"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!!

Monday, February 28, 2005

Beware Mutant Foods! 

We all know about nutritional fads and trendy diets. Some of them may be less atrocious than others, but they all have one thing in common: they tell you that you must eat less ingredient Y and more ingredient X (which the diet expert/celebrity in question will happily sell you). Vitamin and mineral supplementation has been around quite a while, and probably is, at the most basic levels, a Good Thing. Goiters and Rickets are exceedingly rare in the US today, where they were epidemic a generation ago. However, today's frenzied pace of nutritional fads, coupled with the new US Government Dietary Guidelines, make for some seriously worrying food supplementation.

Vitamin C is in everything, vitamin A (Beta Carotene) too. The former in excess quantities can lead to kidney stones, the latter to liver problems and jaundice. The latest thing about to be added to foods are Omega-3-fatty-acids, famous for their protective effects on the heart and vascular system. Now, aside from my general aversion to overly processed and modified foods, there is a serious problem here: omega-3's only have a positive effect in very limited amounts. I used to work in a biochemistry lab doing research on just this topic: how much of what types of lipids (including omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids) were good for you, and how much of what types were bad. Omega-3's are very good for your heart, up to moderate doses, but with more than low-moderate doses, they begin to wreak havoc on the liver and kidneys. I can see this trend going so well.

So how do you eat healthy and stay fit and thin? Eat more! That's right, I said it: "Eat. More." It's just a matter of what you eat. Low-calorie-density foods, like soups and fruits and veggies, fill you up their high volume, but still have fewer calories. One apple is more filling than one cookie, but has probably half to a third as many calories. This is a theme of those new dietary guidelines, and the heart of what may be the next dieting trend. Not that I'm promoting any sort of fad diet at all...they tend to have a second feature in common, as well as the one stated above: as soon as you stop being 100% on them, you gain all the weight back. Which is worse for you than never having lost it (true fact - studies have shown that "yo-yo dieting" is extremely rough on your cardiovascular and digestive (read: insulin regulation) systems. So, you best bet is to eat all kinds of foods in healthy balance and moderate amounts.

(Cross-posted at DCFüd...comment there!)

Gender Relationships 

The continuing Larry Summers gender pseudo-scandal is a good place to start. In monkeys, the gender differences in performance disappear with age and training (which may be essentially the same thing). So, by implication, any gender differences that do exist should be relatively easily addressed.

Another study suggests that gay men read maps both using 'male' strategies such as direction and distance, but also using 'female' strategies such as landmarks, but that lesbians did not use 'male' strategies in addition to 'female' ones. If it is to be believed, this is an interesting finding; I have, however, some reason to doubt that it will not be born out by further research. First of all, it makes little sense that there would be a gender shift here for gay men and not for lesbians, whereas most previous research has found them in lesbians but not in gay men (though rarely reaching significance or conclusiveness). Second, this kind of study is so vulnerable to Type 1 Errors I just have a hard time buying it, especially with such a small n (80).

Whether gay or not, people seem to keep wanting to get married. Well, now you can add a severely gross element to your already-sickeningly-sweet wedding celebration, by having your wedding rings lovingly crafted from you and your partners' cultured bones. Now, as a scientist and probably the least squeamish person I know, I have to say: "Ew. That is nasty. Don't do that. Ew."

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Foxy Is as Foxy Does 

Some pearls of wisdom you can only learn from Rock Stars. I'm still a bit high off of Tuscadero's performance at tonight's Teen Beat 20th anniversary party at the Black Cat (an institution Teen Beat and in fact Tuscadero pretty much established in the early '90s). The show in general was great...Holland provided slick electronic pop over a slightly post-modern video montage; Hot Pursuit was fun and sexy, even if I couldn't actually hear the singer's voice most of the time; Aden, Flin Flon and Versus were each more impressive than the last. Then there was an impromptu(?) a capella performance from Butch Willis, who might be Wesley's white twin brother, and finally came the one we'd all been waiting for: Tuscadero!!!

The girl half of Tuscadero wears the years better than the boy half, but they all sound awesome together. There's a certain something to going to a show all by oneself, especially one that you know is a bigger deal for you than it would be for anyone else you know. You have to understand the role this band played in my earlier years. I fucking loved this band from the first time I heard "Mount Pleasant," which is where I spent much of my time growing up. "Freak Magnet," "Tickled Pink," and yes, even "Leather Idol" have long been theme songs of mine.

