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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On Mars

posted by on April 15 at 9:34 AM


A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with monkeys on Mars)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and monkeys on Mars)
I can't pay no doctor bill.
(but monkeys on Mars)
Ten years from now I'll be payin' still.
(while monkeys are on Mars)
The man jus' upped my rent las' night.
('cause monkeys are on Mars)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but monkeys are on Mars)
I wonder why he's uppi' me?
('cause the monkeys on Mars?)
I wuz already payin' 'im fifty a week.
(with monkeys on Mars)
Taxes takin' my whole damn check,
Junkies makin' me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin' up,
An' as if all that shit wuzn't enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with monkeys on Mars)
Her face an' arm began to swell.
(but monkeys on Mars)
Was all that money I made las' year
(for monkeys on Mars?)
How come there ain't no money here?
(Hmm! Monkeys on Mars)
Y'know I jus' 'bout had my fill
(of monkeys on Mars)
I think I'll sen' these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to the monkeys on Mars)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Scientific American on Expelled

posted by on April 14 at 9:54 AM

It looks like the intelligent design propaganda film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed will be opening at the Uptown and Pacific Place this weekend, and we haven't been invited to a screening. (So much for open debate.) For now, please enjoy Scientific American's feature package on the film.

And if you do go to see the film in the theater? For the love of god, please buy a ticket to another movie and sneak in. No need to give the producers of this film any more money than they're already going to get from church groups and other organized suckers.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

From: Science To: Drunk of the Week

posted by on April 12 at 1:58 AM

Dear Kello O,

At this very moment, I am drunk off my ass--having consumed six shots of hard liquor plus a bottle of beer tonight. This is approximately six more shots than I ever have.

The perils of having a girlfriend who likes to go out dancing.

To combat a hangover tomorrow, in a vain attempt to be productive or at least conscious on what should be the very first really nice day of the year, I'm currently slugging down a pint (a half quart, a little less than half a liter) of my concoction. Specifically? 1 pint of water. 4 tsp of sugar. 1/2 tsp salt. A splash of lemon juice. It tastes salty--like the tears of the Irish starving from potato blight. I assembled this elixir while thoroughly smashed; for all I know it contains arsenic rather than salt.

Tomorrow, I will report back on my hangover status--none, slight, moderate, regrettable, unfortunate, epic, near death, death would be preferable.

I already regret this post.

Update! At 9:53am:

I awaken. No headache! Stomach fine. Ok, I do have a raspy voice--but that's about it! Hangover status: None to slight!

I actually managed to drink a full liter of my homebrew pediolyte (double what I posted above), plus a half liter of water before going to bed. And as the comments note, duh, it's all about keeping hydrated. Water alone won't cut it. I needed electrolytes. Like Brawndo gots!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nature Abhors a Motherfucker

posted by on April 9 at 12:23 PM

You've always known that envisioning sex with your dad/mom/sister/brother makes you want to die, now ABC News tells you why:

[R]esearch suggests that the vast majority of us are hard-wired for revulsion when it comes to the idea of sex between a father and daughter or other family members...Evidence of such an inherent distaste for incest can be seen in studies on chimpanzees, our closest evolutionary relative. While chimps are known to be promiscuous—arguably even more so than humans—several studies have shown that they will also avoid having sex with other chimps with whom they can sense they are related.

At the heart of this tendency to avoid sibling incest is a principle known as the Westermarck effect. For reasons not yet completely understood, boys and girls involved in frequent rough-and-tumble play in childhood tend to not be sexually attracted to one another later in life. Though little research has been done that would suggest this effect also applies in father-daughter relationships, [researchers] believe that this is a distinct possibility—in other words, fathers who spend time raising their daughters from infancy are probably less likely to develop a sexual attraction toward them later.

All very interesting, but what about the recent case from Australia, where "John Deaves, 61, and his daughter Jenny, 39, have a 9-month-old daughter but have been banned from having sex after a court convicted the pair on two counts of incest"?

As sociology professor Jonathan Turner told ABC News, the Deaves' aberrant behavior "could be linked to the fact that [the father] left the family home when his daughter was only an infant and that he did not see her for the next 30 years. Any Westermarck-like effect that could have existed between the father and daughter would therefore not have had the opportunity to develop."

Yet another reason for fathers to avoid deserting their children: Not only might you saddle your offspring with paralyzing abandonment issues, you might end up boning them down the road.

Full story here.

