"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!!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Sensible Friends 

The field of psychology has not always been friendly to gays and lesbians...homosexuality was classified as a disorder until very recently, "curative therapies" still abound, etc.

It should, however, come as little surprise that the APA has finally come around, and today announced its support of gay marriage, albeit in a very safe and almost apolitical manner. They say it's a mental health issue. Married people are healthier, and discrimination is an unnecessary stress. Fine. I'll take what allies I can get these days.

You are getting verrrry sleepyy... 

Actually, I am very sleepy. Was at work till 1:30 last night/this morning, and got back to work around 8:30. But when you think about it, this is precisely what college prepared me for: long nights and sleep deprivation. So it's all good...I went to a very good college!

When you exercise, however, it turns out that your brain is what makes you feel tired, as opposed to your muscles. The hormone Interleukin 6 (IL6) was elevated in athletes after a big workout, and injecting them with it made them feel tired. So just like Coach said: it's all in you head!


Last month we learned about the V1a gene, which, when upregulated, turned playboy voles monogamous.

This month, researchers have identified a gene, fruitless, in fruit flies, that directs growth of a certain nerve bundle that hardwires their courtship and copulation activities. Without it, the male flies just sortof force themselves on the females, to no real avail.

Maybe they should have called the gene Fratboy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

All The Pretty Colors... 

New research indicates that early experience is key to color vision: Color discrimination abilitiesare not wholly determined pre-birth, as has long been believed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Life in DC 

Via Electrolite's miniblog comes a gem of DC culture.

I'm guessing "OWG" is either a tourist or distant suburbanite who doesn't ride Metro much, and either way has been listing to too much Cosby. Frankly he got lucky: if he'd pulled that shit on the Green line.....heheh.


It may help your liver, but caffeine seems also to mess up glucose metabolism and/or insulin sensitivity in diabetics. Patients who had caffeine with meals had more glucose problems than those who did not.

Shit. I like having an espresso after dinner. Damn.

New Alternatives, Again 

Most people think of aloe as something they put on sunburns. It works well for that, yes, but it also has many other healing properties: it's a good general analgesic, a digestive stimulant and gentle laxative, and, it turns out, a life-saving treatment for shock. UPMC researchers found that an aloe extract, injected into animals with severe blood loss, significantly increased survival times and rates. The release talks mainly about battlefield applications (sad that this is how most life-saving research gets funded), but the implications for more every-day trauma treatment are incredible. The slightest increase in the time an ambulance has to get a victim to the hospital would hugely improve outcomes.

Monday, July 26, 2004


They say the car you drive says a lot about your personality. Well, I'd say the person driving one of these is likely to be co-dependent and overemotional. Not that having such an obvious warning sign wouldn't be a good thing, and not that it isn't kindof a cool idea.

Fair Compensation 

Uninsurance is a huge problem in the US. Aside from people simply not getting the care they need, it increases the costs of health care for everyone, including those with insurance. Wal-Mart is of course notorious for not taking good care of its workers, underpaying them, not promoting women, and of course their benefits program is a joke. Yes, they offer health insurance, but employees would have to pay premiums approaching 25% of their wages to get it. Which is not even feasible for anyone.

Via Grahmazon, an outline of a Business Week article that says what we all know is true anyway: taking good care of your workers is good for business.

Die Walton, die.

First Words 

French linguistic anthropologists have studied the meanings of words in 1000 languages, and found that the sound 'papa' has similar meanings in most of them. This could indicate a common ancestry, dating back 50,000 years to Neanderthal proto-languages, or, that babies simply associate the first sounds they can make ('pa' is a very basic phoneme) to the first person they see. Anyone here with a linguistics background: please comment.

A senior astronomer at the SETI Institute has decided that we'll detect intelligent life in our galaxy within 20 years. This is a bloody stupid thing to say, and I assume he's just low on funding (a condition an excited public can greatly improve). As I've written before, it bugs me to no end the singularity with which people in this field seem to ignore the (overwhelmingly likely) possibility that alien life will look and act nothing like life on Earth. This article does in fact bring up that point, for which I give New Scientist lots of credit.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

"Bitter." Or, "Why I'm Still Single." 

DC is a shitty town for dating. We all know this. A friend and I were commiserating on this fact tonight, and decided that in honor (well, sort of honor anyways) of Snow White, we would consider the Seven Gays of DC:






And Top.

I try to at least vary my vices from day to day, as I get easily irritated with the drama. I guess I'm the eigth type: Picky.

We all have our moments, but it's bloody difficult to find guys in this town who don't fit one of these archetypes to a depressing tee.

Friday, July 23, 2004

It's a big week for kids, in Scienceland! 

OSU researchers looking at inductive reasoning in kids and adults have found that kids use a different type of induction than adults: adults use categories based on their previous knowledge whereas kids use similarity.

