"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!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

100 Things 

To do before (and after) you die. Scientists make a list, including things I've done - sing on helium; extract your own DNA; see a single atom - and things I'd like to do - be a gecko; visit Shark Bay; learn Choctaw (that second past tense would be perfect for blogging!). Not sure I'd really like to be made into a diamond though, let alone picked apart by forensics students.

Take Warning, Continued 

The CDC has released its 2003 STD tracking numbers, and they do not look good for the men-who-have-sex-with-men demographic. 60% of reported syphilis cases in the US are found in that population. San Francisco has the highest syphilis rates, followed by Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Newark and Boston, with DC coming in at number 14. Faith-based sex-ed also seems to be working its magic in Oklahoma City (#7) and Dallas (#8).

Lying About Your Age 

Women are more famous for it, but men certainly trim a few years off here and there as well. The bad news is that it seems that stress speeds aging at the cellular level: high-stress women had shorter telomeres than lower-stress ones. This probably goes for men too, but was not tested. Potentially also bad for those unwilling to reveal their real age, is research into developing a better lie-detector using fMRI. I'd like to see more detail on what areas are involved, but this could potentially be both scary and really promising.

Monday, November 29, 2004


Your Superhero Persona
by couplandesque
Your Name
Superhero NameThe Armadillo
Super PowerIncredible Stamina
EnemyMartha Stewart
Mode Of TransportationMechanical Bull
WeaponWire Hanger
Quiz created with MemeGen!


I posted about this earlier (you have to search for it, Blogger is not being cooperative right now), when the preliminary results were released. Here's the abstract (and, if you have access the whole thing): Effect of reducing interns' weekly work hours on sleep and attentional failures. Really, one of those 'no shit, Sherlock' situations, but it's nice to see all that research funding going somewhere that may improve the lives both of doctors and patients.

Quick Linkey 

I don't have enough time to really write today, so here's some links. Discuss.

Umbilical stem cells treat paralysis. Way cool.

HPV vaccine studied in males. Because you really don't want HPV.

NIH scientists get Islet cells to grow in culture. This is very encouraging, especially following up on this earlier post.


You may notice a new link to your right. Some friends and I have started a DC-area food-and-related-stuff blog, called DCFüd. You should check it out, as it features restaurant reviews, recipes, food news, and drinking-related items.

There will be science later today, I swear!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Keeping It Off 

Losing weight is easy - the trick is making sure it stays lost. This has been an area of great interest for some time, not only because people want to be/stay thinner, but also because yo-yo dieting - that is, losing and regaining weight over and over - has been shown even worse for your health than just being overweight.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study of diet types indicates that a low Glycemic Index (GI) diet improves chances of diet compliance, and therefore of keeping it off. The low-GI diet, most famously described in the South Beach Diets, involve cutting out simple sugars, like white bread and flour, in favor of slower ones, like oats and veggies, that have less effect on your metabolism. As usual, these findings make what seems like common sense, but I'm waiting on confirmation before I drastically alter my diet (I tend to eat fairly low GI anyways, by taste, but whatever).

Japan Alert 

Fans of Japanese cuisine take note: Hepatitis E seems to be spreading amongst wild boars across Japan. I don't know much about Hep E, but its older siblings (A-D) are nasty buggers and often deadly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Cranky Monsters 

Supermodels are famously skinny, and also infamously bitchy. It's fairly well accepted that the two must be connected - when I'm too hungry, I can be pretty cranky as well. Now, new research indicates that malnourished kids grow up to be anti-social and to have behavioral problems.

I don't have too much trouble believing this - the brain's development is so sensitive, it's not shocking that malnourishment would have effects - but a press release doesn't give all the details I need to evaluate. I wonder if the study was controlled for socio-economic status or general health? Kids from poorer (and thus generally rougher) backgrounds tend to have more behavioral problems, as do sickly kids.

The ending quote of the article really pisses me off, however. To say that "[poor diet] can cause hyperactivity disorders" but not other behavioral problems is utterly and completely idiotic. That is the kind of statement that really makes you question a scientist's credibility.

Monday, November 22, 2004

More Chocolately Goodness 

Earlier this year, researchers found that it's beneficial to vascular health and lipid balance. This is good enough for me as a reason to include chocolate as a regular part of my diet.

It's also widely known that chocolate makes you feel better. But it gets better - scientists have found that a component of chocolate, theobromine, is a more effective cough suppressant than the traditional codeine! Sounds good to me - it's cheaper and tastier than codeine too, plus it won't destroy your liver or impair you ability to drive.

Friday, November 19, 2004

We Are *So* Screwed, Continued 

"Almost half of Americans believe God created humans 10,000 years ago."

