"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gratuitous Male Nudity! 

Because really, any excuse will do.

More Good Chocolate News 

Yet another study has found cardiovascular benefits to eating chocolate. The researchers caution, of course, that to get the benefits you may have to eat a very large quantity of the stuff, whereby you'd get really fat and counteract the benefits. But you'd be happy and full of chocolate!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Potassium Mutant 

A mutant variant of a calcium channel gene, KCNC3, is linked to the neurodegenerative disorder spinocerebellar ataxia. The channel in question is involved in fast transmission, including in the substantia nigra and the hippocampus, where they are involved in learning, memory, and motor control.

Along with an earlier study, which found a different mutation of KCNC3 to be implicated in child-onset cerebellar degeneration and mental retardation, this research provides a very interesting new base for research into neurodegenerative disorders and potentially others as well.

Golden Cure 

Insert comments on prescription drug prices here: using gold particles to treat disease is a common and well-established practice. The mystery has been why and how this works. Harvard researchers have found that gold, platinum, and certain other metals act by inactivating MHC class II proteins, which are key to immune responses. This discovery will hopefully lead to safer, more effective treatments - maybe even some that don't involve drinking bits of metal!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Quickie (I'm busy today) 

Surprise, surprise: industry tweaks scientific data to get a lighter load of regulation at the expense of people's health - hexavalent chromium may be as bad for you aa you thought.

Evidence suggests that Crohn's Disease may in fact be caused by immune underactivation, as opposed to overactivation as previously believed. The study also suggests that Viagra might be helpful in treatment.

And this is a fascinating and lovely profile of two brilliant epidemiologists working to save the world.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


The arrogance of the dubya administration continues to amaze me. I mean, the ports thing. I mostly agree with RJ on the substantive bits, but what's really astounding is how chimpy is now saying that we don't need to worry about security. Then why the @#$! is the DHS scare-o-meter still at Yellow?

Just sayin.


I saw this dude on Sunday, just north of Dupont Circle, outside Sette. I just can't figure out what he was doing with a tail on.

Gmail Trouble 

Is anyone else having trouble getting Gmail to load today?

Sex, Sheep 

A UK study claims that sex with a partner is "400% better" than masturbating. Uhm. That may be the stupidest thing I've heard in, ok, hours. The finding was that after sex, participants' post-orgasmic prolactin spike was 400 per cent greater than the spike following masturbation. This is not really shocking, as prolactin is known to be involved in emotional attachment and affection, both of which are part of having a partner. The interesting bit about this is that elevated prolactin seems to be related to mens' 'refractory period' between orgasms. Viagra 2, anyone?

While older men start having trouble getting it up, middle-aged women seem to be more likely to have twins. It seems that as women approach menopause, their follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) spikes get stronger, leading to more multiple ovulations. Interesting.

And, of course, a homeless man is in a Little Rock jail for stealing a sheep. In a trash bin. Claiming to be a veterinarian. Et cetera.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Genes Make You and Break You 

In keeping with my general dislike of popular science journalism, I really hate the way media portray discourse in science as "debate." There is no evolution debate in science, only in politics. There is controversy when, say, scientists fake results and claim to have cloned people, and there are debates about the ethics of an experiment, but there is no debate over the material of science. An experiment is done properly and replicated (i.e., is believable) or it is not.

The other thing there are in science are lingering questions: areas where we just don't know enough to say much of anything meaningful. Sexuality is one of those areas. A fairly small UCLA study suggests that 'extreme skewing' of X-chromosome inactivation in mothers may be linked to having gay sons. Mothers who had multiple gay sons were found to be more skewed towards one chromosome than were mothers with one or no gay sons. This is of course made more interesting by previous studies suggesting other active roles in determining sexuality.

Telling you who you like fucking isn't the only thing you genes do. The SRY gene, best known for its critical role in making embryos develop as males (forming testes, etc.), seems to also support neurons in the substantia nigra, which is a key area for motor control that gets destroyed in Parkinson's Disease. This finding could help explain why men are so much more prone to Parkinson's than women: the relevant areas of the brain are dependent on sex-specific hormones to survive. Females seem to have a different mechanism for supporting this system.

