting nonetheless, but I want more!

Brain Imaging 

Two small (but potentially explosive) bits from the brain imaging lit today:

Imaging and in situ hybridization studies point toward the dentate as being the region most vulnerable to age-linked cognitive decline. Done in rats and monkeys to avoid Alzhiemer's syndromes, this could have lots of good applications.

Reduced size of the superior temporal gyrus (SRG) shows promise as a cardinal feature of schizophrenia, and led to highly accurate diagnoses. If this research is good, it's a HUGE breakthrough. I don't know of any other markers in schizophrenia that really goes for all patients, regardless of symptom profile (positive versus negative symptoms, etc.). Am I just out-of-date?

Monday, April 26, 2004


I participated in the March For Womens Lives yesterday, and helped out the John Kerry campaign while I was there. It was amazing...the number and diversity of the crowd, the really, really impressive organization: I've been to rallies with only 50 people that didn't go off so well.

The thing about "choice" is that it's not just about abortion. If Uncle Sam can tell women what to do with their bodies, he'll next decide to tell me what to do with mine: he says I can't get married; he'd like to say I can't have sex (the Supremes at least for now rejected that!); etc. What's next? Who can/can't have kids? When? Who gets to live where? Slippery slope people, slippery slope.

Jeanne D'Arc has a great post in a similar vein.

Please help out with the Kerry campaign. He's an amazing guy and will (yes, I said WILL) be an even more amazing president.


Bad teacher, no apple! A Georgia teacher told two boys in her class to throw a girl out the window, and they did.
Fucking idiots, all of them. I hope the teacher gets thrown in jail for some time and the boys smacked around a bit.

Fatty McOversized, Again 

This is a brilliant article/essay on the obesity epidemic in the US and the realities and fantasies which may or may not be involved. Lots and lots of really good points. Stuff I didn't know. Scary things more about the PR of the 'epidemic' than about obesity itself. More and more reasons to suspect that it's another far-fetched and very successful diet-pill/product marketing scam than much else. Oy.

(via Neil Gaiman)

New Ideas 

Empathy does not seem to require a specialized brain area, hinting that it may not be a uniquely human capacity. This research is only on physical empathy, it's not necessarily connected to emotional empathy: understanding how someone/thing else feels. Still interesting though.

The Mozart Effect, that after listening to bits of Mozart's music, subjects (human and rat) perform better on cognitive tasks, has been long debated. Now, scientists have found that listening to Mozart increases expression of a number of genes important to memory, and also to settling down seizure patterns in the brains electrophysiology. This is beyond cool. Why only Mozart? How did he know? Did he know? How far can this effect be pushed?

The big pharmaceutical companies have recently been confirmed to be more evil: they've suppressed studies showing antidepressants ineffective and possibly harmful to some patients. "...Shown to increase suicidal thoughts and behavior in children..." That's about all you need to know.

Fatty McOversized (continued) 

Researchers have found that adiponectin, a hormone secreted by fat cells, increases metabolism and fuels weight loss.

I'm waiting for it in pill form!!


Spiders have the ability to stick to vertical and upside-down horizontal surfaces and walk around on them. Scientists have discovered that this ability stems from van der Waals forces between hairs on their feet and the surface in question. There are lots of cool potential applications for this - a real Spiderman suit, for instance. That would be fun!

Friday, April 23, 2004

New Alternatives 

We all know I'm a big fan of herbal and alternative medicine, and that fans of herbal medicine have had plenty of reason to be smug recently. And now we have another. Turmeric seems to help with cysitic fibrosis, a debilitating and mostly terminal genetic condition. In mice with the disease, turmeric all but eliminated symptoms. Whether this translates to humans or not, it will lead research in new directions.

Bioartificial livers, which are pig liver cell membranes in an external blood processing unit, have been successfully used to treat patients with acute liver failure. Patients go through treatment once a day, and the idea is to keep them alive long enough for their own livers to repair themselves or for a transplant to arrive. A study shows this system 44% more effective than traditional treatments. This is bloody cool! Although it would be cooler if we could stem cell up some new, genetically matched ones for homotransplantation.


A set of brain scans may be able to predict working memory talent. While mostly this is just aint-it-cool research, it could have some good effects. This sort of information could be very useful in directing treatment for all sorts of events, from injury to stroke to degenerative disease. It could also be used in creepy eugenic settings, but oh well.

