"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, May 29, 2007

Lowering the Bar: Advertising Edition 

McDonald's Corp gets really cranky when people talk about "McJobs" and "McMansions" and everything else "Mc" that isn't a highly processed foodstuff from which it makes a huge profit. In an apparent effort to improve its PR, and also to recruit more young employees, McD'oh has been airing a commercial on TV.

I don't know if this is only getting aired in Georgia (or just the South), but it struck me as completely tragilarious. The ad starts with a professional-looking woman, who talks about how You've Probably Heard about some kid who got his first job at McDonald's, and stuck with it, and years later was "making thousands."

Yes. She says "making thousands." Not millions. Not hundreds of thousands. Not even tens of thousands. THOUSANDS. At least she's not over-inflating anyone's expectations.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why I Hate Atlanta 

This is today's weather forecast: "areas of smoke." Atlanta's not satisfied with that wimpy, diluted old smog, no! We have to have actual smoke. As in, the entire fucking city smells like a chimney.

When I moved here, more than a little inspired by a climate I believed superior to Michigan's, this was totally not in the brochure. Seriously. I wanted to spend today lounging by the pool drinking beer, but instead I'll stay inside huffing air from my Ionic Breeze.

Bloody 'ell.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Booze, Sex, and Trite Shite 

Salon has an astoundingly wordy article up about use of an extinct fennel by ancient Mediterranean cultures as an aphrodisiac and contraceptive. The short version: the ancient herb, silphium, was a source of great wealth to the few who controlled its wild harvest (the stuff didn't take to cultivation), and was, unsurprisingly, made soon extinct by over consumption. Cool!

Speaking of having sex without consequences, Minnesota researchers found that teen sex doesn't lead to more mental health problems, except in the youngest teens and even then only in those whose relationships dissolve soon thereafter. I feel like there's a cultural aspect to this which could be hiding here: if younger teens less are likely to get good support from their parents/friends because of taboos, wouldn't that explain increased emotional distress?

And on the topic of people we probably don't need to encourage to be any sluttier, an Argentine group found that Viagra may be helpful in alleviating jet lag. This could mean easier and speedier recovery for flight attendants, among others.

Last on sex, UK researchers seem to have found that sexual orientation affects gender-stereotyped cognitive task performance - lesbians do navigation tasks more like straight men, and gay men do them more like straight women. They also found that age affects men and womens' performance regardless of orientation. Interesting, but I'm not sure I buy their web-based study design.

And now, booze. Besides helping you get laid, it's good for you! A huge meta-study found that having about 2 drinks per day lowers your risk of kidney cancer, and one could slow your mental decline into senile dementia. Bottoms up!

More than a few papers have been covering the hell out of last week's 13th Historical Clinicopathological Conference, where researchers described how Abraham Lincoln might well have survived his assassination if only he'd had the benefit of an extra 142 years of medical science. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I say. "still no cure for cancer."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Failing to Fail 

Yet again, I am thankful that I live in the modern age of scientifically-enhanced living. If I were out on the savanna running from lions or chasing antelope, without modern medicine or transportation, I'd be dead meat. Again. This time, in a particularly brilliant maneuver I shan't describe, I have managed to tear my ACL, fracture my tibia, and do some cartilage damage to my knee.

A little perspective:

Right now I'm interning in a neuromuscular clinic, mainly seeing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and myasthenia patients. The former is the topic of my research project, and so that's what I spend my time on - reviewing charts, reading about the disease, etc. We have no idea how to stop it, or even how it happens: we can see the signs, but diagnosis is mainly a matter of just not having another explanation.

For the most part, it seems to strike at random, quickly disabling and almost invariably killing its victims. My project is looking at options to improve tracking of ALS, so that we might find more clues as to what causes it.
This brings me back to one of the things I find the coolest about studying biology - and particularly neuroscience - is the number of things that have to not fuck up all the time in order for life to exist, and they go wrong in similarly ordered fashion. Either that, or an organism face-plants trying to outrun something it clearly can't outrun, damages its ability to outrun things it ought to be able to escape in the future, and is eaten.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Loooong Week 

My first week of my internship has been tons of fun, but very busy. Thus, here are a ton of quick-link type things to the many big important sciencey news stories that are going on:

American and Japanese people read faces very differently, the former focusing on the mouth and the latter on eyes. It makes for a very interesting contrast, and has interesting implications even beyond emoticons - :-) versus (^_^).