P.S. The whole concept of inherent incest revulsion reminds me of an old Last Days item I wrote about a pair of teen brothers, one of whom raped their drunk-and-unconscious mother in front of the other, as some sort of punishment. Terrible, yes, but still I was surprised by the violent disgust the item inspired, particularly in straight male readers. Was mother-fucking really more disturbing that broiling a newborn or being surgically removed from a sofa? Apparently, for straight males, the answer was an unequivocal, visceral YES—and when I asked my fella Jake why straight guys were so disgusted by the idea of boning their moms, he offered some wisdom I'll never forget: "Not everyone's mom is as sexy as yours." After I stopped vomiting, I asked him to marry me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Making of the HPV Vaccine

posted by on April 8 at 11:40 AM


Denise Galloway--one of the people most responsible for the successful HPV vaccine--will be speaking tomorrow, Wednesday April 9th, at 7:30 in Kane Hall on the UW campus.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer, which in turn is one of the most common causes of death for women worldwide--particularly in places where women cannot or do not get regular pap smears. Charmingly, this virus also causes genital warts, penis cancer and a few other treats. The vaccine Dr. Galloway helped develop is incredibly effective against the four most serious variants of the virus.

Her talk--hosted by the Molecular Medicine program--should be interesting.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Vytorin (Ezetimibe/simvastatin) Doesn't Work; You Wouldn't Know

posted by on April 7 at 2:36 PM

In the past few months, I bet you've seen at least one ad like this:

When I first saw these ads, I was impressed.

Most direct-to-consumer drug advertising is loathsome, filled with moronic non sequiturs--what does kayaking have to do with a nucleoside analog used to treat herpes--or simply build up anxiety about a problem, offering no explanation as to how the drug helps.

These ads, for a combination pill meant to treat high cholesterol, are actually quite clever in explaining how the drug should work--a combination of blocking cholesterol production by your liver (a gift of your parent's genes) and blocking the absorption of cholesterol you eat.

Memorable, clear, informative; too bad the drug doesn't work.

The results of our study showed that the addition of ezetimibe to the highest recommended dose of simvastatin did not reduce the intima–media thickness of the carotid-artery wall in this cohort of patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, despite significant incremental reductions in levels of both LDL cholesterol and C-reactive protein. The primary outcome, the change in the mean intima–media thickness, did not differ significantly between the two study groups, nor did the secondary outcome measures.

In plain English, this combo pill was no better at stopping the arteries from getting clogged with cholesterol. In fact, the older statin drugs--available as much cheaper generics now--do a better job on what you, as a patient, would care about.

The vast majority of people exposed to these ads probably don't know this, and will never know that the drugs didn't work, that you're better off with a vastly cheaper drug, that the companies making Vytorin sat on the negative results in this study while racking up billions of dollars in sales. My suspicion is that many people will continue to 'ask your doctor about Vytorin,' as the ad suggests. And this is why even exemplary direct-to-consumer drug advertising is so damn irritating.

Island of Stars

posted by on April 7 at 10:01 AM

According to this space article, we who happen to be in this time, and not in other times (which is the real mystery of life--why is one in this time and not, say, in a future or past time), we are in a position not only to know that our galaxy is not isolated but also it will be isolated in the future.
slide36high.jpg If something like human intelligence is around 100 billion years from now, and that intelligence has no record of our ideas and discoveries, it will have no idea of the big bang, the past, or the other galaxies, the future. All they will know and see is the super galaxy that's coming together at this moment. The intelligence of the deep future will be in the eternal, the one, the all. All other galaxies will have gone beyond the event horizon; and all traces of the universe's birth will have vanished.

# The quickening expansion will eventually pull galaxies apart faster than light, causing them to drop out of view. This process eliminates reference points for measuring expansion and dilutes the distinctive products of the big bang to nothingness. In short, it erases all the signs that a big bang ever occurred. # To our distant descendants, the universe will look like a small puddle of stars in an endless, changeless void.

We of the now know that there is more; they of tomorrow will think that this is all there is.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Smart Kid

posted by on April 2 at 3:17 PM

Fifth-grader from Michigan goes to the Smithsonian, discovers it's wrong.

Submitted For Your Peer Review

posted by on April 2 at 11:55 AM

MCAT Preparation Using The Stranger Enhances Verbal Reasoning Scores
Jonathan Golob(1)
(1) Institute for Advanced Pre-Medical Education

Preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) verbal reasoning section is a frequent source of frustration for prospective medical students. Practice passages are of hideous quality, leading to despair. In these experiments we applied a passage from a recent edition of The Stranger to a study system for the MCAT. The test scores on standard practice passages significantly improved (from 44.2% to 88.4%; p < 0.05) for a study subject subjected to Stranger writing. These findings provide hope for pre-medical students everywhere and are likely to have a major impact on medical admission practices and standards.

Continue reading "Submitted For Your Peer Review" »

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tomorrow People

posted by on March 29 at 12:15 PM


More strife in Iraq. U.S. financial system in crisis. Rice prices soar.

