"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, March 25, 2005


I was in Hour Eyes today, getting my glasses prescription renewed for the first time in about five years. Something tells me 18 hours on an airplane isn't a good time to wear contacts. Anyways, they had a sign up, urging customers to buy the extra-special anti-glare lenses (they cost extra), with the following statement:
In most European countries, you have to have anti-glare lenses to get a drivers license. For instance, in Japan, 28% of eyeglass wearers use anti-glare lenses.
This lead me to two conclusions: first, the people in charge of marketing for Hour Eyes failed 1st grade geography; and second, I now know I have at least one thing in common with 72% of the Japanese population, which is that I did not buy anti-glare lenses.

I suppose it's good to know I have something in common with them, besides an appreciation of raw fish on top of rice, since I am about to spend the next two weeks living among them. I'm going on vacation. No science for two weeks. None!!! Au revoir.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hazing's Not So Bad... 

Well, about half of this team can stick their wieners on my face just about any time. They will, of course, need to be prepared for reciprocation.

Duh of the Day 

New research from Penn State finds that, get ready for a major surprise, better mental health care leads to less mental health expenditure.
The researchers found that expenditures for juvenile justice, the child welfare system and inpatient mental health systems were all higher in the non-system-of-care community.
All I can say is that, well, at least now there might be a minute change these programs will get more serious funding. It's equally plausible that OJ is innocent and Terri Schiavo might recover.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I got this spam in my mailbox today, and was captivated by the surreality of it all. I mean, it starts out hawking me a fake "roleex," and any number of fabulous misspellings, and then goes on a tirade about discrimination and racism and noise polltion in at least three pidgeons but no actual languages. Now they not only have illiterates writing spam, but schizophrenic illiterates too! Ay-ya! Note also that it was sent via my Oberlin forwarding address.

> From: "Pete Reilly"
> To:
> Subject: The new ganaration of repliccas is here
> aerate
> Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005 09:39:14 -0700
> The new craze is finnally here - one of the bast
> sites that can give you the things you've allways
> wanted to get - watchees, repliccas to be correct,
> of the bast brand s in the world! Impress you're
> lady
> with tag heur, roleex, and more. You naame it - We
> got it for you!
> mmmmm show me more
> http://cruelty.pqer.com/r/erika/beaujolais.htm
> but i for one offer you my greatest extension of
> gratitude for what you have done for this one.
> these norplant proposals aimed at poor african
> american women are based upon the concept that poor
> black women are deviant and thus less deserving of
> motherhood than white women.
> adoptable cats and kittens the event will offer
> feline seminars talks by leading.
> i m wondering if maybe it was part of suzyhart s
> post as i recall she posted under anonymous with
> her signature at the end i could be wrong but that
> s my best guess.
> dhani s last comment in the piece was i think this
> music has to be heard and i m not saying it s gonna
> like change your life or anything but it definitely
> changed mine.
> jeff não a viagem foi ótima e seu irmão e a noiva
> dele foram muito simpáticos em me buscar na estação.
> major changes by introducing error into christian
> teachings and christians are wondering and
> questioning quot what is going on? quot discernment
> of error is critical discernment conferences are.
> unfortunately i had to work that day so i couldn t
> attend the pre-party dinner gethering but i m so
> happy that you all had a wonderful time at it .
> asians tend to have lower overall cholesterol levels
> and lower incidence of coronary heart disease than
> whites but coronary heart disease is still the
> leading cause of death for all asian americans.
> so we had a cuppa tea and quot right quot said fred
> quot give a shout for charlie but it did no good
> well i never thought it would quot all right quot
> said fred.
> steve i have just logged onto your site the best
> beatles site on the web - by far!!! after being at
> the cavern last night myself.
> so that s my personal encounter with wes no real
> connection but glad to have some contact with a
> person i admire so much.
> this guy is one of my absolute heroes he plays
> really awesome ambient music on his pedal guitars
> zithers and is known for his beautiful-sounding
> homemade metal percussion instruments.
> our tax dollars would be better served in promoting
> the creation of more high speed trains which would
> decrease the need for travelers to use short costly
> noisy commuter flights.
> hagrid fez menção de nos separar mas lembro-se que
> dumbledore o pedira para me acompanhar em um
> encontro e não para me atrapalhar recuou e ficou
> observando após um certo tempo ele me soltou.
> slavery segregation and racism nbsp trusting the
> health care system ain t always easy! nbsp an
> african american perspective on bioethics.
> deborah prothrow-stith m d deadly consequences quot
> an american tragedy quot nbsp.
> he he he he he everybody is writing so do i thank
> you guy xi gwe you are doing a good job thun thun
> oslo.


