Post List

  • May 17, 2010
  • 05:22 AM

Intelligent Design Flaws: The Evidence for Natural Selection in Our DNA

by Darcy Cowan in Skepticon

Here in New Zealand the debate between religion and evolution is a muted affair, while news on the topic regularly makes headlines in the US, here it goes almost beneath notice. That is not to say the clash does not exist here, merely that it tends not to intrude into the public sphere. Over time [...]... Read more »

  • May 17, 2010
  • 05:00 AM

Prioritizing land conservation based on willingness to sell

by Rob Goldstein in Conservation Maven

when it comes to protecting land by purchasing the property or the underlying development rights, there has been a growing push to create systematic approaches to prioritize efforts. A new study further contributes to these approaches by integrating another important social variable - the willingness of landowners to sell their property...... Read more »

  • May 17, 2010
  • 04:29 AM

Why you really should avoid upsetting the big, drunk guy

by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest

There are some obvious practical reasons why you might want to avoid provoking the big, drunk guy in the bar. After all, he's bigger than you. However, according to a new study, there's another more psychological reason to be wary - heavier men are, on average, more likely to be aggressive when drunk than are lighter men. Nathan DeWall and colleagues say their finding is consistent with evolutionary theory and research on embodied cognition. Over five hundred women (average weight 149 lb) and men (average weight 183 lb), aged 21 to 35, consumed either an alcoholic beverage or a placebo drink before taking part in a reaction time contest. The winner of each round had the opportunity to inflict an electric shock on their opponent. Their choices of how strong and long a shock to inflict was the measure of aggression. Unbeknown to the participants, their opponent was fictitious and the game was fixed so that they won fifty per cent of the rounds.The key finding was that among the male participants only, alcohol interacted with body weight to predict aggression. That is, heavier men who had an alcoholic drink tended to be more aggressive than those who had an alcohol-free placebo drink. By contrast, having an alcoholic vs. placebo drink made little difference to the aggression of lighter men.Another way of looking at the results was that, among men who had the alcoholic drink, those who were heavier tended to be more aggressive. For the female participants, their weight bore no relation to their aggressiveness. These same findings were replicated in a second study with a further 327 men and women.It makes sense in terms of evolutionary theory that bigger men should be more prone to aggression, the researchers said, because 'they're more able than weaker men to inflict costs on others in conflict situations.' The same isn't true for women because even those who are larger will usually be smaller and weaker than potential male adversaries.An association between weight and aggression is also predicted by embodied cognition, the researchers said. This is the idea that the way we think about abstract concepts is rooted in physical metaphors. One example is that we think about importance in terms of weight, thus leading heavier people to feel more important and entitled to special treatment.Consistent with both these theoretical arguments, past research has indeed found that physical size is related to aggression. However, DeWall's team said their new study is the first to show that weight is a predictor of alcohol-induced increases in aggression. 'It seems that alcohol reduced the inhibition for heavy men to "throw their weight around" and intimidate others by behaving aggressively,' they said._________________________________DeWall, C., Bushman, B., Giancola, P., & Webster, G. (2010). The big, the bad, and the boozed-up: Weight moderates the effect of alcohol on aggression. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (4), 619-623 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.02.008

... Read more »

  • May 17, 2010
  • 04:00 AM

Dichloroacetate (DCA) and cancer: Déjà vu all over again

by Orac in Respectful Insolence

Late last week, a crank I hadn't heard from in a while showed up in my comments. I'm referring to DaveScot, who normally was known for promoting anti-evolution rhetoric in the service of the pseudoscience known as "intelligent design" creationism. This is what he said:

Hi Orac,

terrasig suggested you do a followup article on dichloroacetate (DCA) given the paper just published on the phase 1 trial in Edmonton.

Three years have passed and countless cancer patients were denied this drug. Now at the end of its first phase one trial we know exactly what we did from the reports of people self-medicating in 2007 before the FDA forced it off the market - it shows great promise.