None of these headlines will matter a bit, though, if two men pursuing a lawsuit in a court in Hawaii turn out to be right. They think a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole that will spell the end of the Earth - and maybe the universe.

Scientists say that is very unlikely - though they have done some checking just to make sure.

The world's physicists have spent 14 years and $8 billion building the Large Hadron Collider, in which the colliding protons will recreate energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. Researchers will sift the debris from these primordial recreations for clues to the nature of mass and new forces and symmetries of nature.

But Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a "strangelet" that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called "strange matter." Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act.

We in the future that has been here since the end of the space age have so much to worry about.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Plasma from Grapes

posted by on March 28 at 11:43 AM

Plasma: Matter's favorite form since the big bang.

Please don't do this unless you are prepared for death, injury or massive financial loss.

A.I.: Asshole Intelligence

posted by on March 28 at 10:13 AM

In the future, robots will be crawling up your ass. Seriously.

As if the idea of colonoscopies didn't sound uncomfortable enough, now researchers are developing self-propelling probes that crawl inside the colon and grip its sides with the aid of sticky films.

Still, these slithery devices could lead to better, safer, more comfortable colonoscopies to help uncover cancerous polyps.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Eugenics and You

posted by on March 27 at 6:16 PM

In unrelated news, the new Dear Science podcast, on eugenics, is up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

From the People Who Brought You Popcorn Lung...

posted by on March 25 at 11:56 AM

... baby milk powder wheeze!


Monday, March 24, 2008

The Era of Fraud

posted by on March 24 at 12:55 PM

The deadly, fraudulent, heparin sold by a Chinese manufacturer to Baxter shares much with the deadly, fraudulent, wheat gluten and gluttonous, fraudulent, financial crisis.

These frauds are not accidents, slips of care, but rather deliberate attempts to game tests of quality, to turn garbage into gold.

The toxic wheat gluten was doped with melamine, in a brilliant gambit to fix the protein content tests and make filler look like high quality protein. Overcompensated financial wizards, thanks to deregulation, managed to sell aggregates of dubious mortgages as high quality investments, cleverly bypassing all of the financial tests.

In the case of the fake Heparin, the actual drug was replaced with cheaper Chondroitin sulfate, aggressively modified chemically to fake quality control tests. At least nineteen people have died from this clever gambit, thousands made ill.

Such trickery requires canny chemistry or shrewed accounting--deft minds deriving novel solutions to their problems, rather than the actual, deeper and more pervasive problems leading to shortages of protein, of drug or worthy investments.

In a world that can sustain, at most, about two billion people in the voracious Western lifestyle--in a world of nearly eight seven billion, all of whom promised the Western middle class lifestyle--a thin veneer of success, of false protein and medicine, of false wealth and material growth, must obligately coat a massive, deep and dark well of exaggerations, lies and despairing intelligence.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Howto: Green Urine

posted by on March 17 at 5:07 PM


Methylene blue is a water-soluble dye that can be used to assess whether a fistula is present or used as a medication. It is filtered by the kidneys and has no pathologic effects but may cause the urine to have a bluish or greenish hue. Once the dye has been passed (after 2 days, in this patient), the color of the urine returns to normal.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Return to Saturn

posted by on March 12 at 6:20 PM

...Saturn's ring becomes a cast-iron balcony on which the inhabitants of Saturn take the evening air.
The arms of spiral galaxies, the rings of Saturn, rainbows, sand dunes, life, consciousness, cities, and symphonies all are ordered structures that emerge when many interacting particles, or "agents"--be they molecules, stars, cells, or people--are subjected to a flow of energy.

Scientist I Saw U!

posted by on March 12 at 11:09 AM

Attention quantum physics lovers! An urgent and rather twitterpating message from Slog comments fixture, Original Monique

Guess who I saw at the opera?

Stephen fucking Hawking.

Yes, it's true. It was awesome. Totally surreal and someone that I never dreamed I would ever get to see in person…He is totally a hero of mine, and I respect him so much. Although I told the guy sitting next to us that he was there, the guy had no idea who he was. I couldn't believe it. I wonder why he was in Seattle...

Steven Hawking? At Tosca? Quantum.

Thanks for sharing, O.M.!


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tomorrow People

posted by on March 11 at 11:26 AM

A comment on this article concerning new data about the expanding universe:

"We are living in an extraordinary time," said Gary Hinshaw of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Ours is the first generation in human history to make such detailed and far-reaching measurements of our universe."

How is it that we of all the people in the history of time (and beyond time), all the billions who have come and gone, flickered and vanished--not them but the us of today are living "in an extraordinary time"? How did that come to be? How can we be so sure of this exception? And will the people of tomorrow recognize us as the modes and mediums of an extraordinary moment?

