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Monthly Archives: July 2006
One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.
By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.
Will there be a series of trials (Scopes, Arkansas, Dover…) about teaching history in schools over the next century? Oh, and definitely read the rest of the article – it is excellent!
It has been known for decades that scheduled meals can entrain the circadian clock. In some species (e.g., in some birds), regular timing of feeding entrains the main circadian system of the body in the suprachiasmatic (SCN) area of the hypothalamus, the retina and the pineal. In other species (e.g., rodents), it appears that the food-entrainable oscillator is anatomically and functionally distinct from the main pacemaker in the SCN.
Researchers working on different species discovered different properties and different anatomical locations for the food-entrainable clock. Now, a study from UT Southwestern Medical Center takes yet another look at the location of the food clock in mice, using expression of Period, a canonical clock gene, as the marker for the clock activity:
Timing of Food Consumption Activates Genes in Specific Brain Area:
The researchers put the mice on a 12-hour light/dark cycle, and provided food for four hours in the middle of the light portion. Because mice normally feed at night, this pattern is similar to humans eating at inappropriate times. Dysfunctional eating patterns play a role in human obesity, particularly in the nocturnal eating often seen in obese people, the researchers note.
The mice soon fell into a pattern of searching for food two hours before each feeding time. They also flipped their normal day/night behavior, ignoring the natural cue that day is their usual time to sleep. After several days, the researchers found that the daily activation cycle of Per genes in the SCN was not affected by the abnormal feeding pattern.
However, in a few different areas of the brain, particularly a center called the dorsomedial hypothamalic nucleus or DMH, the Per genes turned on strongly in sync with feeding time after seven days. When the mice subsequently went two days without food, the genes continued to turn on in sync with the expected feeding time.
I wonder what would have happened if instead of fasting, they gave food ad libitum at the end of the experiment. Also, what would have happened if either the whole experiment or that last 2-day bit was performed in constant darkness?
The paper is coming out on August 8 in PNAS. If there is something in the paper that the press release did not get right, I’ll be sure to tell you at that time.
Carl tagged me with a Book Meme and, since he is one of my most frequent commenters, I cannot say No. Although I have done four book memes before. This one is different and much harder as it asks for just one book in each answer, so I tried to do that, although each question really has many answers. So here it is:
1) One book that changed your life?
“Ontogeny and Phylogeny” by S.J.Gould
2) One book you have read more than once?
“Origin of Species” by C.Darwin
3) One book you would want on a desert island?
“Boat-Building and Sailing for Dummies”
4) One book that made you laugh?
Collected Stories by Mark Twain
5) One book that made you cry?
“Éventail de Séville” by Paul-Jacques Bonzon
6) One book you wish had been written?
Shhhhhh…I am writing it, it is a secret!
7) One book you wish had never had been written?
“Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris
8) One book you are currently reading?
“Coming To Life” by Christine Nusslein-Volhard
9) One book you have been meaning to read?
“Divine Right of Capital” by Marjorie Kelly
10) Now tag five people -
TNG of Neural Gourmet
Talking about the need to have popular scientists out there, I think the term “rock-star” was an unfortunate choice. Some people in joking, some people in all seriousness, started looking for people with PhD’s who can play musical instruments.
That is, of course, irrelevant. We are not looking for scientists who are also rockstars, but for scientists who are as well known, as universally respected and as seriously taken as the rock stars were back in the 1960s. The idea is to have a scientist or two or three being so well known that anyone and everyone in the country and the world is at least vaguely familiar with their name and who they are. Thus, when they say something, the media reports it and the people repeat it around the water-coolers, in churches, on front porches and online. People who can demystify science and break down the scientific stereotypes, as well as show that scientific careers are fun and profitable and that doing science is not such hard work as it is often believed.
Chad is absolutely correct in noting that popular culture is more fragmented today than at any point in the past (while at the same time being even more global than before), as well as in noting that nobody takes entertainers seriously any more.
So, in this fragmented (and Long Tailed) society, is there anyone who is known by EVERYBODY in the USA, who is respected and listened to almost universally?