Explain to me again how these controlled trials are oh-so-much better than the ad hoc trial of self-organized self-medicants? Lay that old woo stick on me again, buddy.

How can I refuse such a heartfelt request for a loving application the clue by four (a.k.a. the cluestick). Apparently DaveScot forgot the last time I laid it on him. Oddly enough, it was not over evolution or creationism, and the loving application occurred over three years ago. Specifically, it was about a topic that I hvaen't written about for about a year and a half now, mainly because there wasn't any real news to write about, namely (as I've put it) the "cancer cure that big pharma doesn't want you to know about," dichloroacetate (DCA for short).

Actually, DaveScot wasn't the first this week. Over the last several days, I've received a trickle of e-mails about DCA. These generally fell into two categories. One category was simply asking me to update the story; the other category was of the type demonstrated by DaveScott, gloating that I was wrong when I threw cold water on the ridiculous level of hype over this drug on the basis of a single paper reporting that DCA showed significant efficacy against various cancers in cell culture and rodent models of cancer.

I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on DaveScot. After all, when the DCA saga began in January 2007, I started noticing a bunch of posts by various bloggers as well as news stories that all had similar titles, such as Cheap, safe drug kills most cancers, Objectively pro-cancer, Gotta pay, When promising cures are ignored, and, my personal favorite, Potential cheap, safe cure for cancer: Will Big Pharma Allow It?

Note that there were two assumptions about the study three years ago. First, these bloggers and pundits assumed that the cell culture and animal work were definitive evidence that DCA might be a "cure" for cancer. Second, the assumption was that, because the drug was out of patent and very cheap to make, neither the government nor pharmaceutical companies would be interested in funding it, thus condemning thousands, maybe millions, of people to die of cancer unnecessarily. Unfortunately, the New Scientist article and articles in the Edmonton Sun featured headlines to that effect and quotes by the investigator Evangelos Michelakis lamenting how he had had difficulties finding funding to do the next step, clinical trials in cancer. As a result of these sensationalistic stories, unscrupulous "businessmen" sought to bring DCA to the masses. A frenzy of sorts was unleashed, with desperate cancer patients scrambling to find DCA. If you're interested in the details, scroll to the end of this post for a list of the numerous blog posts that I did on the topic as the story was evolving. That's the past, and all the "Insolence" and science are there for you if you want to read it. I'm concerned with today (well, last week), when apparently DCA bubbled to the surface in news reports such as this, which were apparently what "inspired" DaveScot's and some e-mails challenging me. For example: Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Michelakis, E., Sutendra, G., Dromparis, P., Webster, L., Haromy, A., Niven, E., Maguire, C., Gammer, T., Mackey, J., Fulton, D.... (2010) Metabolic Modulation of Glioblastoma with Dichloroacetate. Science Translational Medicine, 2(31), 31-31. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3000677  

  • May 17, 2010
  • 01:27 AM
  • 819 views your favorite color?

by Evil Monkey in Neurotopia

Palmer and Schloss. "An ecological valence theory of human color preference" PNAS, 2010.

Sci will admit that she didn't really know all that much about color preference theory until she read this paper. And that until she read this paper...she thought a lot of it was silly.

Also, she doesn't have a favorite color. That might have something to do with it. Can someone have a favorite color palette instead?

Anyway, let's talk color preference theory. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Palmer, S., & Schloss, K. (2010) An ecological valence theory of human color preference. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(19), 8877-8882. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906172107  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 11:46 PM

Ecosystem functions breaking down from climate change

by CJA Bradshaw in ConservationBytes

I’m particularly proud to present to readers a new paper we’ve just had published online in Journal of Animal Ecology: Mechanisms driving change: altered species interactions and ecosystem function through global warming (Lochran Traill, Matt Lim, Navjot Sodhi and me). It wasn’t easy to write a review discussing climate change effects on biodiversity, mainly [...]... Read more »

