"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, June 30, 2005

Bad News Double Whammy 

Mississippi is not a very healthy place to live. It's ranked very low (last?) in many health and healthcare demographics relative to other States, among other things. Today, we learn that if you have HIV/AIDS in Mississippi, you are in even bigger trouble: the state's new Medicaid policy limits prescription coverage to two name-brand drugs, HIV care requires at least three.

One of the reasons Mississippi has so many health problems is that it is very poor, and poor people can't afford healthy food or 'lifestyle' diets, like South Beach. While I'm not a great fan of low-carbing, that type of diet just got a major boost: high carbohydrate intake seems to be related to increased glaucoma risk. Not a surprise, since high-carb diets are a risk factor for diabetes which is a risk factor for glaucoma. D'oh, ya'll.


I figured I needed to see/hear this band everyone keeps talking about. So, I* decided to invite them to play my neighborhood.

On July 9th, come to the Marie Reed School Plaza for the Adams Morgan Night Bazaar, 1PM-11PM featuring arts, crafts, food, and acoustic music from a variety of sources including Monopoli!

No Sleep 

I used to be so good at not sleeping...I could go on one or two hours a night for weeks, and then 'catch up' with a whopping 8-9 hour binge. Then, I graduated from college. I can still manage on not enough sleep, but I really notice it. I get so much less done these days, wasting a third of my time unconscious!

All this is why I'm now jealous of baby dolphins. It seems that they, and baby orcas, don't sleep for the first few months of life. More amazing is that their mothers seem to sleep at all during this period either. I don't know many human mothers who've slept much during their kids first few months of screaming either, but still. I'm not sure I believe that this is entirely accurate: lots of animals are able to cycle-sleep, that is, have part of their brain sleep while they swim or whatever else. Either way, it's impressive.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Celebrity Watch! 

This is a short, unscientific and wholly inappropriate post mostly for the two friends of mine from college who read this blog.


"The Cookie" goes to rehab. No big surprises there.

Christmas, Cancer and Watersports 

What do these things have in common, you ask? Other than being fun only to particularly interesting individuals? Well, from the Department of Don't-Try-This-at-Home, we learn that mistletoe extract seems to be an effective treatment against bladder cancer. I'm surprised not to have heard of this before, given how advanced a trial it is...but please note kids: Do. Not. Eat. Mistletoe.
Does it work against other cancers?

Pot Shopping 

I love my nonstick cookware for two main reasons: (1) it was a gift and so I didn't have to spend a fortune on it; (2) it takes very little time to clean, which is good because I am perpetually rushed and lazy.

There seems to be a big problem with this lovely scenario, however: the nonstick agent seems to be more carcinogenic than previously thought. And if the current EPA (that of ignored particulate emissions standards and laissez-faire water testing) is actually pressing an investigation against a major corporation, I'm inclined to me more nervous than usual.

Hey Amazon - when's the next Le Creuset sale?

Got Milk? 

From the Department of Paragandoia, a report was published yesterday, allegedly against the wishes of HHS, suggesting that terrorists could kill as many as 250,000 by putting a seemingly tiny amount of botulism toxin into a milk truck. If HHS did really try to block publication and the National Academies said 'no way,' I'm happy that at least one small portion of The Media is still willing to stand up to the administration. My guess is that HHS didn't try very hard, as yet another scare, so perfectly timed to coincide with Dubya's latest war-is-peace speech, is about as good paragandoia as you could hope for.

I know a few people at DHS read this blog, so if I mysteriously die of botulism poisoning, you all will know what happened.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Family Values 

Generous family leave time in Denmark and Iceland is having a major impact on quality of life for parents and infants alike. In the US, however, despite all the talk about "family values" in the media, most mothers have scant leave time available (mostly unpaid), and are often pressured not to take it anyways.

There's more to say here, but I'm too tired to say it. Comment away!

Get Yer Vitamins! 

I know a number of people who, at the beginning of cold season or even just all the time, take mega doses of vitamin C in the hopes that it will make them less prone to catching a cold. I know many more (myself included) who start pounding the vitamin C as soon as we get sick.