I stupidly didn't check my coat, and thus was less able to dance like I meant it, but none the less bounced and grinned like a fool and sang along to every word the whole damn time. I haven't had that much fun in ages. I hope they stay reunited for a few more shows...I'd like to see Melissa a bit more confident and aggressive, and Margaret happier more at the front of the stage (she's apparently gotten used to hiding behind her drumset in Hot Pursuit, but chick drummers are hot, so...).

UPDATE:What I apparently meant last night when I wrote "still a bit high off Tuscadero's performance" was more like "still drunk because the cute bartender kept 'upgrading' the rail drinks I ordered to the good stuff, and so I kept having more." I therefor take no responsibility for the fact that the above makes little actual sense, and is probably spelled wrong.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Hot Boy-on-Dog and Girl-on-Dog Action! 

American fundamentalist loonies are fond of saying that if we allow gays to marry, it will lead to people marrying their dogs. It seems that their antecedents are off. Four Indian children were married off to four dogs (of the opposite sex, but still) on Wednesday. Maybe now Rick Santorum's head will actually explode.

Prevention and Protection 

Today brings two bits of hopeful news in the fight against HIV. Researchers at the Mount Sanai School of Medicine report that a topical gel has potent in vivo antiviral activity against HIV and the Herpes Simplex virus. The gel is placed in the vagina and reduces viral activity 1000 fold. If this proves to be both safe and truly effective, it could be added to lubes and condoms for vastly improved safety. Cool.

Once HIV enters the body, the immune system attempts to neutralize it before it can enter cells to replicate and do its damage. Only a few people are known to have developed successful antibodies to HIV, and Scripps researchers have characterized one of them. This could be a crucial step in developing better treatments and, most excitingly, an effective vaccine against HIV.

But we still need a cure.


One of these:

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Good and Bad: Education 

I've written (and ranted) before about many problems with education in the US, particularly the bits involving naughty bits, and drugs. Faith-based sex-ed and DARE-style anti-drug programs ignore (at best) reality and science in favor of dogma and scare tactics. Well, the reality-based community may be starting to fight back: California school superintendent Jack O'Connell has urged all schools to drop Narconon, an anti-drug program tied to the Krazy Kult Church of Scientology, due to glaring scientific inaccuracies and falsehoods in the materials. Bully for him. When kids learn (they always do) that you lied about one thing in your anti-drug screed, then as far as they're concerned it was all lies, and thus disregard it entirely.

The American Psychological Association has released a study that shows, to no one's surprise, that comprehensive sex ed is the only kind effective in slowing the spread of HIV and teen pregnancy. We will continue spending all that money on abstinence-only programs, because results are less important than making the fundies feel comfortable on their moral superiority complexes.

Speaking of stupid, the oldest independent boarding school in the US will change its 242-year-old name for reasons that I feel could best be summed up by "we want to sound cooler." Granted, The Governor Dummer Academy makes for easy jokes. But then, if anyone concerned was clever enough, it could be pointed out that "Dummer" is a completely meaningless word in English: it's homonym, "Dumber," would be another story, but as it stands, well...clearly "oldest" doesn't mean "smartest."

A Fascinating Morning 

Am I the only one who thinks maybe reviving ancient microorganisms might not be the best idea? The cryogenics research these little guys could spawn is bloody cool, and they could give amazing insights into earlier life on Earth (or, for that matter, Mars), but I can't help thinking about all those sci-fi stories where things woke up and did major damage. Nyeh. Also, cryogenics has a creepy side: you get sick or old, they freeze you until a cure is available, and you wake up not knowing anyone or anything. And most aren't likely to pull it off as well as Faye Valentine. Preserving organs for transplant is the way to go for me.

Speaking of dubious cures, dental drilling for cavities is a miserable experience, but may soon be a relic. Japanese researchers have created a synthetic enamel that can fill the tiny gaps in your teeth that dentists traditionally have had to enlarge to fill properly. Yay!

In the States, we know it as Lou Gherig's Disease, and researchers continue to ponder how to deal with Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. New research is both wired and possibly very enlightening: it seems that soccer players have an elevated risk of the disease. The article mentions ALS clusters, but isn't clear about any theoretic or established risk elevation for ALS amongst athletes in general. If there was one, it'd kinda make me happy: at least I've got some health advantages over those damned jocks!!

I watched Lost last night, because I was bored. I've only watched it a few timed before, so can someone please explain why, near the end, the Japanese woman randomly started yelling at her husband in English (for starters), and why her otherwise thick accent was absent from that bit??