  • May 16, 2010
  • 11:20 PM

Spring Surveys

by John Carroll in Chronicles of Zostera

We are just about done with our spring benthic surveys in the Peconic Estuary. On Wednesday we surveyed a couple of sites around Orient Harbor, the location of the large suspended spawner sanctuary.At 2 of the sites we surveys we found scallops at higher densities than anticipated based on the fall survey results, suggesting higher overwinter survival (which can be a problem - Tettelbach et al 1990), and higher densities overall. These are very good signs, indicating that the restoration effort is likely working (and here, last years harvest is also a good indication, but see Tettelbach and Smith 2009)! Below are some photos from the dives....Eelgrass, Zostera marina, often considered the primary bay scallop habitat, although some of our new research indicates that other species might also facilitate scallop survival - Carroll et al 2010Some sort of tube worm, unsure what species...The northern pipefish - pretty cryptic, huh?A channeled whelk, or as the local baymen call them, "conch," now a top fished species in the Peconic EstuaryA sand collar, an egg casing laid by moonsnails.Carroll, J., Peterson, B., Bonal, D., Weinstock, A., Smith, C., & Tettelbach, S. (2009). Comparative survival of bay scallops in eelgrass and the introduced alga, Codium fragile, in a New York estuary Marine Biology, 157 (2), 249-259 DOI: 10.1007/s00227-009-1312-0Tettelbach, S.T., C.F. Smith, J.E. Kalady, T.W. Arroll and M.R. Denson. (1990). Burial oftransplanted bay scallops Argopecten irradians irradians (Lamarck, 1819) in winter. Journal of Shellfish Research, 9, 127-134Tettelbach, S., & Smith, C. (2009). Bay Scallop Restoration in New York Ecological Restoration, 27 (1), 20-22 DOI: 10.3368/er.27.1.20... Read more »

Tettelbach, S.T., C.F. Smith, J.E. Kalady, T.W. Arroll and M.R. Denson. (1990) Burial of transplanted bay scallops Argopecten irradians irradians (Lamarck, 1819) in winter. . Journal of Shellfish Research, 127-134. info:/

Tettelbach, S., & Smith, C. (2009) Bay Scallop Restoration in New York. Ecological Restoration, 27(1), 20-22. DOI: 10.3368/er.27.1.20  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 10:17 PM

fault-tolerant conversion between sequence alignments

by Leonardo Martins in bioMCMC

Despite I’m very charitable when testing my own programs, I’m not so nice when asked to scrutinize other people’s work. That’s why I was happy to see the announcement about the ALTER web server being published at Nucleic Acids Research (open access!). I am not involved in the project, but I was in the very [...]... Read more »

Glez-Pena, D., Gomez-Blanco, D., Reboiro-Jato, M., Fdez-Riverola, F., & Posada, D. (2010) ALTER: program-oriented conversion of DNA and protein alignments. Nucleic Acids Research. DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkq321  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 09:50 PM

Varieties of Oceanographic Experience

by Sam in Oceanographer's Choice

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about issues of scale in ecology lately, both because I’m taking a fascinating seminar on the topic this quarter, and because my particular research is conducive to thinking about them. “Scale” came to the fore as a topic of interest starting in the late 70’s, and is tied [...]... Read more »

  • May 16, 2010
  • 09:42 PM

When the elephant awakens…

by sandnsurf in Life in the Fast Lane

A chronic shortfall in doctors has led to a great increase in new medical graduates in Australia. What does this mean for emergency medicine and the training of junior doctors?... Read more »

  • May 16, 2010
  • 06:23 PM

b2d nugget: portion size is out: energy density is in for effective weight management

by mc in begin to dig (b2d)

You'd think with bigger sizes, folks would feel more full after a feeding than with smaller sizes. Apparently not so.

In 2005, researchers were interested in whether the increase in portion size at restaurants and in snack foods was contributing to the obesity epidemic. Rightfully they acknowledge that while that would SEEM to make sense, it's tough to say so conclusively.

