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

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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Riding Bitch 

Like many folks, I hate getting stuck with the middle seat in a car. Science is trying to convince me to change my ways, it seems, because research indicates that riding bitch is the safest way to ride. I am really puzzled by this finding: you usually have a lap-belt only, open access to flying thru the windsheild, and no head restraint behind you - how can this be safer? But it seems to be.

An even less desirable seat than the middle one is the dentist's, and more even than that the orthodontist's. A Canadian discovery may at least mean that they can do more good than they currently do: it seems that they can use ultrasound to stimulate regrowth of dental tissue. I'm not really clear on how this works or what it does, but it's probably a good thing.

Even if they can grow you new teeth (which the above study never suggests), you probably don't want to be in that position anyways. And smoking is really bad for your teeth. Smoking 'light' cigarettes is not better. Or even 'less bad.' They are just as likely to cause cancer as regular cigarettes, and people who smoke them seem to be less likely to ever get around to quitting. Many seem to be switching to 'lights' as a stepping stone to quitting, but never get there. So: just quit.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


That's what RJ calls my new backyard pond. Yeah, pretty much. The dogs pretty much don't know what to do, but are slowly (and much to my chagrin) discovering how much fun an entire yard full of mud can be.

The roto-rooter guy is supposed to come tomorrow, and the hydrogeologist may or may not follow. Posting may be light.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Wrong Ban 

The US Surgeon General has released a comprehensive report indicating that there is no "safe" exposure level for second-hand smoke, and calling for all indoor smoking to be banned. This pisses me off. Smoking is a major and obvious public health hazard, for smokers and everyone around them; but any attempts to address it are these limp-wristed attempts at nanny-statesmanship.

Why stop at banning indoor smoking? If there is "no safe level," then merely walking past a smoker on the street could kill you! Ban cigarettes altogether, or, since the donor base (and for that matter the actual voter base) won't allow it, please do shut up already. I don't support smoking bans like the ones we have in DC, but if smoking was actually illegal, as opposed to just being under nonsense time-place restrictions, my feelings shift. I don't like the gub'min telling me what to do, but I am less irritated by sensible, unambiguous policies than by arbitrary and loop-holey limits.

Unfortunately, we in the US are much happier banning things that aren't that bad, or are in fact actually good. A fantastic example is a growing trend among US schools of banning various types of games kids like to play at recess (for the lucky kids who get recess at all anymore). This is stupid for countless reasons. For starters, there's the decrease in physical activity - and increase in obesity - that will likely result from the bans. Then, of course, there's the potential damage to kids development of social skills. On top of that, this will just make even more kids hate school even more, and even younger. Just what we need. Fucktards.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Female Roommate Wanted 

Courtesy of my apartment-hunting sister, a reminder as to why we love Craigslist and New York:
I'm looking for a female roommate who will occasionally not wear clothes when I ask in exchange for free rent. No sex whatsoever required.
Anyone in New York have a 3-bedroom available in August? Or possibly one bedroom, maybe two? She's great, but not entirely sure if her friends are living with her or not.

Crack is Whack, Caffeinated Cell Phones, and More 

I'm a bit hung over from Crack last night (which was tons of fun), and also my house is a bit flooded from the ongoing monsoon, this will be brief and poorly segue'd.

Men with more older brothers are more likely to be gay than men with fewer older brothers. This birth-order effect has been known for years, but a Canadian study helps establish it further: the effect remains regardless of how the boys grow up. A seventh son raised by adoptive parents as an only child will still be more likely gay than an only son raised by his own (or adoptive) parents. Interesting.

Is your Starbucks habit draining your bank account and dissolving your stomach lining? Well, according to a Harvard study, having a 45-minute cell phone conversation may have comparable wakeness-inducing effects. Cell phone use seems to increase cortical activity, but this is a pretty basic observation - it may wake you up, it may cause brain tumors, it may have no effect - so at the moment this is just a very funny idea. In other slightly-strange treatments news, it seems that cherry juice may help reduce exercise-related muscle pain. Hmm.

