Post List

  • November 21, 2010
  • 05:52 PM

Where have all the data gone?

by Daniel Mietchen in Research Cycle Research

Where have all the data gone, long time passing? Where have all the data gone, long time ago? Where have all the data gone? Disk crashed, new project, postdoc gone. Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • November 21, 2010
  • 01:41 PM

Taking a closer look at health encounters for people with chronic pain

by Bronwyn Thompson in Healthskills: Skills for Healthy Living

A theme of comments made by people I’ve seen clinically is that certain health care encounters they’ve had have not been especially helpful. Some people feel belittled, some patronised, some bamboozled, some dismissed – and yet in most surveys of health care satisfaction, the rating is pretty high (Jenkinson, Coulter, Bruster, Richards & Chandola, 2002). … Read more... Read more »

  • November 21, 2010
  • 12:26 PM

Bird song vs urban noise

by davesbrain in Dave Hubble's ecology spot

It's now well known that some birds can adapt their songs to different environments. For example, great tits (Parus major) have been shown to sing faster and at a higher pitch in urban areas (Slabbekoorn & den Boer-Visser 2006). This may be because urban noise, mostly from traffic, tends to be at a lower pitch and drowns out low-pitched birdsong. Also, the relative openness of city landscapes compared to woodland means that high-pitched songs are less likely to be lost in reflections in dense foliage – the reason why songs in dense woodland are slower and lower-pitched. Exactly how city birds adopt a higher pitch is not so well understood. As great tits are known to learn songs from their neighbours, one hypothesis states that young birds may simply not hear the low notes produced by other birds and so lose them from their song. However, this would imply that urban songs had fewer notes than forest songs, which is not the case. Instead, songs with low notes may be dropped entirely, leaving birds with an exclusively high-pitched repertoire. Alternatively, as songs are used for attracting mates or defending territory, it may be that urban birds are forced to use higher-pitched songs because the low-pitched ones do not prompt the required response. However, without urban noise, females generally prefer males with lower-pitched songs and it is unknown as yet what the effect of song change will be on mate selection (Mockford & Marshall 2009). Certainly, noise in the urban environment does appear to be exerting evolutionary pressure with birds using higher-pitched songs being more successful at mating. Does this mean urban noise will eventually have no effect as birds adapt? Well, no – it has become clear that not all birds are able to adapt. With low-pitched species unable to sing effectively near main roads, man-made noise may lead to a decrease in biodiversity around towns and main roads. Urban development does tend to lead to a similar, limited, range of species being found and recent research in the US (Francis et al. 2009) shows that noise reduces the diversity of bird species present (absent species being those with lower-pitched calls and songs), but not necessarily the overall number of birds, as those that remain fledge their young more successfully due to the relative absence of avian predators, many of which have low-pitched calls. Of course, there may also be knock-on effects of reduced biodiversity e.g. an absence of species which are important for dispersing seeds (such as jays) would be harmful to the ecosystem as a whole by reducing plant regeneration.The behavioural flexibility that may be key to urban success, or the lack of it in many species, is likely to at least partly explain the detrimental effects on bird communities in noisy urban areas or along main roads. Mockford and Marshall (2009) also show that birds from noisy areas respond less strongly to the song of birds from quieter areas, and vice versa, even when the songs come from only a mile or two away. As great tits can disperse up to 3km (1.8 miles) in their first year, this means that young males may have difficulty establishing and defending a territory, or attracting a mate, if they move to an area with more or less noise than they are used to – something that may have implications for great tits' ability to communicate and breed successfully, especially as great tits are thought to learn their song in their first year and can only make small changes after this. Potential barriers to breeding could mean they eventually stop recognising each other, reducing genetic flow between urban and rural populations and it is unknown whether small populations in small cities will suffer from lower genetic diversity. Other species are also affected such as the blackbird (Turdus merula) which is also shown to sing faster and at a higher pitch in noisy environments (Nemeth & Brumm 2009), while nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) are known to sing more loudly and in Germany even break noise regulations, reaching 95 decibels (Brumm 2004). Showing a different adaptation, the highly territorial robin (Erithacus rubecula) sings during the night in areas that are noisy during the day, with light pollution (often considered to be the cause of nocturnal singing in urban birds) appearing to have less of an effect than daytime noise (Fuller et al. 2007). This study also found that nocturnal singing was, on average, 10 decibels louder than daytime songs. This may mean that robins are highly adaptable to the urban environment, but equally they may well be suffering from what noise has rendered poor-quality habitat and having trouble attracting mates. If so, nocturnal singers could be sacrificing other activities such as feeding and preening in order to maximise their singing time. Female robins judge the quality of males by how creatively they sing and prefer males using a greater diversity of songs. Therefore, noise pollution could have a negative effect on males by making it more difficult to hear their full repertoire.The effect of noise on communication also has effects outside of breeding e.g. the need to hear approaching predators or locate prey, and noise does not just affect birds. Frogs croak, crickets chirp, bats use ultrasound to navigate and find insect prey, and there has been much research relating to the effects of shipping noise on navigation and communication by whales and dolphins. Therefore it is becoming increasingly clear that, when thinking about conservation, good quality habitat requires reduced noise pollution as well as reduced pollution from light and unpolluted air and water.ReferencesBrumm, H. (2004). The impact of environmental noise on song amplitude in a territorial bird Journal of Animal Ecology, 73 (3), 434-440 DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8790.2004.00814.xFrancis CD, Ortega CP, & Cruz A (2009). Noise pollution changes avian communities and species interactions. Current biology, 19 (16), 1415-1419 PMID: 19631542Fuller RA, Warren PH, & Gaston KJ (2007). Daytime noise predicts nocturnal singing in urban robins. Biology letters, 3 (4), 368-370 PMID: 17456449Mockford, EJ, & Marshall, RC (2009). Effects of urban noise on song and response behaviour in great tits. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B , 276 (1669), 2979-2985 PMID: 19493902Nemeth, E., & Brumm, H... Read more »