Patch-clamp examination of cerebellar granule cells has yielded results in support of an old theory about how that ancient part of the brain works.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Mommy Dearest? 

Parthenogenesis is something that lots of species do. It's also a fun word to say. Naturally, mammals can't do it. The thing about nature, however, is that we have wonderful scientists working all the time to circumvent it, for all sorts of reasons. Although world in which males are unnecessary is only a good thing in the minds of people like Alix Olsen, there's lots of good that could come from this research: fertility solutions, genetic disease treatment, stem cell supplies, etc. Hope it works!

MmmMmm Good! 

Seeing and smelling good food increase activity all over subjects brains. This is not a very big surprise. However, it could be useful information for obesity studies or drug addiction studies.

Plus, seeing food increases brain metabolism, so I can burn extra calories by preparing to eat, right???

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Old Dogs New Tricks 

Three bits caught my fancy today, each in its own way about an something old doing something new.

First, technology previously used to build particle accelerators has been adapted for use in reading unreadable vinyl records. Save the music, indeed!

The Mayo clinic has found that gamma globulin in fact stimulates T cell production, in a process that may prove very useful in treating AIDS and autoimmune disorders. And since the HIV vaccine project may or may not be going anywhere, this is very good news!

Other researchers have found a way to make "super-antibodies," which enter cells and stay there to bind targets. This of course has lots of potential applications, from gene targeting/therapy to protective effects: if you can block the effects of a toxin in the body's cells, you can treat an infection much more aggressively.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Changes for Better Living 

What looks like a decent clinical trial has shown that extract of the Chinese mushroom, Cordyceps, helps stem aging and improve fitness. Now I just need to find where to buy them...mushrooms are tasty!!

Almost everyone likes sweets, that's why they're called "treats!" And some people will even trade their private information to get some! They are stupid. But help is on the way!!! It turns out that exercise, which is healthy, decreases sweets cravings. So every time you want a candy you shouldn't have, go running!!

More bad news for gourmands: calorie-restricted diets prolong life and improve health. The question is, do they mean 'restriction' as in 'not much food' or as in 'less than porky Americans tend to eat'?

Politics of Mind Control 

Many believe that Democrats and Republicans (or Whigs and Tories, etc.) are 'wired' differently. Now there may be some evidence. MRI scans of Dems and Repubs while they watch ads for candidates show different results. Or they may...the article blabs about not drawing conclusions until the study is complete, which is correct, but a bloody stupid thing to write when you're reporting it in the New York Times (i.e., people are going to draw conclusions because it's been written up, no matter what you say).

This is a lot less interesting a study than it is kindof scary: as ad campaigns get increasingly well-targeted, how long until it's just competing mind control techniques?

< /tinfoil hat>

Monday, April 19, 2004

Brains and Bad Ideas 

To be published in Science, researchers have identified a process by which Alzheimer's causes cell death. The long-standing confusion, of the cell death seeming somewhere between apoptosis and necrosis, makes somewhat more sense now: mitochondrial damage is characteristic of apoptosis, but not the only step, so necrosis pops up. Cool.

It never ceases to amaze me that anyone actually pays any mind to Freud's theories anymore. But they seem to do so. And so, we have new research that seems to disprove yet another of his theories, this one of homosexuality. He said gays/lesbians were "immature" and couldn't have adult relationships. And aside from this being obvious crap, someone has shown it to be false. It may or may not be a particularly robust study, but I guess every little bit helps.

AHRQ has recommended that physicians prescribe fluoride pills to kids to prevent cavities. Might work, but we really overmedicate kids so much, it can't possibly be good.

Better living through Science! 

Gene variants seem to be good predictors of HIV-drug effectiveness and side-effect profiles. This is the kind of thing that will be the most immediate benefit of genetic research. Predicting who'll benefit from what treatment will not only improve care, but reduce costs as well!

Nobody likes getting shots. (At least not anybody I know) And now, Harvard-MIT scientists may have developed a way to deliver [at least some] injected drugs without needles. I can't wait!!

Air Quality 

The EPA has [about bloody time!!] tightened up regulations on haze-producing polluters, to protect the scenic vistas of national parks and other areas. Now, if they can only get Generalissimo el-Busho to approve funding and enforcement!!