Maybe your great-great grandmother will be of use to you after all. Geneticists examining Arabidopsis mutants focused on revertant offspring - that is, offspring of double-mutant parents that mysteriously revert to ancestral (unmutated) form - believe that the plants are somehow inheriting genes from ancestors beyond their parents. Previous researchers have just assumed that revertant plants were due to errors or contamination, but this group looked at them. This is so freakin' cool!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sexy Smelling Gay Teenagers 

Unfortunately, this isn't going to be one of those posts. My life is not that interesting.

A new study from Cardiff University examines scent peptides released by males which boost (or bust) their attractiveness to females. That this happens isn't news, but identifying the specific molecules involved, rather than just calling them mysterious pheromones, is a step.

A Cornell University professor has written a new book, in which he claims that (a) teenagers don't link their sexuality to their identity, and that (b) gay adolescents will, in the near future, stop needing or wanting to identify themselves as 'gay.'

I haven't read the book, but for any number of reasons these hypotheses strike me as either stunningly naive, or outright daft. First off, people often say they've 'experimented' (stupid term...where can I read their lab reports?) with homosexuality, but don't consider themselves gay because they're not ready to take that step - this is especially common in young people. Secondly, teenagers don't generally talk about their "identities" the way academics and political activists do - they're too busy being teased or bullied or stuffing nerds into lockers. Also, is anyone else bothered by an obviously-older-than-thirty professor being called an "expert on teenage sexuality?" Sounds dirty to me, or at least of dubious legality.

Road Rage 

As if sitting in traffic on your morning commute wasn't bad enough, a new study indicates that exhaust fumes are linked to oxidative DNA damage. The study is small and in a very heavily exposed population (toll booth attendants), but it does provide yet more evidence that we ought to be driving less.

Monday, March 21, 2005

In Anticipation 

I leave for Japan on Friday. Travis is helping me prepare.

what flavor pocky are you?

[c] sugardew

Very, Very Good News 

Last week, something happened in the world of science that may well catalyze some of the most significant changes in the way research happens since the advent of peer review. I was too busy at work, but am totally appalled that others also seem to have missed it.

In an essay in the open journal, PLoS: Biology, a senior member of the Wellcome Trust, Robert Terry, announced that all research funded by the Trust (one of the world's largest funding sources), will be required to make their publications freely available on a website analogous to the NLM's PubMed Central.

This is HUGE. Regulars here have noticed how I often link to abstracts (or worse yet, press releases) instead of original articles; this is because these days you have to pay very steep subscription fees to access almost all scientific journals. Even when I have access to things from my own or work subscriptions, I know most other people don't...if this kind of open access becomes more common (and, eventually, the standard), that will change. More importantly though, the entire nature of scientific research will change: not only will it open doors for amateurs and interested, non-professional parties to learn about new discoveries, it will also allow researchers to spend scarce funds on other things, and, most intriguingly, allow for more real-time publication of findings, and quicker turnaround in follow-up.

There will be downsides too: more research will get published, and we'll have to spend more time weeding through things we don't want. Unscrupulous researchers will find ways to peddle their wares in the new system just as they have in the old (the lag time, before that happens, however, could prove interesting). Overall, I am extremely pleased with this result, and hope others soon follow suit.

QOTD (via b.) 

"A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his

"If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it
would rather be a man -- a man of restless and versatile intellect --
who, not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of
activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real
acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and
distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by
eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."

- T.H. Huxley

Friday, March 18, 2005

Good News Friday! 

I should look in to this whole 'moderate drinking' concept. In addition to various other benefits, moderate drinkers seem to be less likely to develop diabetes. For those teetotalers who do develop the disease, there's also some good news today: the FDA has approved a new drug, Symlin, to treat diabetes Types I and II. Hopefully it's been tested more thoroughly than certain other products.

UCLA researchers have identified two compounds which seem to boost immune cells' ability to suppress HIV. Every little bit helps.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

13 Things 

The New Scientist posted a very interesting summary today, called "13 Things That Do Not Make Sense." Many of the things of course involve physics, which as an whole never made much sense to me. I'm generally in awe of physicists...I can't get my head around the math, or something, and it all just sounds So Cool.

Also on the list is the placebo effect, both a useful tool and an annoyance for researchers in the medical realm, and the strange dilution effects seen in examinations of homeopathics. It's not mentioned, but the big scandal on that topic is, of course, the idea of "water memory."

