"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, October 31, 2005


Slate's Michael Kinsley may or may not have been trying to be funny when he wrote about this 'bewildering' scandal. That doesn't matter: if he was joking, he didn't do it very well, and if he wasn't, he's a moron.

The eternally brilliant Fafblog easily tears him to bits, and makes brilliant fun of his dumbness. Sometimes I want to have the Medium Lobster's babies.
(via Making Light)

Vaccines: Hope and Hopelessness 

Say what you will about his company's bloated, unstable software and monopolistic business plan, but Bill Gates does do pretty well with his earnings. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has just contributed a whopping $258.3 million to the study of malaria, more than $107 million of which will go towards development of a vaccine for the disease, which kills thousands a day in the developing world. If the current candidate vaccine holds up in trials, it could be available in as little as six years, with the potential to wipe out a major strain on the world health economy.

Another of the world's major killers is cancer, and curing/preventing cancer has been something of the holy grails of medical science for many years. In the next year or so, Merck will submit a vaccine for FDA approval, which protects against a number of the cervical cancer-causing strains of the human papilloma virus. Cervical cancer, caused by this virus, is responsible for more than 3500 deaths a year in the U.S. However, so-called social conservatives (actually, christianist fundie wingnuts) are opposing general use of the vaccine, because it 'might encourage sexual behavior' among teens. Because, as usual, their brand of moralism is more important than the lives of thousands of women worldwide. Fucktards. I sincerely hope that these people all contract horrible, painful diseases, and die poor, miserable and alone.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

About the Benjamin 

Benjamin Franklin was a bit of a genius: statesman, diplomat, and scientist; his famous kite-flying activities were not the limit of his scientific explorations. This article very briefly outlines some of the medical techniques Franklin explored, including catheterization and bifocal lenses. The former was a bit of an act of daring, the latter an example of how something so obvious can elude us, until someone just sees it.

Meanwhile, a high-pitched wail has been heard coming from Mr. Franklin's grave: he seems to be spinning at about 25,000,000 rpm in response to the current US administrations attacks on science, diplomacy, and statesmanship.

Meanwhile, Cory at Boingboing points us to a replica of what may be the earliest Japanese robot. Shockingly, it neither ravages Tokyo nor battles aliens; it serves tea.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Because Jihads Are So Effective 

Two causes I pretty fully support are taking positions that could go either way. A congress of Islamic women, who wish to improve womens' lot in the Muslim world, have called for a 'gender jihad.' I cannot see how this is likely to win allies anywhere.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has joined in another battle, this time against the creationists nitwits Intelligent Design Proponents in Kansas. The AAAS has joined other leading scientific organizations in denying the Kansas Board of (Mis)Education copyright privileges to use standard texts in their curricula. Now, I support this in part, but I don't think it'll work.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

E. All of The Above 

To whoever left the condom floating in the toilet on my floor of the office building today. That was:

A. Nasty
B. Revolting
C. An impressive display of chutzpah
D. Not to be repeated.

Placentas and Crackheads 

Two totally different bits of science this afternoon.

First, a new study indicates that the lipoprotein alleles of a fetus have as much effect on the mother's circulatory lipoprotein levels as do her own genes. This suggests that women who have been warned off of having kids due to her own dangerous alleles could in fact have kids, provided her gene donor mate man has the right genotype. Not that I'm advocating screening your partners or anything, ladies.

Second, a UCLA study asserts that for every dollar spent on substance abuse treatment, society saves $7. It makes good sense that one would see this sort of result. I wonder, however, if there was any estimation of the cost changes related to crimes of fashion? I wonder if the fetus' less-damaged toxin processing genes help the mother? Let's ask an expert:

Over and Under Analysis 

Anyone who knows me will probably confirm that I have a habit of overthinking everything. Especially my poor overburdened research professors, who had to read through the 25 page data books I called reports. Oh well. Scientists are famous for doing things like that - it's what makes us scientists, right?

New research into letter writing behaviors on paper and email suggests that people answer their mail in bursts, prioritize letters to answer quickly and letting low-importance notes linger. Um. No duh? People prioritize all their resource expenditures, and the time it takes to write a letter or type an email (or a blog entry!) is a precious resource. I don't get why this research is worth the letters it's written on.