Speaking of breathing easier, some research was just published about number of breaths per minute in CPR as related to survival rate. However, the press release doesn't really indicate that any actual science happened. It simply states that medics are over-ventilating, and that outcomes are poor. If that qualifies as science these days, we're in a lot of trouble!

Alien Nation, continued. 

Life on Mars has been a topic of discussion here, but I'm happy to say Venus has not been forgotten. The best part (ego boost!) is that many of the reasons Mr. Grinspoon gives to support his theories are the ones I keep complaining about others using to refute the possibility of life on Mars.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Take Me Home... 

...I'm drunk. Winners of a tech contest will travel to Brazil to present their new student-helper technology. And tomorrow's kids will be weaker for it.

(via /.)


Oxygen and sulfur-producing bacteria may have appeared on Earth much later than previously thought. I wish this release gave more details and I wish I knew more about early evolutionary biology.

Thursday, April 15, 2004


More from the Too Cool for Words Department: two scientists are recording the sounds made my various cells' unique vibrations, which could lead to diagnostic tools, improved purity controls on bio/nanotech, and probably other goodies. Yay!


From the Highly Unexpected Good Things Department: Spain will recognize gay marriage. We'll see how it flies in such a Catholic country, but regardless, there it is.

(via Kos)

Learning and Memory 

These are two of my favorite things, but I wish I was better at them. From today's scnews, I learn I should take the following steps:
1. Stop drinking. This is maybe the most depressing thing I've read (besides almost anything about American politics) all week!
2. Become a female chimp. Very interesting....I wonder if the actual publication talks much about the memetics alluded to in the summary?

Also, an experiment shows that people seem to have very limited visual short-term memory, tied to the posterior parietal. The number of items that can be held seems to be about four. I did some research on visual enumeration in college, and wonder if this has anything to do with subitizing? The upper bound for subitizing (as opposed to counting) is generally about four. This would be an interesting addendum to that: subitizing research has mostly focused on magno/parvocellular pathways. Cool!

Genes of The Day 

Observant readers will have noticed my keen interest in HIV research. That's because not only is it a bloody terrifying disease, and one which has hit close to home on many occasions, but because the biology is just. so. cool. It is: HIV does all sorts of things things weren't supposed to be able to do, and keeps rewriting all the rules of virology and even genetics. All this is why this research is very exciting to me. And I want to read more when it's published properly.

The BBC reports that scientists have isolated a gene in fish and mice that seems to code for limbs. I can hear the fundies crying already: "next thing you know, people'll be deciding how many *limbs* their kids have! Noooo!" Because I've always wanted a son with four legs and six arms.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Collegiate Diet 

Maybe not so bad after all: small child lives for ten days on dry noodles and Gatorade.
Hmph...sounds like Freshman year.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Best Hospitals 

US News has just released its new Best Hospitals list. I've looked at the data that goes behind it, and it's pretty robust.


We all know the oil crisis is coming. We're even at war over it already. But scientists are working on a partial solution: converting pig feces into crude oil. Now, even if this works, and even if it doesn't require more energy to do than can be gotten out of the crude (raising pigs, harvesting/transporting and converting feces), that doesn't solve the pollution problem. And more money spent on this business is less spent on really renewable energy sources.

Rx for Stupidity 

Congress is yet again thinking about passing legislation to allow drug reimportation from Canada, and other countries. Lower prescription prices is a Very Good Thing, and necessary to help control the ridiculous costs of health care in the US.

HOWEVER. The key word here is "reimportation". Meaning, drugs that were exported in the first place. Why would goods, having been exported (and presumably subject to tariffs, taxes, and transport fees) be cheaper to reimport (i.e., subject to more taxes, tariffs and transport fees) than just to buy direct without the shipping and handling?? I don't know the real answer, but my guess is it has something to do with a complete lack of regulation in the US. Reimportation isn't a solution, it's at best a short-term delay. We need to find out why the drugs are so much more expensive here in the first place, and address that. But what? That would mean that our leaders would have to stop sucking Merck/Pfizer/etc.'s collective dicks and DO SOMETHING?!?!?!?! Nevermind then.

