Post List

  • May 13, 2011
  • 05:50 PM

Non-religious nations have higher quality of life

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Quality of life is a pretty nebulous concept. There's a lot of coffee-table chat about which places have the best quality of life, but is it really possible to measure it objectively?

Well, yes it is, an one way to do it is to do what a team from The University of Arizona and Washington State University have just done.

They began by assuming that 'Quality of Life' is a thing that has effects and causes. It basically sits in between them as a mediating factor. They used a sophisticated model to unpick the relationships (if any) between these effects (in their model, these were life expectancy at birth, infant
mortality rate and suicide rate) and a basket of factors that might feasibly cause differences in life quality.

They found eight factors had a significant effect on quality of life: divorce rate, public health expenditure, doctor/population ratio; per capita GDP; food supply; female and male adult literacy rate, and population with access to safe drinking water. The model crunched all these, along with the effects, and spat out a Quality of Life rating for the 43 countries they analysed.

Belgium came out top, followed by France, Denmark, Spain and Germany. The USA came in 7th, and the UK was 11th. Bottom of the pile was Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic and, at lucky number 43, El Salvador.

So I took their data and plotted it against the World Values Survey data on how important God is in people's lives. And this is what the plot looks like.

You probably won't be surprised to hear that the top nations tended to be the least religious (unfortunately there's no data on this variable for Belgium or a bunch of the other nations, which is why some are missing).

This analysis joins all the others - the least religious countries are more democratic, more peaceful, have less corruption, more telephones, do better at science, have less inequality and other problems, and are generally just less dysfunctional.

Cue discussion over which causes what!

Rahman, T., Mittelhammer, R., & Wandschneider, P. (2011). Measuring quality of life across countries: A multiple indicators and multiple causes approach Journal of Socio-Economics, 40 (1), 43-52 DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2010.06.002

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

... Read more »

  • May 13, 2011
  • 02:49 PM

Hold the Carrots! Vitamin A May Exacerbate Celiac Disease Symptoms-New study reveals how retinoic acid and IL-15 cooperatively promote gut inflammation

by Heather in Escaping Anergy: The Immunology Research Blog

New findings reveal how retinoic acid promotes disease pathology in Celiac Disease patients in which IL-15 levels in the gut are exceptionally increased. Find out more details regarding the experimental approach and implications with Escaping Anergy!... Read more »

DePaolo RW, Abadie V, Tang F, Fehlner-Peach H, Hall JA, Wang W, Marietta EV, Kasarda DD, Waldmann TA, Murray JA.... (2011) Co-adjuvant effects of retinoic acid and IL-15 induce inflammatory immunity to dietary antigens. Nature, 471(7337), 220-4. PMID: 21307853  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 01:26 PM

More on Nowak et al at the Chronicle

by Jon Wilkins in Lost in Transcription

So, an article has just come out this morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education covering the controversy over the Nowak et al Nature paper attacking kin selection. I've written about the paper twice previously, once here, providing an xtranormal video dramatization of the issues, and once here, trying to provide some context to explain why so many people had gotten up in arms about this particular paper (as opposed to the hundreds of scientific papers published every year that are equally wrong).

Unfortunately, the article is behind the Chronicle's paywall, so you may not be able to read it. (I don't know if they permit the same sorts of work-arounds that the New York Times does.)

The thing that most strikes me in the article comes at the end:
Right now Mr. Nowak is working to understand the mathematics of cancer; previously, he has outlined the mathematics of viruses. It falls within his career mission to "provide a mathematical description where there is none," he says, a goal at once modest and lofty. He would also like to write a book on the inter­section of religion and science, a publication that would no doubt further endear him to atheists.He knows that the debate on kin selection is far from over, though he sees the ad hominem attacks as a good sign. "If the argument is now on this level," he says, "I have won."along with this comment from Smayersu
Science is written in the language of mathematics. Why is it that the biologists cry "foul" when the mathematicians and physicists investigate the theory of evolution? The biological community should welcome the help of those who are trained to examine problems from a rigorous mathematical perspective.Two things.

First, the criticism of Nowak had nothing to do with his providing a mathematical framework. In fact, most of the people who have criticized Nowak are, themselves, mathematical biologists. The issue is that the paper discounts and misrepresents a huge body of mathematical work. In fact, while Nowak has written a number of interesting and original papers, he has also written a number of papers in which he claims to "provide a mathematical description where there is none," the problem being that in many cases, there actually is a mathematical description. Often quite an old one.

It is as if I were to write a paper that said, "You know who was wrong? Albert Einstein! Because, look, Special Relativity does not work when you incorporate gravity. So I've created a new thing that I call "Generalized Relativity."