Another study suggests, interestingly, that mice lacking a particular immune system gene, STAT1, do not have the expected severe immune malfunctions and are less susceptible to visceral leishmanaisis. Weird.

Georgia Tech researchers claim to have developed a combustor that will produce way less carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide wastes than traditional ones. Cool!

Also, everyone knows that it is very expensive to live in Moscow and New York. But Abidjan and Lagos?!?!? Funny.

Friday, June 23, 2006


When test animals treated with the newly discovered brain chemical, Neuropeptide S (NPS), were given psychosis-inducing drugs, they did not show the expected symptoms that untreated animals do. This suggests that NPS may have a significant role in the pathochemistry of schizophrenia, and hold promise for better future treatments for that disease, which affects about 1 per cent of the population.

You know how much fun it is to figure something out? Well, it seems that that feeling may be your brain getting an 'opium' kick. It seems that the final event of grokking something results in stimulation of mu-opioid receptors in the brain, which give a pleasurable sensation. If this process was to have evolved in early (proto-)humans, it might explain why we evolved to be so good at learning things. I wonder if the same hold in other animals?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Junior Lifters, Dead Bugs 

In a discovery that should really shock no one, a small Indiana University study suggests that kids who carry heavier toys around may burn more calories than kids who carry lighter toys around. Thank you, Doctor Obvious! But, I'm all for kids getting better exercise, and hey - if the toys are heavier, they'll just knock your annoying little sister cold instead of just make her scream at you!

Before you want babies though, you should always use a condom during sex. Besides protecting against pregnancy, condoms are known to help block HIV, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia, and now, HPV. College women whose partners always used a condom had a 70% reduced incidence of new HPV infections. I can't help but wonder if the number isn't higher, and a few of the girls just forgot a few times? Either way, it's probably moot, now that we have the HPV vaccine, but just another good reason to wrap it up!

I wonder if this is true...my mom just forwarded me an email claiming that a white paper plate, containing a bit of Lemon Scent Joy-laced water, will act as an effective mosquito trap. Allegedly, it attracts the 'squiters, they drink the water, and die promptly. Anyone know if this works??

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Men in Tights 

One of the (many) 'holy grails' of modern medicine has long been to repair nerve damage, especially to restore movement to paralyzed patients. A proof-of-concept study, carried out by researchers at the Hopkins School of Medicine, may have developed a preliminary way to do this. They grew embryonic stem cells taken from paralyzed rats in culture, using growth factors to differentiate them into motor neurons. They then transplanted these new neurons back into the rats, and under certain conditions, saw significant regrowth such that the rats achieved some recovery of functioning. Cool!

And, via Dr. Charles, we learn that, by improving circulation, wearing tights may help you run faster and longer. Everyone can make their own favorite superhero joke here, so I won't.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wave for the Cameras! 

Or wiretaps. Say 'hi' to the New UncleBrother Sam: to bypass laws protecting citizens' privacy, US government officials have spent about $30 million last year to buy private data from online 'brokers' of dubious repute. Because that's how you get reliable data, you know.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stimulus, Response 

This hits a bit too close to home. Hat tip to EBD.

Grow, Cause, Cure. Big Brother is Still Watching. 

Our old friend, leptin, seems to do even more than we thought. Michigan researchers have found that it is key to stimulating Xenopus tadpoles to develop limbs and become adult frogs. "Receptors in the tadpole's waiting limbs that crank up cell division when leptin signals are received," makes it sound like leptin could have a role in cancer development too...I wonder...

Another chemical, melanin, is known to be responsible for our skin color, but it may have other uses as well. Research suggests that black Americans have better hearing than whites, and that the difference may be that their excess melanin protects blacks against age-related hearing loss. More surprisingly, the study found that, despite the rise of Walkmans and iPods and cell phones, people's hearing isn't any worse than it was 35 years ago. (So there, mom!)