It turns out that we may all be wasting our money and unduly increasing our risk of kidney stones (an effect of vitamin C overdose): a new meta-study suggests that vitamin c supplementation does not reduce the likelihood of catching cold, and only reduces the duration of a caught one by a half a day. The study did indicate that taking vitamin C was beneficial to those regularly exposed to high physical stress, such as skiers or runners. They don't seem to have addressed other types of stress.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Zombie Dogs! 

Oh, goody.

Via Slashdot, we learn that scientists have apparently reanimated dead dogs. I hope this is a hoax, because cloned kittens are creepy enough!


Today's SCOTUS decision on the Ten Commandments is not as decisive as I'd prefer for any number of reasons. It is, however, a Very Good Thing, and the Panda's Thumb points out that this is true for more reasons than I'd thought of.

The ruling in McCreary pretty holds tightly to the Lemon test for the establishment clause, which many feared would be swept away by the conservative Court to make way for further encroachment of Religion* into our government. Upholding this test should bode well for future decisions about such monstrosities as "Intelligent Design" and abstinence-only sex ed.

Here's hoping.

* I capitalize Religion here because the forces currently working to institutionalize religion in the US want one fairly specific type of religion.

Death and Destruction! 

How broken is our healthcare system? Well, it's certainly not up to handling a flu outbreak. Though most people think of the flu as an annoyance, something you get and are miserable with for at most a week, it is really one of the most dangerous pathogens on Earth. Periodic flu epidemics - 1918 being the last really major one - have killed huge numbers of people. It mutates fast, spreads faster, and kills.

While the young, old, and immunocompromised are most at risk, a nasty strain (like the Avian Flu) can take out many healthy people too. We've known for some time that our epidemic response capabilities in the US are sorely lacking, but even under the alleged spectre of bioterrorism, BushCo hasn't demonstrated any interest in improving things. Oh yeah, most of the people who die in epidemics are poor. Not the GOP's bag.

Friday, June 24, 2005

More Cruise Madness 

Even though I said I wouldn't, I can't not comment on this. Apparently, Tom Cruise has decided that through Scientology, he knows more about psychiatry and the treatment of depression and ADHD than does anyone else. He claims that he "knows the history of psychiatry" and has had the opportunity to "evaluate and read" the research on these subjects.

Now, I know as well as anyone that you don't need a degree to understand stuff. But at least a Bachelor's helps. I really wonder when, in all these years of being a movie star and cult iconrecruiter, Tommy boy has had time to learn anywhere near enough about psychiatry and biochemistry to understand the science behind drugs like Ritalin or Prozac.

History Lesson 

The unending stupidity of US drug policy continues not to end. Duh. CBS provides a history of the use of marijuana as medicine that I wish more people would think about, but doesn't give quite a complete story. Biochemical evidence suggests that C. sativa has been a staple crop for pretty much all of human history.

Dubious Honors 

Teresa points us to a list of geographic 'claims to fame.' I'm not entirely sure why, for instance, Russell Springs is so proud of being the "Cow Chip Capital of Kansas," but whatever floats their boats (or tractors), I suppose.

I just saw this shot from long ago on my Flickr page, and I want to go dancing.

Manly Scents 

A while back we learned to make people more trusting by spraying them with oxytocin. Today we learn yet another way to manipulate men (as if there weren't enough!): the smell of male pheromone androstenol makes them more receptive to already-masculine stimuli.

The study was about marketing - men exposed to the pheromone were more likely to choose Mens Health over Allure or Natty G - but I wonder how far the effect extends? Might androstenol affect the human version of fru? Because there's nothing more masculine than men.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Bionic Man 

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has announced that it has a bionic man. If he's all he's being put out there to be (or even some of it), this is a bloody amazing step. My brain, however, is not bionic, and can't think of anything more interesting to say right now.

Also, off-the-internet congrats to JK and his lab, for apparently finding a new protein in slime mold.


I want a puppy, but my current living situation is not ...errr... puppyable. Perhaps one of these would be a solution? Such a cool technology, and I'm sure they're cute in their own way, but I think it'd be creepy. I'm not quite ready for a robotic pet.