  • November 21, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

When Organisms Really Shine... Bioluminescence Pt.1

by defectivebrayne in The Defective Brain

As near exclusive surface dwellers, we only see the sun-kissed top layers of the vast oceans of our planet. As we descend into the depths, the light from the sun dies away. And as we reach the bottom, we should be plunged into absolute blackness.
But we aren't. There are lights at the bottom of the ocean....... Read more »

Haddock, S., Moline, M., & Case, J. (2010) Bioluminescence in the Sea. Annual Review of Marine Science, 2(1), 443-493. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-marine-120308-081028  

  • November 21, 2010
  • 06:41 AM

Autism Gives You Biblical Superpowers

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

We've all heard about autistic "savants" with amazing mathematical, memory or artistic abilities. But could autism give you the power to kill 1,000 men armed only with a donkey bone?Samson was the original Chuck Norris. Granted mighty strength by God so long as he didn't cut his hair or shave, Samson's first act of heroism was ripping a lion to shreds with his bear hands. Then he moved onto people. According to the Book of Judges:"And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men." - Judges 15:16Samson later bested even this achievement. Finding himself trapped in a building with over 3,000 enemies who were about to sacrifice him to their pagan god, Samson single-handedly demolished the building by smashing some pillars, killing everyone including himself.Samson owed his pagan-slaying powers to God, who promised him mighty strength, so long as he didn't shave or cut his hair. Anyway, what does this have to do with autism? Well, according to Indian neurologists Mathew and Pandian in a new paper, it shows that Samson had it. No, really.One of the earliest incidents recorded from Samson's adult life is the journey to Timnath with his parents where he tears a lion with his bare hands. On his return, he finds a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion, which he eats, and offers his parents (Judges 14:8-9). Abnormal eating is one of the atypical behaviors noted among children with autism [ref].Throughout Samson's life, it is seen that he performed extraordinary physical feats... It is possible that Samson was able to perform these feats as he may have been insensitive to pain, which is occasionally seen among autistics [ref]. A study of hospitalized individuals carried out in Sweden had reached the conclusion that individuals with autism or autism spectrum disorders are prone to acts of violence [ref].Hmm. Fair to say this falls into the "speculative" category. They also diagnose other Biblical characters with various disorders ranging from strokes to acromegaly but Samson's autism is certainly the most "interesting" of the bunch.Link: This study also blogged at Autism Jabberwocky, an extremely good blog I only found out about yesterday. I've subscribed, you should too.Mathew SK, & Pandian JD (2010). Newer insights to the neurological diseases among biblical characters of old testament. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 13 (3), 164-166 PMID: 21085524... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 11:00 PM