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


This is an absolutely astounding piece. The possibilities of this guy working with researchers (or, for that matter, being one) are mind-boggling. And the article makes me happy for another reason: it says, "He met the great love of his life, a software engineer called Neil, online," and doesn't make a single mention of anybody's gender. If only this was more common.

Marijuana to Remember? 

A new study from Spain's Cajal Institute goes against all kinds of intuitive logic: pot is famously bad for your memory, but it seems to protect against Alzheimer's Disease. I really want to read the full paper.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Dietary Thoughts 

It turns out that enjoying your food makes you get more out of it. It seems pretty obvious - we already knew that, say, the smell of good food can get your digestive systems going - but the interesting bit to me is at the end, where regulators decided not to publish the real truth because they were worried, essentially, about people enjoying themselves too much. Now, there are lots of complex issues here, and I'd like to know more about them, but my basic reaction is that you give people good and complete information, and eventually they'll be more likely to do what's good than if you feed them half-truths and spin.

The fact remains that no matter how much you enjoy it, there's only so much nutrition you can get out of a sno-cone; you have to eat healthy foods. I like healthy foods, but never seem to get them, because they cost more. Not so, says el WaPo. Now, we have to assume that you can get decent produce at your local Safeway...which many of us can't. Also, these things take more time to prepare than I can usually manage. I do big cooking jobs on the weekends, yeah, but during the week? I just want to come home and crash. I do not, however, eat fast food. Lots of canned tuna and frozen dinners yes, but only the (marginally) healthy ones. Now, how do I make myself enjoy it?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Vegan Shmegan 

I love animal foods, in almost any forms. Steaks, hot wings, yogurt, cheese, more steak, sushi, etc. I understand that some people have dietary reasons not to eat them, and even understand religious objections. But really, the meat-is-murder people make me crazy. I went to college with some of the crunchiest granola in the world, so maybe I'm biased, but really. You eat what's lower than you on the food chain. That's whole that whole ecosystem thing works.

Anywhom, a US Agricultural Research Service representative told a meeting of the AAAS that parents who force a vegan lifesyle on young children are harming their development. Now, I agree in concept, but the evidence she gave is rather lacking. Comparing vegan Americans (who are, by and large, rich and white) to starving Africans living on "starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples" is, to be blunt, totally fucking stupid. You can get *almost* all the nutrients a kid needs from eating a wide variety of vegan foods. Almost. Vegan advocates talk about taking vitamin supplements to get the rest; this is kinda stupid - I mean, first off, that's not real nutrition, and second, if you have to supplement your diet with pills, it's clearly not complete! Also, you're denying your kids exposure to all sorts of things - antigens, proteins, allergens, etc - that could lead to problems down the road. You may be denying your kid the chance to decide for him/herself whether to be vegan or not: if you don't get it as a kid, often your body 'forgets' how to digest things.

It's women who remain vegan while pregnant that are really awful, in my mind. There are so many things that are so dependent on proper nutrition during pregnancy, and well, taking pills just doesn't seem like a good answer for real health.

Friday, February 18, 2005

End-of-Week Review and Follow-Up 

You'd think with 5,499,999,999 other people around, dating would be easier.

Even if you're not a mutant freak like me, you should probably drink less more responsibly: you'll be skinnier!

Last Friday we found more brains, this Friday we get a 'sixth sense!' If only it was a more fun one.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Oh Good 

Because we need this to grow more like this. I understand the idea, that treating more people is better than treating fewer, but more-or-less randomly dispensing antibiotics just doesn't sound like a good idea. Allergies, for starters. But an interesting concept, on its own.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Many Kinds of Bad 

There's an old, probably apocryphal, story about a Chinese curse which says, "May you live in interesting times." Well, here we are; another semi-philosophical curse is ruined for a generation or three.

Gay and lesbian people are the current targets of much of the world's ire these days, particularly in the United States. Not even mentioning the looney toons of the so-called religious right directly (it's too easy), theoretically serious and mainstream groups are on the bandwagon. The president of the American Medical Association this week spoke out in defense of the New York College of Medicine's ban on an LGBT student group. This actually makes me so insanely angry I have little to say about it - go visit Graham for the story.

On the less-surprising-but-maybe-more-horrifying side, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAHMSA) has "requested" (meaning, actually, "ordered") that organizers remove the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" from the program of a federally funded conference on suicide prevention originally titled "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals." Because we don't want anybody actually knowing what it's about. The level of stupidity here are beyond my comprehension.