While reading the ancient Greeks, our scientific minds cringe in embarrassment when passing the pages that concern their unscientific ideas and concepts about the heavens. Will the people of tomorrow cringe when reading that the people of today believed there is a "sea of cosmic neutrinos [that] permeates the universe," and "that the first stars took more than a half-billion years to create a cosmic fog"? Will the people of tomorrow see in us the same children that we see in the Greeks of yesterday?

Note: Plato's most brilliant intellectual move in the The Republic is not his feminism (the second wave), nor his concept of the philosopher as ruler (the third wave), but the way he downplays astronomy. What's important for him are not celestial objects but what is most real, and what is most real are the forms. And so to intellectually grasp (begriff) the form of a stone is far better than staring at a bright and wandering star. Because Plato, unlike Aristotle, gives astronomy almost no play in his most important work, he doesn't look like a complete fool, a child of our day.

Miniature Scandals in the Movie World

posted by on March 11 at 10:48 AM

It's no Emperor's Club, but a revoked invitation to a screening of the intelligent design farce documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is creating quite a stir.

According to the New York Times,

Shortly before he was to attend a screening in January of the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is about alternatives to the theory of evolution, Roger Moore, a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel, learned that his invitation had been revoked by the film’s marketers.

In a film, Ben Stein interviews believers in intelligent design.

“Well, you already invited me,” he recalled thinking at the time. “I’m going to go.”

So Mr. Moore traveled to a local megachurch and planted himself among a large group of pastors to watch the movie. In it, Ben Stein, the actor and economist (and regular contributor to The New York Times) interviews scientists and teachers who say that Darwinism gets too much emphasis in the classroom and that proponents of the theory of intelligent design are treated unfairly.

There were nondisclosure agreements to sign that day, but Mr. Moore did not, and proceeded to write perhaps the harshest review “Expelled” has received thus far. The film will open April 18, but has been screened several times privately for religious audiences.

Yes! I love that the Discovery Institute's precious little pseudoscience has to be peddled directly to pastors, rather than being debated in the open air, as ID proponents constantly insist they'd prefer. When you market a supposedly secular, scientific movie to religious people--purposefully excluding anyone from the independent press--it's pretty clear that you're trying to dupe the poor rubes. It's also sweet that the reviews that the Discovery Institute has been trumpeting so far on their blogs are from places like Christianity Today (you came into the film "very, very skeptical," did you , Mr. McCracken? I'll show you skeptical).

Here's Roger Moore's blog post about the movie.

In soberer news, Tang Wei is being blacklisted by Chinese censors because she appeared in Ang Lee's sexually explicit and politically murky Lust, Caution.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Reason for Reason

posted by on March 7 at 4:05 PM

Our purpose on this living planet might very well be the production of pictures like this:

The world's most powerful optical telescope has opened both of its eyes.

Astronomers at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona have released the first images taken using its two giant 8m diameter mirrors.

The detailed pictures show a spiral galaxy located 102 million light-years away from the Milky Way.

What does all of this mean? Not that humans can see the universe and record its happenings, but that the universe itself has the ability to see and think of itself. The universe not only produces stars, it produces thoughts about those stars and other cosmic events. The meaning of human beings is to be the means by which the universe thinks and records itself. We were made for the universe to see the universe.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ol' Tooth Eye

posted by on February 27 at 2:20 PM

The headline is a weird one...

Blind Irishman sees with the aid of son's tooth in his eye

...and the story is even freakier:

After doctors in Ireland said there was nothing more they could do, McNichol heard about a miracle operation called Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis (OOKP) being performed by Dr Christopher Liu at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton in England.

The technique, pioneered in Italy in the 1960s, involves creating a support for an artificial cornea from the patient's own tooth and the surrounding bone.

The procedure used on McNichol involved his son Robert, 23, donating a tooth, its root and part of the jaw.

McNichol's right eye socket was rebuilt, part of the tooth inserted and a lens inserted in a hole drilled in the tooth.

To the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft

posted by on February 27 at 12:19 AM


Custom error bars are gone?! I'm a scientist. I use Excel for a terrifying amount of my data analysis. Error, you know, comes up on occasion in the real world. Reviewers have this annoying tendency to force us all to recognize reality. I need error bars; we all could use some error bars. And, with all due respect, I might know how to calculate the error for my data better than a program that routinely fucks up counting.

You removed custom error bars in charts
. This is terrible. Horrifying. You removed one of the few, the very few, essential features in Excel for my work--a program that hasn't had a useful feature added since the mid '90s. Hell, this is a deal breaker for anyone doing any sort of scientific or engineering work with Excel.

I, one of the six graduate students stupid enough to pay for a copy of Office 2008 rather than pirate, have to downgrade to 2004. Fucking Rosetta!