The All-Seeing Eye 

This is a cool discovery, but I periodically get worried about stories coming true, having read Childhood's End a few too many times.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More Cruise Madness 

I love Queerday, I really do, but this is just bloody offensive. First of all, faux-ancé or not, Cruise is really a semi-washed-up, mostly-overrated, actor-turned-cultist*, and his antics were cuter when he was.

I understand the fun of celebrity-watching, and am fully in favor of it - it's more fun than watching myself self-destruct, after all - but the whole is-he-gay-or-isn't-he is, after the first three tries, just more self-loathing crap from the "gay community." It's the sort of shit you expect from some right-wing nutjob's smear campaign, not from people trying to gain acceptance.

So please Queerday, and Advocate, and Out, (a) stop outing people and (especially (b)) spreading stupid rumours about people. How 'bout you direct some of that vitriol at the Tina-queens, barebackers, and Log Cabin Republicans who are negatively affecting our real lives? What a novel bloody concept.

*Granted, I've never accomplished any of those things, but still.

From the Desk of Captain Vera Obvious, Esq. 

The ACLU has released a report saying that the US government's response to 9/11 is hurting science. My issues with this thesis are mostly that it's placing the blame in the wrong place: that is, with the symptom and not the cause.

The dubya hegemoadministration is fabulously bad for science, as we all know, because they are ideologues. 9/11 is the tool they've used to distract the public from this fact, and to push their totally unscientific policies through on all of us.

But we knew that already.

We also know that pharmaceutical marketing to the public has a staggering effect on the healthcare system (almost all of it negative, unless you're a pharmaceutical company). The AMA has finally noticed that this might be the case, and is beginning a study to make sure.

Helpful Friend? 

Yes, I'm being snarky. There is no way that using an apparently harmless virus co-infection to kill cancer and HPV could possibly go wrong. Nope, none whatsoever.

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Linguistic Meme Alert! 

Chris has coined a new term that I would love to see spread about (language is the bestest meme of all): faux-ancé. This is what Tom and Katie are.

To The Rescue 

I just think this is pretty cool. It may or may not be entirely true, but it's the kind of story I'd be perfectly OK having spread around with those who would kidnap and rape little kids: "careful, the lions will get you." More likely than a law getting passed, and probably about as effective.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Three Halves 

If you name a hermaphroditic crab "Springer," what do you call a six-legged, two-penised puppy? Ong Fatt,, apparently. As much as I want a puppy, I'm not sure I could handle that much responsibility. Good think monks are known for such things.

Size Matters? 

VCU researchers have published a study which claims to firmly establish a link between brain size and intelligence. Without access to the full text (or time to deal with it) I can't say for sure that this is as much a load of crap as it sounds, but I'm willing to guess that it is.

There are centuries of bad studies making this claim, all of them seeking a nice, clean, easily measurable way of predicting a person's aptitude. All of them have proved bobkis. If you measure brain size the right way I am certain that it correlates to intelligence. I'm also certain that if you measure it in another right way it correlates to a preference for Chianti over Chablis, or dying your hair green in high school.

It's all in what you measure.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Paging Dr. Einstein 

This article totally baffles me. It says that scientists have developed a new model that would allow time travel but only time travel that doesn't change things in the past. It says,
"You wouldn't be able to kill him because the very fact that he is alive today is going to conspire against you so that you'll never end up taking that path leads you to killing him."
Does that sentence even mean anything? In as much as I am at a loss for physics, this seems totally ludicrous. If you send a particle back in time, it is there in the past when it should have been in the present/future. If nothing else, it would have to have a (even ever so slight) gravitational effect or disrupt the wind just so, etc. Then, if you're talking about sending a whole person back, well, aside from the air they breathe that otherwise wouldn't get breathed until the present/future, other people might, um, notice.

Anyone care to help my brain hurt less here?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Universal Cell Phone 

As cell phone technology advances, we have camera phones, internet phones, MP3-jukebox phones, PDA phones and the like springing up all over, and getting better every year.