Second, it is absolutely true that ad hominem attacks do not constitute legitimate scientific criticism. However, the fact that some of the attacks on Nowak have been ad hominem certainly does not constitute evidence that he is right.

To my mind, the relevance of the ad hominem attacks is this. They reflect a deep sense of frustration on the part of the field towards Nowak and his career success. Nowak has repeatedly violated one of the basic principles of academic scholarship: that you give appropriate credit to previous work. And yet, the academic system has consistently rewarded him over other researchers who put more effort into making sure that they are doing original work and into making sure to credit their colleagues.

It is as if, after publishing my paper on Generalized Relativity, I were to be awarded tens of millions of dollars in grant money and a chair at Harvard, while the legions of physicists pointing out Einstein's later work were ignored. I'm guessing that I might find myself the subject of some ad hominem attacks, but it would not mean that I was right.

As a colleague of mine commented this morning, "ah, Nowak thinks he's won because of the ad hominem attacks. by that standard, Donald Trump must be a serious presidential candidate."

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010). The evolution of eusociality Nature, 466 (7310), 1057-1062 DOI: 10.1038/nature09205

... Read more »

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2010) The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466(7310), 1057-1062. DOI: 10.1038/nature09205  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 01:14 PM

Keller shows robots evolving altruism - Nowak dismisses simulations

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

As also reported on Panda's Thumb, Laurent Keller's group have evolved robot behavior in a computer (report in Science). The robots were given the ability to share food with each other, and more related groups quickly evolved altruism, sharing food with other robots they were related to. Classical and unsurprising, at least given our theoretical understanding of the evolution of altruism.However, Martin Nowak, champion of the anti-kin-selection view, in a stunning feat of denial, dismisses the result because they are mere robots.But Harvard University theortician Martin Nowak is more cautious about drawing conclusions based on computer simulations. Virtual robots are not a stand in for real life, he says. "[The work] tells us nothing about whether Hamilton's rule makes a correct prediction for actual biological systems," he says.If you don't think that's ironic, then you don't know much about Nowak's work. Nowak mainly uses mathematics to make inference and draw conclusions about "actual biological systems". In my book, robots that actual do stuff seems much closer to biology than equations.That being said, as I've previously noted, I am personally agnostic about the role of kin-selection in group selection.altruism quickly evolved in the simulation, with greater food-sharing in groups where robots were more related, the researchers report online today in PLoS Biology.Yes, but the fact that individuals groups that are more altruistic are related begs the question of causality. Did altruism evolve because they were related, or did groups of related individuals evolve because they were altruistic? In a situation like the one by Keller's group, these two scenarios may be inseparable. Is there another way to test what comes first, altruism or relatedness? Or rather, can we get altruism in groups of no relatedness?Check out some other cool robots.Waibel, M., Floreano, D., & Keller, L. (2011). A Quantitative Test of Hamilton's Rule for the Evolution of Altruism PLoS Biology, 9 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000615... Read more »

  • May 13, 2011
  • 12:53 PM

Inflammation, Genetic Instability, and Cancer

by Daniel Koboldt in Massgenomics

Inflammation was first linked to cancer in the 1863 by Rudolf Virchow, who observed that inflammatory cells were present in tumor biopsy specimens, and tumors often developed at sites of chronic inflammation. Investigations into this connection waned over the next century, and only recently have seen a resurgence of interest. A slew of new evidence [...]... Read more »

David W. Kamp, Emily Shacter, Sigmund A. Weitzman. (2011) Chronic Inflammation and Cancer: The Role of the Mitochondria. ONCOLOGY, 25(5). info:/

Mantovani, A., Allavena, P., Sica, A., & Balkwill, F. (2008) Cancer-related inflammation. Nature, 454(7203), 436-444. DOI: 10.1038/nature07205  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 11:52 AM

The Science of Starvation: How long can humans survive without food or water?

by Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D. in Obesity Panacea

Rita Chretien, a Canadian woman survived being stranded inside a vehicle in Nevada for 48 days, by eating only some trail mix and candy, and drinking water from a stream.  Apparently, she and her husband were following their GPS instructions on their way to Las Vegas from British Columbia when they took a rural road that essentially turns to a bog in the winter months. Their van eventually got stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere, and they both waited for help for 3 days without sighting anyone. At this point, Albert Chretien, the husband, left to seek out help, while Rita remained inside the van. When she was found by a group of hunters just last week, she was nearly dead and had lost some 30lbs. Her husband remains to be found.
This recent story of near complete starvation highlights the human ability to survive for long periods of time without sustenance.
Due to obvious ethical concerns, there is not a whole lot of credible scientific data on the topic of starvation and survival. Instead, there are many accounts of either voluntary or involuntary cases of complete or near-complete starvation that allow us to make some very general conclusions.
One of the most well known cases of voluntary starvation, is the hunger strike of Mahatma Ganhdi. During his protest, Gandhi ate absolutely no food and only took sips of water for 21 days, and survived. What extraordinary about this case is the fact that Gandhi was very lean when he started his hunger-strike, thus not having much energy reserve from the outset. Also, it must be noted that during his life, Gandhi is reported to have performed a total of 14 hunger strikes.
In a 1997 editorial in the British Medical Journal, Peel briefly reviewed the available literature regarding human starvation. Generally, it appears as though humans can survive without any food for 30-40 days, as long as they are properly hydrated. Severe symptoms of starvation begin around 35-40 days, and as highlighted by the hunger strikers of the Maze Prison in Belfast in the 1980s, death can occur at around  45­ to 61 days.
The most common cause of death in these extreme cases of starvation is myocardial infarction or organ failure, and is suggested to occur most often when a person’s body mass index (BMI) reaches approximately 12.5 kg/m2.
Of course, one would expect marked variability between 2 individuals in their ability to endure starvation. As suggested in a Scientific American article by Alan Lieberson,
The duration of survival without food is greatly influenced by factors such as body weight, genetic variation, other health considerations and, most importantly, the presence or absence of dehydration.
I would add that body composition would also likely play a key role; for the same body weight, the individual with a greater percentage of body fat has a greater on-board storage of calories. Also, a lower muscle mass would generally be associated with reduced caloric consumption. This by extension would suggest that females may have a survival advantage over males due to their greater relative fat stores.
Most important factor of all, however, appears to be hydration.
In the example that started this post, Rita Chretien survived her 48 day ordeal in large part due to the availability to some melted snow for drinking. Indeed, had no water been available, Rita may not have fared as well. In examples of hospitalized individuals who are in a persistent vegetative state, who become cut off from artificial sustenance, death ensues within 10-14 days. Keep in mind that these individuals are in a coma and completely immobile, thereby consuming the lowest amount of energy possible. It can thus be surmised that the same conditions (no food or water) in a person who is at least somewhat active, and who may perspire, would only lead to a much swifter end.
For individuals who like to get out into the wilderness, and who upon reading accounts of other’s misadventures (Into the Wild, 127 Hours, etc.) are not in the least discouraged from following suit (present company included), ensuring to always have a reasonable supply of water should be priority number one. Additionally, as is well documented in the eventual demise of Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) the avoidance of eating unknown plants and shrubs can also be a key survival strategy.
Peel M (1997). Hunger strikes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 315 (7112), 829-30 PMID: 9353494
... Read more »

Peel M. (1997) Hunger strikes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 315(7112), 829-30. PMID: 9353494  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 11:13 AM

The moldy kingdom get a new neighbor

by Southern Fried Scientist in Southern Fried Science

A diagrammatic tree depicting the organisation of most eukaryotes into six major groups. The relationships amongst most of the major groups and the position of the ‘root’ of the tree are shown as unresolved (note however, the grouping of Opisthokonta and Amoebozoa). The arrow shows a possible precise placement of the root, [...]... Read more »

Simpson A, & Roger A. (2004) The real ‘kingdoms’ of eukaryotes. Current Biology, 14(17), 693-696. info:/

Jones, M., Forn, I., Gadelha, C., Egan, M., Bass, D., Massana, R., & Richards, T. (2011) Discovery of novel intermediate forms redefines the fungal tree of life. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature09984  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 10:02 AM

Fungus yields new prescription drug for multiple sclerosis

by David J Kroll in Science-Based Medicine

The following post appeared earlier this week at my Chemical & Engineering News CENtral Science blog, Terra Sigillata. For some odd reason – perhaps this week’s frantic academic schedule of commencement activities – it was not highly read there. I thought that our Science-Based Medicine readers would appreciate it because this new prescription drug is [...]... Read more »

  • May 13, 2011
  • 10:00 AM

Repost – The Fightin’ Ibis: Xenicibis and Evolution’s Arrow

by Laelaps in Laelaps

What comes next for evolution? This seems like a simple question. Every day we are learning more about the history of life on earth, and we would expect that, over 150 years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the life of the past could be used to extrapolate the trajectory of evolution’s [...]... Read more »