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Not Quite the Results Hoped For 

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Dream Anatomy 

No, not that kind, you sickos! The National Library of Medicine has put up a page of anatomical drawings, ranging from the fanciful and fantastic to the scientific and stunning, dating from the year 1500. Very cool stuff!!

Schizophrenic Sycnchronicity 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I had a summer job at the NIH doing schizophrenia research. It was a lot of fun, and very interesting, and I thought that was what I wanted to do for a career. Then I discovered that I actually didn't want to (a) go to med school, or (b) spend my life in a lab. But before that, I got to be involved with tons of fascinating research, including one project examining the cholinergic system in schizophrenics.

Yesterday morning I got a surprise in my inbox: a near-final manuscript of the paper on the work I did all those years ago,
Reduced density of cholinergic interneurons in the ventral striatum in schizophrenia: an in situ hybridization study.
I had a few parts in the experiment. The first was doing in situ hybridizations on neuroleptic-treated rats, which we used to control for treatment effects on the schizophrenic human brains. When you're looking for the basic pathophysiology of a condition, the part that's inherent to the disease, it's important to make sure there are as few competing variables as possible. Since almost any diagnosed schizophrenic has been medicated at some point before they die, we wanted to be sure that any changes we found in their brains were due to the disease, not to the treatment. So, we treated rats with common antipsychotic medication, and then examined their brains the same way we did the humans'...and found that there was no drug effect on our target. Yay. I also assisted in analyzing the results of the hybridizations on human samples: counting silver-stained mRNA strands under a microscope. Very tedious, but interesting nonetheless. And now (finally) getting published!

The synchronicity bit comes because yesterday evening, I went to the comedy open-mic at SoHo, where the show was made very interesting by some crazy guy talking nonsense and harassing the performers, many of whom took the opportunity to liven up their sets by making fun of him, and some of whom eventually tired of his antics and kicked his ass out the door.

So, my day began and ended with crazy people.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Health Food! 

The Beeb is reporting that kimchee sales are booming in Asia on reports that it helps combat bird flu in chickens. I can't say that I find the study results (should they prove real, which is another issue) at all surprising - ginger and garlic are well known for their antiviral and immunostimulant properties. Plus, I love kimchee.


I guess it's nice to know that my hobbies have amounted to something!

Bacardi 151
Congratulations! You're 141 proof, with specific scores in beer (60) , wine (150), and liquor (95).

All right. No more messing around. Your knowledge of alcohol is so high
that you have drinking and getting plastered down to a science. Sure,
you could get wasted drinking beer, but who needs all those trips to
the bathroom? You head straight for the bar and pick up that which is
most efficient.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
You scored higher than 75% on proof
You scored higher than 87% on beer index
You scored higher than 99% on wine index
You scored higher than 95% on liquor index
Link: The Alcohol Knowledge Test written by hoppersplit on Ok Cupid

Friday, March 11, 2005

La France! 

Du vin, mousse au chocolat, l'escargot, et Le Petit Prince. As if we needed another reason to love France, we get legal movie sharing! I've translated it below, because that's the kind of guy I am.

A web surfer, sued for having downloaded or have copied nearly 500 films from the Internet or off of DVD, was released by the Court of Appeal of Montpellier, which ruled against the complainants, 17 cinema giants.
The court confirmed the judgment given by the Court of Bankruptcy of Rodez (Aveyron) last October. In its decision, the court recalls that "when a work is released, the author cannot prohibit copies or reproductions strictly reserved for the private use of the copyist and not intended for a collective use", being based on the L122-3 articles to 5 of the code of French penal procedure.
This release constitutes a first breach in the field of the downloading, said Me Joelle Glock, one of the defense lawyers, estimating that the supreme court of appeal will have to weigh in on this business. The public ministry had required a fine of 5,000 euros before the Court of Appeal, following the example of Rodez which had made call of the decision of release.
Prosecuted for "counterfeit of work of the spirit", the defendant, an informatics student at the time, had downloaded on the Internet or had copied from lent DVDs 488 films of all styles. He had admitted to have watched these copies in the presence of one or two friends and to have lent burned CDs to some buddies. It was not done for any collective use, estimated the Court of Appeal.
Among the seventeen complainants, appear companies such as Columbia Pictures Industries, Disney Enterprise, Dreamworks, Gaumont Columbia, MGM Entertainment, Paramount and Warner Bros. The Trade Union of video editors and the national Federation of the film distributors joined.
"Consumers, not pirates:"
At the time of trial, in February, one of the defense counsels, Eric Zapata, had affirmed that his client had the right to copy films on a purely private basis, being based on a European directive of May 2001. He recalled that any Net surfer, while buying a computer or even a CD-ROM, paid a tax for private copy, before concluding: the Net surfers are thus not pirates, just consuming users. "This trial could set precedent, alleviate the debates, and especially reduce the number of suits.
On the other hand, for Christian Soulié, counsel for the plaintiff, the confirmation of the release would risk endangering the whole of the cultural sector: "Downloading is not inevitably illegal. What is illegal, it is to download starting from illicit sources. And the first copy of films on the download sites is always illegal." Currently registered in Assedic, the defendant, who required anonymity, is very relieved. "They demanded 15,000 euros in interest. Finally, I do not owe anything. But considering the commonness of downloading, the law must be changed."
However, the young man, ensuring that he always goes to the cinema and downloads only on legal sites, does not want to incarnate the symbol that one can do anything.