They also found that kids had better memory of stimuli used in the reasoning test, due to having examined the pictures more carefully to determine similarity than adults, who simply decided 'that's a cat' (or not) and moved on. It's always so amazing how much we change as we grow up...I've always loved developmental psych and neuroscience.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Walk Like A (Wo)Man 

I'm late to the game, but I have to point, for those who missed it (and for me who'll want to find it again later), a 5-year old macaque in Israel has, following a sever illness, become exclusively bipedal. Her posture is impressively human. If the zookeepers' idea that this was caused by some brain damage proves correct, the implications for the study of human evolution will be fantastic!!

Brain areas related to bipedalism? What genes may have been turned on or off to make it happen? I cannot wait for further reports.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Who Loves the Kids? 

Almost everyone does. It turns out, however, that women and African-American legislators seem to love them more. They're far more likely than their counterparts to put forth bills to protect and improve kids' health. Veerrrry innnterrestingg....

The real test of this will of course be if Michael Jackson gets elected to office: he's more or less in both of those categories, and we know about his thing for kids.

Bigger Brains 

There's been long debate as to whether or not brain size is related to intelligence, between humans (it clearly is related on a gross, cross-species level). New research, however, indicates that it's not overall size, but the size of certain areas that's important. My neuroanatomy skills are not what they once were, but the areas in question look like they may include the dorsolateral prefrontal and (rostral?) prefrontal cortex, the striatum, and Broca's area. This is really interesting, though in a more nice-to-know way than anything having therapeutic potential.

Scary new fad potential: scanning kids' brains in place of preschool entrance exams!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


A new study seems to show that my best friend, caffeine, could be augmenting my inability to remember words. I want to see the data, because this sounds like it could be an artifact, but still. Damn. And coffee was doing so well this year.


Frightening bit from the former Editor of NEJM on Big Pharma, and a funny but full of infuriating facts bit on stupid marijuana laws from RMD.

I don't really have much to say about these. Pot laws piss me off and the lack of laws governing Pharma does too. Perhaps someday we'll all wake up and have sensible rules guiding our lives...or may be not.

It'll either get better, or we'll all die.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Fatty McAtkins 

With all the furor going around about the Atkins Diet, which may or may not be more effective than 'traditional' low-fat diets (or even effective at all), but is almost certainly rough on your kidneys, it's nice to have some science.

A group of French researchers did a long-term study of high-protein diets in Wistar rats, which are prone to obesity. They found no ill-effects of the diet, even to the kidneys, and even found improvements in triglyceride, leptin, and insulin levels, as well as glucose tolerance.

However. I'm not sure how good these data are...there doesn’t seem to have been a proper control group. A no-protein diet is going is going to compare to a high-protein one very differently than a regular, mid-protein one. That said, I'd expect the differences to be really big. I look forward to more of these studies.

Friday, July 16, 2004

*More* Men from Mars, etc. 

Continuing on the only subject that's ever really been interesting to anyone (one way or another it all comes back to the same thing), we find our way to learn about The Sex Life of the Pistachio. Pistachios are one of my favorite types of nuts, but not one of my favorite colors.

(via TNH)

Old Dogs New Tricks, Continued 

I wrote some time ago about cinnamon's antimicrobial effects. New research continues this, extending cinnamon's effects to an even bigger annoyance than oral bacteria: mosquitoes. Oil extracts killed yellow fever mosquito larvae, and should have similar effects on adults and other subspecies. Plus, it smells eversomuch better than DEET.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Eat Yer Niacin! 

It turns out that niacin may have a protective effect on cognitive function, and against Alzheimer's disease. Research published here(pdf) is a pretty good looking study of senior residents of Chicago, from 1993-2002.

So do yourself(and your parents!) a favor, and get them (and you) plenty of niacin!!

"Protecting" Marriage 

Pseudo-religious conservative fuckwads all over the world have been screeching for some time about how letting gays marry will somehow undermine hetero marriages. This argument makes no sense in the first place, and now there's data to refute it. But don't go expecting anyone to change their minds...facts are not what idealogues are all about.

/very cranky this morning

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Old Theory Resurfacing? 

The Gaia Theory (yes, that's where the "Spirit of the Earth" on Captain Planet got her name) posits that living organisms interact with the environment so as to keep it in their 'comfort zone.' It's generally seen as DOQRAPS, but now and again, some support for the concept, although not for the semi-religious animism parts, pops up.