Prognostic Tool in Pediatric Oncological Hospice

by Brian McMichael, MD in Pallimed: a Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog

An article in the December 1st issue of Pediatric Blood and Cancer presents the validation of a prognostic tool in pediatric hospice care. The study was produced by a team from the Hospital A.C. Camargo, a large cancer center in São Paulo, Brazil, which developed the prognostic tool to predict 60-day survival of pediatric end-stage oncology patients.... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 09:50 PM

Warm blooded turtles?

by Iddo Friedberg in Byte Size Biology

If you entered this post to comment the error in the title, then I have one word for you. Gotcha! Yes, “warm blooded” animals are not, really, warm blooded. After all, a lizard in the baking sun has a core temperature higher than most mammals, but it is still called “cold blooded”.  So-called cold blooded [...]... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 09:10 PM

Einstein, tea leaves, meandering rivers, and beer

by Zoltan Sylvester in Hindered Settling

If you make your tea the old-fashioned way, ending up with a few tea leaves at the bottom of the teacup, and you start stirring the tea, you would expect the leaves to move outward, due to the push of the centrifugal force. Instead the leaves follow a spiral trajectory toward the center the cup. The physical processes that result in this 'tea leaf paradox' are essentially the same as the ones responsible for building point bars in meandering rivers. It turns out that the first scientist to make this connection and analogy was none other than Albert Einstein.In a paper published in 1926 (English translation here), Einstein first explains how the velocity of the fluid tea flow is smaller at the bottom of the cup than higher up, due to friction at the wall. [The velocity has to decrease to zero at the wall, a constraint called 'no-slip condition' in fluid mechanics.] To Einstein it is obvious that "the result of this will be a circular movement of the liquid" in the vertical plane, with the liquid moving toward the center at the bottom of the cup and outward at the surface (see the figure below). For us, it is probably useful to think things out in a bit more detail.Einstein's illustration of secondary flow in a teacupA smaller velocity at the bottom means a reduced centrifugal force as well. But overall, the tea is being pushed toward the sidewalls of the cup, and this results in the water surface being higher at the sidewalls than at the center. The pressure gradient that is created this way is constant throughout the whole water tea column, and overall it balances the centrifugal force (unless you stir so hard that the tea spills over the lips). This means that the centrifugal force wins at the top, creating a velocity component that points outward, but loses at the bottom, creating a so-called secondary flow that is pointing inward. The overall movement of the liquid has a helical pattern; in fact, those components of the velocity that act in a direction perpendicular to the main rotational direction are usually an order of magnitude smaller than the primary flow.Einstein goes on to suggest that the "same sort of thing happens with a curving stream". He also points out that, even if the river is straight, the strength of the Coriolis force resulting from the rotation of the Earth will be different at the bottom and at the surface, and this induces a helical flow pattern similar to that observed in meandering rivers. [This force and its effects on sedimentation and erosion are much smaller than the 'normal' helical flow in rivers.] In addition, the largest velocities will develop toward the outer bank of the river, where "erosion is necessarily stronger" than on the inner bank.Secondary flow in a river, the result of reduced centrifugal forces at the bottomI find the tea-leaf analogy an excellent way to explain the development of river meanders and point bars; just like tea leaves gather in the middle of the cup, sand grains are most likely to be left behind on the inner bank of a river bend. Yet Einstein's paper is usually not mentioned in papers discussing river meandering -- an interesting omission since a reference to Einstein always lends more weight and importance to one's paper (or blog post).A recent and very interesting exception is a paper