The framing of the questions are a bit crappy, so there must be some bias, and given Gallop's recent biases (find the links yourself, I'm talking about pre-election polling), one wonders about their sampling.

As I've said before, one of the huge problems here is that the vast majority of non-scientists do not understand what the word "Theory" mean. They think it's the same "idea or guess" they use in everyday life, when in fact it is not. There is no Law of Evolution, because evolution is a set of events - there are Laws of natural selection, genetic inheritance, etc., all of which come together in the framework of Evolution. Also, the American public is notoriously ignorant, especially about science, as well as being famously anti-intellectual.

But the actual affirmation that so many people believe humans were created such a short time ago, in the face of all evidence, really scares me. But it's not a surprise, sadly.

We Are *So* Screwed. 

Actually, replace screwed with something similar starting with f. Dubya has suggested that he wants to eliminate the business tax deduction for employer-sponsored health insurance.
(via Graham, and Elizabeth, who doesn't have a blog I know of)

This would be a total disaster. Read what Ross has to say, because he's spot-on. If this happens, I really will consider moving to Canada. Especially because it could easily predicate a major crash of the US economy.

When this news broke yesterday, one of my co-workers came in and told us about it and we had to take a chunk of our already-overbooked time to freak out about it. I can't even form a truly rational stream of thought on this topic: it is so stupid and evil it just boggles my (grotesquely cynical and jaded) mind. I could spout statistics, but that's been done and I'm not in the mood right now.

And to all you "gay Republicans" out there: this is what you get. You won't have to worry that you're not allowed to visit your partner in the hospital, because it will be closed and/or you won't be able to afford it anyway. I'd love to just say that, a pox on both your houses and all, but that's the whole problem with living in a democratic(ish) society: you're getting what you deserve, but I'm getting it too. So kindly drop dead.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Paleontologists working in Spain have uncovered what looks like it might be a very late common ancestor of humans and great apes. Making evolutionary biology even more complicated, and "creation scientists" look even sillier.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Song of the Moment 

April March, "Sugar." This is sick, sick song. It sounds all, uhm, sugary sweet, until the first chorus. Unless you don't speak English, in which case it probably sounds cute all the way through. Plus the production is bloody excellent.

But then, what else might you expect from the guy who produced Air's first albums and the woman who used to write "Ren & Stimpy"?

Current Mood: I &*^%ing hate MS Project.

Puppy Fat 

We all know about the obesity epidemic in America. But it's even worse than you thought: not only are American humans obese, so are their dogs! So, the wonderful marketing research staff at Hill's Pet Nutrition teamed up with a Northwestern University researcher and other veterinarians to test a doggie diet plan. They also found that people who get enough sleep are less likely to become obese (although it's not clear if sleep affects attempts to lose weight), but really the dog bit is much more amusing.

Power Pill 

Oral contraceptives have been getting a good deal of press recently, most of it bad. Now there is good news: women on the Pill are less likely to suffer knee injuries.

Since I don't have access to the full text, I'm left baffled. I mean, Estrogen does reduce swelling, but why does it tighten knee joints? I've heard of female athletes getting themselves pregnant just before an event to get an endurance boost, so I wonder if this is related?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Fodder for the Culture War 

Look for all three of these studies to be used somehow by one side and denied or ignored by the other.

Children of lesbian parents are no more messed up (or likely to be homosexual) than children of heterosexual parents. They may however be more likely to know how to fix a roof or build a cabinet, and have strong emotional reactions to flannel.

The Wistar Institute has done some cool work on heritability of non-genomic traits. I may have more to say later, but it's a bloody cool idea, and could explain quite a number of things.

Psychologists have found that celebrity worship is unhealthy, in addition to being tacky and boring to the rest of us. The consolation is that maybe these people will just kill themselves already!

More Digestive News 

A new study indicates that low fat, high carb dieters keep more weight off than do low-carb, high-fat dieters. The funniest line in the report comes from the Atkins Foundation rep, who notes that "the study considered 90 grams to be low-carb, while Atkins recommends 60 grams for weight loss and 60 to 120 for weight maintenance." Because 90 grams is not at all in the 60-120 gram range. All the subjects lost weight, the question was how well it stayed lost.

NIAID has completed a small trial of a new treatment for Crohn's Disease, an uncomfortable and often debilitating autoimmune condition affecting the bowels, with promising results. Good news, since this could lead to treatments of other autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Get Skinny, Stay Clean 

Continuing on today's weight-loss theme, and adding to my drug obsession, comes news that Rimonabant, about which I've been excited for some time, seems to help with drug and alcohol addiction too. This means it'll get approval faster in the US, which is great. Now I just have to contrive an addiction to get a prescription!!