It turns out that when too much UV light falls onto plankton in the ocean, they release a chemical which evaporates and catalyzes cloud formation, lowering UV levels. Which is very similar to what Lovelock's daisies do. Except no one can yet prove that they do this in [conscious] concert with other organisms. Still cool though.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Kerry Health 

I've been a big fan of Sen. Kerry's health plan for some time. His latest ad (which I haven't seen, due to not watching ads, this is why we have remote controls) talks about how much money his plan would cost/save etc. The facts do, in fact, check out. No surprise there, but good to know. Give him turkee. And if you are not registered to vote, GO GET REGISTERED AND VOTE! (unless of course you are a Bush or Nader supporter. Then you should pull the wool back down over your eyes and drink some more kool-aid.)

Men from Mars, Women from Venus, More Men from X 

Scientists have found a hybrid species of ant which may or may not (depending on your definition) have three sexes. It's pretty cool, mainly because it's totally new: if the female mates with a male from her own strain, she gives birth to queens. If she mates with a male from another, she has workers. Really a bloody strange system, but why the hell not. How many sexes did the Trafalmadorians say we needed to make a baby?


As much as I pride myself on the ability to function fully on little sleep, I'll crash eventually: an evolutionary hangover it may be, but we're still stuck with it. Songbirds, however, may hold a key to needing it less: migratory birds have been found to go on much less sleep without cognitive or physical decline during their migratory seasons.

During migratory seasons, they sleep 85% less than at other times, and exhibit much shorter REM sleep latencies, less slow-wave sleep, and (possibly) increased HPA function. Does this combo sound familiar? It should: these are all symptoms of people with bipolar and depressive disorders. Tons of interesting research potential there, too!

I just want a 'bird pill' to make me need less sleep...but first we have to find a way to avoid being drowsy all the time (which the birds are), because even without the cognitive problems I associate with being drowsy, it's no fun.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Brains Again 

CalTech researchers have found a way to read monkeys' minds using electrode implants. This has many cool potential applications for helping disabled persons, but also for general human improvement. And abuse, of course. Yay.

Serotonin is, as everyone now knows thanks to marketing campaigns for SSRIs, very important to many brain functions, including mood and appetite and cognition. Given this, there's lots of interest in why some people have more or less than others. Duke researchers have found an allelic(!) gene for an enzyme which directly affects serotonin levels in mouse brains. Plenty of coolness here.

Fatty McOversized McDrunk 

We all know that drinking is good for us. It may or may not strengthen our bones, and lower our cholesterol, but it does make us happy. But now there's even more good news about one of my favorite drinks: red wine.

A compound which may be found in red wine, resveratrol, seems to increase the activity of SIRT1, which needs a cooler name. Increased SIRT1 has been found to increase fat metabolism and inhibit fat cell formation. Woo-hoo!! More red wine and chocolate!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Seeing and Standing 

New research (hopefully soon I'll find an actual journal or release link) indicates that pot smoking may improve vision. This is a bit surprising, but not totally...it's been known for some time to be slightly effective against glaucoma, and maybe the same (or a similar) mechanism is at work here. Either way, I hope it generates more serious scientific interest in the stuff.

End of the World 

BoingBoing's Xeni has blogged a couple times about a project to get wi-fi to Nepalese farmers.

I think it's a very cool idea, but I have to say I rather hope no monks in neighboring Tibet catch on to the idea. Anyone who's read a certain story by Arthur C. Clarke will know what I mean.

Calling All Hypochondriacs!! 

Harvard now has a disease risk evaluator on its website. It makes me sad when otherwise respectable institutions engage in this kind of DOQRAPS. Similar to the half-baked BMI calculations and assessments I mentioned earlier, this is not a diagnostic tool but, at best, a marketing campaign (although for what I'm not sure).

Yes, maybe one person will go to his or her doctor and find a real problem, but with that one there will be hundreds who go and spend unnecessary time and money and doctors' resources. A simple informative quiz would be better: 'which of the following things is good for reducing X risk?' followed by explanations of responses. It'll still send some people to their doctors, but fewer, and also they'll have some good information even if they don't go.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Nothing shakes my faith in natural selection more than the persistence
of human stupidity. Harlan Ellison once wrote that it was, along with
Hydrogen, one of the two most common elements in the universe. Today's
health news supports this theory:
Rich parents are most likely to refuse to immunize their children. Poor people can't
afford it, that's simple, but ferfuckssake if you refuse to immunize
your kid for any reason (yeah, Ok, some people have religious beliefs
but those are stupid too), your genes clearly are not fit to pass

HIV/AIDS infection rates are way up worldwide. There is no excuse for this disease. And again,
it is largely the religious fuckwits to blame for propagating it: they
don't want to talk about sex, they don't want people using condoms and
lie about their effectiveness, they insist on meritless abstinence-only
education. If we had a serious discourse and prevention plan in place,
There. Would. Be. No.

Tomatoes against AIDS? 

Apparently, Russian scientists have made transgenic tomatoes containing HIV antigens, which they hope will turn out to be an edible vaccine against the virus.
As interesting an idea as this is, and as cool as it sounds, I can smell the DOQRAPS from here.