What else could our portable gizmos be used for? One idea, starting to be quietly murmured in Health IT circles, is integrating them with electronic medical records, allowing patients to handily keep and communicate needed information as they move about the globe. The medical utility of cell phones doesn't stop there - even now, cell phones allow patients to call 911 more quickly from remote areas (say, on the road), and easier communication between mobile units and hospital-based medical control officers.

Korean telecom scientists have begun to go a step further, designing cell phones to act as medical devices, apparently treating indigestion, hangovers, and repelling mosquitoes. The latter sounds the most plausible to me, and also the most desirable. I'm always wary of easily overused cures.

Service providers are advancing too, although in slightly odd ways I'm not sure will work: BT has just introduced a crossover mobile-landline service in the UK, which allows customers to link their cells, via Bluetooth, to hubs in their homes and make calls by landline there. Interesting idea, but I get the impression it's going to need substantial revision to work well.

Half and Half 

Springer is different from the other crabs. It must have been hard in crab-school, growing up as ze did of two minds and two bodies as well. You see, due to a rare mitotic errordifference, Springer is half male and half female. Literally. Split down the middle. One day ze wants to mate with females, the next ze wants to eat them as competitors. I wonder how long it will be until the wingnuts organize a boycott of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science for promoting Springer's Deviant Lifestyle?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Who Says Lamarck Is Dead? 

A while ago, I linked to an article postulating that weakening of the jaw muscle in early hominids allowed for the explosive brain growth we've seen over the last couple million years. Today, Boingboing points out an article arguing that our brains got bigger to coordinate the various new things we had to do - like throwing rocks and navigating complicated social networks.

While this is certainly an interesting idea, I take serious issue with it for two main reasons. First, it's well established that bigger brains are not necessarily better, at least after a certain point. Second, and more important, is that this is not scientific logic. If a human who happened to have a bigger or more effective brain that allowed him to throw rocks or navigate his neighbors better, and that bestowed him a survival advantage, the 'big-brain' genes would thrive. Traits exist and are selected for or against by the environment, an organism's needs do not shape its evolution.

Further Resistance 

People have gotten pretty stirred up about the "MARC Marshals" poster I pointed out last week. And for that I am glad...it really bothers/ed me that no one had been making a stink about it before, as it's some scary shit. It makes me really happy (not to mention makes for a good ego boost) that the Baltimore Sun has taken up the story (requiem for my "anonymity"), even just as "internet buzz," because that means more people will start thinking about it.

It's not the art style that bothers me - I rather think it's a pretty poster - but rather the content of the message that bothers me. It fosters the kind of mentality that leads to xenophobia, hate crimes, and the further denigration of our (relatively) free society. That those responsible for it are "nonplused" tells that we need more outrage. If we can turn this into a major PR disaster for MARC and CSX, maybe we can demonstrate that 21st-century America is not 1950's Russia (or even 1940's America).

More Faith-Based Stupidity 

The NYT reports today that the Heritage Foundation, well known for its unbiased focus I'm sure, has released a study 'refuting' evidence that abstinence-only education fails to work. For starters, the Foundation's study claimed statistical significance at p = 0.10, a glaring order of magnitude larger than the preferred standard of 0.01 and twice the generally accepted 0.05.

In defense of this loosening of standards, one of the co-authors said that this 'lets readers decide the merits of the findings.' This is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. Readers cannot 'decide the merits of the findings,' nor should they have to. That's why studies get funding for statisticians, and why we have peer-review (to which, needless to say, this study has not been nor will it be submitted).

The Heritage Foundation is using crap research to sway public opinion and policy because they know the 'Murkin public doesn't know the difference, and will listen any time someone says they know what's right, especially when it confirms the biases they already hold.

So what? Well, for starters, it means that these disastrous programs will become more and more prevalent, and their real results (increased unwanted pregnancies and STI rates) will continue to skyrocket. Especially among the poor. This is the Neo-conservative agenda.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Growing Up 

University of Florida researchers have found a way to generate brain cells in culture. This has been something of a 'holy grail' in neuroscience for some time, and its implications could be fantastic: effective treatments for neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and Schizophrenia would remove a ginormous burden from many people and the health care system in general. The researchers found that brain cells develop from adult stem cells by a process very similar to hemapoiesis, which is a fascinating (if not totally surprising) tidbit.