The (New) Skinny 

Researchers have found that the ever contentious Atkins diet may be more effective in men than in women. I'm not really buying this result - the n is so small, it's short-term, and it's funded by the Atkins Foundation - but it wouldn't surprise me that there could be a difference of some sort. We shall see.

Speaking of questionable therapy, use of the "supplement" DHEA has long been growing in Americans hoping to avoid aging, etc. for some time. It may not be such a bad idea. A new study (also short term, and the release doesn't mention the sample size) finds that taking DHEA both reduces abdominal fat increase and improves insulin activity in older people. Interesting!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Journalistic Integrity 

May or may not be a Thing of The Past in mainstream media, but one area that seems to be extremely prone to sloppy reportage is scientific journalism. Every time some kook comes up with a theory, it gets on the news. This brilliant editorial examines how a relatively worthwhile journalistic standard, that of balanced reporting does great disservice to science.

The point is simple: science is not easily reduced to a binary situation of right or wrong. There are a million sides to everything, and there are well established rules that guide how research is judged. Most journalists (and virtually all readers, at least in the US) know very little about the Scientific Method, or Peer Review, etc., and audiences are often not too interested in complex ideas.

There are plenty of examples where the scientific consensus is wrong, and the rogues are right, but determining that is the work of scientists, not journalists. It may take a while for the old guard to change, but that's the beauty of the Scientific Method: change is the whole point! You can never fully "prove" anything, you can only not disprove it. It's this subtlety that drives many non-scientists crazy, and leads to widespread misunderstanding of words like "Theory" and "Law" in the scientific sense, as opposed to the common ones.


David let me use his iPod for the Cricklewood Massive's MP3J night at St. Ex. It was fun, but would've been better had (a) the music been properly audible, and (b) people had been dancing and paying attention to others' music selections. If someone had been really drunk, and just fading in and out of consciousness, my set might have been experienced thusly:

"The sky is falling and I've just begun....c'est just une crise, tout semblait si parfait....c'est ne pas que j'aime la pluie....hand him over to me, like sisters we'll share"

And that would amuse me greatly.

Vitamin Excess 

Too much Vitamin E seems to be bad for you. So, for all you pill poppers, it may not be such a good idea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Haute Cafeteria Cuisine? UPDATE 

British kids think eating healthy is uncool. The Brits are known for "coolness" more than, say, Egyptians, but they're known for their gourmet cuisine slightly less than, uhmm... almost anyone, so this may not be a big shocker. The French, however, known both for style and food, seem to have a solution.

It's a brilliant scheme, really, getting kids to eat real food instead of MacDoh, as it's called there. And here's to that grossly underpaid chef!! If only my high school cafeteria had even approached such quality, let alone the Oberlin dining system, which was (and from what I hear still is) abominable. Leave it to them Froggies!
(hat tip: Graham)

Too Much Design 

I cannot resist posting these.

This man must be stopped. (via Ernie)

This is hilarious and brilliant.

Quick Post 

I'm soo busy to be blogging, but I want to get these up, so I can read fully them later.

Scientists have found that mBDNF seems to be key to memory formation. This is good news, and hold all kinds of potential for treatments.

Air pollution may speed up arterial disease. Not good news for the urban crowd, who're more prone to it anyways due to stress and lifestyle issues.

Women undergoing radiation therapy for various cancers often become infertile as a result. A new approach to avoiding this is to autotransplant ovarian tissue into their arms. This procedure has yielded one success, so that's good, but the first words that popped into my head reading the headline were "Ectopic Pregnancy" and "eeewwwwww."

Obviously Useful  

People like money. Kids being people, they like money too. Many of them may also like money better than cigarettes. Kids are now quitting smoking to save money, because cancer and bad breath and yellow teeth weren't motivation enough.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Because I can resist neither the pun, nor the link, because I have to move soon, and I am so dreading what I may find in the depths of my closets.

I also cannot resist sending you here.

More Gay Genes 

I've mentioned before that there are numerous theories about how homosexuality could be genetically transmitted, and there are of course many more than that. Now there's another one. The article is sketchy, no doubt because it's only based on a poster session at a conference, but the results are really intriguing.

Not to mention scary: if we're talking about skewed methylation as a key to homosexuality, it's something that people will quickly start trying to 'correct.' That sort of thing never goes well.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Music of the Mind 

Last night I went to Taint, which was a blast (though as usual I had to run out early to get up for work...grrrr). And this morning I rediscovered a CD of Brahms' Symphonies 3 and 4, two of my favorites, and listening to it makes Monday morning not so bad.

Music is wonderful. I could go on, but we all know all that. Why is it so universal? How does the same music have such profound and similar effects on so many different people? This article gives some insight, reviewing what is known about how music happens in the brain. For all you non-neuroscience types, don't worry, it's clearly written and well explained. Enjoy!!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Last Election Post  

I swear.