Vaccines beat Polio, not HIV 

The CDC has released two sets of [free!] downloadable disease cards...development of battle games inevitable.
"Epidemic: The Spreading" anyone?

I Can See The Light! 

A Pakistani boy, born blind, can see now, thanks to an eye transplant. Done in India, this is the first surgery of its kind (that I know of), and really pretty frikkin cool.


A new study reveals that OTC cough syrups seem to be useless for the intended purpose of reducing coughs. You can still use them as hallucinogens though. And they're still expensive, so guarantee they'll continue to be marketed as effective.

Memories.... (continued) 

Researchers at Scripps and UCSD have identified a protein, CREB Binding Protein (CBP), which is essential for memory consolidation.

This is exciting, but not as much so as it may sound. I'm not clear that CBP's effects are specific to memory (they may be, but the release doesn't say), so it could be more germane to gene regulation in general. CBP acetylates lysine on histones, facilitating the unwinding of chromatin to allow for gene transcription and protein production. Mice who have CBP function knocked out have trouble forming long-term memories. Interesting.

The best line in the release, however, is:
Histones are the fashion mavens of the molecular world—they must be wearing something.

New Alternatives - The Other Side 

I'm of course a big fan of alternative and complementary medicine. The thing is, they can still be quite dangerous, because so little is known about how or why they work. Side effects are not well catalogued, interactions are mostly unknown, and dosages are hard to predict due to lack of standards.

Recent research has found some disturbing effects: Herbal diet supplements often contain ingredients which seem to harm the liver and kidneys; St. Johns Wort alters the bioavailability of other medications. St. Johns Wort is one of the most dangerous of the herbal remedies, because it's used so widely and is so potent. It's a MAOI, which have many dangerous side effects, though most people using SJW are unaware of these risks, or the precautions necessary to avoid them.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


I have just learned that this blog is blocked in China. Which makes me Very Happy, even though I am sad for all the Chinese people who are to be denied basking in its brilliance.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Coyote Gonna Get Ugly 

We already have the skanky ho'bag bar. Now we're getting the critters themselves. Cute little guys, until they eat your Lhasa apso or left arm. But then again, we do deed to cull out some of the suburbanites. I strongly doubt we'll be seeing many coyotes in my neighborhood. One can only hope....it might scare away some whitehats.

(with thanks to Dr. Wircus)

Why Didn't I Think of That? 

This just in from the Dept. of Things Someone Should Have Asked Long Ago: it seems that cystic fibrosis, a terminal genetic disease incapacitating a chloride transporter, is characterized by too little mucous, instead of the long-presumed (why not tested? I'm not clear on this...) too much. Very strange indeed, but at least theoretically, easier to treat.


Phantoms in the Brain 

I never managed to get all the way through the book, but I did see the author speak while I was at Oberlin. And the topic of phantom limbs is such a fantastically strange and cool one that of course, I am interested. Also, in college, we did the 'rubber hand' experiment on ourselves: that is a damn creepy experience.

And research published today shows how some of those things work, in the brain: the premotor cortex seems to develop self-identification not by a separate process, but by synthesis of multi-modal sensory information.

Cheap Contacts 

I've not been wearing contact lenses as long as some, but I've well gotten to know an irritating part of the procedure: paying way too much for the first set, because my optometrist orders them for me, and then refilling for much less by going online.

Because of this, I'm thrilled to hear about the FTC's latest new rules requiring that lens prescribers give written prescriptions to patients, and verify prescriptions to third-party (e.g., online) sellers.

Now I just need to find time to *go* to the optometrist!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Who Wants To Live Forever? 

OK, well, not forever. Just longer and better. Researchers have found that repressing the Indy gene, (cool name factor: stands for I'm not dead yet) not only increases lifespan in C. elegans, but also decreases body fat and lower cholesterol.


The Cure!!! 

Australian doctors may have cured type I diabetes. They transplanted insular cells, which produce insulin and are absent in diabetics, into patients' livers (I'm not sure why livers), and they are doing well so far. If this turns out to be a real cure, it will be AMAZING. Diabetes is an expensive, unpleasant, and all too common disease: getting rid of it would do wonders.

Stronger Bones 

When it occurs to me, I sometimes wonder why the drunken sorority girls we always see on TV and, sadly, in real life, who seem to be forever falling over, never break anything except a nail or glass or two. It turns out that alcohol may be the answer.

Alcohol consumption may protect womens' bones, according to a new study. Of course the effect is small and only for moderate consumption, so the above is just sarcasm, but it's an interesting new development. Osteoporosis is a costly problem (leads to man of those annoying 'I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up 911 calls), and potential new treatments would be lovely.

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