published in Sedimentology. It is titled "Fluvial and submarine morphodynamics of laminar and near-laminar flows: a synthesis" and points out how laminar flows can generate a wide range of depositional forms and structures, like channels, ripples, dunes, antidunes, alternate bars, multiple-row bars, meandering and braiding, forms that are often considered unequivocal signs of turbulent flow. As they start discussing meandering rivers and point bars, Lajeunesse et al. suggest that Einstein's teacup is extremely different dynamically from the Mississippi River, yet it can teach us about how point bars form:A flow in a teacup with a Reynolds number of the order of 102 cannot possibly satisfy Reynolds similarity with the flow in the bend of, for example, the Mississippi River, for which the Reynolds number is of the order of 107. Can teacups then be used to infer river morpho- dynamics? The answer is affirmative. When dynamical similarity is rigorously satisfied, the physics of the two flows are identical. However, even when dynamical similarity is not satisfied, it is possible for a pair of flows to be simply two different manifestations of the same phenomenon, both of which are described by a shared physical framework. Any given analogy must not be overplayed because the lack of complete dynamic similarity implies that different features of a phenomenon may be manifested with different relative strengths. This shared framework nevertheless allows laminar-flow morphodynamics to shed useful light on turbulent-flow analogues.Apart from helping understand river meandering, the tea leaf paradox has inspired a gadget that separates red blood cells from blood plasma; and helps getting rid of trub (sediment remaining after fermentation) from beer.That explains the 'beer' part of the title. And it is time to have one.ReferencesEinstein, A. (1926). Die Ursache der Meanderbildung der Flusslaufe und des sogenannten Baerschen Gesetzes Die Naturwissenschaften, 14 (11), 223-224 DOI: 10.1007/BF01510300Lajeunesse, E., Malverti, L., Lancien, P., Armstrong, L., Metivier, F., Coleman, S., Smith, C., Davies, T., Cantelli, A., & Parker, G. (2010). Fluvial and submarine morphodynamics of laminar and near-laminar flows: a synthesis Sedimentology, 57 (1), 1-26 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2009.01109.x... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 06:00 PM

Saturday Review: The Inflammasome!

by Kevin Bonham in Food Matters

This week, I'm going to take a break from vaccines and do some innate immunity. Today's topic: the provocatively named "Inflammasome." This Nature Review from last month focused on inflammasomes and anti-viral immunity, but I think the inflammasome itself needs its own post.

A breakthrough in our understanding of the mechanisms that control the activation of inflammatory caspases came from the identification and characterization of the inflammasome, a large (~700 kDa) multiprotein complex that recruits inflammatory caspases and triggers their activation. Inflammasomes are often defined by their constituent PRR family member, which functions as a scaffold protein to bring caspase-1 molecules together and mediate proximity-induced auto-activation of caspase-1.

I'm going to spend this entire post trying to explain that one paragraph. Let's start at the beginning. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 05:34 PM

Walking With Music: Useful Tool for Gait Training in Parkinson’s Disease

by Maria P. in noustuff

Scientists from Canada showed that listening to music during gait training could help patients with Parkinson’s Disease. Gait disturbances is one of the main characteristics of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). It has been associated with increased risk of falling, diminished mobility, and reduced quality of life. In addition to that, patients with PD have difficulties when [...]... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 02:06 PM

Stroke prevention: a less bitter pill?

by PalMD in White Coat Underground

Stroke is one of the three most common causes of death in North America.   A while back, we briefly discussed some of the causes of stroke, including a heart rhythm problem called atrial fibrillation (afib).  Afib is a very common problem, affecting over 2 million North Americans.  It becomes more common with age.  In afib, [...]... Read more »