Huntington's and Parkinson's are two devastating neurodegenerative diseases, with little hope so far for treatment or prevention. Parkinson's is the bigger mystery, but a Mayo clinic study suggesting that pesticide exposure increases the risk of Parkinson's in men (but not women) may be a very helpful step. Knowing a causative factor allows us not only to directly address it (go organic!), but also guides future research directions. Huntington's is a genetic disease, but treatment remains elusive. In a major breakthrough, researchers claim to have cured a mouse model of the disease. This is really cool!

And, in case you thought government invasions of your privacy were limited to, you know, when you were in public, think again. The LAPD has started using a small surveillance drone. Police claim that it will only be used to track crooks and scout for missing persons, etc., but that doesn't change the fact that it will, in the process, record many people's private activities, in their yards and perhaps in their homes as well.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Pretty well sums up my week, and what I will not be getting any of this weekend. Le sigh...

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I'm trying to multi-task watching soccer on TV and going to the Nationals game this afternoon (and mentally preparing for my weekend trip to Independence, Missouri, to which I am not looking forward), so this will be quick, as some important stuff is about. No time to analyze, just to point out.

The LA Times has come out to support the Red Cross and anyone with any common sense to ask the FDA to revoke the ban on gay men giving blood. Yay.

Along with the rest of our national health care crisis, the IOM has now proclaimed that our emergency system is in dire straits. This is what happens when you have provider shortages and no insurance.

And in the scaranoia department, USA Today is claiming that lawnmowers kill babies. Probably, but the article is a tad melodramatic to be credible.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Too brain-dead today to really think about anything but soccer...and this (via Chrisafer), which may be the funniest thing I've seen in months.

Also, it seems that your gut bacteria populations could contribute to obesity, and the AMA has made what seems like a well-intentioned but poorly thought-out proclamation that health insurance should be mandatory. They don't talk about how people should be able to pay for it, but that's not their job I guess.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bad for You, Good for You 

Fast food is unhealthy - this is not news. High in fat calories and full of ultra-refined sugars, fast food diets are frequently blamed for rising obesity and diabetes rates. It turns out that a big part of fast food's unhealthiness is due to its reliance on trans-fats: monkeys fed a diet high in trans fats got fatter and were more prone to diabetes than monkeys fed the same number of calories from mono-unsaturated fats. Just say no to trans-fats, kids.

Also famously not good for us (except from a distance) is ozone, an unstable gas not only found (less and less?) in the upper atmosphere but also produced by cars and photocopiers, is a major component of smog. And, it seems, it may be even more harmful to our health: researchers have found that ozone reacts with cholesterol in the blood to increase atherosclerosis, leading to heart disease.

Unlike ozone and trans-fats, folic acid is good for you; women should be especially sure to get plenty of it, as a deficiency early in pregnancy can lead to spina biffida and other birth defects. For the rest of us, it now seems that folic acid may in fact help prevent against throat cancer. Too much, however, may speed its progression.

Finally, the fight against Alzheimer's Disease may be getting a big boost from an unexpected source: some forms of the sugar, inositol, have been found effective in both preventing and clearing beta-amyloid plaque formations in mouse models of the disease, improving outcomes and survival significantly. Phase I human trials are now underway, and hopefully will lead to an effective (and cheap!) way to combat this disease.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Breakfast 

World Cup Breakfast
Originally uploaded by The Michael.
So I have pretty much become consumed by watching soccer. I expect that this will not change until after the end of the cup. Here's how I sustain myself through all the excitement:

UPDATE: I need to find a way to watch each match while (a) working out, and (b) being outside in the beautiful weather. Suggestions?

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Better to See You With, Dear Citizen... 

Many eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, destroy a layer of cells known as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Scientists generally believe that the RPE is non-regenerative - once you lose it, it will not grow back - but a University of Florida study suggests otherwise. It seems that like brain cells, the RPE really can regenerate under some circumstances. That means we may be able to figure out how to manipulate those circumstances to cure diseases.