On the other side of things, the unintentionally bad, a new study indicates that older doctors tend to deliver lower quality care than younger ones. One explanation for this is the recent shift to "evidence-based medicine," in which older doctors may not be trained or comfortable practicing. There are a number of worrying aspects to this for me. First of all, measures of care quality are slippery (a good bit of my job revolves around them), and can sometimes be de facto advantages for younger doctors. This study is from a very well regarded group and published in a very reputable journal, so it's probably safe to assume that's not a major issue here.

Where it will become an issue is the second, and more major, of my concerns. Stories like this in the popular press stir up trouble (see, for instance, last night's episode of Scrubs). That's what they're designed to do: scary/shocking stories are really good for ratings and readership. The problem is, you get a generally clueless public clamoring for Something To Be Done, and you get hasty, counterproductive new rules and legislation. "Toughening up" recertification requirements might be a good idea, but not if it's based on measures that give unwarranted advantage to younger doctors. We already have a care provider shortage in this country, the last thing we need is all the ones with more than five years experience being put out to pasture. So what's the solution? I don't know, but it probably requires careful consideration and study and will be complicated and incomprehensible to the general public. In other words: politically infeasible. Oh well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I love NBC's Tuesday night lineup; it's all I really watch on TV: Scrubs, which is pure genius (the writers must have worked in an ER (unlike anyone ever associated with the show by that name) - it's perfect), followed by Committed (which is up and down, but is sometimes hilarious). Tonight was two really excellent episodes of each, capped off by the new MBNA commercial. I rarely remark on a commercial, but for some reason this one made me happy.

The scene: a rugby match. The players break scrum, and one passes to Gladys Knight, who, wearing a tight red dress, does the tight-red-dress-and-heels run and dives for a try. The announcer says something like: "They both have a lot of hits, but Gladys and the team have something else in common...the MBNA [whatevertheywereadvertising]!"

Search Protocol. 

A new study indicates that online dating much less useless than we thought. E-dating participants built a number of good relationships, and men seemed more into it than women (I wonder if this includes the roving hordes of gay men who only date off the internet?). I'd love to see the whole study, some day when I have more time and a longer attention span, because I'm curious as to how they studied things. I mean, self-reports, especially of potentially 'embarrassing' data - like relationship length, status, etc. - are not very reliable. But still interesting. I know a few people who've found their Significant Others online...I've also been on a few unfortunate internet dating adventures myself. Interesting.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Fun with Enzymes 

Graham has booze heavily on his mind. Also single on this eVil day, I thought about just getting really drunk to celebrate, but then I realized I'll probably do that anyways. The problem I've always had though, is that apparently my family went really overboard with this mutation, and it costs a lot to get me drunk.

That you exhale so much of the alcohol in your body makes this old thing even funnier.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Octobot Prime? 

Robotics experts are now examining the octopus for inspiration in the development of new flexible-armed robots. Now, I don't know about you, but I have enough trouble coordinating the movement of my mere two arms (let alone legs!), so I'm rather impressed by octopuses who can so elegantly manage eight. (Yes, that's right people: it's not octopi. -pus is Greek, not Latin.)

Eternal Stupidity 

Or possibly just Evil.

Yesterday, Canadian regulators removed the popular ADHD drug, Adderall XR, from shelves in Canada, over concerns that it was causing heart problems and deaths. Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, apparently less concerned with his citizens' well-being than with his pharmaceutical buddies PR, claims that the US Food and Drug Administration asked Canada not to do this.

Now. A: The US does not actually have the ability to dictate what other countries governments do, unless we invade them, which doesn't seem to be a great plan. B: $#@%^@##$!$!!!!!!!

Death Star 

We all love Star Wars. I mean, how can you not? Cheesey effects, mediocre acting, overdramatic fight scenes...so good! It's too bad they had to go and make those prequels. But now, life imitates fiction, as the Cassini probe sends back pictures of Mimas. Is this tiny moon really just an artificial satellite come to enforce the Galactic Empire's wishes?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I've posted here about a number of things that are now in the news again (or never really left). Not much of the ongoing discourse has been all that interesting to me, but here's a roundup of what I do like:

"Whole grain" and "healthy" are not the same thing: as the food industry dumps "whole grains" into their breakfast cookie cereals, some people have managed to notice that this is just a deceptive marketing ploy. Some of us didn't take so long to notice.