Boo! A pox on all your houses! Boo, I say! Boo!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Imbibing, Brains and Bullies

posted by on February 22 at 12:13 PM

Eat more drumsticks:

Broiler (meat) chickens have been subjected to intense genetic selection. In the past 50 years, broiler growth rates have increased by over 300% (from 25 g per day to 100 g per day). There is growing societal concern that many broiler chickens have impaired locomotion or are even unable to walk. Here we present the results of a comprehensive survey of commercial flocks which quantifies the risk factors for poor locomotion in broiler chickens. We assessed the walking ability of 51,000 birds, representing 4.8 million birds within 176 flocks. We also obtained information on approximately 150 different management factors associated with each flock. At a mean age of 40 days, over 27.6% of birds in our study showed poor locomotion and 3.3% were almost unable to walk. The high prevalence of poor locomotion occurred despite culling policies designed to remove severely lame birds from flocks. ...

Worldwide approximately 2×1010 broilers are reared within similar husbandry systems.

(Gluten fearing monkeys, dog parasites and bullies after the jump.)

Continue reading "Imbibing, Brains and Bullies" »

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Look East Right Now

posted by on February 20 at 7:11 PM

Last chance for a few years...


Thanks Nic!

French Rubber

posted by on February 20 at 3:48 PM

Holy shit! The French have invented a rubber that can repair itself.

The as-yet-unnamed material - a form of artificial rubber - is made from vegetable oil and a component of urine.

The substance, described in the journal Nature, produces surfaces when cut that retain a strong chemical attraction to each other.

Pieces of the material join together again as if never parted without the need for glue or a special treatment.

This remarkable property comes from careful engineering of the molecules in the material.

The French researchers are already making kilogramme quantities in their Paris laboratories and say the process is almost completely green, and could be completely so with a few adjustments.


François Tournilhac, who runs Dr Leibler's laboratories, demonstrated the healing to me.

Using a razor blade he severed a thin strand of the yellowish material (the colour of corn oil), showed me the clean square faces, and then pressed them together.

Almost immediately, the grip was strong enough for him to hold the sample just at one end.

Within an hour the bonds had rebuilt themselves so thoroughly that it was possible to stretch the strand to twice its length without any sign of weakness where the cut had been made.

Those who have read William Gibson's Idoru know what's now in my head. This technology is much like the technology that rebuilds Tokyo after the great earthquake in the novel's near future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Coming End of Expensive Energy

posted by on February 19 at 7:00 PM

Today, for the first time ever, oil ended the day above $100 a barrel.

It won't last.

Why not? Ask Canada.


An even more impossibly nerdy version of this post is on my blog. Else please continue after the jump.

Continue reading "The Coming End of Expensive Energy" »

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shooting Space Junk

posted by on February 14 at 11:23 AM

A broken 5,000 pound spy satellite is set to crash back to Earth sometime in early March. Fear not, though, because the U.S. has a plan:

The Pentagon is planning to shoot down a broken spy satellite expected to hit the Earth in early March, The Associated Press has learned. U.S. officials said Thursday that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.

At the very least it will be good practice since, as this article from the BBC points out, there's probably a million pieces of space junk currently orbiting the earth. The good news: all but 9,000 pieces of it are thought to be around the size of a tennis ball.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Voice from the Scientific Community on the Election

posted by on February 13 at 3:46 PM

So, I've taken some (mild) heat for my posts on the 2008 election. Nothing like Erica or Annie routinely receive--but I have been called "a closet republican" and in a particularly cruel moment, "Michelle Malkin."

(While we're here, I want to say right now: fuck John McCain. Fuck him for his cowardice at a key moment.)

Think I'm worked up and a bit crazy in the aftermath of the telecom immunity, domestic wiretapping and torture votes plus the dismal cuts in scientific funding, and utter hatred spewed towards scientists and undesired scientific findings?

After the jump is an e-mail I've just received from a fellow scientist on the 2008 election.

(Updated with more rhetoric. Rhetoric I agree with!)

Continue reading "A Voice from the Scientific Community on the Election" »

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Causa Y Efecto

posted by on February 12 at 3:04 PM

The signs of flight among Latino immigrants here are multiple: Families moving out of apartment complexes, schools reporting enrollment drops, business owners complaining about fewer clients.

While it is too early to know for certain, a consensus is developing among economists, business people and immigration groups that the weakening economy coupled with recent curbs on illegal immigration are steering Hispanic immigrants out of the state.
A persistent decline in the immigrant population could damage the overall Arizona economy, Ms. McLaren said. A study by the Pew Hispanic Center released in January said illegal workers made up close to 11 percent of the state’s work force of 2.9 million people in 2006, double the national estimate.