The Y chromosome also could come in handy for nabbing crooks: UK research suggests that, at least in the UK, Y-chromosome analysis could give good odds on a person's last name. This sounds a lot like bullshit to me, considering the different ways in which people have gotten their names (particularly in the US). Also, I still don't like the idea of the gub'men keeping my genes on file and rounding me up every time someone who may be related to me knocks over a 7-11.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Chew Your Gum 

Advertisers have been touting the benefits of chewing gum for some time - fresh breath, white teeth, fewer cavities, and other even less substantiable effects. Now, however, it seems that there may be a real medical reason to chew gum, but I guarantee it's not one you'll see advertised on TV: chewing gum may improve recovery from intestinal and colon surgery, leading to shorter time to first bowel movements.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bad Food 

U.S. Marshals have seized food from DC's Happy Valley Food, Inc., which had been previously warned for having unacceptable food storage conditions, including rodent infestation. It is far too early in the morning for me to contemplate what "rodent-defiled food" might mean.

Besides being anywhere that serves food from Happy Valley, another good time not to eat may be when studying or taking an exam. Research suggests that the hormone ghrelin, previously associated with hunger and metabolism, may modulate memory such that being hungry could trigger memory recall.

Seen the ads for Cortislim, or some other diet pill that claims to make you lose weight by blocking cortisol? Well, in a completely unshocking revelation, research indicates that it's not that simple. Elevated cortisol may be a result of weight gain or of what causes weight gain, but not its cause.

And in case you somehow missed it: fat kids get bullied more (but also seem to do more bullying themselves), and green tea is good for you (now it seems to improve cognitive function in the elderly).

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Yeah, some days I wish my apartment had heat.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Value of a Dollar 

Kids today have no idea how to handle their money. I admit to having been irresponsible, self-indulgent, and frivolous with my allowance as a kid, but I never, ever, wasted it.

I also had very good attendance records at school, but when I didn't want to go to class, I didn't go to class. And if I needed an excuse, I was good enough at bullshit and forging my mom's signature to get one.

A bunch of kids in Florida, it seems, are too lazy to do any of this, and have been bribing their gym teacher to get out of class. I suppose it would have worked better if the gym teacher hadn't been a moron too (or dishonest) and forgotten not to mention the absences to the kids' parents.

The result: Florida kids are poorer, fatter, and still not any smarter.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Save the Heurich House! 

DCist has been beating this drum for some time, but just in case anyone who reads this site doesn't read DCist, learn about the situation here.

For my part, I went to the open house a couple weeks ago, and was totally blown away. The place is gorgeous. It would be a major tragedy if the place got gutted to make more ugly condos or another pretentious restaurant (as is likely to happen if it gets sold). So, even if you can't donate, please do yourself a favor and go see the place.

Supplements and Dancing Genes 

Smokers take note: research suggests that taking vitamin C supplements may reduce the vitamin E depletion caused by your filthy habit. This is especially cool as it's an example of how different nutrients and systems are interrelated. Which will encourage future studies into interactive systems, which is good.

While you're taking your vitamin C, take your vitamin D/calcium supplements. They don't provide much protection against fractures, but every little bit helps. Needless to say, I would really suggest eating better foods as a better way to get nutrients, but if the pills help, why the hell not.

Speaking of pills, all you scene queens should listen up: listening to loud music all night may increase the risk of brain damage from taking Ecstasy. I'm always dubious of drug research, but this study looks valid-ish. Granted, it's in rats, and they were probably just licking each other instead of drinking and dancing and ... licking each other ... like club kids, but still. Don't be an E-tard.

But do dance! And if you're no good, you may have an even better excuse: genetics. A Hebrew University study has found two genetic variants between dancers and others. I firmly believe that anyone can learn to dance, eventually, but this could be a difference between a Fred Astaire and your average 'Dancing with the Stars' contestant.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Promising Results 

Rimonabant has been on my radar for some time, and now we come to its first major clinical trial. The results are mixed, and unsurprisingly, a matter of some debate, but it seems that rimonabant is of some benefit in terms of weight loss, and, more interestingly, seems to have an independent effect on circulatory lipid levels.

Study participants who received the higher dose of the cannabinoid-receptor blocking drug were seen to lose more weight than those on placebo, and also had significantly lower levels of triglycerides and higher levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. The latter effects were over and above what is expected from weight loss alone.

