"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, July 31, 2006

Back to it 

Well, I'm back from vacation, and there's lots to catch up on. I don't have the brainpower to think about this stuff today, but here's a quicky-linky for memory's sake.

Radiation-killed bacteria may be more effective as vaccines than heat or chemically killed ones. Such vaccines could have many advantages, such as reduced need for refrigeration.

A common ingredient in air fresheners and cleansers may damage your lungs. So cleanliness is next to godliness, presuming that you are closer to god when dead.

Researchers have found a pheromone receptor gene, analogous to the one in mice, in humans. This suggests that we may use them as well.

HIV seems to be 'hiding out' in the gut, avoiding drug treatments to attack it. This virus is fucking amazingly clever.

SSRI antidepressant Celexa seems to be helpful in treating irritable bowel syndrome. Cool.

Fatties are fucking up their own radiology results: more and more patients are too fat to have X-rays read reliably.

12-step programs probably not more effective than other quitting methods, but letting kids have more playtime is effective at making them healthier.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Scientific Study 

Being on vacation doesn't lend itself to too much scientific adventuring, but I have learned one less on this trip - other than about places or people - it is that some books make good vacation reading, and others rather definitively do not. I should really be more careful, and also suck it up and carry a few extra books along just in case.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Drinking, Smoking, Forgetting 

Are you looking to get nice and drunk tonight? To drown your sorrows and forget your troubles in a pint of ale or fifth of whiskey? Well, science may have some news that could help!

A rat study indicates that smoking interferes with alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, meaning that if you smoke you get less drunk from the same amount of booze. The result could be totally different in humans, but hey - just another reason not to smoke! (and for bar owners to fight against smoking bans)

And in good news, an Australian firm claims to have developed a once-a-day pill that can possibly stop Alzheimers in its tracks: PBT2 seems to stop beta-amyloid plaques from accumulating in the brain, restoring memory function in lab animals. If human trials are successful, this is truly phenomenal news!

Also, I'm still in Prague (which is gorgeous), having lots of fun, and my sister still needs housing help in New York.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Call for help! 

My sister is having a housing crisis...she needs a place in NYC from August until October-ish. Anyone got leads?

UPDATE: Seriously ya'll, her current situation is a disaster and could literally dissolve any minute, and she doesn't have a real new place until October. Someone must know of something! Anyone? Drop me a line

Saturday, July 22, 2006


The rest of the time in Budapest was lovely, lots of cool stuff to see, and I went clubbing one night. Great music, big crowd, ridiculously cheap drinks. I wish I had any idea where I was, but really I was just out wandering and saw a place that sounded fun and went in.

So now we're in Prague, at this totally fantastic hotel (hotel Josef). Coming in yesterday I was reminded of some of the things that struck me last time I was here - the city is just so full of amazing juxtapositions. Old, old, old buildings right next to and often added on to by modern ones, which are often of the totally heinous Soviet concrete box variety, with gorgeous art-nouveau and classical and gothic facades on the other side. It works, somehow.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Vacation Science Break; Boobies 

It seems that sucking on boobies relieves pain, for infants at least.

You see, even on vacation in such a gorgeous place, there is still science that I want to remember to look in to further when I return.

Researchers may have found a way to use C. elegans in drug testing, which seems pretty cool, and Dubya has been evil again, this time going against even his own (fracturing) party.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Budapest 2: The Ugly Americans 

I really do love this city. Aside from how beautiful and historically relevant it is, it feels Old. You know, you can just *feel* the bones of the city and the earth beneath it? I love it. Also, it's fairly inexpensive, and there are a large number of really really hot men. As today was spent at an outdoor public pool (I was outvoted on the Turkish Bath idea...maybe I'll go alone tomorrow), there was plenty of opportunity to observe said specimens in near-optimal conditions.

Warning! Possibly obnoxious rant ahead.

But then, there's the trouble with traveling with my family. For all the upsides (we go places I can't afford on my own, do things I couldn't/wouldn't do on my own, etc.), there are the downsides. The first is, obviously, that I'm traveling with my parents. And sharing a hotel room with my younger sister. This means those hot Hungarian boys are for looking only ;-(

Also, my parents and sister have a habit of playing the Ugly Americans; our parents are rather experienced travelers, and my sister has lived abroad, so this never ceases to shock me. They really ought to know better.