  • November 20, 2010
  • 01:07 PM

The pursuit of happiness

by Hadas Shema in Information Culture

Happiness is an elusive term (though for most people, it includes one form or another of chocolate) and, to many people's surprise, it doesn't have much to do with money. Aaker, Rudd & Mogilner (forthcoming, 2011) reviewed the current happiness literature and came up with a list of five principles for happiness-maximizing ways to spend time. Spend your time with the right people. People who socialize more often tend to be happier than those who spend most of their time alone. Happiness is associated with spending time with friends and family and not (surprise!) with your boss and co-workers. Two big happiness predictors are whether people have a "best friend" at work and whether they like their boss. Personally, ever since I recruited two friends to work with me, I feel sorry my scholarship doesn't allow me to spend more time at work...Spend your time on the right activities. Ask yourself "will what I do right now become more valuable over time?" If you consider your time beyond the present moment, there is a bigger chance you'll engage in happy behaviors, like volunteering work and spending time with friends and family (assuming you enjoy their company).Enjoy the experience without spending the time. You can feel pleasure just by thinking about a pleasurable experience. Sometimes people enjoy the anticipation more than the actual reward. So, it can be better just to plan the vacation, without actually taking days off work and going to God-knows-where. Daydreaming is good for us!Expand your time. Well, the time doesn't actually expand - but the cliché of focusing on "the here and now" has some truth in it. Focusing helps people feel as if the time is moving slower. Engaging in a meaningful activity, like helping others, make people feel like their time is expanded. In general, people who have a sense of control over their time are happier. People feel they don't have time not only because they're busy, but because they aren't in control over said time.Be aware that happiness changes over time. Getting older often means people enjoy peace and quiet, rather than new and exciting experience. Older people also tend to enjoy spending time with familiar people, rather than getting acquainted with strangers. Remember that what made you happy at twenty-five won't necessarily make you happy at fifty, and plan accordingly. Aaker, J. L., Rudd, L., & Mogilner, C. (2011). If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time Journal of Consumer Psychology... Read more »

Aaker, J. L., Rudd, L., & Mogilner, C. (2011) If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time. Journal of Consumer Psychology. info:/

  • November 20, 2010
  • 01:03 PM

Flu Fighting: Just Wash Your Hands - Often?

by mc in begin to dig (b2d)

There's a lot of information out there suggesting that we should get a flu shot.
But is that being proposed as a bigger single factor solution than it really may be? Are we perhaps getting distracted into thinking this is a better solution than something cheaper and simpler - like getting more rest, eating better, and in particular during flu season, washing our hands frequently? Here's a bit of an overview on why where and how getting some new habits around hands may be a pretty healthy happy thing.... Read more »

Cannell, J., Zasloff, M., Garland, C., Scragg, R., & Giovannucci, E. (2008) On the epidemiology of influenza. Virology Journal, 5(1), 29. DOI: 10.1186/1743-422X-5-29  

Jefferson T, Del Mar C, Dooley L, Ferroni E, Al-Ansary LA, Bawazeer GA, van Driel ML, Nair S, Foxlee R, & Rivetti A. (2010) Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses: a Cochrane review. Health technology assessment (Winchester, England), 14(34), 347-476. PMID: 20648717  

Savolainen-Kopra, C., Haapakoski, J., Peltola, P., Ziegler, T., Korpela, T., Anttila, P., Amiryousefi, A., Huovinen, P., Huvinen, M., Noronen, H.... (2010) STOPFLU: is it possible to reduce the number of days off in office work by improved hand-hygiene?. Trials, 11(1), 69. DOI: 10.1186/1745-6215-11-69  

  • November 20, 2010
  • 11:03 AM

Leaf miners & climate change?