Another way to reduce prices is to promote competition. Later this month, the Medicare website will publish a list of comparative Rx prices, designed to inform consumers so that they can drive competition between suppliers.
And this is predicted to be effective based on what, exactly? American consumers (particularly the sick and elderly) are not known for their ability to really analyze information as well as one might hope. And I'm pretty sure that's precisely what the administration wants: they can say "look what we did to help you" while knowing it won't actually be used to any significant detriment to Big Pharma.

Head Trips 

A good reason to have liposuction: transplanted fat cells have been convinced to work at healing otherwise unhealable head wounds in mice. I'm sure we'll be able to find people who'll donate to anyone in need!

Interhemispheric interactions appear different (better) in mathematically gifted kids. Implications for learning??

Atypical antipsychotics seem to be better at stemming violent behavior than traditional AP's. No real discussion of possible mechanisms....I'll have to keep my eye out on that.

Some have been crowing for some time about soy being a great health panacea. This BBC article claims that there is evidence that soy helps prevent baldness and cancer. Both claims make sense: soy is known to be somewhat estrogenic, which means it will likely block DHT, which is implicated in both conditions. However, that doesn't mean things will work out that way. That Japanese men have lower prostate cancer levels is interesting, but there are so many other things that Japanese men do differently (eat more fish, certain other foods, etc.) that this might be hard to isolate.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Cheap Date 

Is the name of a gene. Which makes fruit flies more easily drunk. You gotta love gene naming...Sonic Hedgehog; Armadillo; P3... This is a bit about another gene identified which similarly seems to a/effect intoxication. It doesn't have a fun name though. Which probably means the scientists studying it are far less interesting than Mr. Crabb and colleagues.

If I were a geneticist, I'd find a gene that I could name Ridicully. It would have to code for incompetence, but the kind you can't get rid of, ever. And also, its opposite, Weatherwax, for some sort of lovably competent unpleasantness. (some people will get the joke, others won't, and some might even remember DNA Spankase)

Most Accurate Quiz EVER!!! 

You are the French peas. You have a fabulous accent. You are sarcastic. You are the best.

Take the test.


Happy Day-After-Easter to all readers so inclined. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, however, has possibly the Best Easter Post ever...it's just lovely. Go read.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


Or actually, losing them. A new NIA study has identified some predictors of longevity for Alzheimer's patients. Not much groundbreaking here, showing AD patients don't live as long, outcomes poorer with comorbidity, etc...but a good overview/refresher.

More Reasons To Stay on the East Coast 

California will suffer severe draughts by 2050, due to Arctic melting. That is, unless it sinks back into the ocean first.

Saturday, April 10, 2004


Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is one of those things that may or may not exist. Or at least may be way less prevalent than is thought, because of overexploited long-distance parents who insist that their kids be medicated/sedated at all times, so they don't have to bother with, uhm, *raising them.*

But the point is, a new study has shown that Zinc sulphate supplements, in conjunction with methylphenidate (Ritalin), was a helpful treatment. Hmph. I wonder why?

Friday, April 09, 2004


A Belgian traffic radar sent a speeding ticket to the owner of a Mini last December. Not too surprising...if I had one I'd go zoom as well. However, the ticket charged that the driver had been going 3380 kph, a.k.a. Mach 3!!! Sensibly, the judge voided the charge.

We all know that most of what's on the BBC is superior to things on American TV (see, for direct comparison, NBC's "Coupling" versus the original). However, the Brits have taken reality and educational TV to a new height. In order to attract viewers who don't usually like eduTV, the program Lab Rats will televise a scientific experiment/contest: A Sperm Race.

If only either of the contestant-donors was cute enough for me to care!

Guess What's Good for You: 

Guinness!!!!! It appears that what we all know is true, and some other good stuff to boot. Less calories even!


Religion has always fascinated me, more as an academic question than anything else. I took a class on Western esotericism in college, which was fascinating. Diana Moon links to this paper, by Martin Luther King, Jr., on the roots of Christianity. Some interesting details I didn't know before, and it really speaks volumes to his personal faith, contrasted to so many others, that he is able to effectively and intellectually examine the roots of that faith.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


Rj over at DCSOB mentioned the rash of robberies going on in Adams Morgan right now. This was of particular interest to me, because I live in Adams Morgan. Now, given that there has been a rash of pretty flagrant crimes, you'd think someone (read: the police) might be doing something. Something like, say, being in Adams Morgan. But alas, this is DC, and there was/is no increase in police presence in the area. Even though the dispatch is less than three blocks from where the robberies have been occurring. Nope, no patrols, no increased visibility. Oh well. Guess I'm only going places that take Ames for a while.