Nicholas R. Longrich, and Storrs L. Olson. (2010) The bizarre wing of the Jamaican flightless ibis Xenicibis xympithecus: a unique vertebrate adaptation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. info:/10.1098/rspb.2010.2117

Osborn, Henry Fairfield; Brown, Barnum. (1906) Tyrannosaurus, Upper Cretaceous carnivorous dinosaur. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 22(16), 281-296. info:/

  • May 13, 2011
  • 10:00 AM

MRSA, Meat, and Motown

by Tara Smith in Aetiology

It's been not even a month since the last paper looking at MRSA in meat, and up pops another one. So far here in the US, we've seen studies in Rhode Island (no MRSA found); Louisiana (MRSA found in beef and pork, but "human" types: USA100 and USA300); the recent Waters et al study sampling in California, Florida, Illinois, Washington DC, and Arizona, finding similar strains (ST8 and ST5, associated with USA300 and USA100, respectively). Now a new study has collected MRSA samples in Detroit, collecting 289 samples from 30 retail stores in the city.

For this study, they collected only beef, turkey, and chicken--a bit odd, since pork has been the meat product typically linked to MRSA to date. The paper is short on methods so it doesn't say how the sampling was done, which is a bit frustrating as they found levels of S. aureus that were quite a bit lower than those found in the Waters paper. Unlike the Pu and Waters papers, *all* of the Detroit samples were USA300. No typing data was given for the S. aureus that were susceptible to methicillin.

There's also something interesting about some of the USA300 isolates--they're resistant to tetracycline. Resistance to this antibiotic is relatively rare in human S. aureus isolates, but it was found in 3 chicken samples--all a molecular type called t2031. The other isolates were resistant to erythromycin, and one was additionally resistant to ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin, suggesting (like the Waters paper) that multi-resistant S. aureus are present in our meat supply. Unfortunately, there's no information letting us know whether these positive isolates--especially the unique t2031 strains--were from the same brands of meat product, same stores, etc.

So what's going on here? The authors suggest that human contamination is probably at play here, and that's quite possible. No ST398 ("livestock-associated") MRSA has been found yet in published papers examining U.S. meat, though Waters did find ST398 in their S. aureus which were methicillin-susceptible. That suggests that farm-origin Staph can make it through the processing chain, but is human contamination along the line a bigger issue in the U.S.? This is different than the situation in The Netherlands, where they found ST398 MRSA almost exclusively in the meat products they tested. But--the prevalence of humans carrying MRSA in that country is also much, much lower than it is in the U.S., so it may simply be an issue of relative colonization rates (more MRSA in Dutch animals versus their human population, while we may have more in American humans versus our animals--but additional surveillance would be needed to confirm that).

So what we're left with here is another piece of the puzzle, but one that unfortunately doesn't yet add a whole lot to the bigger picture.

Bhargava K, Wang X, Donabedian S, Zervos M, da Rocha L, Zhang Y. (2011). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Retail Meat, Detroit, Michigan, USA Emerging Infectious Diseases : 10.3201/eid1706.101095 Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Bhargava K, Wang X, Donabedian S, Zervos M, da Rocha L, Zhang Y. (2011) Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Retail Meat, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Emerging Infectious Diseases. info:/10.3201/eid1706.101095

  • May 13, 2011
  • 09:25 AM

Why Creativity Can Be A Problem for Leaders

by David Berreby in Mind Matters

Newt Gingrich, the thinking man's Glenn Beck, is said to be a viable Presidential candidate because he has fresh, creative ideas. Even if you accept that notion at face value, you have to wonder how much of an advantage it will be. As this study (pdf) suggests, people tend to see creativity and ...Read More
... Read more »

  • May 13, 2011
  • 08:30 AM

Splitting Water - Part II

by Paul Vallett in Electron Cafe

In my previous post about water splitting, I talked about how to split water into hydrogen and how it can be useful. The drawback of course was that to make hydrogen from water, you need to input energy. If you’re just using electricity, and that electricity was produced from burning coal or natural gas, then the hydrogen you produce isn’t really any “greener”. However, if one could use sunlight directly to produce hydrogen, then you have a fuel that can be stored and used later, potentially mitigating the problems with solar energy. Namely – it’s not always sunny when you want to use electricity!

Recently Sun Catalytix - a company spun out of Dan Nocera’s lab at MIT – made headlines in a few places with their “artificial leaf” system. You can see it below – light shines on the device and bubbles (tiny bubbles) of hydrogen and oxygen evolve from the surface! No external power, no batteries!