On the other end of overanalyzing, there is carelessness, for which the US Food and Drug Administration is rapidly becoming famous. The regulating body has decided, contrary to its advisory panels recommendations (sound familiar?), not to require long-term trials of psychiatric drugs before approval. The rational being that it might discourage drug companies from researching new drugs. Or prevent patients from continuing their current routine of a taking a new undertested antidepressant every six months because nothing helps. But of course, there's the chance we might miss a major side effect. But I guess those sorts of things don't bother lobbyists.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New Ways of Seeing 

I've always been a proponent of open access to scientific research - it makes work more believable, but also more useful - and I was thrilled to see the NIH move in this direction. In support of this decision, a number of nonprofit scientific publishers have offered to help NIH achieve its open research goals, for which they all get much love. If only the Authors Guild was as wise.

Long-standing thought has been that color vision was at least largely about eyes - cones, to be exact - and less about the brain. New research indicates that this may be false. Rochester scientists have found that there is little to no correlation of cone types and distribution to color perception - we all see the same colors in different ways. In a related experiment, they found that people's color perceptions could be altered by wearing tinted lenses, which is really cool in its potential for further making fun of those who wear color contacts.

Elephants and Beached Whales 

New research on elephants suggests that they may memorialize their dead more than previously thought. The experiment consisted of presenting herds with elephant, buffalo, and rhino skulls and seeing in which one they seemed most interested. Aside from striking me as a bit mean, this is an interesting idea, but doesn't really address the research question as well as I'd like it to: if there's no surprise that elephants can distinguish their own species skulls from others', seeing that they're more interested in them is no shock. I hope people follow up on this with real observational research (like tracking a herd through a death), because now I'm curious.

On the other end of the spectrum, McDonald's is finally planning to print nutrition (term used loosely) information on their food packaging. Because, apparently, the people stuffing their faces with daily BigMacs and fries have no idea that it's making them fat. Seems moot, now that they can no longer sue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Good news today for us fans of herbal medicine. A Canadian study has found that tonic Ginseng may help protect against and reduce the severity of the common cold. The study was fairly large, but also somewhat short term, and without seeing the real data I can't judge how well I believe the results. But then, it probably won't hurt.

On the other hand, St. John's Wort can be dangerous. It is popularly taken as an herbal antidepressant, and probably works as such to some extent, as it contains a potent monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The thing is, MAOI's have some nasty side effects, and can produce harmful reactions when taken with foods as diverse as red meat, cheese, and wine. However. Temple University researchers say they have isolated a novel protein from St. John's Wort, called p27SJ, which inhibits expression and replication of HIV-1 genes. (UPDATE: Link found!)

The researchers stress that they have no idea if this protein in present in St. John's Wort supplements sold in stores, or if it even is effective in vivo, but nonetheless this is a fantastically interesting finding.

Monday, October 24, 2005

New Old Prescription 

You know you should get more exercise. You also know you should stop eating so many frozen dinners, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine coolers instead of beer, and torturing kittens, but those things are not what I'm going to write about right now.

You can increase your daily exercise and lose weight by indulging your inner six-year-old: buy a puppy, and take it for a walk or two every day. Walking is well established to help you lose weight and keep it off, and it doesn't require much in the way of expensive equipment (just a decent pair of shoes and, unless you're really hot, clothes) or gym memberships. Plus, having a puppy is a great way to meet attractive members of whichever sex you fancy.

Not really a propos of puppy walking, new research indicates that ancient Mesopotamians practiced a fairly advanced system of medicine more than 4000 years ago. Many of their treatments were analogous to ones used today, and much more advanced and effective than many Greek, Roman, or post-revolutionary American techniques. Cool!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Contributing To Science 

As most Americans continue to get fatter, some have gotten thinner and are staying that way. Some of them are even contributing to a national database of successful dieters, creating what may become a real evidence base for weight-loss recommendations and practices. Even considering the database's weaknesses, including probably incomplete and entirely self-reported data, it seems to be a really brilliant way to not only collect information, but also to encourage other dieters.

Some of the preliminary findings are interesting too. Successful dieters - those who keep off the weight they've lost, long term - tend to:
I look forward to seeing what happens as this database expands, and more proper research can be done with it.

Wasp Detective 

No, I don't mean white folks employed by the police department; I mean the buzzing, stinging, injecting-eggs-into-your-skin insect kind. Researchers are currently working to train the buggers to sniff out chemicals released by imperiled crops, which they seem to do orders of magnitude better than robotic sniffers.

A few years down the road, it won't be a German shepherd puppy sniffing your bags in the customs line, but a swarm of nasty stingy bugs. I ca hardly wait.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sex and Martians 

Astronauts from Earth may someday make like Blondie's Man From Mars: US sixth graders are designing edible moon buggies, predicating a possible future NASA project designed to reduce the amount of material needed on a space mission. Sounds completely gonzo to me, but hey.