I finally remembered: Oprah! She likes a book – everybody reads it! She legitimizes people and ideas by showcasing them on her show.
Can we put a scientist on TV on a talk-show? It could look somewhat like “Don’t Ask Me…” That 1974 – 1978 British show made its resident personalities into real stars! Magnus Pyke even appeared in the TV spot for Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me With Science which was a big hit at the time. It certainly made science look like fun, it gave serious answers to serious questions, and made science more accessible. Where’s Magnus now? How about a more Oprah-like female scientist, more motherly, with a compelling life story (rags-to-riches including surmounting-big-obstacles)?
Chad points to an article about the way book publishers are still clinging to the old ways of doing business and are, thus, suspicious of the whol Long Tail idea.
My copy of the book arrived a few weeks ago and is waiting (in a long line) to be read in the future, but I have read John Anderson’s blog for quite a while now and I think I grok the idea of Long Tail. It applies to blogs, just as much as it applies to sales of movies, music or books.
As for books, the future is publishing-on-demand. No need for stokpiling books. If you use a publisher like Lulu.com, you can easily publish your own book, as well as get anything available in two work-days. You can even win a prize if you turn your blog into a self-published book.
Men who are sound sleepers have better sex lives.
A study published in a recent edition of Urology says men who suffer from sleep apnea syndrome also suffer a high rate of erectile dysfunction.
One theory, Dr. Atwood said, suggests that sleep apnea disrupts rapid-eye-movement or REM sleep — a time when men routinely experience erections. Decreased REM sleep means fewer REM erections.
The possibility exists, he said, that REM erections are a necessary process for men to maintain healthy sexual function.
In 50 days of its existence, this blog has received 636 comments. The SEED sciencebloggers already promote each other a lot, so I want to give a shout-out to my most regular commenters who are NOT themselves SB bloggers or SEED staff (or myself – after all I posted the most comments while responding to others). I happily include people who I disagree with here – spam and trolling has been deleted long ago and is not counted in the totals.
Plus, at some point in the future (perhaps on December 31st), I will do this again and the person with the greatest number of comments will get to choose the topic of my subsequent post!
Here are the current leaders of the pack:
Bill Hooker 14
Peter Wilson, PhD 9
Deep Thought 8
John McKay 6
Elayne Riggs 5
Kristjan Wager 4
…as well as a number of people with three comments (cross the magic barrier and I’ll include the link next time!)…:
Phil Plait 3
Julie Stahlhut 3
Jane Shevtsov 3
Madison Guy 3
Hsien Lei 3
Erin Monahan 3
Dave S. 3
David Boxenhorn 3
Craig Pennington 3
Babe in the Universe 3
Paul Decelles 3
Coffee Mug 3
…and many with 2 or 1…
|You Are a Blogging Expert|
You got 8/8 correct!
You know so much about blogging, you should blog for a living.
Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq.
Interesting, even for the usually conservatively-slanted results on AOL online polls:
What do you think of Rev. Boyd’s views on politics and the church?
I agree with them 54%
I disagree with them 37%
I’m not sure 9%
Total Votes: 18,151
|You Passed 8th Grade Science|
Congratulations, you got 8/8 correct!
Here is the forth and final part of the introduction to SEED sciencebloggers. Check out the first part, the second part and the third part if you have missed them before. There ain’t no eleven left, so today we have only ten (but I hear there will be a couple more soon….):
The media is all excited about the news that Daniel Radcliffe will star as Alan Strang in Peter Schaffer’s “Equus” in New York next spring. Of course, they all focus on the fact that there is a naked sex scene at the end, ignoring the fact that this is a difficult role in an excellent play. I am glad that he is growing up as an actor and taking serious roles instead of fluff that some other young actors tend to do at that age.
As always, animal porn is under the fold:
We’ve started to make science and empirical evidence not nearly as important as punditry–people wusing p.r.-speak to push a corporate or political agenda. I think we need to turn scientists back into the rock stars they are.
I find this quote so refreshing (not just because it places us scientists up on a lofty pedestal), because it validates scientific authority figures as someone worth listening to.