Japanese researchers have found that children of mothers who were underfed during pregnancy are, somewhat ironically, more prone to obesity. The process is mediated by a larger, earlier spike in the levels of our old friend Leptin, leading to what appears to be a propensity of the offspring's body to conserve energy (i.e., store fat). Judging by my mother's stories about eating ice cream and pickles while pregnant with me, I feel pretty safe that I'm not at risk. The pickles may explain my propensity towards a few other things, though...

More bad news for obesity sufferers today: fat seems to accelerate cellular aging. As measured by telomere length (a metric in which I am not entirely confident) , being overweight corresponded to an additional 8.8 years of aging. The link was even stronger with Leptin levels, a truly intriguing find, and a stern warning for Leptin-based drug makers.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Jacko Free 

MJ has been cleared on all counts. This will of course be on the front page of almost if not absolutely every US (and other) papers tomorrow morning, and is already the talk of the internets (no link needed, natch), and news such as this, this, and this will be relegated to the back pages, if even reported in the States at all.

My theory is that all these charges against MJ, while not entirely implausible in themselves, are drummed up by those in power at key moments when reading actual news might disturb the normally anaesthetized populace.

But Is It Tasty? 

My weekend ended with M.I.A., but it began with catfish. I was at Kramer's with some (non-blogging) friends, and we ordered a "Sharezies" platter with the fried catfish fingers as one selection. Now, these are damn good, as Kramers knows how to use spices, and the buttery fish was cooked just right under its spicy fried shell. So, after one half-order split between the two of us, my friend proceeded to order a full plate of them for himself. Our other companion, a vegetarian, declined (her loss!), and I was full, so she and I had more drinks.

He had another order of catfish fingers. We had more drinks.

He had another order of catfish fingers (I had one). We had more drinks.

He had another order of catfish fingers (I had a small one). We had more drinks.

We went home, happy drunk and (in one case) full of catfish.

Funny that my week also (sortof) begins with catfish: UT-Austin researchers have discovered a catfish of a whole new family, Lacantuniidae Lacantunia enigmatica. We may never learn the answer to the important question above, because there are not very many of them left.


After yesterday's Pride activities, I really wanted to go home and go to sleep. But, I had a ticket for the M.I.A./LCD Soundsystem show at the 9:30 Club, so I went to that instead. I am really glad I did. The beginning of M.I.A.'s set was slightly marred by muddy sound, but their energy came through nonetheless, and as the sound improved around the third or fourth song the show really got going.

M.I.A. is incredible. So much energy, such brilliant beats. I danced the whole show, my eyes flitting from the singers to the DJ backing them, who was not only excellent but also rather hot and grinning the whole time. When the performers are having a good time, the show will almost always be great. Their set was only about 45 minutes, but it was so intense that it felt right. They even did an encore.

LCD came out a while later, and immediately began having technical problems. "We don't have roadies," the singer explained, as the pause between songs passed a couple minutes. For one such pause, they even put on recorded music - this is not how you do a professional show. If you're playing at Fort Reno, or maybe even the Black Cat, this could be acceptable. However, this is a fairly large venue, and we've paid good money to see the show, so please guys, hire a damn roadie.

I left about 45 minutes into LCD's set, since I was not feeling it at all and figured I might as well get some sleep. This means I missed the after-party at Dragonfly (which I would have loved to see), but also that I'm conscious this morning.

End result: "Arular" is on my Amazon queue.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Pride Day 

This weekend was Capitol Pride. I went with JK and SNH (who has photos) to the parade last night, which was a blast. We followed it with a lovely dinner at Mt. Everest with other DCFudites EJG and WRC, and the requisite 17th street ridiculousness.

While I have many misgivings about the event as a positive force in The Movement, what with its (in my opinion) over-emphasis on the "sexual" part of the LGBTQijkl...xyz... pantheon it represents, Pride has a definite purpose, of which being there always reminds me. That is, the safety and comfort of numbers.

