Post List

  • March 31, 2011
  • 01:53 AM

Apparently, size does matter….the hippocampus size, that is, in people with current vs lifetime PTSD

by Psychbytes in Psychbytes

Or at least that’s the conclusion drawn by authors of a recent study that was published in Biological Psychiatry. Apfel et al. did a structural MRI study of 244 Gulf War vets and controls and compared the size of the hippocampus across subjects, and concluded that only current symptoms of PTSD appeared to be associated with it. Since the journal put out a press release about it, I figured there was something unique or novel about the study and decided to look into it.The authors assessed lifetime and current symptoms of PTSD, in addition to a whole bunch of other variables such as such as alcohol use, depression, etc in a large sample of Gulf War vets. They then talk about the MRI part of the study, measuring pixels, and so on, and then provide the following figure (see below) – I am not sure why since all it really does is show where the hippocampus is. And if you are interested in this line of work, you probably already know that. It reminded me of stars making cameos in movies – interesting and attention-grabbing, but generally somewhat purposeless.Anyway, onto the results, where the authors throw in all these variables in a massive regression to predict hippocampus volume (corrected for intracranial volume), and then show that only current PTSD symptom scores were a significant predictor. However, the amount of variance accounted for in hippocampal volume was not exactly stunning – an adjusted R2 of 2.6%.This next part is what had me scratching my head. So far the authors worked with just symptom scores. But, at this point, they split up their sample into groups based on trauma and PTSD diagnoses – so you get:1.)    a group with no trauma (and by definition, no PTSD), 2.)    a group exposed to trauma, but no PTSD, 3.)    a group with lifetime, but no current PTSD (what they call remitted), and4.)    a group with both lifetime and current PTSD (called chronic). Notice what’s missing here – a group with current PTSD alone (in fact, only 3 people in the sample had current PTSD alone but they dropped them from the analyses!). And as you would expect, the chronic group had the highest rates of almost everything – the highest levels of trauma, highest lifetime AND current PTSD symptoms, highest rates of antidepressant use, etc. I have highlighted this column in red in the table from their paper below.Next, they compare hippocampal sizes among groups using an ANOVA (as far as I can tell, without controlling for anything else) and show that the mean hippocampus volume of the chronic group is significantly smaller than that of the remitted group by 6.5% and that of the subjects with no PTSD by 5.1%. Still with me so far?They then conclude that the size of the hippocampus is only affected by current PTSD symptoms and not by lifetime symptoms…..Here’s where they lost me. I am not sure I see the rationale for this conclusion. If they had done a regression with the lifetime and current symptoms of PTSD predicting hippocampal volume only in the chronic group, or had they even had a current PTSD only group with smaller hippocampal volumes, their conclusion would seem supported. However, since their analyses using current PTSD symptoms and their analyses using chronicity were done separately, their conclusion seems somewhat premature. In other words, their measure of chronic PTSD is confounded with current and lifetime symptoms of PTSD, and doesn't really support what they are saying. Further, a basic pubmed search revealed several prior studies on hippocampal size in disorders such as PTSD and depression (with quite a few conflicting results). So they are not exactly breaking new ground here either. And reductions in size of 6.5% and 5.1% are not exactly earth-shattering. Which leaves me pretty puzzled as to why a press release was attached to this article....Apfel BA, Ross J, Hlavin J, Meyerhoff DJ, Metzler TJ, Marmar CR, Weiner MW, Schuff N, & Neylan TC (2011). Hippocampal volume differences in gulf war veterans with current versus lifetime posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Biological psychiatry, 69 (6), 541-8 PMID: 21094937... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 10:40 PM