This is great news for many patients, but also for the Republican Reelection CommitteeDepartment of Homeland Security, which may consequently have more seeing-years with which find new ways to spy on US citizens. Like through your MySpace profile, a trusted source of good information.*

* Yes, Mr. Chertoff, that really is my photo!.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Good News for Fruit, Bad for Babies 

A large study of Medicaid beneficiaries suggests that use of ACE inhibitors in the first trimester may be linked to birth defects, a fairly big deal considering generally increasing rates of high blood pressure in the US population at large, and also that many women do develop high BP during pregnancy. What other effects do these drugs have, even post natally, one wonders?

And Ketek is in more trouble: an FDA official has called for a halt in a trial of the antibiotic for ear infections in children, since these infections usually are not severe, and the drug is linked to so many serious side effects. The FDA will consider this idea, which seems like a total no-brainer. Ketek was approved in 2004 under very dubious circumstances, and one can only suspect that there is a very strong political influence pushing its continued use.

Drinking a glass of orange or grapefruit juice every morning may help prevent osteoporosis, according to a Texas study. The study was small, including only 36 rats, but seems to have been well executed, and follow-ups are in the works. I'll be very interested to see how this comes out.

Another fruit getting a boost today is gardenia, used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat the symptoms of diabetes. Genipin, a component of gardenia extract, stimulates insulin secretion from pancreatic cells, via uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2), lighting the way for many potential new treatments for the disease. Cool! Another line of research suggests the protein GCN5 as another potential target against diabetes.

In further good disease-fighting news, US researchers may be near to finding a new and potentially more effective HIV treatment. The compound, PA-457, seems to interfere with the virus' capsid protein formation, leaving its RNA exposed to immune system attacks. Which could be really fantastic, if it works.

Monday, June 05, 2006

666 - Kumquat's Revenge!!! 

Yesterday was a sad, sad day; I moved out of my apartment. The sadness was lessened, however, by a remarkable discovery in the space previously occupied by my desk: The nearly-fossilized remains of a kumquat. These things just make me happy.

Also, it appears that parents who drive a truck or minivan are much more likely to run over their kids.

Early Life, Less Early Death 

Premature babies seem to be at increased risk for developing ADHD later on. A Danish study expands on previous evidence, by finding the association in only somewhat premature babies, whereas other studies have examined only the extremely early.

Figs are tasty. So tasty, it seems, that they may have inspired the agricultural revolution: archeobotanists have found evidence that figs were cultivated by humans some 1000 years before other crops - some 11,400 years ago. That's really pretty cool.

On the other side of things, it seems that the hopefully-soon-to-be-FDA-approved HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer-causing strains, seems also to protect against vaginal and vulvar cancers. Aside from being really cool and good news in general, this will also hopefully make it harder for the FDA to justify bowing to political pressure to reject the vaccine.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Siestas, New Metal Tricks, and a Visit from Cpt. Obvious 

It turns out that there is a good biological reason to want a post-meal sietsta. Researchers have found that glucose levels seem to regulate orexin transmission, turning it off after a big meal. Lower levels of orexin are linked to sleepiness (narcolepsy in extreme cases) and obesity, and orexin has some role in learning, memory, and reward. This is really interesting stuff, but unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be enough to claim a biological imperative for the three-hour nap I want to tell my boss I need after lunch!

Wisconsin chemists have identified a new species of iron VI, which binds nitrogen, and is different from ferrate (iron VI plus oxygen). This is pretty cool. Also in cool chemistry news, researchers have found that Han purple, a 2000-year-old dye pigment - chemically BaCuSi206, undergoes some really cool transformations at low temperatures. It shifts from three dimensions to two. Weird.

Saying "not for kids" is, of course, the surest way you can guarantee kids wanting it. A Swiss scientist has published a review article indicating that anti-smoking laws for minors are almost totally ineffective. Surprise surprise, kids find ways around them, just as they do parents' curfews and gun-hiding techniques. The review doesn't really offer anything that shouldn't be obvious to anyone who thinks about it, but I suppose it'd be nice to think that some science could inspire some more sensible approaches to be developed.

US and Japanese researchers have found that compulsive addiction behaviors seem to stem more from aversion to withdrawal than from pleasure-seeking motives. This is, of course, obvious to anyone who's ever had a serious drug addiction.

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