I got a lot of shit for appearing gay in high school (despite being deep in the closet, even to myself), and have dealt with homophobia a great deal since, but I don't regularly feel alone or vulnerable because of being gay: I can handle myself better than my appearance and demeanor might suggest; I live in what may be the most gay-friendly city east of 'Frisco; I'm out at work and to all the family that really matter. But there really is a nice feeling of being at the Pride festival, surrounded by thousands of other gay people, never thinking "damn I bet he's straight" as I check out some hot guy or even considering that someone walking by might decide to throw rocks at the drag queen sitting in the next booth. So, hot and sun-drenched and craning to see the half-naked DC Cowboys writhe to (inexplicably) "All That Jazz," I had a great time today.

I also submitted to a part of the ritual I least enjoy but force myself out of some combination of paranoia and vague narcissism (like I'm getting any, anyways), the free HIV test. I like the whole 20-minute answer thing, it was the perfect time for me to wait in line for and eat a jerk chicken (on a stick).

Yes, I'm clean. It's nice to be sure. Happy Pride.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Dubious Research Du Jour 

I admit, I have not read the whole article, only this press release. But even from this snippet, I can say I really don't buy the research, which suggests that up to 70% of elections can be predicted by saying the 'baby-faced' candidate will lose to the 'more competent looking' one.

There's no question that appearance sways modern elections in amazing ways. Just like good looking people tend to get higher pay and more favoritism directed their* direction. Bill Clinton, however, is just about the most baby-faced politician I can think of, and dubya is about as not competent looking a fucperson I can think of.

If really true this is a horrifying (but not altogether astounding) discovery, but I think it's probably missing some details and nuances.

* I'd say 'our,' but clearly I'm the exception to that rule.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

So Long, and Thanks for all the ... Sponges? 

A group of dolphins in Australia have seem to be not only using sponges as tools, but also passing the skill culturally, both things no one's previously seen a cetacean do. I think t's pretty cool. I'm also sick, so my judgment may be clouded.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Number Monkey 

Numbers are a funny thing. Humans have a natural instinct for them - there's plenty of developmental psychology research on how early babies can intuitively 'count,' and on how illiterate, unschooled kids can do the advanced arithmetic needed to sell goods in a market (most commonly to tourists in Cancun) - but not as much basic understanding of how the brain deals with them. Neuro-economics, for all its promise, is a barely nascent field.

Today Kathryn Kramer provides a fascinating example of the naturalness of math and quantitative intuition with her son's participation in the Pokemon trading card market, and I can't help but wonder, had she seen this before doing so? Neuroscientists working with rhesus monkeys found that they seem to 'count' the number of calls they hear, and react with surprise if shown the wrong number of callers. The numbers of callers used were two and three, well under the subitizing threshold, so I wonder if that might have an effect or, better yet, if the system used for monkeys to count calls like this is the same/similar to the one used in subitizing.


Soviet America 

Well, the Bush-Nazi comparisons are deja-done, so of course now we have to move on. Seen on the MARC commuter train (between Baltimore and DC) today, this picture pretty much sums up the new "National Security:"


Drink Up Ladies! 

New research indicates that women who get lots of vitamin B6 and also drink alcohol had a 70% reduction in their risk of developing colorectal cancer. This may or may not be related to drunk chicks' increased willingness to get f*cked in an uncomfortable place (I do not mean the back of a Volkswagen).

Friday, June 03, 2005

Citation de la Semaine 

(Remerciements à Jean-Christophe)
Quand nous serons bien vieux et bien milliardaires, dit Roger Nimier, nous réveillonnerons sur un banc, au pied de nos hôtels particuliers de l'avenue Foch, d'une gamelle de nouilles arrosées d'un Dom Pérignon qui aille avec. Nos mères, qui sont immortelles, viendront nous faire de la musique dans le froid ; la tienne jouera de l'accordéon, la mienne du violon. Et il n'est pas impossible que nous soyons heureux.

Antoine Blondin
Monsieur Jadis ou l'école du soir

The Big Gay Gene? 