Healthy Lifestyles 

Our health is, in the end, more important than any other basic item in our lives. Being unhealthy decreases productivity, quality of life, and satisfaction with things in general. A prime example of this comes from a natural experiment in English schools: districts where schools participated in a program to provide "health, fitness, and social skills" training improved more quickly on academic measures than did non=participating districts.

Without more details, I immediately wonder if the participating schools weren't also participating in other efforts, or making other simultaneous changes, which might skew the result. But even in that case, it's clear that healthier kids make better students.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

More on the Drug War 

I must say I agree heartily with Patrick's assessment of this ad. But then, in the long run it probably isn't any less effective than lying about it. Just more obviously stupid in the short run. And then there's the whole cultural appropriation/colonialism issue. Ugh.

Also, a quick side note. It should be obvious that I think the drug laws and policies are, at best, stupid, and more realistically, very harmful. But (yet) another argument against them is that they don't make economic sense: not only do we spend trillions of dollars a year fighting "The War on Drugs," but we also lose all of the economic activity that goes on in the black market. If drugs were legal, you could tax their development, production, and sale. The transactions on the black market are essentially a black hole: it involves exchanges of goods/money between two individuals, and does not really result in a net gain (or loss) to society and the wider economy. Plug all that back into the economy, and we could have tax cuts and social security!


We all know and loathe the phenomenon: you hear a song, and for the rest of the day you can't stop hearing the same three measures of it over and over in your head. Dartmouth College researchers looked into a part of this phenomenon, indirectly of course, by examining which brain areas are activated when listening to a song that is interrupted. They found that familiar song triggered more specific activation, and that the effect was much stronger for lyrical music than instrumental. That's what strikes to me: we know that humans are 'programmed' to respond very strongly to language, but how far does that go? What about emotional responses to music? Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" is undoubtedly the most emotionally charged piece of music ever. I can't wait to read the full text article.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Juxtaposition (Pre-Coffee* Ramblings) 

Sometimes on the internet, things get thrown together in funny ways. This morning on the BBC News website, the leftmost column showed a headline for a gallery of medical quackery, and in the rightmost column a self-test of "sex I.D." to "Find out how your mind works!"

Not to be put off, I took the test. My results came up strongly in the "female" direction, despite my rather obvious, uhm, maleness. I scored poorly on the 3-D rotation task because I ran out of time...a proper test would control for that. The finger length bit is deceptive - the scores are referred to an absolute average, but of course no one but politicians uses an absolute average for anything. Most interesting was my dichotomy on the emotion-versus-systemizing bit: I scored heavily female on empathy, and heavily male on systematizing. My conclusion from this little experiment is: our brains' "sex ID" is a range of things, and no one fits the profiles perfectly.

*Note: By "pre-coffee" I actually mean "between cups," but the first has worn off so it's all the same thing.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Beer and Bellies 

A new marketing campaign by brewers in the UK will attempt to change womens' perceptions that beer is more fattening than wine or cocktails. If you look purely at calories per ounce, this is largely true, which is the kind of lovely oversimplification advertisers love.

They're addressing another part of the problem, that beer is usually served in larger quantities than other drinks, by serving in new "long-stemmed, third-of-a-pint" glasses. Because everyone knows that women love anything "long-stemmed," and also they have superior verbal ability so as to not feel stupid ordering "a third of a pint." It just doesn't roll off my tongue the same way, but that could be my male non-verbalness.