Another possibility remains, a reversal of the causality. The horrific scapegoating of immigrants by the political party in power causes the immigrants to (rationally) leave--collapsing an underground economy, leading to broader economic distress.

In other words, the simple-minded bigotry of the Republican party might be contributing to the economic downturn.

Which way is it? How can we tell?

... a drop in Border Patrol arrests — they have been steadily declining the last couple of years — typically preceded an economic downturn or slowing.

Causes, generally, precede effects.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Why Of The Broadway QFC's Laxative Effect

posted by on February 7 at 11:20 AM

The question was asked:

Dear Science,

This may sound like a sarcastic or “trying to be funny” question, but I am honestly curious why there are certain locations that seem to trigger a bowel movement quicker than others ie; home, office etc. Examples for me include the housewares dept @ Broadway QFC, Value Village Men’s clothing Dept., the public library & just about any bookstore. Not only do these places create a kind of enigmatic laxative the feeling to poo is intensified & feels more immediate (I’ve heard thinking of sex can help alieviate this feeling). And considering the difficulty that can be encountered attempting to convince store management etc to allow you to use their facilities this can be quite a frightening event. There have been a couple of times I have literally had to leave my basket in the store, run across the street to my apartment then return to finish my shopping. I have had a couple of really close calls with this scenario.

Please advise,
Bothered Bowels

You added your, um, moving situations.

Now, for the first time ever, a sneak preview for next week's Dear Science! Exclusive to SLOG and the Dear Science Podcast!

Listen up for the answer. And remember, physical punishment should be consensual. And rewards work better than punishment.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Get Fat, Start Smoking...

posted by on February 6 at 2:00 PM

... and save us all some cash, by dying earlier.

With a simulation model, lifetime health-care costs were estimated for a cohort of obese people aged 20 y at baseline. To assess the impact of obesity, comparisons were made with similar cohorts of smokers and “healthy-living” persons (defined as nonsmokers with a body mass index between 18.5 and 25). Except for relative risk values, all input parameters of the simulation model were based on data from The Netherlands...

Until age 56 y, annual health expenditure was highest for obese people. At older ages, smokers incurred higher costs. Because of differences in life expectancy, however, lifetime health expenditure was highest among healthy-living people and lowest for smokers. Obese individuals held an intermediate position. Alternative values of epidemiologic parameters and cost definitions did not alter these conclusions.

(Emphasis added.)

It's long been assumed if we--through clever preventive medicine and public policy--prevent people from becoming obese or smoking, lifetime medical expense should decrease. Right? Maybe wrong.

(Standard disclaimers apply: This study may only apply to the Dutch, those living below sea level or the blonde. Data from US population studies was applied to a different population. This is a simulation study, rather than a study of actual people. Nor was it an interventional study. Any premature death or incurred expense from reading this post or article is entirely your fault.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

"Hey Science! Bite Me!"

posted by on February 1 at 12:12 PM

I'm on the Seattle City Light "Green Up" plan, and I dispute your logic. While I don't expect immediate change to come from my $12 green fee, I do believe that more people signing up for the program increases the perceived demand for alternate energy sources, which will eventually attract people who are eager to create supply for that demand. I'm voting with my dollars in our capitalist democracy. This path still requires responsible power consumption, and while I can't speak for the general public, I can at least say that my own power consumption has not increased since I signed up.

Now, carbon offsets on the other hand, that's a complete load of crap that only exists to let people assuage their guilty consciences while they continue to live their wasteful lifestyles.

My objectionable logic?

Just to be clear, this program doesn't actually cause wind power to enter your home—the turbines are too far away from Seattle and our distribution network to do that. Nor does it shut down the coal- and natural-gas-fired plants that provide about 10 percent of the electricity entering your house... Can this strategy—punching the environment in the stomach here, giving it an ice cream over there—be a net win for the environment? By making wind power competitive in the market, in theory, these certificates stop future carbon-releasing plants from being built. In truth, programs like this increase the amount of electricity produced with no increase in cost to the end consumer, encouraging increased consumption rather than conservation. In other industries where this has been tried—replacing concrete plants in the developing world with newer lower-emission plants—consumption goes up enough to actually increase net carbon emissions.

As I pointed out in my column, wind power is really green--unlike biofuels, nuclear or hydroelectric--at least when considered in a complete life cycle analysis. The problem remains, however. Due to the quirkiness of the US high voltage power grid wind power generated in Eastern Washington has a difficult time making its way to Seattle.

The logic behind supply and demand--increase the amount of a resource at a given price, and people will consume more of it--is pretty irrefutable, with multiple examples of other carbon "reducing" schemes resulting in even more carbon dumped into the atmosphere. Am I missing something?