Tragicomedically, future generations of astronauts could be in danger of not existing to eat their cars. Aside from steroid abuse, which is well known to reduce fertility, new research suggests that many common sexual lubricants, including Astroglide and K-Y, damage sperm. I find this fascinating and extremely funny.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Follow-Up: Fat and Inflammation 

I had a very long, detailed post about two studies involving dietary fat and GI inflammation. Blogger, however, did not like it.

So, we get the short version:

Women who consume high amounts of n-6 fatty acids relative to n-3 ones seem to be at higher risk of Dry Eye Syndrome whereas overall higher consumption of n-3 fatty acids seems to reduce risks. Eat your fish and veggies, ladies.

UW researchers have found that one isomer of conjugated linoleic acid, a protein found in cows milk, inhibits COX-2. This could have significant benefits for inflammatory diseases and cancer. Cool. "Check out my moustache."

Autism Again? 

There is still no link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. There never was one, and people who claim there is are either (a) crackpots; (b) easily fooled; and/or (c) practicing 'faith-based' science. Probably at least two of the three.

Protective Fats? 

Research indicates that dietary fats have a protective effect on the GI tract, including inhibition of some inflammatory responses. This has led some researchers to reconsider fasting instructions before surgery, and to think about fats as a potential treatment for irritable bowel diseases.

Don't go chomping burgers all willy-nilly though...there's still all the bad stuff fats can do to you! And none of these hypotheses have really been tested, either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another Report from Cpt. Obvious 

If you are obese, losing weight can improve your sex life. Aside from the obvious improvements in physical attractiveness (aside from fat fetishists), and ability, losing weight can improve psychological factors which influence performance.

Thank you, Duke University, for doing this critical research which will prove so much more useful than, say, a cure for cancer.

Pot Doesn't Cause Cancer 

....as much as tobacco does. That means that if you smoke pot, you are less likely to get cancer than you are smoking cigarettes, but more than if you didn't smoke anything. So, you still shouldn't smoke pot. Make brownies instead.

The Air Force has been testing a new transparent ceramic armor, which has the potential to be a more efficient - and more effective - replacement for today's bullet-proofed glass. It also has good potential for space craft windows. Cool.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Cause for Concern 

Your pillow may be harboring numerous fungi and bacteria, which could be exacerbating your allergies or asthma. You can disinfect all you like, but they will probably come back. It seems to me that the best solution would be to wash you pillows every now and again, but keep your pillowcases very clean. Or, not worry about it as it's probably not a big deal.

Your next cell phone may learn to identify you by observing your gait. Many of the problems with this sort of system are mostly obvious: if you change your shoes, sprain your ankle, get drunk, or are in a hurry, it will think you aren't you. But there is another thing that the article doesn't mention: it's fucking creepy! I don't like things that monitor me in any way during everyday life...thanks for your interest, but no, Big Brother Verizon, you may not watch over me at all times.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dancing Shoes 

David Byrne and Fatboy Slim lead Norman Cook are writing a musical about Imelda Marcos. She is probably most famous for her obsession with shoes, but is also apparently a big fan of the disco scene. I suppose it's as good a topic for a musical as any, and given the pair in charge, it could either be brilliant or mind-numbingly pretentious. Possibly both.

Friday, October 14, 2005

News from Captain Obvious 

A draft GAO report confirms what we've really known all along: bushCo cronies in the FDA meddled in the science around approval of Plan B. Any bets on how much this revelation stops them from continuing to do so?

High-risk US patients are not getting flu vaccines, due to supply troubles. Not that anyone saw this coming.

AND...The National Academies have released a report saying that the US is losing its competitive edge in science. The report highlights decreasing numbers of American science and engineering graduates, and cheaper experts available in other countries, but ignores a critical detail: our students may soon be too busy learning "alternative theories" instead of the real science they need to get by. The Academies' set of recommendations, while all good ideas, does what far too many government programs do: throws money without addressing these underlying factors. Mmmmm...pork...

Marijuana is Good For You 

Potheads of the world, rejoice! A new study found that treating rats twice daily with HU210 - a synthetic cannabinoid - increased hippocampal neurogenesis as much as 40%. A similar study, using THC in mice instead of HU210 in rats, found no such effect, so as always, things are unclear.

But I really must admit that it would make me very happy indeed to have the old myth that pot kills brain cells dispelled by establishing the opposite; you gotta love science by litotes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Touched By His Noodly Appendage 

Archaeologists have found a pot of 4,000 year old noodles in northern China. No word yet on if they were tasty, or how this affects pirates.

On a totally unrelated note, researchers have taken a flea gene and used it to produce a super-elastic substance, called resilin. Which they may use to repair arteries in humans. Yum.