So what they did ... Read more »

  • May 16, 2010
  • 06:08 PM

Genetics of High Altitude Life

by in

Almost every biological anthropology text-book I’ve ever looked at has described the adaptations of human populations to the environments they occupy. Examples they give are the short stalky Inuit adapted to conserving heat in cold environments, the long lanky East African nomads adapted to far distant travels, and the barrel chested Peruvian and Tibetans living [...]... Read more »

Simonson TS, Yang Y, Huff CD, Yun H, Qin G, Witherspoon DJ, Bai Z, Lorenzo FR, Xing J, Jorde LB.... (2010) Genetic Evidence for High-Altitude Adaptation in Tibet. Science (New York, N.Y.). PMID: 20466884  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 03:33 PM

Falls and Granny Killers.

by Euan in Dr Euan Lawson| Doctor Writer

Gravity may well be the weakest of the four forces but your average GP will highlight the disproportional impact it has for patients who tend to fall. We’ve all picked little old ladies off the floor, dusted them down where possible but all too frequently we note the shortened, externally rotated leg that belies a [...]... Read more »

Logan, P., Coupland, C., Gladman, J., Sahota, O., Stoner-Hobbs, V., Robertson, K., Tomlinson, V., Ward, M., Sach, T., & Avery, A. (2010) Community falls prevention for people who call an emergency ambulance after a fall: randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 340(may11 1). DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c2102  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 03:21 PM

A dilemma – ACT-ing Well, Living Well

by Bronwyn Thompson in Healthskills: Skills for Healthy Living

As part of looking at ACT, I’ve been looking at values and committed actions that people are taking (or could take) to make their lives rich and fulfilling.  I’m currently mulling over what to do in a case where the client I’m working with is actually quite happy with his life, and given that we … Read more... Read more »

  • May 16, 2010
  • 09:31 AM

Steady as she blows

by Elements Science in Elements Science

Linking offshore wind turbines together could help make wind energy more reliable, says a study published in the 5 April issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related posts:Want to discover a new species? Try your local pond
Holiday cruises are secret weapon against climate change
Climate change: all in the mind?
... Read more »

Kempton, W., Pimenta, F., Veron, D., & Colle, B. (2010) Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(16), 7240-7245. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909075107  

Stuart, S., Wilson, E., McNeely, J., Mittermeier, R., & Rodriguez, J. (2010) The Barometer of Life. Science, 328(5975), 177-177. DOI: 10.1126/science.1188606  

  • May 16, 2010
  • 09:02 AM

Of Brains and Faces

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

A new paper in the Journal of Human Evolution discusses the effect of both brain size and facial size on the basicranium. I am excited to see it because it talks about an old hypothesis by one of my favorite Great Anatomists, Josef Biegert. The basicranium is basically the bottom of your skull. When you [...]... Read more »

Bastir, M., Rosas, A., Stringer, C., Manuel Cuétara, J., Kruszynski, R., Weber, G., Ross, C., & Ravosa, M. (2010) Effects of brain and facial size on basicranial form in human and primate evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 58(5), 424-431. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.03.001  

  • May 15, 2010
  • 08:35 PM

Getting into hot water

by sandnsurf in Life in the Fast Lane

With ongoing climate change we may find soon find ourselves getting into hot water --- both literally and metaphorico-toxinologically. Sea surface temperature appears to predict the arrival of the box jellyfish at Australia's tropical beaches.... Read more »

  • May 15, 2010
  • 07:51 PM

Mice make morphine, humans might too

by Captain Skellett in A Schooner of Science

A recent study has found that mice are able to turn something normally found in mice brains into morphine.
Morphine is a potent painkiller harvested from opium poppies. We can make it synthetically in the lab, but it’s cheaper to let plants do the hard work. If you haven’t taken morphine, you may have taken its [...]... Read more »

Grobe, N., Lamshoft, M., Orth, R., Drager, B., Kutchan, T., Zenk, M., & Spiteller, M. (2010) Urinary excretion of morphine and biosynthetic precursors in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(18), 8147-8152. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1003423107  