When anyone reports discovering a "master" anything, it's time to watch out.

The research itself is amazing, and the result completely baffling - in all my years studying psychology and neuroscience, I can't think of any complex behavior patterns I can remember ever seeing controlled by one gene...Huntington's is caused by a single gene mutation, but that's a very different animal.

What is it? Researchers have found that a single gene alteration makes fruitflies gay. Assuming it's valid, this is a slightly earth-shattering discovery, both in terms of sexuality research and psychobiology in general. While humans are much more complicated than flies, discoveries in flies usually predict discoveries in humans.

UPDATE: John has some really good stuff to say about this. He doesn't want to feel the need to use DNA to get permission to be himself. I agree, now that I've gotten myself all out of the closet and settled in my own skin, but the only hope I have for more "genetic burden" here is that it gets easier for kids. Assuming parents don't start embryo-testing based on gay genes (which is inevitable).

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Very Good and Super Cool 

While these days I prefer the GIMP, Photoshop really revolutionized the way we think about art and, more specifically, graphics. Imagine if the same could be done for biology...a new company is working to develop such a tool - one that could allow scientists to quickly and easily edit DNA and proteins. This would be amazingly cool.

Speaking of amazingly cool news (if it turns out to be really true), researchers seem to have found that just six minutes of intense exercise each week is as effective as an hour a day of moderate exercise. Now, before we all go getting hopeful, the n was a pathetic 16, and subjects certainly weren't getting buff off the program.

"Every little bit helps," said the old woman who pissed in the sea.

Speaking of Ethical Nightmares... 

University of Utah researchers have found a gene that seems to regulate the timing of maturity in Drospophila. The article mentions kittens that stay kittens forever, which would be cute but very creepy and probably end badly, but doesn't go a step in the other direction: we could perhaps eliminate childhood altogether!!!

As we all know, childhood is in many ways getting less and less separate from adulthood - kids are working harder in school, their lives jammed with activities that may or may not just be for their parents' egos, etc. - so why bother with it at all? Besides, what parent really wants a teenager?

Useful Tools 

LLRX.com has a brilliant overview of doing medical research on the internet. It fails to mention Google Scholar, which I've been using more and more of late, but as it is still technically in Beta, I can forgive the omission.

Untrustworthy Trust 

The big news today is the discovery that exposure to an oxytocin aerosol makes people more likely to trust others. The potential for abuse is of course staggering, as the Beeb article emphasizes, but for me it's just a very cool discovery about how the social brain operates.

El WaPo takes a slightly different angle, promising a 'cure' for those who "hold others at arms length." For me, this is every bit as scary a prospect as politicians spraying the crowd: some people are loners and some are social butterflies, and that's part of a healthy society. 'Making' everyone 'normal' is a dangerous concept. Then again, it's the "ethicist" here who suggests using the spray to manipulate political factions, which says a lot about ethics.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Don't Need a Reason 

Many in the medical profession, particularly on the more political side, are fond of claiming that the high price of care in the US today is due to the enormous cost of malpractice insurance, which is as high as it is due to that pesky right we have in this country, of suing doctors for screwing up, and getting big payments for it.

While I'll be the first to agree that many of the high-profile malpractice suits are probably frivolous, and the damages awarded are fairly excessive, I know full well that what's represented in the media is barely (if at all) realistic, and certainly not the norm. A new study in the journal Health Affairs indicates that malpractice awards are rising in line with care costs, not soaring above them as some would have us believe, and are unlikely to be the driving factor of unquestionably soaring malpractice insurance costs.

The AMA is of course up in arms about this study, but to be honest I'm not sure why. The implication of the data as I see them (reported in abstract) is mainly that the insurance companies are fleecing the doctors. So why don't they want to do something about that? My guess is that they'd just like to not have malpractice insurance at all, by making it ridiculously difficult to sue a doctor for anything.

We;re too litigious in the US to be sure, and there are plenty of ways the malpractice laws should be changed, but I kinda like the fact that doctors (and paramedics and firemen and yes, lawyers too) can be held publicly accountable for needless screw-ups.

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