Whatever Sinks Your Boat: Pests as a Conservation Tool

by Megsie Siple in Fishpond Fever

Close-up of the apical end of a shipworm taken from the He'eia mangroves. Shipworms are not actually worms but bivalves (this picture shows one of the shells, the other is obscured by tissue).Teredo worms (or shipworms), which are actually bivalves of the family Teredinidae, are legendary in their appetites for ship hulls, wood pilings, or any other wood found in the ocean. Like a clam or any other bivalve, they have two sharp shells on one end, but their long, soft body makes them look more like a worm. These shells make excellent tools for carving burrows in wood, which shipworms line with a calcareous shell. This can make them look like tube-dwelling worms at a glance. The calcareous shell protects the worm from the unstable environment of the wood-- much like humans build tunneling shields when tunneling in unstable substrates. The width of an individual's shell tunnel depends on species, but they can vary within species depending on the degree of crowding in a single piece of wood (Cragg et al. 2009). Members of this family are the primary cause of the characteristic round holes we see in driftwood. Though boat hulls are now usually made with metal or fiberglass, wood hulls used to be a frequent victim of shipworm infestations. The U.S. invests millions of dollars every year in protecting wooden structures from shipworm damage. There are a few more sides to this voracious group of organisms, however: They are delicious. In parts of Southeast Asia, they are found in abundance in mangrove forests, where humans harvest them for food.They are extremely efficient at recycling decaying wood material and releasing carbon and nitrogen from the mangrove into the surrounding ecosystem. Like termites do on land, they eat wood pulp and digest the cellulose with the help of symbiotic bacteria. This is no trivial task. The tannins that normally protect mangrove from being eaten by herbivores do not deter wood-boring organisms like these, and even healthy mangrove can be damaged by fungi that take refuge in the calcareous tubes (Kohlmeyer 1969). 22-50% of the carbon produced by Rhizophora sp. is stored in woody parts and trunks (as opposed to leaf litter) (Robertson & Daniel 1989). In Rhizophora sp. forests in Australia, 50% of trunk mass decayed after 8 years, and by 4 years after deforestation, trunks were colonized by Teredinids.They are in He'eia Fishpond. LAIP interns discovered high densities of boring bivalves during a POH workday when our task was to dig out mangrove stumps. The patch we dug in was cut down in 2007, and stumps contained live worms and calcareous tubes.A shipworm and many calcareous tubes found in a mangrove removal area in He'eia Fishpond. The trunk on the left is hollowed out (the spongy interior has been mostly decomposed already), and the periphery bristles with the calcareous tubes of shipworms.So can a pest be our best hope for returning this system to pre-invasion conditions? How long will it take them, and when they liberate carbon and nitrogen from the mangrove trunks, are there any organisms in the brackish, anoxic mud that can use it? Hawai'i lacks many of the other important species evolved to break down this tough material, but these worms are crucial nutrient cyclers for decomposing mangrove. If we don't have to count exclusively on bacteria to do the job, we may be looking at a faster recovery to pre-invasion conditions.Cragg, S., Jumel, M., Al-Horani, F., & Hendy, I. (2009). The life history characteristics of the wood-boring bivalve Teredo bartschi are suited to the elevated salinity, oligotrophic circulation in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 375 (1-2), 99-105 DOI: 10.1016/j.jembe.2009.05.014Kohlmeyer, J. (1969). Ecological notes on fungi in Mangrove forests Transactions of the British Mycological Society, 53 (2) DOI: 10.1016/S0007-1536(69)80058-6ROBERTSON, A., & DANIEL, P. (1989). Decomposition and the annual flux of detritus from fallen timber in tropical mangrove forests Limnology and Oceanography, 34 (3), 640-646 DOI: 10.4319/lo.1989.34.3.0640... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 10:27 PM

iPads vs. Adventures: Negative Stereotypes of Materialism

by Jenika in ionpsych

Suppose you’re sitting around one night and log in to Facebook.  You scan through your friends’ status updates, and notice one person excitedly trumpeting the arrival of their new iPad 2, chattering about all the cool features.  Maybe you’re not … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 08:51 PM

South America Gets Two More Sabercats

by Laelaps in Laelaps

How does one go about selling a sabercat skeleton? This was the question the Argentinean naturalist Francisco Javier Muñiz asked Charles Darwin in a letter sent on August 30, 1846.
Almost one year previously, in the pages of the Gaceta Mercantil, Muñiz published a detailed description of a nearly-complete saber-toothed cat skeleton. The article’s title proclaimed [...]... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 08:50 PM

Virophages engineer the ecosystem

by Vincent Racaniello in virology blog

Last week we discussed the second known virophage, but we didn’t have any explanation of why such viruses might evolve. This week we have the discovery of a third virophage, hints of many more, and a hypothesis for what they might be doing in the global ecosystem. The newest virus eater is called Organic Lake [...]... Read more »

Yau S, Lauro FM, Demaere MZ, Brown MV, Thomas T, Raftery MJ, Andrews-Pfannkoch C, Lewis M, Hoffman JM, Gibson JA.... (2011) Virophage control of antarctic algal host-virus dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 21444812  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 08:09 PM

Kin Selection: Nowak vs the world

by Jon Wilkins in Lost in Transcription

So,  if you're an evolutionary biologist, or really if you follow the biology literature at all, you have probably heard about the paper published last fall in Nature by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson. The paper claims that all theories based on kin selection and inclusive fitness are fundamentally flawed and unsupported by any empirical evidence.

Recently, responses to the paper were published in Nature, and the original article has been criticized on a number of counts. The controversy sparked by the paper has been covered journalistically by Carl Zimmer (and others, I'm sure).