by davesbrain in Dave Hubble's ecology spot

OK, I'm going to be a bit speculative here... In April this year, I found abut 20 leaf mines of the agromyzid fly Chromatomyia aprilina on honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) in Stoke Park Woods near Eastleigh in Hampshire. Although probably under-recorded in the county (the local records centre had a single record, and I found one more on the excellent British Leafminers site), there is nothing inherently astonishing about finding this species, except for the date when I found it and the form its mine took.Spring mine of C. aprilina (note pupa just above the midrib).The usual more-or-less stellate start to C. aprilina mines in summer & autumn.C. aprilina is usually considered to have two generations ('bivoltine') - one in early summer and one in the autumn. However, in February 2009 a new 'spring' form was found in Kent with further records in March that year from Gloucestershire. This appears to be an early generation and has a different mine structure with the initial stellate section much reduced and mining occurring away from the leaf midrib.Again, this may not be astonishing in itself, but it does raise some interesting questions:1. Why has this new form of mine appeared; is it an adaptive reponse to the earlier spring seasons associated with climate change allowing an extra generation to be squeezed in? This appears to be a well-known miner, so it seems unlikely that the spring form was simply overlooked until last year. I wonder if the spring generation will begin to appear further north as temperatures increase, and if so whether this spread could be separated from the distribution of the species as a whole.2. Whatever the cause, why does it have a different form? Are conditions in the leaf different in spring in some way that affects mining?3. Are other leaf miners exhibiting similar changes?Any thoughts on this are most welcome - with only two years of records, maybe little can be inferred but it will be interesting to see if the above questions can be tackled.Pupa (c. 3mm) of C. aprilina in the leaf. Note spiracles to the left. This pupa was raised to an adult.ReferencesD. Hubble (2010). Hampshire records of Chromatomyia aprilina Goureau 1851 (Diptera, Agromyzidae) - an under-recorded leaf miner? Dipterists Digest, 17 (1), 63-64Spencer, K.A. (1972). Diptera, Agromyzidae. Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects 10(5g): 1-136.... Read more »

D. Hubble. (2010) Hampshire records of Chromatomyia aprilina Goureau 1851 (Diptera, Agromyzidae) - an under-recorded leaf miner?. Dipterists Digest, 17(1), 63-64. info:/

  • November 20, 2010
  • 08:15 AM

High-Carbohydrate Eating Promotes Heart Disease in Women

by Steve Parker, M.D. in Diabetic Mediterranean Diet Blog

Women double their risk of developing coronary heart disease if they have high consumption of carbohydrates, according to research recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.  Men’s hearts, however, didn’t seem to be affected by carb consumption. I mention this crucial … Continue reading →... Read more »

Sieri, S., Krogh, V., Berrino, F., Evangelista, A., Agnoli, C., Brighenti, F., Pellegrini, N., Palli, D., Masala, G., Sacerdote, C.... (2010) Dietary Glycemic Load and Index and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in a Large Italian Cohort: The EPICOR Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 170(7), 640-647. DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2010.15  

  • November 20, 2010
  • 06:32 AM

The Tale of Genie

by John Wayland in The Darwin Tribune

The story of Genie is one of hope and sadness. In the following two videos from the BBC's Genie: A Deprived Child, we see what the story of Genie is all about, with those who worked with her.Watch Genie: A Deprived Child [Part 1] in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.comEssentially, Genie was a pseudonym for a girl who was found in extremely poor conditions. Not only were her surroundings incredibly unstimulating, they were also very dirty and horrid. The author of Philo-Psych (2009) states that "After it was revealed by a doctor that Genie’s language was slightly delayed, her father considered her retarded.  Presumably to shelter her from a life of shame and embarrassment, he kept her in a room, strapped to a baby toilet, and only occasionally fed her baby food for 13 years".Although she was 13, she had the appearance of a 7 year old, and had extremely underdeveloped linguistic skills. Rather than talking, she made noises or yelps. The case of Genie presented psychologists with various questions over social, developmental and linguistic aspects of human development. Here was a chance to answer some significant questions. Philo-Psych states that Jones (1995) maintains that "no one had ever studied a child like this before, thus many tests were made-up by the researchers, and data was organized as they went because they did not know what direction to carry the research".As well as this, Genie's care was one that was fought over.  Philo-Psych states the researchers "came to love Genie for the charm and beauty that she exuded despite her strange mannerisms and lack of language.  Tragically, a lawsuit was brought upon the research team, stating that the experiments were doing more harm than good.  This led to the astonishing decision of placing her back in the home in which she grew up neglected and abused".To some extent, the tale of Genie is one frought with sadness and lost oppourtunity. It is important to remember that Genie was a young girl, and although she deserved love and care, it was important for the researchers to maintain a professional relationship with her. However, Genie deserved the same ethical rights we all enjoy. One can't help however but think that when Genie was taken from the researchers, psychologists lost the chance to explore some of the deeper questions of what makes us humans, and Genie lost out on the potential of finding a new and loving family to care for her. References:Jones, P. (1995). Contradictions and unanswered questions in the Genie case: A fresh look at the linguistic evidence Language & Communication, 15 (3), 261-280 DOI: 10.1016/0271-5309(95)00007-D... Read more »