This sort of question brings up an essential conflict. You--the reader, the questioner--desire a cut and dry answer. Is this good or bad? Science can lay out empiric observations, many of which are on opposite sides. (Wind power is genuinely green, yet it cannot be provided to a Seattle household due to geographic quirks.) All I can do is present them, in their conflicted glory, and let you come to your own conclusions.

You want to get upset because your pet cause--liberal or conservative, progressive or regressive--is not supported by the best available evidence? Reality says, "bite me."

Monday, January 28, 2008

On Critique

posted by on January 28 at 11:15 AM

Right now, at this very moment, I am in the throes of the peer-review process--attempting to resubmit a manuscript for scientific publication.

The cynic's description of the process: Other scientists in your field (your peers; your competitors) get to read your write-up anonymously and send you scurrying back to correct mistakes, flaws and weaknesses. The critiques fall into two broad categories: things legitimately wrong ("you're missing a control for this experiment") and bullshit ("this would be more interesting if you did some-impossible-experiment instead.") Often your competitors send you off to do such an impossible task, giving them time to publish similar data in the meantime.

Its slightly less fun than being torn to shreds by Slog commenters after working for hours on a post.

The idealists impression: this back and forth is where science actually occurs, where the design and meaning of experiments are actually discussed, where actual leaps in human knowledge are born.

Looking for a style guide for cover letters, I came across the following Sample Cover Letter for Journal Manuscript Resubmission by Roy F. Baumeister:

Dear Sir, Madame, or Other:

Enclosed is our latest version of Ms # 85-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamn running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers.

I shall skip the usual point-by-point description of every single change we made in response to the critiques. After all, it is fairly clear that your reviewers are less interested in details of scientific procedure than in working out their personality problems and sexual frustrations by seeking some kind of demented glee in the sadistic and arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power over helpless authors like ourselves who happen to fall into their clutches. We do understand that, in view of the misanthropic psychopaths you have on your editorial board, you need to keep sending them papers, for if they weren't reviewing manuscripts they'd probably be out mugging old ladies or clubbing baby seals to death. Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you not ask him or her to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them the review process could be unduly delayed.

(emphasis added)

Ha! Worth a read in entirety...

Ant Parasite Turns Host Into Ripe Red Berry

posted by on January 28 at 10:28 AM

Scientists have found teeny worms that turn ants' rear ends all red, making them look like a tasty little berry to birds. Nature red in tooth, claw, and behind!

Climbing around on old trees on obscure tropical islands, being puzzled/named Dudley, drinking beers, making bets, operating a microscope while under the influence—sounds like fun:

In May 2005, when searching for a colony of the ants in a downed tree on Panama's Barro Colorado Island, Dudley was puzzled to see some members of the colony with bright red abdomens—something he, Yanoviak and Kaspari had never before seen....

"Like other ant biologists, I initially thought this was another species of Cephalotes," said Kaspari. "Robert didn't think so, and we made a bet over beers. Then Steve opened one up under the scope and—wow! I lost the bet."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dear Science Letter of the Day

posted by on January 22 at 12:50 PM

This letter to Dear Science just came in.

Dear Science,

This may sound like a sarcastic or "trying to be funny" question, but I am honestly curious why there are certain locations that seem to trigger a bowel movement quicker than others ie; home, office etc. Examples for me include the housewares dept @ Broadway QFC, Value Village Men's clothing Dept., the public library & just about any bookstore. Not only do these places create a kind of enigmatic laxative the feeling to poo is intensified & feels more immediate (I've heard thinking of sex can help alieviate this feeling). And considering the difficulty that can be encountered attempting to convince store management etc to allow you to use their facilities this can be quite a frightening event. There have been a couple of times I have literally had to leave my basket in the store, run across the street to my apartment then return to finish my shopping. I have had a couple of really close calls with this scenario.

Please advise,
Bothered Bowels

I think I speak for everyone, Golob, when I say that we're looking forward to your reply.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Little Bit of Knowledge

posted by on January 21 at 7:29 AM

You know that thing you wrote saying that the inside of a body is sterile? Well, it's not. Without bacteria and fungus in our bodies, we wouldn't be able to digest food. And there are more of them than there are of us. Frankly, I'm really surprised to hear something so wrong, repeated so many times in a column, from someone who professes to be "Science."

(name was here)

Ph. D. candidate, Dept. of Biology

Your assertion "Unless you're sick, the inside of your body is sterile—free from bacteria, virus, and fungus" is patently false. In reality the number of bacteria in your gut outnumber the number of human cells in the rest of your body. I think this is important for people to know. John Mayer was (besides horrible) wrong: Your body is not a wonderland. It is an ecosystem.
The skin is essentially a giant anti-harm bag for our other organs, but the inside of the body is not sterile. The upper GI tract has loads of fungus, bacteria, and enzymes living in it that help to digest our food, do nothing, or make us really unhappy. In the lower GI hepatitis, e coli, and lots of other nasties are routinely found. Maybe when you said "the inside of your body" you meant the parts sealed inside, without direct access to the outside, like the abdominal cavity, vascular system, muscles, and so forth.