I'll just say that I am not really sure what the authors of the original article were hoping to accomplish. From my read, the article seems to reveal a rather disturbing lack of familiarity with a huge body of scientific literature from the past few decades. Either that, or it represents a rather disturbingly disingenuous attempt to misrepresent that huge body of scientific literature. I'm sure that there are other possible explanations, but I'm not coming up with them off the top of my head.

I also don't know what the editors at Nature were thinking when they published this paper. Or, rather, I have some personal theories as to what they were thinking, which I am afraid do not reflect well on their competence, professionalism, or honesty.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I tend to side with the critics of the paper.

Anyway, there has already been a lot written about this subject, so I won't write more. Rather, I thought that I would dramatize the situation using a few quotes and paraphrases from the debate, as well as my own opinions.

I hope that this is obvious, but just in case it is not, please keep in mind that the video is presented primarily for entertainment purposes. I have made an honest attempt to portray the spirit of the arguments accurately. However, let's just say that it is possible that some of the nuance may have been lost.

For another thing, I have lumped together various criticisms, which has no doubt done some violence to the arguments that have been put forward. If you're interested in the topic, I strongly encourage you to read the original article and the published responses. Citations and links are provided at the end of the post.

In the meantime, enjoy:

Sources used include:

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

Responses in blog form:
Jerry Coyne
More Jerry Coyne
Richard Dawkins

Published responses in nature:

Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J., Andersson, M., Andre, J., van Baale... Read more »

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

Abbot, P., Abe, J., Alcock, J., Alizon, S., Alpedrinha, J., Andersson, M., Andre, J., van Baalen, M., Balloux, F., Balshine, S.... (2011) Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09831  

Boomsma, J., Beekman, M., Cornwallis, C., Griffin, A., Holman, L., Hughes, W., Keller, L., Oldroyd, B., & Ratnieks, F. (2011) Only full-sibling families evolved eusociality. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09832  

Strassmann, J., Page, R., Robinson, G., & Seeley, T. (2011) Kin selection and eusociality. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09833  

Ferriere, R., & Michod, R. (2011) Inclusive fitness in evolution. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09834  

Herre, E., & Wcislo, W. (2011) In defence of inclusive fitness theory. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09835  

Nowak, M., Tarnita, C., & Wilson, E. (2011) Nowak et al. reply. Nature, 471(7339). DOI: 10.1038/nature09836  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 05:09 PM

Why Do We Hurry to Wait?

by Krystal D'Costa in Anthropology in Practice

Creative Commons, Credit.
While traveling a few weeks ago, I had ample opportunity to observe the art of waiting. Or rather, the art of not waiting. New Yorkers aren’t known for their patience—something that became painfully obvious when I got frustrated with the service S and I received at a south Florida restaurant. (If it takes more than 10 minutes for a server to come by and get drink orders after the customer has been seated, there is something wrong. We left, by the way, as even the normally unflappable S was perturbed, and were seated and served almost immediately—at the establishment just next door. (1)) While it may be that New Yorkers generally have little tolerance at being made to wait—and really, when you live in a culture of 24/7, the expectations are rather high—perhaps there are certain situations in which we’re all a bit impatient.
Let’s consider the airport, for example. So you’ve made it through security with your carry-ons and your assorted electronic devices, managed to get your shoes and belt back on, and are milling about the boarding area. So are most of the other people waiting to board that flight. They’re waiting in various forms. Some may be reading. Some may be occupied by their assorted electronic devices. Some are chatting animatedly or trying to restrain young children from escaping into the crowd. And some—though this number is small—are simply sitting, seemingly staring off into space, but quite possibly making astute observations about their nearby seatmates. And then the gate attendant arrives, and the mood of the crowd shifts. People start to pack up their modes of entertainment, and start to look expectant. It’s almost time for the event to begin! Soon we will be able to board and take our pre-assigned seats!
The boarding process is no secret: parents with young children or those needing assistance are allowed to board first, and then the plane is filled with passengers seated in the rear leading the way. So then why do people anxiously begin to wait to board in front of the gate attendant’s kiosk before the attendant has even announced boarding will begin? All it takes is one person too. One single person who has packed up his gadgets or book, armed with his carry-on, standing expectantly in front of the kiosk will attract others—and as the crowd grows, so does the tension. People begin to glance at phones and watches, they sway back and forth, they sometimes glare at the attendant. I guess no one wants to be left behind. But we all have assigned seats! So why the rush to wait?
Waiting is the period we endure until the expected happens. We wait for all sorts of things: the bus, dinner, colleagues who are late for a meeting, the rain to stop, etc. Waiting is built into our social lives. And our waiting behavior is influenced by a fair number of variables. There isn’t a prescribed method for waiting, and yet waiting in certain contexts tends toward a similar pattern of group impatience leading to aggressive strategies that are meant to better position the waiting individual for the event.
It may be that people are responding to a need to defend their territory. Territories are defined as areas that are controlled through established boundaries that are defended as necessary (2). There are private and public territories. Homes are private territories that are largely controlled by residents with little to no challenge for ownership from outside parties. However public territories, such as waiting rooms and phone booths, are temporary territories where “ownership” or residence may be challenged simply by the presence of others.
Researchers Ruback, Pape, and Doriot report that traditionally people appear to leave an area more quickly when the space around them has been “invaded.” For example, people tend to cross the street faster when grouped with strangers (perhaps this explains New Yorkers’ tendency for speed walking?), and researchers have found that library patrons will change seats or leave if strangers sit at the same table (3). However, it makes sense that individuals will defend their position in a public space if the benefits outweigh the costs. In a crowded library, for example, patrons will be less likely to move or leave if there are few other available desks.
Ruback, Pape, and Doriot tested territoriality surrounding the use of public pay phones. They expected that people would experience discomfort if others arrived to wait to use the phone while they were in the middle of the call, and that as a result people would make their calls shorter. They also expected that those waiting would express a belief that public phone calls would be kept short (4). They found that those waiting did indeed think that callers should keep their calls brief if there were people waiting, and that if there were one or two people waiting, then the caller became uncomfortable and shortened the call. However, they found that as the number of people waiting to use the phone grew, callers tended to take more time to complete their call:The fact that callers spend more time at a public telephone when others are around them is consistent with both distraction and territorial explanations. The fact that the effect is produced mainly by the presence of particular others, however, is consistent only with a territorial explanation.