Read on to learn why splitting water using sunlight isn’t as easy as it seems, and how this new artifical leaf you’ve been hearing about is different.... Read more »

  • May 13, 2011
  • 08:00 AM

Why is teaching environmental science so controversial?

by sciencebase in Sciencebase Science Blog

Environmental science is about as politically charged a discipline you might find, stem cells GMOs, vaccines, and nuclear energy notwithstanding. In some circles, particularly certain sectors of academia and the media, environmental discussions are synonymous with controversial debates. So, asks environmental scientist, Chyrisse Tabone of Argosy University in Pittsburgh, USA, how can educators teach students [...]Why is teaching environmental science so controversial? is a post from: Sciencebase Science Blog
... Read more »

Chyrisse P. Tabone. (2011) Environmental education under assault: can instructors teach environmental science without fear?. Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, 12(2), 146-153. info:/

  • May 13, 2011
  • 08:00 AM

Generational increases in stochastic epigenetic variability to sustained methyl donor supplementation in mice

by Colby in

This recent paper in PLoS Genetics by Cheryl C. Y. Li and colleagues (from a group that did earlier work with the agouti mouse model) was really fascinating- they looked at changes in methylation variability in response to dietary supplementation … Continue reading →... Read more »

Li CC, Cropley JE, Cowley MJ, Preiss T, Martin DI, & Suter CM. (2011) A sustained dietary change increases epigenetic variation in isogenic mice. PLoS genetics, 7(4). PMID: 21541011  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 08:00 AM

Generational increases in stochastic epigenetic variability to sustained methyl donor supplementation in mice

by Colby in

This recent paper in PLoS Genetics by Cheryl C. Y. Li and colleagues (from a group that did earlier work with the agouti mouse model) was really fascinating- they looked at changes in methylation variability in response to dietary supplementation … Continue reading →... Read more »

Li CC, Cropley JE, Cowley MJ, Preiss T, Martin DI, & Suter CM. (2011) A sustained dietary change increases epigenetic variation in isogenic mice. PLoS genetics, 7(4). PMID: 21541011  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 07:19 AM

Heritability of religion and fertility

by Jason Collins in Evolving Economics

The United States is one of the few developed countries in the world with a fertility rate close to the replacement rate – that is, the rate of fertility required to maintain existing population levels. The two reasons most often cited for this is are high levels of fertility in the Hispanic immigrant population and [...]... Read more »

Rowthorn, R. (2011) Religion, fertility and genes: a dual inheritance model. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2504  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 06:30 AM

Is Friday the 13th bad for your health

by Rogue Medic in Rogue Medic

This is reminiscent of some of the old medics' tales in EMS that are cited as the basis for otherwise baseless nonsense, such as - "If you don't give anti-nausea medication with morphine, then the patient will vomit." A small percentage of patients receiving morphine will develop nausea. Only some of that small percentage of patients will end up vomiting. ... Read more »

Scanlon TJ, Luben RN, Scanlon FL, & Singleton N. (1993) Is Friday the 13th bad for your health?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 307(6919), 1584-6. PMID: 8292946  

  • May 13, 2011
  • 05:04 AM

3PL - outsourcing or not outsourcing?

by Jan Husdal in

Relying on a third-party provider for logistics, or 3PL in short, is not without caveats. While there are significant benefits, there are also a number of challenges: current requirements, future growth, information exchange and security.... Read more »

Ansari, Al, & Modarress, Batoul. (2010) Challenges of outsourcing logistics to third-party providers. International Journal of Logistics Systems and Management, 7(2), 198-218. info:/

  • May 13, 2011
  • 12:12 AM

Did humans lose dominance?

by John S. Wilkins in Evolving Thoughts

An extensive critical review has just been published online in advance of publication for Biology and Philosophy. The title is “Evolution and the loss of hierarchies: Dubreuil’s Human evolution and the origin of hierarchies: the state of nature” by Catherine … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • May 12, 2011
  • 08:04 PM

To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

A long history of research has shown the power of forgiving. It benefits the transgressor and the victim. One of the things that research has been showing recently is that forgiveness isn’t the same across all relationships and can have big impacts on the entire family.... Read more »

Maio, G.R., Thomas, G., Fincham, F.D., & Carnelley, K.B. (2008) Unraveling the role of forgiveness in family relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 94(2), 307-19. PMID: 18211179  

join us!

Do you write about peer-reviewed research in your blog? Use to make it easy for your readers — and others from around the world — to find your serious posts about academic research.

If you don't have a blog, you can still use our site to learn about fascinating developments in cutting-edge research from around the world.

Register Now

Research Blogging is powered by SMG Technology.

To learn more, visit