Dan Rhoads picked up on this and, after putting in his two cents, turned this into a meme or sorts, or an alternative “Ask The Science Blogger” question, tagging three people to answer the same question: who might qualify as a scientist rock-star?
Hsien Lei was the first to respond. RPM will probably respond soon, and I will try to think of something under the fold….
“I heard that within 15 years, global warming will have made Napa County too hot to grow good wine grapes. Is that true? What other changes are we going to see during our lifetimes because of global warming?…”
Answer under the fold….
Here is the second part of the introduction to SEED sciencebloggers, the next eleven (check out the first part if you have missed it yesterday). I hope you like them and appreciate the breadth and depth of writing here (so, yes, if you have a blog, and you are registered with Technorati – which if you have a blog you should be – please make scienceblogs.com, as well as any or all individual blogs here that you may like, one of your favourites)
“There is a common, though incorrect, perception that the impacts of climate change will be worse in temperate regions than in the tropics,” said Williams, principal investigator of the Earthwatch-supported Climate Change in the Rainforest project. “Global warming can have a particularly strong impact on mountainous regions like Australia’s Wet Tropics, where the mountaintops and higher tablelands exist as cool islands in a sea of warmer climates. Almost all plants and animals unique to this region are adapted to these cooler uplands.”
Williams states that climate change in the Wet Tropics will likely result in species ranges shifting up mountains, to maintain their habitat needs. However, the mountains are not very high and many animals are already restricted to the mountaintops. There is no room for latitudinal movement as there is no rainforest for hundreds of kilometers to the north or south.
In addition to the possible new genus of cricket, four new species of crickets have been identified from the spring samples. A barklouse also was found in the caves. Though common in South America, this was the first one discovered in North America, Voyles said.
Previous cave trips yielded two new species of millipedes within three miles of each other.
What makes the yet-to-be-named new genus of cricket special is that it has pincers on its hind end. The pincers are functional, but it is not known why they have them nor what purpose they serve.
Bumblebees can navigate their way home over distances of up to 13km (eight miles), a UK research team has shown.
The study also found only worker bees seemed to have this homing ability.
Scientists have made a major breakthrough in understanding the genetics of the insect parasite that is being targeted by researchers as a way of preventing the spread of malaria.
Wolbachia bacteria are parasites that infect as many as 80 per cent of the world’s insects and manipulate reproduction in their hosts in order to improve their own transmission.
It is actually a work on fruit-flies. The whole Wollbachia story is amazing and this study is excelent, but malaria is many steps removed from it, almost as an afterthought – so why is it in the title?
‘Friend’ Protein Keeps Nerve Signals In Check:
Among the many thousands of proteins in the cell, some are essential players while some are “hangers-on.” The neuronal protein syntaxin is essential. Without it, you die. A more recently discovered protein called tomosyn hangs on, or binds, to syntaxin. Its Japanese discoverers named it tomosyn by combining tomo — “friend” in Japanese — with “syn” for syntaxin, to mean “friend of syntaxin.”
Now a U.S.-based research team reports this friendly protein appears to play a key role in regulating the synaptic release of neurotransmitter chemicals, which suggests that it may also play a role in learning and memory.
Based on the number of connections and how they overlap, Feinberg and Craciun can tell with a glance whether a reaction is predictable, or whether it might be what they call “quirky” — prone to the switching behavior that occasionally produces strange results. They created a theorem that lays out mathematical rules that researchers can use to make the same judgment.
As it turns out, many of the graphs that describe biological reactions are quirky.
“Some of the graphs that come from classical biological reactions — even simple ones — indicate that these reactions might behave in very quirky ways,” Feinberg said.
“This behavior may be essential to biology itself.”
I’d like to know more about this – can a math-blogger give a step-by-step explanation of their paper?
Since my move here to SEED scienceblogs, I made a mistake of assuming, quite wrongly, that most of my visitors are aslo science bloggers (or people interested in science) who, almost by definition, regularly read all of the other SEED sciencebloggers as well.