  • May 15, 2010
  • 06:00 PM

Probing the Biology of Cell-To-Cell Variability

by Michael Long in Phased

Andreas Schmid (Leibniz-Institut fur Analytische Wissenschaften and Technische Universitat Dortmund, Germany) and coworkers have reviewed progress and future challenges associated with interrogating single cells to extract information that is typically lost in the average behavior of many cells. This news feature was written on May 15, 2010.... Read more »

Schmid, A., Kortmann, H., Dittrich, P. S., & Blank, L. M. (2010) Chemical and biological single cell analysis. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 21(1), 12-20. DOI: 10.1016/j.copbio.2010.01.007  

  • May 15, 2010
  • 05:40 PM

Do It Like You Dopamine It

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic readers will know that I'm a big fan of theories. Rather than just poking around (or scanning) the brain under different conditions and seeing what happens, it's always better to have a testable hypothesis.I just found a 2007 paper by Israeli computational neuroscientists Niv et al that puts forward a very interesting theory about dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, and dopamine cells are known to fire in phasic bursts - short volleys of spikes over millisecond timescales - in response to something which is either pleasurable in itself, or something that you've learned is associated with pleasure. Dopamine is therefore thought to be involved in learning what to do in order to get pleasurable rewards.But baseline, tonic dopamine levels vary over longer periods as well. The function of this tonic dopamine firing, and its relationship, if any, to phasic dopamine signalling, is less clear. Niv et al's idea is that the tonic dopamine level represents the brain's estimate of the average availability of rewards in the environment, and that it therefore controls how "vigorously" we should do stuff.A high reward availability means that, in general, there's lots of stuff going on, lots of potential gains to be made. So if you're not out there getting some reward, you're missing out. In economic terms, the opportunity cost of not acting, or acting slowly, is high - so you need to hurry up. On the other hand, if there's only minor rewards available, you might as well take things nice and slow, to conserve your energy. Niv et al present a simple mathematical model in which a hypothetical rat must decide how often to press a lever in order to get food, and show that it accounts for the data from animal learning experiments.The distinction between phasic dopamine (a specific reward) vs. tonic dopamine (overall reward availability) is a bit like the distinction between fear vs. anxiety. Fear is what you feel when something scary, i.e. harmful, is right there in front of you. Anxiety is the sense that something harmful could be round the next corner.This theory accounts for the fact that if you give someone a drug that increases dopamine levels, such as amphetamine, they become hyperactive - they do more stuff, faster, or at least try to. That's why they call it speed. This happens to animals too. Yet this hyperactivity starts almost immediately, which means that it can't be a product of learning.It also rings true in human terms. The feeling that everything's incredibly important, and that everyday tasks are really exciting, is one of the main effects of amphetamine. Every speed addict will have a story about the time they stayed up all night cleaning every inch of their house or organizing their wardrobe. This can easily develop into the compulsive, pointless repetition of the same task over and over. People with bipolar disorder often report the same kind of thing during (hypo)mania.What controls tonic dopamine levels? A really brilliantly elegant answer would be: phasic dopamine. Maybe every time phasic dopamine levels spike in response to a reward (or something which you've learned to associate with a reward), some of the dopamine gets left over. If there's lots of phasic dopamine firing, which suggests that the availability of rewards is high, the tonic dopamine levels rise.Unfortunately, it's probably not that simple, as signals from different parts of the brain seem to alter tonic and phasic dopamine firing largely independently, and this would mean that tonic dopamine would only increase after a good few rewards, not pre-emptively, which seems unlikely. The truth is, we don't know what sets the dopamine tone, and we don't really know what it does; but Niv et al's account is the most convincing I've come across...Niv Y, Daw ND, Joel D, & Dayan P (2007). Tonic dopamine: opportunity costs and the control of response vigor. Psychopharmacology, 191 (3), 507-20 PMID: 17031711... Read more »

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