On the flipside, I want this guy to steal my car.

Burn, Baby, Burn 

Things have been spontaneously combusting in Sicily. There are allegedly no explanations.

Will my tinfoil hat protect me from the evil combustion rays???

How do you say "About Bloody Time" 

...In Mandarin? The Chinese government has always suffered from denial of reality. Given this, my totally uninformed guess is that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in China is closer to 10 million now. 800,000 is laughably low.

Brains and Sounds 

The Placebo effect is a long recognized phenomenon. It's been more viewed as an occasionally useful nuisance than anything else, mostly (I think) because it simply hasn't been well researched. A new study from the University of Denver shows a very impressive, and clinically useful, placebo effect: sham surgery helps Parkinson's patients. I'd say that that's pretty damn cool. Now maybe we can get some decent research on why there is this effect we scientists take so much care to control.

U. Texas scientists have found another protein crucial to memory formation: RIM1 alpha knock-out mice are "incredibly stupid." A single gene this important is, needless to say, a Big Deal. The press release doesn't give details, but the article is published in Neuron, so it's likely to be pretty robust. I just can't wait for GNC or whomever to start marketing something that "boosts RIM1 alpha levels," although actually all it is is phenylalanine. But I hope they can soon bottle the real stuff up and make me smarter!!

And, in the realm of Things I Don't Understand, Even A Little, Stevens Institute of Technology scientists have achieved some breakthroughs in time-reversal acoustics. I like the sound of "time reversal," even though I know it doesn't mean "letting me have a mulligan of all the shit I fucked up yesterday," and new medical imaging techniques are always cool. I like new toys.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Antoine de St. Exupéry.... 

....est disparu, depuis 60 ans. Mais, les chercheurs archéologiques ont trouvé son appareil. Ca pique, vraiment, que ca soit si longtemps pour lui trouver, et a rappeler comment c'est triste de perdre quelqu'un comme lui a la guerre. Meme au temps de la guerre contemporarian.

L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

Good Things 

If your mother (or girlfriend or whomever) keeps telling you to lay off the PS2, you can now simply respond that you're studying to become a surgeon. This kind of a finding isn't really a surprise, if you think about it, especially as games get more and more complex and subtle (ok, maybe only the controls are subtler...).

The Best News of the Year, however, is that frequent ejaculation seems to protect against cancer. Finally, something fun that's actually good for us!

Plus, it creates a whole new world for pickup lines: "Hey dude, let's go somewhere and prevent cancer together."

Tuesday, April 06, 2004


The US has, despite its PR, a serious censorship problem. People freak out about boobs on TV and naughty words on radio, etc., etc. This is one of those things that pisses me off. Which is why, despite my feelings about her music, Alanis Morissette gets mad props today.

(Non)Smoking Section 

Lesbian and bisexual teenage girls seem to have the worst rates of smoking. While I have no trouble believing that, I have a bit of an anecdotal doubt regarding gay male teens smoking so little, according to the study. I'm hard pressed to think of five of my gay friends who don't smoke, fewer if I count those who've recently quit. My sample may be skewed, but I'd like to know more about this survey.

Meanwhile, getting people to quit smoking is generally agreed upon (except by those in/supported by the tobacco industry) as a Good Thing. So, the question is, why is the US government trying to quash a proven step in that direction? HHS denies that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoked. Even without seeing a published paper, this is clearly false: smoke, of any kind, is bad for you, and even if the tobacco itself is causing most of the problems related to smoking, eliminating the smoke itself removes a big factor. Plus it eliminates the second-hand effects that everyone keeps whining about.

Clearly, the author of this article has an agenda, but to be honest, even if her agenda is marketing, it's better than the most obvious motivation for blocking these products (support the tobacco industry, a big Republican booster). If even half of what's presented here is true, we have Yet Another Thing about which to be Very Angry with this administration. As if we needed more!