I forgot that some of the readers are not new readers, but people who came over here with me, people who have read one of my three old blogs for a long time before my move.
They may be liberal/progressive bloggers, or fans of John Edwards, or North Carolina bloggers, or Balkans bloggers, or edubloggers or academic bloggers. Not to mention skeptics and atheists. And many more…
So, I am really remiss at linking to interesting stuff posted by my fellow SEED sciencebloggers (aka SiBlings). I’ll try to remedy that by doing a link-fest every now and then, starting right now. But before I start, let me introduce you to the SEED scienceblogs as a concept first.
It is a project by the Seed Media Group that publishes SEED magazine. You can see the links to the most interesting science news (the Daily Zeitgeist) and SEED articles at the very bottom of the page of each blog.
They are hosting 44 (and more to come) science blogs on their website. We get a tiny little bit of money every month (plus technical support) and they do not in any way interfere with the style and content of our blogging. You can read more about the whole concept at the About SB page (linked to from every individual blog on the top right corner). You can susbcribe to any one individual blog, or to a collective SB feed if you go to this page.
If you got to the SB front page you will see a bunch of different things there:
There is a strip showcasing the most recent blog posts.
There is a big quote on the right from one of the bloggers, changed every day.
There are lists of most e-mailed and most active blog posts, and most popular and most recent searches.
You can narrow down your experience by chossing one of the ten channels, so if you are interested only in physics, or politics, or medicine, or brain & behavior, you can safely ignore the rest. On the bottom of the page you will see the last three posts in each Channel, and on the top left margin you can click and find the aggregator for each channel.
On the bottom of the left margin you will find the links to all the individual blogs.
Right up on top in the middle is The Buzz – showing last five posts that contain a particular word (or group of words). This also changes every day.
On the bottom right you will find a link to the latest post on the SB Editor’s blog Page 3.14 and the aggregated responses to the weekly AskTheScienceBloggers question. Page 3.14 is a great starting point (a “base”) for your daily visits to the site. They link to the most interesting posts of the day (Quick Picks), interesting news and the ATSB questions and answers. They highlight our Friday fun blogging themes, and provide information if there are planned changes to the site (e.g, introducing newly added blogs, and 3-4 of those are coming very soon). Go say Hello and post suggestions (and praise) in the comments.
On top of every page of SEED empire, you will see a narrow grey strip. It shows a couple of links to the most interesting blog-posts and SEED articles of the day. This strip is hosted on a different system than the rest of the site, so if something happens and the site is down, you will still be able to see the grey strip and find the relevant information on it.
The best way for the “regulars” to check out the SB blogs is by checking the Last 24 Hours page, which is the complete aggregator of all the recent blog posts from all the SEED blogs. You can also subscribe to e-mail notifications to any individual blog or to all of them.
Yesterday, Technorati turned three and launched a new look and some new toys. The SEED scienceblogs is regarded by Technorati as a single blog, although each individual blog is also separately ranked. Right now, SB is up on #32 [update - #31] on the Top 100 Most Popular list, overtaking Cute Overload just yesterday. You can help us move up by linking both to our individual blogs and to SB homepage from your blogrolls and occasional blogposts.
We have not cracked the Top 100 Most Favourited list yet [update - we did at #100]. You can help us do that by choosing any individual blogs (e.g., mine) – plus the SB blogs as a whole – as your “favourites”. Just click on the links I placed on my left margin to do so.
Let me now introduce you to some of my SiBlings, but not all of them at once, lest you get overwhelmed and run away. Instead, I will split this into chewable chunks, i.e., into four posts, published over the next four days, each introducing eleven (or so) blogs. I have already introduced Page 3.14 above, so today, you get only ten (and I am excluding myself asuming that you already know me if you are reading this)….(under the fold)
You and I, as well as all of our mammalian brethren, have just a few photopigments, i.e., colored molecules that change shape when exposed to light and subsequently trigger cascades of biochemical reactions leading to changes in electrical properties of sensory neurons, which lead to modulation of neurotransmitter release, which propagates the information from one neuron to the next until it is integrated and interpreted somewhere in the brain – we see the light!
