"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!!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Location, Location, Location 

So, I'm going to Emory for grad school this fall. I'm super-excited (and thrilled to have finally made a decision!), but now I need to figure out where to live. There's grad student housing, but all I've heard is that it's not that great and that I can do better elsewhere. Needless to say, I don't know shit about Atlanta, except that I'll have to drive everywhere. I have a car, and while I do hate driving, I accept this.

So, does anyone have a feel for good buildings to rent in Atlanta, if my impression of Emory's housing facilities is wrong, how much I should expect to pay, etc.

I'm off to Tokyo for about 10 days, so I'll catch ya'll on the flipside!


Lots of cool stuff today, and I am a bit too brain-dead to deal with it. This may be due to: not working leads to laziness; being tired from hitting the gym super hard the last couple of weeks; being distracted by preparations for leaving tomorrow for Japan; pure unadulterated laziness; early-onset senility. Whatever the cause, I don't have much to write. These are worth remembering:

Swiss researchers seem to be having some luck in a trial of a vaccine against dust mite allergies. This would make my life so much better, so I wish them much luck.

Sky blue is the best color for setting and maintaining circadian rhythms, and yellow light is counter-productive. This is very interesting and cool.

Researchers have engineered mice with brains full of beta-amyloid plaques and tangles - hallmarks of Alzheimers Disease - that don't suffer memory deficits. I'm not clear on how, or what they think the mechanism may be, but this is striking and possibly huge.

Selenium supplementation does not seem to offer protection against heart disease. Sorry kids, you're just gonna have to eat healthily and exercise!

Smog is bad for you, and for your fetus: Columbia researchers have found that kids whose moms breathe lots of exhaust fumes while pregnant do more poorly on developmental tests. The study does not appear to be very well controlled, but it's an intriguing finding none the less.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Good News! 

A large, long-term study found that drinking coffee didn't seem to raise heart attack risk. It may also be good for your liver, so...

Swiss researchers are making good progress on a potential vaccine for Leishmaniasis, which is a nasty little bugger. Yay!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Government Efficiency 

Even the power of the internet cannot overcome bureaucratic stupidity. The Social Security Administration's web page has 'open' and 'closed' hours. This means that they either just don't get the concept, or that their system is so inconceivably poorly designed that it needs many hours of downtime maintenance every day.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Politics Trumps Science 

...Again. The FDA , famous for its impartiality, has released a report claiming that "no sound scientific studies" support marijuana's medical uses. You know, except for against MS, brain cancer, glaucoma, AIDS wasting, chemo-induced anorexia, etc.

And despite an IOM report stating the contrary. Because, you know, the arguably most venerable scientific body in the world can't possibly know as much as appointed officials.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ego Boost 

I'm not precisely known for my excessive self-confidence. Especially when it comes to what I think other people think about me. So, I get a major rush from validation (wait...I'm a blogger...you knew that already...) . Today, as part of finishing up at my job, I've been sending emails to clients letting them know that I'm going and who will be taking over my position.

The good bit is that I've gotten back more than a couple of really fantastic notes, saying that I'll be missed, and even offering help in the future. This makes me very happy.

So, if I'm a but smug for a day or so, please don't hate me for it. It's rare I get to feel this secure.

Duh du Jour: Men Distracted by Sex 

A UK study indicates that straight men shown 'alluring' photos of women are more easily swindled in a bargaining game. The effect also seems to get stronger with higher levels of testosterone.

Still no cure for cancer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The New Jews? 

I'm Reformed, and I don't keep kosher, but still. There have to be some boundaries.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has finally released a series of standard reference materials for a number of botanical dietary supplements. These standards are tools that researchers and producers should use to measure doses and study effects.

Standardization has been a big problem for proponents of these 'alternative' therapies, in that lacking them has made it even more difficult than usual to substantiate claims of real benefits.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Two Ways to Prevention 

In the most basic sense, there are only two options: you either do something, or you don't do something. In medicine and health, this decision is arguably even more important than the decision of what you do (or don't do).

Prevention is a, and perhaps the, critical public health goal, and it requires a careful balance of do's and don'ts. Today, we see a potential example of each: for preventing breast cancer, and resistant bacterial infections.

Studies have shown that tamoxifen reduces womens' risk of developing certain types of breast cancer. The problem is, tamoxifen has some pretty serious side effects. Another drug, raloxifene, seems to be as effective at preventing breast cancer, but without many of the side effects. The study looks odd to me - I'm not sure how well controlled it was, but the results are interesting.