  • November 19, 2010
  • 11:51 PM

Trampling Over The Dikika Cut Marks

by in

Well, I feel somewhat vindicated. Remember the post where I criticized hominin cut marks from over 3 million years ago? Others have also had an eye of suspicion and have published their concerns in PNAS this week. I was wrong in considering the croc marking differential to the cut marks. But I was not wrong [...]... Read more »

Domínguez-Rodrigo M, Pickering TR, & Bunn HT. (2010) Configurational approach to identifying the earliest hominin butchers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21078985  

  • November 19, 2010
  • 10:50 PM

Fishing for metrics

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

In 1998, Dan Pauly et al. of the University of British Columbia published a classic paper called "Fishing Down Marine Food Webs." They reported that humans were steadily depleting oceans of the top predators in the food web and working our way down the food web as the fish ran out.  Pauly measured a value called "Mean Tropic Level," (MTL), essentially the average place in the food web that our fish come from, finding that it had declined in fisheries globally since the 1970s.  (For a more elaborate but readable treatment of Pauly's paper, see Corey Bradshaw.)
MTL has become a popular measure of health in fisheries, and was even used as a key metric for implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  Now, though, a new study in Nature builds on Pauly's findings and finds that things are considerably more complex than previously thought.  Trevor Branch of the University of Washington and his co-authors report that MTL has been driven down, in part, by spikes in the catch of small fish low on the food web like anchovies and sardines.  Also, when one zooms in to various fisheries, some of the changes in MTL appear to be due to artifacts in the way fisheries data are reported.  When MTL is measured by ocean surveys rather than by the reported tonnage of fish caught, trends are very different.  For instance, when Thai fisheries collapsed, MTL reported from fisheries catch actually went up, while MTL measured by surveys went down.  The reverse occurred when Atlantic Cod fisheries collapsed in the 1980s.
The picture that emerges from the study is one of complexity and ambiguity.  While there's little doubt that global fisheries are in decline, they differ in how and how fast, and simple metrics like MTL can fail to capture these subtleties.
This paper is likely to show up in the media in the next few days, and I hope the story doesn't get twisted into a caricature of Pauly vs. Branch, or even worse, a false debate over whether our fisheries are in danger.  Science already has a news commentary on the paper that plays up the conflict angle in some troubling ways.  Let's see if other science journalists are able to resist.
Pauly, D. (1998). Fishing Down Marine Food Webs Science, 279 (5352), 860-863 DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5352.860
Branch, T., Watson, R., Fulton, E., Jennings, S., McGilliard, C., Pablico, G., Ricard, D., & Tracey, S. (2010). The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries Nature, 468 (7322), 431-435 DOI: 10.1038/nature09528... Read more »

Pauly, D. (1998) Fishing Down Marine Food Webs. Science, 279(5352), 860-863. DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5352.860  

Branch, T., Watson, R., Fulton, E., Jennings, S., McGilliard, C., Pablico, G., Ricard, D., & Tracey, S. (2010) The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries. Nature, 468(7322), 431-435. DOI: 10.1038/nature09528  

  • November 19, 2010
  • 08:10 PM

Suppose we were to transplant your brain...