Unfortunately, the study had a high drop-out rate, which could skew the results, and also raises questions as to its design and, potentially, the drug's tolerability. In that rimonabant has also shown promise for smoking cessation and other addictions, we will almost certainly learn more soon.

(Insert segue here)

It's already known that carrying water in copper pots fights contamination, but common copper may also help in fighting off the flu. Research suggests that copper surfaces are highly effective at killing off the H1N1 flu strain, a close relative of the H5N1 "bird flu." So, uhm, keep some copper handy?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Diet Coke = Death 

I suppose we all knew it was coming; we were just hoping that it might take a bit longer. Aspartame, the sweetener used in diet, well, just about everything, seems to cause all kinds of cancer, even at relatively low doses. The study is large, seems to have been well done, and the effects show a pretty good dose-response. I'd like to say that I'll stop drinking so much Diet Coke as a result, but I also know that I am addicted.

There is good news today: it seems that circumcision may make men less likely to transmit HIV to women as well as being less likely to contract it. Yes, the former does control for the latter (it's a study of HIV-negative women partnered with positive men: significantly less women whose men were cut got HIV).

UPDATE:A commenter points out that the effects of circumcision on HIV are relatively small. Yes, they are. But any reduction is a good reduction as far as I'm concerned, and in that effective condom use is ...errr... problematic in many parts of the world, every little bit helps.

Also the numbers are not the entire point: as a scientist, after you find that there is an effect like this, you have to figure out why*. And once you've done that, you figure out how you can exploit it in more dramatic terms: can you make the protective effect greater, or apply it to another situation?

*There's also the personal agenda hiding out behind the, uhm, curtain.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Potassium and Hearing 

Research has correlated declining aldosterone levels to age-related hearing loss. Interesting results, especially paired with evidence of potassium channel-knockout mice developing hearing loss.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

More Strange Recommendations 


Friday, February 10, 2006

External Validity 

I am a big Firefox booster. I pretty much refuse to use IE if there is any way to avoid it. You should too. Go download Firefox now. Your life will be better. It will also probably be less vulnerable to internet security flaws, but how much so is still unclear.

This study does absolutely nothing to help clear things up. Testing an unpatched version of IE versus any version of Firefox, which is almost by definition patched, is completely useless. Anyone who is using such a 'virgin' IE release probably isn't net-savvy enough to download Firefox, or even type in the correct URL. So the comparison is utterly invalid. This study would not have been more difficult to perform in a meaningful fashion: not to have done so reveals either extreme bias without the cleverness to even vaguely mask it, a failure to grasp experimental design principles in the first place.

Bad News for Lemmings 

STI's get lots of attention, and many people have reacted by not going all the way as quickly. It turns out, however, that maybe going just a little of the way with lots of partners could be dangerous too: an Australian study suggests that French kissing lots of different people raises teens' risk of meningitis. From the write-up, I don't buy much of this study - for starters, there are some wired mentions of religious participation that raise bias/methodology flags for me - but if anyone has the actual publication I'd love to see it.

From the department of ...duuhhhh..., researchers at Columbia University have found that people rate songs they perceive to be popular more positively than unpopular ones. The interesting bit is that the effect is not absolute - the group that didn't see popularity ratings tended to be more positive to the same songs as the influenced group. Hmm.

UPDATE: Having read the paper, I still am unsure I buy the idea that, even if kids could be convinced to do less kissing, it would really reduce their risk of meningitis. Equally significant effects were found for having visiting friends' houses daily, and sharing a bedroom was an even stronger risk factor. So go ahead and make out!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hope and Selfishness 

The babies of women who take SSRI antidepressants while pregnant are 600% more likely to develop persistent pulmonary hypertension - a very often deadly lung disease - as well as being prone to withdrawal symptoms after birth. I can't say I'm shocked that these drugs have effects on newborns; frankly I think that any doctor who allows a pregnant woman to be on any medication she does not absolutely need to be on should have his/her license revoked. I know how much depression sucks, but it is only very rarely so severe that the risk of suicide is higher than the risk of damaging a baby. We have built ourselves a society where we are so massively self-indulgent and overmedicated that we are doing this shit to our kids. Stupid.