Food-borne bacterial infections are nasty, but usually easily remedied with antibiotics. The problem, of course, is when the bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, usually due to previous exposure. Previously, it's been presumed that resistance is due to overuse of antibiotics by humans, in humans, but Australian researchers suggest that use of antibiotics in food animals may have a similar effect. Australia banned use of many antibiotics in livestock (good for them!), and found lower rates of resistant-strain infections in humans. Not a shock, but good to see some confirmation of our suspicions.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Sometimes I get a really clever idea, and make a plan and set it in action. It's all going along brilliantly, and I'm feeling very proud of what a great idea I've had and how flawlessly I've executed it, when I notice, Eureka!, that it is not going to work. My post-lunch coffee break provides a classic example.

I went to the freezer and put a scoopfull of my lovely coffee into my mug, add sugar, and took it to the hot water dispenser to fill it.

The water doesn't come out hot enough. The microwave near the coffee room/my office was busy heating someone's lunch. I could not wait for my caffeine. So, I went over to the kitchenette on the other side of the office, and nuked my tar soupcoffee.

The detail I forgot was this: my mug has no handle, so it gets very hot when I do this, and the kitchenette it too far from my office to do my usual oh-I'll-make-it-before-I-burn-my-fingers dash. This is where I got clever: I borrowed someone's "normal" mug - the kind with a handle - and put my cup inside, since pouring it over would lose the sludgecoffee grinds at the bottom that make Turkish coffee so good. Very pleased with my cleverness, I return to my desk where, amazingly, I realize that I can't get my mug out of its holder-mug, because there's nowhere to grip.

I stirred furiously, nuked it some more (hotter water dissolves more coffee!), and poured the contents into another (third) mug. I now have to wash three mugs.

I know, I know. I'm a genius.

Another Skinny Pill 

As obesity becomes more and more of a public health problem, and as our social obsession with thinness continues, more and more research dollars are going to look for a 'magic pill' that can make us thin without sacrificing any of the things we like (food, booze, not going to the gym, etc.). Most of this research has focused on hormones, such as leptin and obestatin, and have not yielded great results. Canadian researchers have found another protein, ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), which may hold some promise: it seems to stimulate fat metabolism in muscles, and to suppress appetite.

Still probably not as effective as going to the gym every day. But then, I hate the gym.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Two Become One? 

An Oklahoma researcher claims to have successfully reversed mitosis. I can't even conceive how this is possible, or even that plausible, so if someone could send me the paper, that'd be awesome.
It's in the April 13 Nature, I think.

Today A Penguin Saved Someone's Life 

I'm a wee bit stressed. And people at my office just keep pissing me off. Thus, it is very lucky for one some of many of them that the following arrived in my email around 11:15 AM:

Food Hangover 

Too much food, too much wine, a bit of vodka, and Kareoke. And what do I wake up to find? Things we probably already knew.

AT+T is totally evil and very happy to help BushCo in its illegal wiretapping activities.
Fast food has super-high trans-fat content.
This guy is my hero.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tenth Planet 

What ever happened to Sedna? 2003 UB313, also called Xena, seems to have taken it's place as the vaunted '10th Planet.' Xena also has a mysteriously shiney surface, which astronomers are at a bit of a loss to explain. It seems that the planet has some kind of consistent precipitation to refresh its smooth surface, but no source is apparent. The planet is, unfortunately, so far away that I suspect an exploratory mission is even more distant than my making a grad school decision. Oh well, mysteries are fun!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How The Mighty Have Fallen 

Ok, well, then, hmm, yes, errr, maybe not necessarily so, uhm, errr, mighty. I still don't know where I want to go to grad school (Michigan or Emory, Emory or Michigan, ...???), it's 10:15 on a Tuesday, I'm very drunk on red wine, and have become addicted to So NoTORIous on VH1. Because it's just that awful. I loves it. So do the small elves.

Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge 

In science, as in every other endeavor, it is imperative to maintain a sense of humor. When telling a joke - particularly a long, complicated one - it is also particularly crucial to keep a straight face.

Smith and Pell are right to target the billowing ranks of the RCT Gestapo for a good mocking. The Randomized Controlled Trial is the gold standard for medical interventions (and many other research endeavors) for many good reasons. It is not, as some seem convinced, the only way to do things. Their mocking study is brilliant, up till about two-thirds of the way through, when they seem to give up the pretense and start smirking. It's less funny than when you are still wondering if they're serious.

Death to the Poor (As Usual) 

This Washington Post article starts out in the right direction. Stores around the DC area, particular in poor, minority areas, have taken to locking up their condoms, requiring customers to buzz for staff assistance - announcing their purchase to the whole store. Obviously, this has significant impacts on who buys, and consequently on who uses, condoms.