From my article:

Most of the surfaces where your insides meet the world are deep within your body, in the long tubes of the gut or the branching tree of the lungs.

So, yes. I understand the gut is filled with bacteria, good bacteria that help you digest food, create vitamins and many other useful things. Did you know if those bacteria--perfectly harmless within the gut tube--get inside the body cavity all hell breaks out? Usually the adventure ends in death, or at least a long course of strong antibiotics.

An exception you could have dinged me with? Chlamydia (well, a kind of Chlamydia) actually does grow within many people's blood vessels.

I ache, long, wish for a question about the gut, diarrhea and the long tubes within the body. Ask. Ask!

A teaser: one of the proposed contributors to the obesity epidemic is a change in composition of bacteria in the gut--from less efficient to more efficient. Wild!

Friday, January 18, 2008

You Couldn't Pay Me to Give Ben Stein Money

posted by on January 18 at 5:19 PM

Looks like the producers of the intelligent design propaganda film Expelled are offering kickbacks to Christian schools that force their students to go see it:

What is the Expelled Challenge?

To engage Christian schools to get as many students, parents, and faculty from your school out to see Ben Stein’s new movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (opening in theaters April 2008).

* Here are some suggestions as to how to do that: Organize a school field trip and invite parents to attend as well.
* Offer extra credit to your students to go on their own time.

What is the reward?
Generous donations can be awarded to schools according to the number of movie ticket stubs they turn in. By accepting this challenge, your school could be awarded a donation up to $10,000, just for bringing your kids to see this film!

Your school will be awarded a donation based upon the number of ticket stubs you turn in (see submission instructions in FAQ section). That structure is as follows:

* 0-99 ticket stubs submitted = $5 per ticket stub
* 100-299 ticket stubs submitted = $1,000 donated to your school
* 300-499 ticket stubs submitted = $2,500 donated to your school
* 500 ticket stubs submitted = $5,000 donated to your school

Each school across the nation will be competing for the top honor of submitting the most ticket stubs with that school having their $5,000 donation matched for a total donation of $10,000!


(Via Laelaps and Andrew Sullivan.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Want To Gain Fourteen More Years Of Life?

posted by on January 11 at 12:01 PM

Don't smoke, drink moderately (1-2 drinks per day), exercise and eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day.

We examined the prospective relationship between lifestyle and mortality in a prospective population study of 20,244 men and women aged 45–79 y with no known cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline survey in 1993–1997, living in the general community in the United Kingdom, and followed up to 2006. Participants scored one point for each health behaviour: current non-smoking, not physically inactive, moderate alcohol intake (1–14 units a week) and plasma vitamin C >50 mmol/l indicating fruit and vegetable intake of at least five servings a day, for a total score ranging from zero to four. After an average 11 y follow-up, the age-, sex-, body mass–, and social class–adjusted relative risks (95% confidence intervals) for all-cause mortality(1,987 deaths) for men and women who had three, two, one, and zero compared to four health behaviours were respectively, 1.39 (1.21–1.60), 1.95 (1.70–-2.25), 2.52 (2.13–3.00), and 4.04 (2.95–5.54) p < 0.001 trend. The relationships were consistent in subgroups stratified by sex, age, body mass index, and social class, and after excluding deaths within 2 y. The trends were strongest for cardiovascular causes. The mortality risk for those with four compared to zero health behaviours was equivalent to being 14 y younger in chronological age.
(Random bolding added by me.)

Like many such (non-interventional) studies, it's hard to tell exactly how much of this is due to the behaviors measured compared to other unmeasured factors. And it might only apply to pasty UK residents.

Still, it's a pretty stunning result.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

That Einstein Guy Might Be Onto Something

posted by on January 10 at 5:34 PM


At the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas, Treu unveiled the first-ever image of a double Einstein ring. It shows an obscure galaxy in Leo, designated SDSS J0946+1006 for its coordinates in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, encircled by two concentric glowing rings. These aren't part of J0946 itself, but are the strongly distorted images of more distant galaxies strung out behind it like beads on a string.

This is a spectacular example of a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. It's caused by the distortion of space-time by massive objects. While formulating his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein realized that because of this warping, light won't always travel across the universe in straight lines. For example, if one galaxy lies almost directly behind another as seen from Earth, light from the more distant one will bend around the foreground galaxy and form multiple images — or, in the case of near-perfect alignment, an Einstein ring.

In other news, refurbishing the Hubble telescope is worth the cost.