So the 'Murcan people voted on 'values.' Others have already discussed how f*cked up that term is. But their perceptions are, as usual, dubious: people in blue states seem to be doing much better on all the stuff the red state folks are on such a high horse about. Eat that, Ralph Reed.

And Jason provides depressing historical perspective on the electoral vote map.

Faith-based Reality (Bites) 

Today's "Jesus won't help you now" story comes via Ernie:

While dubya and his pals are crowing victory and presumably getting ready for a more theocratic union, evangelists elsewhere in the world are having a tougher time of it.

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


The US spends unthinkable amounts of money on its "War on Drugs," and the results are really impressive: untold numbers in jail, lives ruined for victimless nonviolent 'crimes' and billions (trillions?) of dollars spent every year, and no effect on usage rates. Oh, and the drug lords keep getting richer and richer.

And evolution is kicking in. The US's billion-dollar air-assault on Columbian (and other) growers seems to have produced an impressively herbicide resistant coca plant - that's where cocaine comes from. Whether this development comes from natural mutations selected for by farmers, or from a bioengineer's lab is irrelevant: it was bound to happen naturally regardless. And so Uncle Sam will spend another few _illion dollars on developing a new herbicide. Instead of funding job skills training, or healthcare, or (while we're at it) a tax cut. This will happen over and over until this War stops being politically useful. Which it probably won't.

Sigh of Relief 

After months and months of abuse, my new keyboard and mouse wrist pads arrived yesterday. It really is amazing how much less it hurts to type (not to mention to play solitaire). Yay for ergonomic science!

UPDATE: Speaking of solitaire, I wonder if there's any actual significance (or for that matter, external validity) to the fact that when something is bothering me, consciously or not, I am incapable of winning a game of Freecell. Hmm....

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Theme song of the Democratic Party:
Bjork - "Play Dead."
It's a pity, and one wonders how much longer they'll think it an effective strategy.


kak·is·toc·ra·cy n Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.

The big red Panic button I affixed to my keyboard some time ago seems pretty silly today. I keep pressing it, perfunctorily, to see if it helps. But I'm not panicking at all...I'm dead calm. See the lead quote at the top of the page.

Unlike so many others, I don't have a plan to leave the country (no relatives living abroad who could put me up, for starters, except a few dubious ones in Haiti). I love my job, and know I wouldn't find another one like it if I picked up and left; I don't have portable work-from-anywhere computer skills, and I skipped med school.

I know that if it comes down, I can fend for myself, fight and sneak my way out later, and end up somewhere not dead. But it all seems pretty pointless - we sit back and think about joining The Revolution or The Resistance or whatever, but we all know there won't be one. Things have changed.

I asked a Republican I know if she'd be happy to have Bush win even if it was by way of voter intimidation or outright ballot fraud. She said 'of course - that's politics.' A Democratic friend said 'well, this is just so important...I would rather win fairly, but in this case I guess we'll take what we can get.' This distinction should tell you all you really need to know.

Hopefully, I will resist the urge to say anything else about this election, since in all likelihood many or most of my opinions will soon be illegal.

Renal News 

University of Michigan researchers report the first trial of bioartificial kidneys in acute renal failure patients. The system, which seems to be a combination of traditional dialysis system supplemented with cultured kidney cells, improved outcomes for patients enrolled in the study. This research follows earlier trials of bioartificial livers.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

More Good Than Bad News 

The good news is, a new technique for starving cancer cells and the discovery of a completely novel RNA trafficking process have given scientists two potentially very powerful new weapons against cancer and HIV (respectively).

Researchers have found that some of that excess weight may be due to bacteria in your gut, and affects a newly recognized system that could also be harnessed as a treatment. Me? I'm stocking up on antibiotics.

The bad news is, like so many other drugs, Zocor and Lipitor are dangerous when mixed with grapefruit. This has been long suspected, but this is the first regulatory action to be taken. Don't expect similar action in the US anytime soon: the drug companies that run the place make these drugs will protest.

Feeling No Pain 

Pain, however unpleasant, is a critical part of our life: it lets us know when and where something is wrong, and encourages us to search for a solution. Quickly. What if you didn't feel pain? It seems like it might be nice, but as this story illustrates, it is anything but. This girl is going to have to live her life being ridiculously cautious, and she'll probably spend huge amounts of time checking herself, and visiting doctors to make sure nothing's wrong.

The idea is fascinating: the mutation is so specific, the deficit so precise, it reminds you how complex and finely tuned our bodies are. Hopefully, this condition can be researched in a way that will lead to a better understanding of nociception and better pain killers.

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