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

... what would happen to your personality? I mean, if we took the brain of an African-Caribbean and stuck it in the body of a white Englishman - would the resulting person be black, or white?

And what about if you took the brain of a woman and transplanted it into a man? A rich person into the body of a poor person? Would their behaviour change, or stay the same?

What about transplanting the brain of a Catholic into the body of an atheist?

These are all questions designed to dig into whether social categories depend on 'essentialism' - the folk-logic argument that items carry with them some kind of essence that defines what they are. If you think that a man's body with a woman's brain would act like a man then you are (in one interpretation, at least) an 'essentialist'.

Essentialism is interesting because it seems to be closely related to a range of spiritual and religious beliefs. It's what psychologist Bruce Hood calls "Supersense".

Now, the brain-transplant situation is a little more complicated because social categories can be driven by situations as much as brain function, but what's interesting about this new study, lead by Marcos Pereira at the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Brazil, is that they compared how responses varied in different countries.

Take a look at this figure. These show the responses from students at three of the top universities in Spain, Brazil, and England. When the bar goes above the line, it indicates essentialist beliefs (i.e. the new creature would act in a manner appropriate for its body, not its mind).

So, taking the first case, of a white man's brain transplanted into a black man. In Spain, the response averaged zero - so they were equally split as to whether behaviour would be 'black' or 'white'. In Brazil, they tended to think in essentialist terms - the new creation would be 'black'. In England, on the other hand, it would be white.

There's a couple of things to note about this study. Firstly, overall the English students were much less essentialist, on average, than the Spanish or Brazilian.

Secondly, the Spanish seem to be more essentialist about Catholicism ("cat oth") than politics ("rig lef").

They also asked the question the other way around - what would happpen if you put the brain of a non-Catholic into the body of a Catholic. The results were similar, except for the English. Put this way round, the English are more essentialist (although still less so than the Spanish and the Brazilians).

In other words, for the English, a non-Catholic body becomes Catholic if you put a non-Catholic brain in. But put a Catholic brain into a non-Catholic body, and they are more inclined to think the result would be non-Catholic. Very odd!

In fact, this reflects a general trend. In all three countries, the students were more essentialist if it was a 'non-dominant' brain going into a 'dominant' body. A female brain put into a male body is more likely to be male than a male brain put into a female body is likely to be female.

But for me, at least, the most interesting result of this study is that the students were not particularly essentialist about Catholicism. They saw it as being more similar to politics than to age or gender. It's something you decide (or is generated by your brain) rather than something that you are as a result of birth or society.

Pereira ME, Alvaro Estramiana JL, & Schweiger Gallo I (2010). Essentialism and the expression of social stereotypes: a comparative study of Spain, Brasil and England. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 13 (2), 808-17 PMID: 20977029

This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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  • November 19, 2010
  • 07:22 PM

The bacteria in your belly Pt. 2 – Adults

by Thomas Tu in Disease of the week!

In the last post I talked about babies eating poo how babies develop a gut flora. In this post I wanted to look at how that flora matures into adulthood. As a baby grows it interacts with its environment and … Continue reading →... Read more »

Fujimura KE, Slusher NA, Cabana MD, & Lynch SV. (2010) Role of the gut microbiota in defining human health. Expert review of anti-infective therapy, 8(4), 435-54. PMID: 20377338  

Cerf-Bensussan N, & Gaboriau-Routhiau V. (2010) The immune system and the gut microbiota: friends or foes?. Nature reviews. Immunology, 10(10), 735-44. PMID: 20865020  

Benson AK, Kelly SA, Legge R, Ma F, Low SJ, Kim J, Zhang M, Oh PL, Nehrenberg D, Hua K.... (2010) Individuality in gut microbiota composition is a complex polygenic trait shaped by multiple environmental and host genetic factors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(44), 18933-8. PMID: 20937875  

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