More under the fold….
“Using global-positioning system data corresponding to the movements of elephants across the African savannah, researchers have found that elephants exhibit strong tendencies to avoid significantly sloped terrain, and that such land features likely represent a key influence on elephant movements and land use. On the basis of calculations of energy use associated with traversing sloped terrain by such large animals, the researchers found that this behavior is likely related to the fact that even minor hills represent a considerable energy barrier for elephants because of the added calorie consumption required for such movements.”
Velvet worms, living fossils that look like a child’s rendition of caterpillars, are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to butterflies, according to new research.
Known to scientists as onychophorans, velvet worms have been thought to be similar to the ancestors of modern arthropods, the jointed-legged creatures that includes insects.
Fossils that look very much like today’s onychophorans can be found in rocks 540 million years old.
“When I looked at their brains, I was shocked because I didn’t expect to see what I saw,” said Nicholas J. Strausfeld of The University of Arizona in Tucson. “I just felt from their organization that these looked like spider brains, that they had more in common with spider brains than with other arthropod brains.”
“We report the rather surprising result that people can focus on more than three items at a time if those items share a common color,” he said. “Our research suggests that the common color allows people to overcome the usual limit, because the ‘color coding’ enables them to perceive the separate individuals as a single set.”
Ah, this brings back memories….my co-advisor insisted that we mark all the quail with aluminum wingbands and provide the technicians the list of numbers so, if a bird gets lose in the room, they’ll now in which cage to put it back. I insisted that we color-code the birds with wingbands in 10 or so different colors, each category of bird marked with a different color and each cage marked with the appropriate color, arguing that animal technicians do not have time or care much about checking the list for numbers (something I could prove by showing the log of misplaced birds over time), but a monkey can be trained to sort by color. In the end, I just bought 10 colors of bands, banded the birds myself, and never had a problem of misplaced birds again. The log proved me right, so I won that argument. The linked study explains why.
Effects Of Nutrition On Learning:
Poor nutrition early in life can impair neural development, leading to lower IQ in humans and flawed song learning in birds. Recent evidence indicates that many organisms can offset some of the changes associated with early poor nutrition by modifying their physical development. For example, poorly nourished children can undergo a period of accelerated growth once their diet improves, ultimately appearing normal as an adult. But such compensatory measures may come at a price, with cognitive or other developmental disabilities emerging later in life.
A prospective population-based study has found that higher estrogen levels in older men are associated with an increased risk of dementia. By contrast, levels of testosterone were not associated with cognitive decline.
The researchers hypothesize that the estradiol association could be explained by increased aromatase activity in the brain which may be associated with a neurodegenerative process. It is then possible that the high levels of estradiol are a consequence or early marker of Alzheimer’s disease rather than a cause.
While most people believe that having more income would make them happier, Princeton University researchers have found that the link is greatly exaggerated and mostly an illusion.
People surveyed about their own happiness and that of others with varying incomes tended to overstate the impact of income on well-being, according to a new study. Although income is widely assumed to be a good measure of well-being, the researchers found that its role is less significant than predicted and that people with higher incomes do not necessarily spend more time in more enjoyable ways.
It may be obvious that forests with greater numbers of tree species should support a wider variety of leaf-eating insects than do less diverse forests, but no one had ever done the experiment to rule out the major alternative explanation: that insect species in the tropics eat the leaves of a smaller number of host trees (are more host specific), which would also result in more insect species in a given area. This study presents the best experimental evidence to date to account for the latitudinal gradient in herbivorous insect biodiversity.
The researchers estimate that some 10 million acres – roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont – of mainly hardwood and natural pine forests will be chopped down to make way for pine plantations by 2030 in just three Southern states. That translates into roughly 700,000 tons more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere annually, or 21 million tons over the 30-year period.
It’s common knowledge that genes control traits such as eye and hair color. But a large group of scientists from two continents has found that the genes of one organism not only control the characteristics of that individual but also dictate the behavior of thousands of other organisms in a community.