One question: will a third of a pint of my dark, manly ale oversweet, flowery pilsner really have less calories than my usual Stoli and [club] soda? Probably not, and I'll have to have nine of them to get any effect. But again, this is a Good Thing from the brewers' point of view!

Folk Medicine 

"Laughter is the best medicine," says the cliché. Maybe not the best, but it certainly seems to help. Researchers have found that a good laugh improves circulation and may be beneficial to arterial health.
But will my uncontrollable giggle fits really save me from my love of red meat?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Nerd of the Week of March 7 

BoingBoing pointed me to this week's Nerd, who has created a visual recognition program to keep cats from bringing things in the cat door with them. By 'things' they of course mean 'smaller animals to torture.' It's called the Flo Control project, Flo being a punnily named cat.

I wholly approve of technology being used to prevent torture. If only our government weren't so inclined to the contrary.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Quiz Show 

OK, I admit it.

To be, or not to be?

What is Your Shakespearian Tragic Flaw?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Sensationalist Slag 

Last week, the Minneapolis/St. Pail City Pages ran an article that might get its author 'disappeared'. Because that's apparently what we do in the US these days. The piece details a number of statistics to debunk the American Jingo's cry of "We're Number 1!" Many of them are dubious and easily taken out of context (if I had time, I'd go thru one by one, but I don't, so please help me in comments), but others I know to be real. It's depressing. The massive fictional finalism of America: we're brought up to believe all these things, about freedom and democracy and liberty and progress, upon which we build a base of patriotism, only to grow up and hear about how we torture our own citizens and bully our neighbors. Amongst other issues. Pisses me off.

Nail in the Coffin? 

If only. The Yokohama study looks promising in the direction of dismissing, once and for all, claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism. It is not, however, all that convincing to me in and of itself: for starters, the time frame is just to short - vaccination stopped in 1993, the data only goes to 1996, with a diagnostic cut-off of age 7 that is not very good. I'm sure follow-up studies will confirm this, but only because there's never been any serious evidence of a link in the first place.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Give 'Em The Finger 

A couple years ago, a really fascinating study found that gay men and lesbians had lower index finger to ring finger length (2D:4D) ratios than their heterosexual counterparts, suggesting exposure to elevated levels of testosterone in utero for the homos. This result is fascinating, even though the study has not, to my knowledge, been replicated or further elucidated, and is thus to be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

Fast forward to today, when scientists have found that a lower 2D:4D ratio (and thus higher androgen exposure) correlates to more aggressive behavior. This doesn't fit with stereotypes of gay men, but does with stereotypes of lesbians. It is interesting to note that gestational testosterone levels do tend to increase down the birth order (higher for younger siblings), as do homosexuality and some forms of personality disorder. Hmmmm......

Both of these studies demonstrate rather nicely one of my favorite things about research: creative data gathering techniques. It's hard impossible to know directly how much testosterone was present in a person's mother's womb, but by finding a permanent physical train (finger length ratio) affected/determined by that amount, you can retrospectively infer the amount. So cool!

DARE to Fail 

Along last week's take-down of Narconon, the real biggie of the stupid anti-drug propaganda machine also took a big hit: a University of Florida study indicates that Nancy Reagan's "Just Say 'No'" approach is not very effective for kids resisting peer pressure. The study only had a modest (by no means miniscule) 129 participants, but looks pretty robust.

The whole peer pressure mythos has always been at the forefront of things about the War on Drugs that piss me off: my friends certainly never needed to pressure me into trying things, for starters. I also never saw (even amongst my friends at Wilson and Lincoln) the kind of active pressuring you see in DARE ads...it was always subtler, and more often self-inflicted. Kids tell themselves they won't be liked if they don't get high. That insecurity, like the desire to try taboo things, is part of being a kid. Our policies need to address these, among other - like the one where most of the drug laws are stupid and should be repealed - realities to have any positive effect.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Since one of my favorite courses in college was one entitled "The Psychobiology of Emotion," it should come as no surprise that I think this study is really cool. It appears that Americans tend to smile in a less genuine fashion than Englishmen. That that doesn't fit (at all, really) with cultural stereotypes is less important to me than the lead scientist saying that "George Bush’s smile emerged as cynical rather than pleasurable." Sound familiar?

Another Cool Gadget 

I want an invisibility cloak. Think of all the mischief one could make! Of the free movies! Easily slipping out the door to escape unwanted visitors! Mwahahahahahaa! But seriously, how much do you love the fact that the abstract, in the venerable Nature, likens the device to a Romulan device and by episode name? That's class.

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