Somewhat similarly, it seems that a some popular non-prescription stomach drugs - H2 blockers like Pepcid, Zantac, Axid, or Tagamet - may cause a severe bowel disease when given to premature infants. Interesting.

The good news is that researchers may have found a compound, CSA-54, capable of blocking HIV infection of cells. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

Also, it seems that eating red grapefruit (one of my favorite foods) is extra good for you: coronary patients with statin-resistant hyperlipidemia who ate a red or white grapefruit a day for thirty days had significantly lowered cholesterol than those who ate none. Those who ate red grapefruit had even better results than those eating white grapefruit, particularly with respects to their triglyceride levels. So, yay grapefruit!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bad Kids and Clean Bathrooms 

An FSU/Vanderbilt study claims that having kids means that you'll be depressed for the rest of your life. There are so many things wrong with this press release that I can't even count them. Some of them even seem to be related to the actual study! One of the findings is apparently that 'empty-nest parents "are no less depressed than non-parents." Uhm. So? Were they more depressed than non-parents? Were they less depressed than parents with younger kids?
Et cetera. I'd love to hear what others have to say, by my take on this study is simply that they have confused "suffer depression" with "worry about their own kids well-being."

Tomorrow's parents, however, may have one less thing to worry about: cleaning the bathroom. Researchers at the University of New South Wales are working to develop a self-cleaning nanoparticle coating that could be used indoors. How current models work is really cool: a layer containing titanium dioxide is activated by UVA from sunlight, and becomes super-oxidative, breaking down germs and organic dirt. The surface is superhydrophilic, so water just washes it all off with no droplet formation. The trick now is to get it to activate under indoor light. (I wonder why you couldn't just have a button outside the bathroom that locks the door, blasts it with UVA, hoses it down and then blows dry automatically. Maybe I watched too much Jetsons as a kid.)


For the last 15-20 years or so, the reigning nutritional dogma (discounting Atkins fads) has been to steer people towards a low fat diet. A very large study from NHLBI, which examined 48,835 women over eight years, has found that a low-fat diet was not significantly associated with improved health or outcomes. There were a number of trend effects, but not the dramatic improvements you'd expect from all the low-fat hype. The real message of this study? You have to watch all of what you eat, not just the fat.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often called a scourge of the information economy. The thing is, that a Harvard Medical School study has found, contrary to expectation, that it is more likely to be caused by manufacturing jobs than by sitting at a computer. I guess I don't buy this study at all. First of all, I know more than a few people with CTS, and they all seem to have gotten it working on the computer.

Second, the study claims no CTS risk for up to seven hours a day at the computer. I don't think there's been a non-vacation week when I haven't spent more than 7 hours a day on the computer since high school. Nowadays, I work about 10-12 hours a day on the computer for my job, then I go home and read blogs, the news, and pay bills, etc. on the computer. I'm sure most of the people reading this are similar, and I fail to see how "up to seven hours a day" is meaningful to much of anyone.

UPDATE: Here is the NIH release for the low-fat diet study, which has some better details. The result is still the same: eating less saturated and trans fat is a very good idea, but you have to look at overall diet quality for real health improvements.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Pandora Presents 

I love Pandora. What came up just now on my playlist may be my favorite song of the week: Graham Parker's "Did Everybody Just Get Old?" Totally awesome.

Good Sense, Bad Genes, and a Treasure Trove 

Dubya's "global gag rule," which cut US funding to any organization anywhere that even so much as mentioned abortion as an option or idea to women in their care, has devastated many organizations and likely cost many women their lives and/or livelihoods. The UK has responded, albeit more than a few years late, by pledging £3M ($5.2M) to Planned Parenthood to make up the difference. "Every little bit helps," said the old woman who pissed in the sea.

A very large Swedish twin study has found that 79% of the risk for Alzheimers seems to be genetic. They found that 45% of identical twins were concordant for the disease. Now if they can find (and repair) the genes responsible...

A group of naturalists have found an isolated area of Indonesia which is home to a spectacular array of new species, including more than 20 new species of frogs, four new species of butterfly, a new species of honeyeater bird, and others. This is really cool, and also a reminder of why we need to protect our deep forests.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gay Sex and DOQRAPS 

Via Dan Renzi, we learn that 80 percent of homophobes are at least a bit gay. While I don't doubt that this is in fact the case, I do not believe that this study in any way proves it. People get aroused by sexual imagery...that's how are brains are wired. Gay guys will get aroused watching straight pr0n, that doesn't mean that they can be "made straight" by praying or hypnotherapy or whatever. Yes, it's the same thing.