They say these genes, in fact, influence the evolution of an entire ecosystem.
No, no, no. Wrong concept! Organisms interact with each other, not genes. Genes are invisible to selection. Interactions between organisms (not genes), indirectly, by sorting among phenotypes (which are not bean-bag-genetics straighforwardly determined by particular genetic sequences), drives the evolution of genes within those organisms. The selection works from outside in, not the other way round.
“Patients must be educated on normal sleep-related changes but also made aware that sleep problems are not a part of normal aging.”
Again we have the problem with the use of the word “normal”! Fragmentation of sleep in old age is “normal” in a sense that it happens to most people and most other mammals. Just because it is unpleasant and potentially bad for one’s health does not make it not normal. Yet, just like we treat bad eyeseight with glasses, we can alleviate sleep problems in the elderly with a variety of strategies outlined in this article. Doing something “artifical” about something that is “normal” can make the quality of life be more “normal”.
I wrote this on the Edwards campaign blog on December 15, 2003 and copied it on http://www.jregrassroots.org a few months later, then posted it again on Science And Politics on August 23, 2004:
My daughter is getting really good at taking pictures with our digital camera lately. Every now and then, I’ll post one or two. Her favourite subject: our cats – below the fold:
OK, so I laughed at this one. Because this is what passes for logic not just among rural hicks, but nearly the entire right wing in this country.
A pagan religion that some experts say can be interpreted as encouraging violence is gaining popularity among prison inmates, one of whom is scheduled to be executed this week for killing a fellow prisoner at the foot of an altar.
Michael Lenz is scheduled to die Thursday for the death of Brent Parker, who was stabbed dozens of times at Augusta Correctional Center during a gathering of inmates devoted to Asatru, whose followers worship Norse gods.
Asatru is often associated with white supremacy, although most Asatru leaders deny that.
Does anyone know more about this?
“Overall I think a well-intentioned event has been hijacked by a corporation who don’t really care if we have good sex and enjoy masturbation, but just want more viewing figures. I hope people do join in and support the event, but I worry that it’ll invite more sex-negative discussions than stories that encourage masturbation.
The masturbate-a-thon most certainly has had more coverage in one day than it’s got in the past five years that it’s been running. Call me old fashioned, but I preferred it when it truly was about pleasure, education, activism and ‘coming for a cause’. Not as a replacement in Channel 4’s schedule once Big Brother’s finished.”
Read the rest, of course…
We here at Talk About Sleep have recently learned of a very interesting study of sleep and sleep disorders being conducted by a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. Matthew Wolf-Meyer is a medical anthropologist and is interested in hearing about your personal experiences as a sleep disorder sufferer, as well as the experiences of your family members.
From what we understand, this is the first social study of sleep disorders and their impacts on the lives of patients and their families. This study could have positive consequences for school and work, so participating could be very important in helping change the social ramifications of sleep disorders.
The purpose of this study is to examine the ways in which ideas about everyday life in American society are shaped by and shape ideas about sleep. In other words, how do dominant ideas about proper times of sleep shape ideas about proper times for school, work, and family life? How do these ideas impact people with sleep disorders and their friends and loved ones? Are there better ways to organize work, school, and family life so as to minimize interference with the need for sleep?
What Your Vote Says About You: So you think you’re a conservative? Or a liberal? New research shows that you may not know how you fall on the political spectrum after all, and you may be especially confused when you vote. Host Frank Stasio talks with James Stimson, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about what your vote says about your real political leanings.
This is the second story (after Blakwater and before Depression)
Update: So far, he is saying what I was saying for a couple of years now – there is a huge proportion of Americans who self-identify as conservative yet are entirely liberal (self-professed liberals are mainly correct). Those people go for the symbols, not policies – whichever party controls the symbols, the language and the conversation, wins these people who are the ulitimate swing voters. The term “conservative” is more popular and that is why Republicans are winning no matter how liberal Americans are.
Kevin In China, part 11 – How to avoid getting married in China, or, women are more complex organisms than venomous snakes.
Kevin is popular with the ladies….too popular…