Health care costs consumed about 25% of the US GDP last year. That's a lot more than the 6-9% France, Canada and Japan pay for their universal coverage.

If Americans are going to be more active participants in their own healthcare, they need better information. And as we all know, the media is not helping.

Par example, this bit from Yahoo! News: The reporter allows a Galen (ultra-conservative think-tank) rep to tell him about how strict health insurance regulation in New Jersey makes a NJ worker's premium three times what it is in Iowa. Now, yes, those prices may be true, but: Iowa has a lower cost of living than Jersey. Jersey has more environmental health risks, like smog, traffic and dubious water supplies, which inflate premiums - it's called risk adjustment, and is the basis of insurance pricing - than Iowa. Scandlen also gives no indication that the two 25-year-old males in question are in the same job. A receptionist in NJ would pay much less for insurance than a janitor in Jersey. Again, relative risks, this time for the mode of employment.


Scientists have long struggled to explain Leprosy's decline in medieval Europe, but now may have a better idea: it seems that opportunistic TB killed lepers before they could pass that disease on. Now, if I had to pick, I guess coughing to death is better than slowly having all my bits fall off. Especially those that resemble a certain movie star.

Speaking of transformations and celebrities, bitch-queen of the ice, Tonya Harding, has left skating and is now a professional boxer. She looks scary. I doubt Nancy's coming to take personal revenge now!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


My job is being very persistent in its attempt to eat my life (why is the first metaphor I think of for my job a troll under a bridge?). Since I have to spend so much time fighting it off, and feeding it things I don't need - outdated data sets; unfortunate porn downloads; early 90's grunge records - I don't have time to write about all the really cool science happening these days. So, here's a quick round-up:

- Hiya Gaia! Coral reefs seem to create clouds to regulate the climate.
- The Edmonton Protocol could cure diabetes. Very cool!
- Brushing your teeth will not only stave off bad breath, but may help prevent heart attacks!
- Surprise, surprise, an unregulated "supplement" has lots of side effects! Melatonin shrinks your balls.
- Sorry Shaggy: pot affects cerebral blood flow, even after abstinence.
- Hope for a blindness cure!

Friday, February 04, 2005

(Growing) More Brains! 

It used to be, you had all the brain cells you'd ever have by the time you reached age 8 or so. Or at least, that's what we all used to think. A study released yesterday by the NIMH kicks the coffin of that idea once again. Interesting to me is the antidepressant effect...I'd not heard about that before. I wonder if it has the same effect in adolescents? Or infants, or the very old? Regardless, figuring out how to grow new nerve cells, particularly interneurons, would be a real leap forward in treating any number of very annoying diseases. Yay.

Two Ways to Find Nothing 

Well, OK, not really.

I don't get physics. I may lack some instinct or insight, and I certainly lack talent in mathematics; I just don't follow so much of it, and am mainly just in awe of physicists. I know, I know, we mustn't encourage them, but still. So they've discovered a bunch of the 'missing' matter in the universe, which sounds very cool and important but I am not sure really why. How did we know it was there if it was missing? I mean, gravitational pulls, et cetera, I get that, but what is so special about these baryons and why they were missing in the first place.

Something I do get, however, is the importance of vaccines, and of the scientific process. And while I was disappointed to read that VaxGen's rgp120 HIV vaccine has not succeeded in its trials - meaning, of course, that it didn't work, and people who probably unwisely thought they had a better chance got sick - it's encouraging to see that the process works. Also, methodological data from this trial will inform and improve future trials, and even vaccine designs. Here's to the next one!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another New Language 

Earlier this year, the results of a long-term study tantalized linguists with the development of a novel language among deaf Nicaraguan children. Now, a new study describes the development of another novel sign language, this time in more naturalistic settings than the Nicaraguans. Very, very cool stuff.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Smarter Than You Thought (or not) 

Some might call the Preznit a "birdbrain." It turns out that this may not be as potent an insult as previously believed. New research into avian intelligence indicates that many birds are, in fact, quite smart, only they accomplish this in very different ways than do mammals. Along with another recent study, this research could fundamentally change how we think about not only intelligence, but brain structure and function overall.

Economic theories have always annoyed me because they make assumptions that are so obviously false: that people are rational and fully informed about their decisions. Now, researchers have developed a zero-intelligence model of the stock market, which acts rather like the real thing. Which I think is not only fascinating, but should have some interesting implications for the future of modeling (i.e., my next project at work).

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