Monday, April 05, 2004

More Killjoy 

An Australian company has begun to sell vodka flavored ice cream. And of course the puritans are screaming bloody murder about it. Back in the "good old days" these types like to idealize, everyone drank alcohol (yes, even kids), because it was all that was safe to drink. The problem is failing to drink responsibly, which is the inevitable result of demonizing said drinking in the first place, not drinking itself. If you teach kids that drinking isn't a big deal and that it can be enjoyed responsibly, and overconsumption makes you look stupid, they'll drink more responsibly. F**kwits.


Yet another way HIV avoids detection and destruction. Learning this will help find a cure or vaccine, way down the line, but pretty much guarantees current efforts will be fruitless. "Get thee to a nunnery (or hermitage)."


Two bits today relating to the adrenal hormone/neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Epinephrine:

UCLA scientists have found that an adrenergic element of Yohimbine, mostly used to treat impotence, may help in treatment of anxiety disorders. Lots of changes to conventional treatments implicated here, if this research takes flight.

Similarly, Penn research indicates that norepinephrine may be crucial to retrieval of medium-term contextual and spatial memory. This research also has potential anxiety-disorder implications, specifically for PTSD (could a certain reader perhaps clue me in to how this fits into that framework?), and of course, if anything leads to a way to improve my memory, I'm fully in favor...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Die Roboter, Cont'd. 

I blogged earlier about technology and orchestras. As I said then, I'm all for technology, but artificial instruments are, well, always gonna be artificial and sound different ('better' is a matter of tastes).

The idea of a robot-conducted symphony is really intriguing. To be certain, it'll sound very different than anything that's ever been done before, and some compositions (e.g. Motzart) might mesh well with the kind of rigidity I'd expect from a robot conductor. I'm waiting to hear it, but I'm wary...Beethoven is so passionate I can hardly see how a robot could do justice.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Sciences Big and Small 

Two papers published in Science today may help elucidate how body weight is regulated, including how setpoints are set. This has implications for everything from obesity to anorexia to any number of other things. Leptin is one of those funny systems that very subtly seems to affect everything.

Green tea, which is frequently touted for its health benefits, including helping with weight loss, has been found to block intercellular communications necessary for Leukemia cells to survive. I hope they spread the word about this ASAP. I have a personal interest here, so I am very very excited.

And here's yet another reason for all those people who scream about the evils of stem cell research to, in the words of TNH, "Fck ff nd D:" Stem cells in mice have been convinced to grow into bone marrow and blood cells, which were then successfully replaced into the original animal, an effective "transplant" that could, as above, help treat leukemia (and other disorders).

Thursday, April 01, 2004

More Goodness 

BBC reports that American scientists have possibly found a cure for Tourette's.

But if we no longer have people with Tourette's, we'll be out an entire class of offensive jokes!!

A compound has been discovered which shows potential as a Diabetes vaccine! This is amazingly good news...this is a really, really expensive, often crippling disease. We'll be well rid of it.

I am like Nick.

-- "There's no account I can’t penetrate, and no client I can't close."
Nick was the first winning Project Manager for Versacorp on the Flea Market challenge.
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Let Them Eat Thorax! 

Someone has done a beautiful bit of dessert science. I live for foods like this, but am way to lazy to actually make them. Two of my neuroscience professors in particular would really like this, though all of them share an affinity for colorful humor. I remember more than one departmental event involving kitty litter cake and/or Brain Jello. Professor Thornton, unlike whomever did that Brain Jello ad, managed to actually make the jelly, uhm, brain colored. Which I suppose is some sort of accomplishment.

For the Birds 

I may be falling for an April Fools joke, but here goes: I really don't understand this concept at all. Why on earth are people trying to use pigeons to carry data? I read the explanation of Google's PigeonRank some time ago, and thought it was a strange metaphor or something. Does Google actually have pigeons? I'm so confused!!!!

In less questionable news, scientists have found that birds share a key language gene with humans. Anyone who's taken a neurolinguistics, developmental or cognitive psychology/neuroscience class remembers learning about how songbirds learn and practice their songs. Now, there's a gene tied to that acquisition. The key expression of FoxP2, the gene in question, is in Basal Ganglia. Which is a very interesting place for it to be...GB is associated with learning and habit formation, but not (to my knowledge) language. The web gets more complex (as usual!).

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