My dad makes the same joke he makes with waiters in the US: telling them that the food was terrible, and that we couldn't eat it, as they clear away empty plates. This is obnoxious at home, but where the servers' command of the subtleties of English are less than perfect, it leads to visible confusion and consternation. Visible, that is, to everyone but him. My mom is perpetually asking "what's in that" and, following the response, saying "oh, I don't want that, do you have (insert other dish that may or may not resemble what's on the menu)?" And my sister, who above all should know better, today at lunch began loudly reading and making fun of the mistakes in the English version of our menu, which included a detailed (and, I think, interesting) history of Hungarian cuisine. The waiters all spoke enough English to know what pointing and laughing means.

None of us speak Magyar, or German, or Czech, or any of the local languages, and while less than ideal, that's the way it is. The thing my family does that makes me CRAZY is that they make no effort whatsoever to learn even the basics, like 'hello,' 'goodbye,' 'thank you,' etc. Which I feel is the least I can do (since learning a language for every trip, while a nice goal, is not gonna happen) And what's worse: when I point out to them that what they're doing is rude/inappropriate, they tell me to 'have a sense of humor' and tell me I'm being immature.

End rant.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I'd upload photos, but sadly have to USB cable. Consider this a text-only postcard!

Vienna was fun, and we saw lots of art. I've also gained about 800 lbs. worth of pastries and sausage, but it's well worth it. We took a boat up the Danube to Budapest passing Bratislava, where I really wanted to stop but my parents (who get to pick as they are footing the bill) did not. My sister slept most of the way, missing the scenery, etc.

Budapest is every bit as lovely as I remember, although my parents' preference for things written up heavily in guide books does make the experience a bit, well, kitschier: we had dinner at a place that got 'starred' reviews in all the guidebooks which, needless to say, was perfectly acceptable but overpriced, and catering entirely to AmericanAnglophone tourists. Oh well. There is much castle-seeing to do, and hopefully a Turkish bath in my near future.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vienna, Day 2 

So I arrived here in Vienna (that's in Austria, kids) yesterday on the red eye from DC, and spent the day hazily wandering around seeing some sights and drinking much coffee to avoid jetlag. The city is really beautiful, and I've taken many pictures, but of course forgot my USB cable for my camera. So, what I said the other day about pictures? Yeah, that'll have to wait. Too bad too, since in addition to architecture, there is lots of, er, other eye candy here too!

Today we will hopefully be visiting the Klimpt museum, among others.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Men and women are different. We all know that. But, those differences often lead to trouble, especially when competition is involved. A transgendered scientist, Ben Barres, has written a really fascinating sounding book about being a female scientist and being a male scientist. I really want to read it!

I'm leaving for a two-week vacation in central Europe today, so posting will be light and photo-intensive (I hope!) for a while.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Consumption Junction 

As everyone knows, I love food. Most people do, and pretty much all animals do too. Since diet is such a critical part of living, organisms have evolved ways to encourage themselves to eat healthily, and sometimes these mechanisms pop up in wired ways. For instance, it seems that morning sickness, that misery of early pregnancy, may have evolved to protect the mother and fetus from dietary risks. The sickness is most often brought on by meats, which are naturally full of toxins and parasites (while these are mostly eliminated by modern food preparation, evolution has had no reason to change the phenotype), encouraging mothers to eat healthy cereals and fruits.

Tangentially related, paleontologists have unearthed a number of new fossils in northern Australia, which represent a group of carnivores not before seen: a killer kangaroo and a demon duck of doom. I want pictures and Pixar movies!!!

Finally, it's possible to live happily and eat well without destroying the planet in the process. A large international survey of happiness (warning: details sketchy, methodology unclear) has ranked the south Pacific nation Vanatu as happiest, with Japan 95th, the UK 108th, and the US 150th. Interesting idea, but the external validity is dubious.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Seeing Things and Sperm 

British researchers have for the first time raised adult mice from sperm produced by cultured embryonic stem cells. This discovery, besides being pretty damn cool, promises improved understanding of fertility, and potential for new treatments for infertility.