Speaking of homophobic guys about whom we really wonder, since when does Eminem have such a nice ass (Page down 3x)???

Sit Up and Smell the Roses 

A study McGill University indicates that our sense of smell is influenced by our body position: people lying down appear less sensitive to rose scents than they are when sitting or standing. Previous research has shown this distinction with other senses. What a weird thing: the only idea that pops into my head on this is that we sleep lying down, and we need our senses to be a bit less, erm, sensitive, then, so we can sleep. That doesn't even make much sense either from a survival perspective. Hmm.

Also, who wants to go see this exhibit with me?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fast Friday 

I continue to be ridiculously busy, so I don't really have time to even read, let alone think about, these. So, here are some cool things for the day, comments and insights appreciated.

Autotransplantation of stem cells may be an effective treatment for Lupus.

As if road raging drivers weren't bad enough, it seems that people who carry guns are more likely to have road rage. If you follow the logic, it is that people who carry guns are more likely to be emotionally unstable. Thank you, Charleton Heston.

It seems that crushed beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) leaves may help repel mosquitoes. I have no idea what beautyberry is, but yay for it.

Contrary to popular wisdom, late-night snacking does not seem to cause weight gain, in and of itself. If your late-night snack regularly include Jumbo Slice, then maybe it does.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Thursday Round-up 

A Virginia Tech researcher is investigating whether Frankincense oil could be helpful in treatment of cancers. It wouldn't really shock me, as many herbal compounds have shown anticancer properties, but the trick is to isolate and effectively apply them.

An MIT survey of teens finds that they are very hopeful about technology's promise for the future, but have some very funny ideas about their future careers. 17 percent said they were considering medicine, but only 9 percent were interested in science. This is something I've noticed in hearing people (including, horrifyingly, some clinicians) talk about medical careers: they forget that a career in medicine really must include being a scientist. You can't be an effective clinician if you can't keep up with new advances in treatments and evidence-based medicine. You can't do that unless you have a very firm grasp of scientific methods.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Written on guitar instead of piano, and recorded next door to Robert Plant's (yes, that one) studio in England, Joker (samples on site, under "Discographie") has a decidedly different feel than Clarika's previous efforts. For starters, it's more mellow in tone. Characteristically bipolar moments like "La Fille Tu Sais" and "We Are The Losers" are not entirely absent, but they are more subdued - more like mood sways than swings. Unlike its pop predecessors, Joker is a bit of an indie-rock album, in a gorgeous, warm, only-French-girls-can-get-away-with -being-this-coy way.

The opener, "Je mens," really sets the tone with its first line, "Comme je respire, je mens." Not a stunning profundity, but a great introduction to the album as the slow, lush melancholy draws you in completely. The title track bounces along as she wonders what kind of man she will marry...the sense is hopeful, but still sad. It's never said, but you get the clear impression that she just been recently burned.

In "Les patineurs," another favorite and perhaps hier to "la Venus en caotchouc," she wonders about the dreams of skaters as they trace lines on the ice. She never says out right what she really means; it's clear there is some metaphor I don't get, I'm perfectly content to float along with her childish lilt.

The only place it doesn't work for me is the last two songs, "Non ça s'peut pas" and "L'océan des possibles," a pair of duets with Bernard Lavilliers and Michel Jonasz, respectively. The former is a remake of one of Clarika's previous songs which, I think, is totally skewed by Lavilliers' presence. The original is pained, fervent, and gorgeous, this version is at best pretty, and really a bit forced. Neither singer sounds particularly involved: this is a crushingly sad song, and deserves better.

"L'océan des possibles," is again sad, warm, and pretty, but the duet sounds forced. Clarika has such an enchanting and expressive voice, I can't think why she bothers sharing the mic.

These things aside, Joker is a solid record, and it will be months before I have a real favorite track, so it earns a solid place on my playlist. The early leaders are "Joker," "L'avant dernier," and "Patricia," but only time will tell. I'm also pretty sure that at least one or two people I know would be quite fond of this album. It also has killer cover/booklet art.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?