Taking tons of vitamin supplements may be linked to more malignant and fatal cancers: bloody eat your vegetables and take less pills people!

British food is notoriously tasteless: it may also be less nutritious! A Warwick study found that boiling brassicas (broccoli and the like) for 30 minutes severely reduces the amount of cancer-fighting glucosinolate in the meal. Why the fuck would you boil a vegetable for 30 minutes, even if you're English?!?!?

California researchers found that N-acetylglucosamine, which is similar to but is NOT the popular supplement glucosamine, may help block the autoimmune responses seen in multiple sclerosis and diabetes type I. Cool!

US still has worst, most expensive healthcare in the "industrialized world."

The US and DC have reached agreement on a plan to 'fix' St. Elizabeth's Hospital...including such lofty goals as halting patient abuse. This old place has been in trouble for so long, that it'll be really kinda weird if they ever do fix it up! But I hope they do, since aside from being necessary to help mental patients in DC, it's a gorgeous old campus.

And the NIH has given Erin Brockovich more to crow about. They've finally released findings that Chromium 6 may indeed cause cancer by ingestion, not just inhalation. Whether or not this means that the EPA will actually act to reduce its release into the environment is an entirely different issue.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

A Quick Visit From Cpt. Obvious 

A UK study has found that kids who are raised by their parents to drink responsibly are .. wait for it ... more likely to do so. In a finding that should surprise no one, they discovered that kids are going to drink whether their parents want them to or not, but the ones whose parents drink with them, and set a responsible example, are less likely to engage in major binge drinking. But of course, the busybodies want to criminalise parents giving booze to their kids anyways.

Yeah, it's a slow brain day. I've got work. Meh.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Down the Hatch 

So there's bad news out there today: oral sex is linked to throat cancer. HPV, the same virus famous for causing cervical cancer in women, has been linked to a dramatic increase in throat cancer risk in both men and women. The upside is that there's a vaccine, but the downside is, it's not approved for use in men. Hopefully this research will motivate a quicker turnaround to see if it does, and then either get men to take it or find something that works.

Speaking of things that go down your throat (and, ultimately, about sex), Canadian researchers have found that omega-3 fats from fish oil seem to improve muscle mass (site in French). Cattle fed a diet supplemented with marine omega-3's showed improved insulin sensitivity and better protein metabolism - twice the amount of amino acids was used by their bodies to synthesize proteins, especially in muscles. The applications for farming is clear, and applications to human problems (and vanity, lest we forget) are on the horizon, pending further study. Cool!

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Monkey, Man-Machine 

I never really got anywhere in my "further research" on the bipolar genetics paper I mentioned yesterday, so I'll just go with what detail I have:

A consortium of researchers at the NIMH and abroad scanned the genomes of BPD and control groups and have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder, including one of particular interest for treatment. They identified the DGKH gene on chromosome 13, which produces an enzyme called diacylglycerol kinase eta which has something to do with the pathway on which Lithium works to control mood swings, as a possible target for novel therapies. It's not clear from the press release what the enzyme does or how it works, so if anyone knows I'd love to hear from you (leave a comment!).

Also in the brain, Chinese researchers may have found a key mutation that helped make humans what they are (i.e., different from apes and monkeys). Neuropsin is an enzyme produced in the brain and involved in learning and memory, a longer form of which is present in humans, but not other animals. This group found that this alternate splice seen in humans arose at our split from other apes and monkeys, about 5 million years ago. I really am crap on my genetics, and only having abstracts to go on doesn't help, but I think this is cool so I'm writing it!

And in other news of the not-quite-human, it seems that battlefield robots are rising the ranks of the US army as quickly as actual soldiers: human units become so attached to their bots that they award them medals and even complaining that testing them in minefields is inhumane. Is this a beginning of robot rights? The Three Laws must, to a good degree, go both ways, I think, for things to work out well.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I went out with a guy once who had a nut allergy (including coconut), and aside from all of his other issues, I realized that there was no way it'd work for that reason alone: no Thai food, no Indian food, no German Chocolate Cake, no PBJ picnics. And now, I'm guessing, no vacations to Papua New Guinea! The PNG island of Bougainville is working to replace diesel fuel with coconut oil, and thus become independent of the expensive imported former source of energy. That's really cool, and even if it's not a global or long-term solution to our energy crisis, it's gotta smell nice!