Once born, people like to be able to see, and losing one's vision is a terrible experience. Age-related macular degeneration is an increasingly common form of vision loss, but it is one that could be preventable. A pair of small American studies seem to confirm earlier findings that regularly eating fish may help protect against age-related macular degeneration. Now if we could only get the fish sans mercury!

Some people also like to see things ... differently. Mystics and hippies (not to mention plain old junkies) have long sung the praises of psilocybin, the active ingredient in Magic Mushrooms, for opening up new spiritual doors and expanding consciousness. Hopkins researchers have 'confirmed' that the drug causes spiritual experiences, in that many subjects claimed that taking the drug lead to them.

Now, I'm firmly in favor of studying the stuff, as its effects can clearly show us a great deal about how the brain works and how chemicals can affect it, but this study rubs me the wrong way.
There seem to be too many confounds, especially people's preconceived notions of the drug including fears of a 'bad trip' or of 'flashbacks.' Also, 36 is an extremely small n. But I am thrilled that the research got done, and the DEA hasn't had anyone's head for it (yet). Small studies with promising results lead to bigger ones.

Monday, July 10, 2006


I had multiple drinks this weekend. It was a blast, but I'm still a little, uhm, blasted. But, the throbbing headache may be treated by taking snail venom, and the oh-god-what-did-I-do depression could be treated with RU486. Not exactly, but that's what the science is doing today. I cannot wait to hear the wingnuts scream about this option for RU486.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hard Wires, Fur Coats, New Uses 

See what the lib'ruls have done?!? They let tell us to stop beating our pets and flaying our research animals, and next thing you know, mice are becoming more human! Empathy is supposed to be a human trait, but now we've got mice doing it! Damn you, PETA!!! Seriously though, this research is very interesting: mice who see other mice in pain exhibit heightened pain responses, which looks like empathy. Cool.

Ever wonder why your team's colors are so compelling? Well, research suggests that color grouping is just a naturally very good way to keep track of large numbers of items. Humans can generally subitize - instantly enumerate - up to about four items, but that doesn't help in a melee or on the hunt. Color grouping talents could have been very helpful, in evolutionary terms, and become hard wired. Interesting.

Speaking of colors from the past, geneticists have gone a bit JurassicPleistocene Park on us, extracting and analyzing DNA from frozen woolly mammoths. What did they find? Among other things, that the mammoths seem to have had variable fur colors, similar to modern mammals, coming probably in yellow and brown or black varieties.

And, some good news for Hepatitis C sufferers, and also for Novartis: the drug fluvastatin (Lescol) seems to be a potent inhibitor of HCV replication. Besides being a strange finding, it's very good news for HCV patients, many of whom have no treatment options at all and the rest of whom are stuck with ribaverin and its nasty side effects.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sad Fatty McOversized 

Science is a wonderful thing. It can give us bigger boobs, suggest how we might live longer, and justify our cravings. Sometimes though, it just tells us things we already know.

"Fat people aren't jolly."

A Seattle research group has found that obese people are more likely to be depressed and less likely to have substance abuse problems. Well, duh, I say. Depression often leads to lethargy and overeating, which lead to obesity, and being obese inhibits social contacts which can lead to depression. Plus, if we believe the (somewhat dubious) study which suggests that early drinking increases alcoholism risk, fat kids get invited to fewer high school parties and so probably don't start drinking as early...etc. Still no cure for cancer. Or obesity.

Monday, July 03, 2006

FutureTech Edition 

Due to inflation, the Six Million Dollar Man would now be worth about twenty five million. But, that modest sum (consider Roseanne or Madonna's plastic surgery budgets) pales in comparison to the whole feasibility problem. Luckily, researchers may have made a step in the right direction: a new development seems to allow prosthetics to be grafted to bone and the protrude through the skin, without risk of infection. Cool!

See? Technology makes our lives better. Also, Dutch researchers have developed a promising new form of plasma needle, which they hope can be used to kill cancer cells, unclog arteries, and even replace the dreaded dentist's drill. I'm not at all clear from the article, however, how the technology promises to accomplish the latter, which is the hype-line of the article.

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