Redfearn points this out, and begins to chastise the stores for policies that pretty plainly target the poor and minorities, but then backs off, letting the "business argument" against theft carry the day. She also (a bit inexplicably) feels the need to give the abstinence whackos a few lines of space, after which she lamely discredits them (but only if you read carefully).

I understand the businesses position. If they really do see high theft rates in some stores - though I'd be more inclined to believe them if they offered numbers - they have an interest in locking things up. However, there needs to be a better way of unlocking them. Why not put them behind the counter - that way it's between a customer and the check-out clerk, same as if they weren't locked up. It might be a little less intimidating.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fat Zapper 

Liposuction not radical enough for you? Too much self-respect to compete on reality TV? Well, science may soon have an answer for you: fat-blasting lasers. Researchers claim to have found a way to set a laser frequency that melts fat while leaving skin undamaged.

The idea is that the melted fat would then be excreted by the body. No word on what anyone thinks about the plausible side effects of adding that much waste to the bloodstream might be.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Breathing Babies and Battery Breakthroughs 

Well, actually, not breathing babies. A Canadian study suggests that babies of women who take SSRIs are more likely to be stillborn. On top of evidence that, should they live at all, these babies will be more likely to suffer lung disease, I'd say that there's mounting evidence that, if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you'd do well to talk to your doctor about other ways to deal with depression (or yuppiedom, whichever disease afflicts you).

Once your baby is born and is breathing properly, it will need to watch what it breathes. We all know that smoking is bad for you, but a BMJ study suggests that second-hand smoke increases glucose intolerance, which is a major risk factor for diabetes. I'm not sure if the study controlled for things like lifestyle (people exposed to lots of second-hand smoke may spend more time in bars, thus drinking more and eating more fries, etc.), but this is an interesting result.

Not caused by breathing, but likely to stop it, African Sleeping Sickness affects about 60 million people worldwide, and kills about 40,000 per year. It's a disease that affects mostly poor people in Africa, and thus has a tendency not to get researched as much as it should, so news of a potentially major breakthrough against it are especially welcome. UK researchers have found that the bacteria that causes the sickness, Trypanosoma brucei, cannot live in the blood stream without its flagellum, and have identified a number of unique proteins making up said flagellum. This could lead to better treatments and targeted drugs.

If you manage not to be dead, you probably use battery-powered devices, and are aware of how expensive batteries are, and probably of how environmentally nasty they are to produce. The solution to these problems may turn out to come from viruses. MIT researchers have genetically engineered tube-shaped viruses to harvest cobalt and gold for a metallic coating, and self-assemble themselves into a 10 centimeter battery anode. This is cool for many obvious reasons.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Bad News for Diet Coke 

Just when you thought it was safe, the FDA is being cagey about new data suggesting benzene levels above what's considered safe in diet sodas. They won't release the data, and the soft drink industry is claiming that the levels aren't really that high. Given the FDA's recent track record, let alone the track records of lobbying groups on consumer safety, I'd really like to see the data. Can't someone FOIA it?

And I still don't know where I'm going to grad school!

Crunch and Cure 

Further study of GlaxoSmithKline's HPV vaccine suggests that it is safe and effective for as much as 4 and a half years. The vaccine protects against four strains of HPV most commonly associated with cervical cancer, and has the potential to prevent as much as 80 per cent of cases.

Besides vaccines, a healthy diet can help prevent disease. Yet more research indicates that eating cruciferous veggies may stop prostate cancer growth. The effect seems to stem from isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are produced when the plants are cut or chewed. All the more reason to eat your broccoli!!

Not crunchy at all, but closer to veggie than vaccine, Wayne State scientists managed to restore some visual perception to blinded mice. They replaced the destroyed rods and cones by grafting photoreceptive compounds from green algae on to the surviving retinal cells. This is really cool!

And I still haven't picked a grad school. Ahhhh!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Health Policy Day 

As promised, the big policy issue of the day.

Those crazy Mass-holes have done it again. A bill passed the State Legislature yesterday that requires all residents to purchase health insurance, the same way that all car owners have to have car insurance. I'm all for universal coverage, but I think this law will be a disaster.

First of all, the reason that people don't have insurance, for the most part, is that they cannot afford it. Why on Earth do you need to penalize them (additionally) for being poor? It seems totally unnecessary: if you're offering subsidized coverage, people will take it. As long as they know about it - that's the rub - why not just auto-enroll everyone?

Second, of course Romney is gonna veto the bit that requires employers to provide coverage - I think it's an unworkable provision as well for a number of reasons, but "protecting businesses" isn't one. This too seems excessive; shouldn't the subsidized plans take care of that anyways?