Please excuse the incoherence of this post. I am very hungry. Happy Yom Kippur!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Disposable Dishes 

An MIT group has invented a system which produces and recycles simple dishware - so you can have guests for dinner without worrying much about doing (or having enough) dishes. This is very cool. I don't use paper plates not only because they are wasteful, but also because they are so tacky. These acryllic plates may also be tacky, but they are unnecessarily high-tech, which makes it OK.

The one question I have is: if the material is molded by heat, are the dishes only for cold foods? How embarrassing if your coffee cups melted as your poured!

Alarmist Alarm! Kids and the Flu 

This morning, el WaPo had a frightening story to tell. No, it's not the thousands dead and thousands more injured and homeless in earthquakes and floods. No, it's not the fact that the US health system is entirely unprepared to deal with a looming flu epidemic. It's a study suggesting that kids show flu symptoms earlier than adults do. The title? Your Tots Are Making You Sick.

I won't disagree that getting more kids immunized might be a good idea, and that kids with the flu probably shouldn't go visit granny in the nursing home. The thing is, the study's data only seem to suggest that kids present earlier - the comments on spreading disease seem to be editorial. As usual, the fantastic and sensational takes lead in health reportage.

Not that kids don't make you sick. I feel ill after about 5 minutes with one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Impacts of Impacts 

(American) Football players are rather famously not the brightest lights on the tree. A survey of retired NFL players reveals that they may get even less sharp as the years go on: subjects showed an elevated incidence of dementias, correlated with a higher incidence of concussions.

On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer result: trauma leads to amyloid plaque formation, and plaques are associated with dementias; everyone knows getting hit in the head a lot makes you dumber. The thing is, nothing's ever that simple. These data, while convincing, are retrospective and - more challengingly - recall-based. The results are dependent on reliable memory from people with dementia. So a replication is in order.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Baby Food 

You shouldn't let them watch TV. You knew that, now there's just some science behind it. Many parents in the US also hear lots about what foods to feed their little ones - start with rice, don't give them hot peppers till much later, etc. - but it turns out that's probably all crap. As diabetes and obesity rates rise in the US, pediatricians are noticing that elsewhere in the world, parents feed their kids what they eat. Plus, the soft processed grains in all those "first foods" are high in simple sugars, which raise insulin levels and resistance, which isn't good.

But! While the article talks about how there's no science behind the old guideline, it doesn't focus on the lack of evidence in general. Also, there's a brilliant non-sequitur mid-way down the page: talking about her feeding habits, a Lebanese-American mother says "children in India eat like that," indicating hummus and baba ghanoush. Neither of which are, to my current knowledge, staples of the Indian diet. Just sayin'.

Don't Swat the Glowing Monsquitoes 

They are genetically engineered population killers. Their glowing gonads are defective. But if they bite me, do I glow too?

Fatty McSleepless 

All behavioral evidence to the contrary, I'm pretty sure everyone knows that sleep deprivation is bad for you. Evidence continues to pile up, linking sleeplessness to conditions as diverse as diabetes, cancer and even ADHD. Even if the new ampakine drugs are effective in reducing the cognitive deficits associated with sleep deprivation, it's highly unlikely they or anything else will be able to replace the physical restorative benefits of sleep.

Tangentially, while I often wish I could sleep less to get more done, I don't think I'd really want to live in a truly 24-hour waking world. I mean, I can barely stand most people 16-18 hours a day!

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Thank you, visitor 54,576 from Seattle, for your (sadly brief) visit to The Articulatory Loop, in search of information on "sexual health watersports and kidney stones," for which - I hope inexplicably - this site is the number one result on Yahoo!.

Now, I can only guess what you wanted to know, but here's some info you may find helpful:
  1. If the person peeing in your mouth passes a kidney stone, and you swallow it, it will not become a stone in your own kidney.
  2. If the person peeing in your mouth passes a kidney stone, he will be in too much pain to care whether or not you swallowed it. Unless he's really in to those things.
  3. Pee drinking does not is unlikely to affect your chances of getting kidney stones.
That is all.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Fish Sauce 

Ever gotten sick from seafood? It's all kinds of fun, for all values where all=none. How can you avoid this unpleasantness (other than not partaking of fishy goodness)? It turns out that an oregano-cranberry marinade may well do the trick.

This is a pretty cool concept, and not just because now I can maybe think about buying fish from the Soviet Safeway, since I still won't. Who'd have though my next culinary experiment would be inspired by a science article? Cranberry and oregano sounds intriguing!

(Ig) Nobel 

The winners of this years Nobel Prize for medicine are very pleased to have won, but really don't see what the fuss is about, since it was all so bloody obvious. If you say so, Dr. Warren.