Speaking of, uhm, nuts, yet another US study has found that, despite what the wingnuts constantly claim, getting kids to use condoms doesn't make them more promiscuous: the UW study found that kids who reported using condoms their first time having sex had the same average number of partners as those who didn't use, and were less likely to have contracted an STI. So as usual, when the fundies scream about not wanting kids to have sex, what they really mean is that they don't want them to have sex without getting gonorrhea.

There's a bit on the other kind of nuts - crazy people - sitting here as well, but I want to think more about it (since it's really cool) before I blog it, so that'll come up later today.

In the meantime, we go to crazy hippies and their meditating ways (kinda). It seems that intensive mental training, by way of Vipassana meditation, improves people's ability to discriminate and attend to temporally close stimuli. Basically, the researchers found that intensively-trained participants had significant reductions in their 'attentional blink' time relative to baseline and more reduction than did a less-intensively trained group. The study was small, and I think the controls were perhaps lacking (groups were not randomized, and the intensive-group were people already signed up for the program -- selection bias?, etc.), but it's an interesting starting point for more research.

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Monday, May 07, 2007


Finals are finally over (yay!), and so much has been going on that I want to catch up about. So, some highlights:

My epidemiology professor said at one point that "chronic diseases are those things that, should we live long enough, we will all enjoy." So, in honor of the discovery of a gene responsible for the increased longevity seen from calorie-restricted diets, a few bits on chronic disease.

Two groups of researchers have found (separately) that an allele appears to be responsible for as much as a 60% increase in heart disease risk. The gene, which is especially common in white people, is not determinant: you still need lifestyle and other risk factors, but having one or two copies of this gene is no good either!

Diabetic ulcers are just one of the many complications of that potentially debilitating chronic disease, whose incidence is likely to begin really skyrocketing soon, as the world's population gets older and fatter. And now, of course, we have super-bugs, which are resistant to antibiotic treatment, which can infect these ulcers and make amputation more likely. Two new treatments may be on the horizon: honey and maggots. Both have shown promise in preliminary and anecdotal studies, the former helping healing by sterilizing the area with peroxide and dehydration, the latter doing a number of (not entirely clear) things to kill even MRSA infections.

Another chronic, but more annoying than debilitating, disease is herpes. US researchers claim to have found the gene responsible for HSV's ability to 'hide' in the body, a promising discovery for future improvements in treatment.

Once you've gotten old and have managed your diabetes and heart disease risks, living in a walkable neighborhood may be another good thing to do for yourself: US researchers found that elderly men who lived in walkable neighborhoods (those with things like sidewalks, crosswalks, and nearby shops and cafes) were less likely to be depressed than those living in nonwalkable areas. I live in a dreadfully unwalkable area, and I know I think it's depressing!

Finally: too much of a good thing. Green tea's supposed to be all kinds of good for you, right? Well yes, unless you're overdoing it. Rutgers researchers found that people who take 'green tea supplements' may be at risk of liver and kidney damage. I always say, don't take as a pill that which you can get in real life...it's just never quite right.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

More incest on Facebook 

While Murdoch's Myspace may or may not have banned people from identifying as gay, the slightly less annoying (mostly because they don't let every nitwit post mind-numbingly (and browser-crashingly) badly coded CSS profiles) continues to endorse and promulgate incest amongst its members:

I suppose if I'm gonna support freedom of association between consenting adults, I guess I gotta support freedom of associations that might make me nauseous. As long as it's really a consensual relationship!

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Musical Interlude 

For anyone who's never heard M. Burgalat and his ridiculously sick grooves, I cannot recommend him to you enough. 'Gris Metal' is one of his softer moments, but especially when coupled with such very Bond-esque imagery, is also about as sexy as it gets. Until "Vestibule D'Ombres," anyways, but then I don't know of a video for that one.

While you're at it, you might as well check out two bits from Burglarat-produced April March. The first extols the exact opposite of 'traditional' romance - the playful trick - and the second is a demented love song with possibly the most distressing non-NSFW video I've ever seen.

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