Finally, this law doesn't strike me as likely to pass court reviews. The mandatory nature will make it a target on many fronts (due process, privacy, etc...some help from the lawyers here?), and I imagine that it'll have to be scrapped and rewritten a few times.

This law seems like every other "bipartisan" health care effort we've seen: overly complicated and too vested in special considerations (aka interests) to be useful. But it's some movement and radical enough to maybe make people start thinking, and so we'll see what happens.

Also noted: the GAO has caught on to a bit of the stupidity of the Bush regime's AIDS plan, and is taking BushCo to task on the abstinence programs requirement. The GAO report focuses on funding diverted to abstinence programs from other things, like condom distribution and mother-child transmission prevention, but, unfortunately, doesn't seem to mention the proven inefficacy of abstinence programs. I'm still waiting for the GAO report on those. But still, every little bit helps, right?

A Vast Stream of Alcohol 

Besides being my excuse for crankiness this morning, it's also what UK astronomers, using the Merlin network of satellites, have found in Cassiopeia. Is interstellar methanol the secret ingredient for a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster? A couple of quickies right now, I will post on the day's big policy news later.

A National Cancer Institute study makes me feel better about my Diet Coke consumption: it seems that aspartame does not cause cancer in humans. The study did not, however, address neurotoxicity or other bad effects.

Lab studies suggest that ginger may help kill ovarian cancer, and that caspaisin may help kill pancreatic cancers. More hot ginger!!

Genetic analysis of Ashkenazi Jews yields a putative 'longevity gene.' A polymorphism in apolipoprotein C3 is linked with long life, lower blood pressure, and increased insulin sensitivity (i.e., the opposite of diabetes). Cool!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

But Can I Get Insurance to Pay? 

We all know about my ADHD problems (insert sentance that trails off int...hey lets go ride our bikes!) , and most people know I'm not much of a sleeper. Could the two be related? Research suggests that ADHD in kids may in many cases be secondary to sleep apnea, and treatable with adenotonsillectomy. Considering this, combined with my propensity to get strep throat, I would love to get my tonsils out. But of course insurance won't pay for it, and I haven't got $5000 lying around for "elective" surgery. D'oh!

On the Job: Getting There and Getting Out 

If you find that you have trouble making it out of bed to your first cup of coffee, ThinkGeek may have a solution for you: Buzzaire, the caffeine inhaler. I do not recommend using this product. In fact, I would suspect that it's actually kinda dangerous. It may work for asthma, though. Another dubious caffeine delivery system is caffeinated soap. I really wonder how effective that can possibly be.

Once you've woken up, you need to worry about your job. But don't worry too much, as research suggests that chronic job insecurity can lead to major health problems. D'oh! But you may soon be able to get a custom-grow replacement for those organs you destroy in the process of coping: Wake Forest doctors have announced successful transplantation of lab-grown bladders into young patients. They grew the bladders from bladder biopsies on a bladder-shaped scaffold. Cool!

The best cure for workplace stress is, of course, a vacation. If you're going somewhere sunny, don't forget your sunscreen. Or maybe you should. Researchers have found that ingredients in sunscreen seem to disrupt thyroid function in rats. It's not clear how or if this translates to humans, but I guess we knew it was coming.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Decisions...I need help! 

So I'm going to grad school. The good news is that I got in to my top choices, Michigan and Emory, but the bad news is ... I have to pick. The programs are both top-ranked, and very well respected, and the curricula are very similar. Emory's in Atlanta, which has climate going for it, and the people are much much much more diverse and also friendlier. But I have a number of friends in Ann Arbor, and they also have friends (who are, presumably, also fun and cool). I'm comfortable with Ann Arbor as a place to live.

I don't know which school's going to offer better job prospects, or even better internships while I'm there. And then there's the quality of life question.

Is there anything to do on or near Emory's (specifically, the Rollins School of Public Health) campus? I visited, and did not find a pub or coffeeshop in proximity. I was a bit put off by Emory's LGBT group's table at the visit day: the only thing they had was a big "Safe Spaces" brochure. Now, I have a loud mouth and tend to get ... aggressive ... when faced with homophobia, and "dealing with the cops" is not how I want to spend grad school.

Does anyone know Emory? Any chance you went to Rollins SPH? What's it like? Did you get a good job? Were you bored with the location? Do you know Michigan? Did you get a good job? Besides the cold-assed-ness, how'd you like Ann Arbor?

More Bad Atkins 

A UCL study suggests that eating too much red meat while pregnant may leave your baby hyper-stressed later in life. Adult children of mothers who were instructed to eat a pound of red meat a day during pregnancy, while restricting carbs, had higher cortisol levels than controls.

If you're on the Atkins diet, you shouldn't be. If you are pregnant, you really shouldn't be.

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