On the other side of brilliant, the winners of this year's IgNobel Prizes were announced last night. I wish I could have gone...where else do you get to hear about exploding trousers, Nigerian email scammers, and penguin poop. Hell, swimming in syrup could be (briefly) a lot of fun.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

MedsList and EHR 

Graham has made a very cool looking online medication list, which patients can use to track their medications. This is the kind of project of which I'd love to see more examples; simple and targeted. It aims to address a single topic: medication management.

Too many solutions I see on a daily basis (working mainly in health IT as I do) try to be the Killer App, but end up just being bloated and confusing and useless. Instead, I wish developers would work within the already existing standards, and create small, flexible, interoperable programs, which could be put together in various combinations to constitute the appropriate Electronic Health Record for a given practice or institution.

Take an example (albeit not a great one): I run Windows as my OS, Photoshop as my image editor, Firefox as my browser (with Java no less), StarOffice for productivity, and JetAudio for sound. All made by different companies, all specializing in their own thing, all interoperable with each other. Shouldn't health applications be the same??

Good News, If You Can Afford It 

A clinical trial of Merck's newest vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer and other unpleasantness, indicates that the vaccine is highly effective. Granted, this is a Merck-funded trial, and those may be dubious, but if the data quoted in the article are real, it is very good news indeed. Of course, if you're like me, your health insurance doesn't cover vaccines. That's right: I pay masses of money each year to BCBS, and they "do not cover preventive care in adults." Which may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard from an insurance company.

If you can't afford vaccines, you probably also can't afford to eat as healthily as you may like. The result is often obesity. Another new study may confirm this as truism: kids' BMI is correlated to fruit and vegetable prices. If KFC is cheaper, that's what you get.

Searching Far and Wide 

Sometimes, the source of a treatment or cure can come from what seems to be a strange source. That is, to me, one of the really fun bits of science - that you never know where you'll find what - as demonstrated by three very different bits of new research:

In a demonstration of how critical it is to have scientists working in different subject areas working in the same building, an interdisciplinary group of Vanderbilt researchers have found that a number of frog peptides are powerful weapons against HIV. Many of the frogs in question are highly endangered; imagine if clear-cutting or other environmental destruction had destroyed the cure to AIDS!

Chromium picolinate seems to help reduce carb cravings in depressed patients. I'd like to see the actual data before I go buying vats of chromium, but this is potentially an extremely interesting finding not only for depression, but for diabetes and nutrition in general.

Another study claims that beta-glucan from oats, used as a moisturizer, reduces the depth and roughness of facial wrinkles. I tend not to trust any cosmotological research at all, ever, but this is intriguing. I'd love to see the data.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Eugenics in Indiana 

Uuhhhmmmm......what(pdf via Kathryn Cramer)? While I will fully agree that there are many reasons why certain people should not become parents, the need for fertility treatments is not one of them. Fundamental Christianism and Republicanism may, however, be.

Yet again the Republicans can't just introduce legislation to codify their skewed sense of morals, they have to include a tax which will only really serve to make life harder on poor people (The intended parents shall pay the fees and other costs of the criminal history check).

Bad News for Assorted Parties 

One of the more Orwellian and distressing (at least to me) bits of modern governance is the increasing prevalence of robotic cameras to do jobs which ought to be done by actual people (or, as the case may be, cops). Street surveillance cameras have started popping up, watching for possible criminal activity, but the most common of these characters is the speed/red light camera.

In a result which apparently surprised people, a new study has shown that DC's red light cameras do not reduce accidents. But, of course, Chief Ramsey remains somehow convinced that they are doing something worthwhile - he just can't say exactly what. The bad news? That these cameras, and their likely privacy-shattering descendants, will continue to proliferate while accomplishing little aside from lining a few contractor's coffers.

And if you think you can escape harm by biking to work, beware: many types of bicycle seats seem to cause impotence. Ouch.

Monday, October 03, 2005


More good news for chocolate lovers: it's good for diarrhea! A cheap, effective, and possibly tasty way to treat a deadly disease sounds about as good as you can get! Well, except not getting it in the first place and all.

(via BoingBoing)

More Sex Killers 

First it was to kill insects, now researchers are experimenting with using pheromones to trap and kill the predatory Sea Lamprey.


Sleep Like a Baby? 

Not if you use your TV as a babysitter. Yet another reason to not sit kids down in front of the telly is that it may disrupt their sleep patterns. It may also cause ADHD (which may be caused by lack of sleep.....). Really though, as enriching as shows like Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow may be, actual time spent actually interacting with actual people (i.e., parents) has to be even better.

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