The distraction explanation would predict that anyone’s presence would interfere with talking on the phone. Yet the observational studies suggested that persistence was produced only by intruders, people who came to the caller’s area after he or she arrived, and not by the people who were already there or who accompanied the caller. Further, the experimental study showed that persistence was caused not only by the second intruder, the one waiting to use the telephone, but not by the first intruder, who used the adjacent telephone (5).There are two ideas at work here. First, the notion that people will want to hang on to coveted resources longer if those resources are not readily available (e.g., a desk in a crowded library, or a working public phone in a phone bank). And second, that the presence of others interrupts the individual’s experience of the event, causing them to take longer to complete the process. In a world inundated by mobile technologies, this example may seem outdated at first glance, but in fact, it helps us understand part of what may be happening as flight passengers—as well as others—hurry up to wait.

Creative Commons, Credit.
Though seats are paid for in advance, air travel passengers are preparing to navigate a public territory that they will have to share for a given period of time. And while everyone will definitely have a seat, there may be psychological benefits to being able to settle yourself into your seat—and claim a convenient space in the overhead bin if necessary—before your seatmates arrive. There is no shortage of the resource (seats), but there is no overabundance either, and passengers may be preparing to establis... Read more »

Antonides, G., Verhoef, P., & van Aalst, M. (2002) Consumer Perception and Evaluation of Waiting Time: A Field Experiment. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 12(3), 193-202. DOI: 10.1207/153276602760335040  

Holland RW, Roeder UR, van Baaren RB, Brandt AC, & Hannover B. (2004) Don't stand so close to me: the effects fo self-construal in interpersonal closeness. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 15(4), 237-42. PMID: 15043640  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 04:56 PM

The evolution of nice

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

Most people reading this blog will have heard of the "selfish gene" - the idea, formally defined by Hamilton and popularised by Dawkins, that what matters from the perspective of evolution is not organisms, but genes.
Those genes that maximise their chances of survival - regardless of what happens to individuals - will be the ones that come to predominate.

It comes in for a lot of flack, mostly from people who wrongly equate selfish genes with selfish people. To be fair, there also a lot of confusion over terms, with old ideas being reinvented under new terms - like "group selection".

Stuart West, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University in the UK, is here to put us straight. In a recent paper written specifically with social scientists in mind, he lays down the power of the selfish gene. It's a great paper that takes a look at who so many misconceptions have taken hold, a lays out, in non-specialist language, the reasons why most criticisms of the 'selfish gene' are the a result of confusion rather than insight. Anybody who's interested in the evolution of human altruism should read it!

Most people with an interest in evolution understand why selfish genes do not mean selfish individuals. It's clear that selfish genes will benefit from co-operation (you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, also known as reciprocity), and kin selection (as the biologist JBS Haldane famously put it, "I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins").

What most people may not know (I certainly didn't before reading West's article) is that these, in fact, are the sole genetic basis for altruism (barring some esoteric mathematical possibilities of little practical significance). But if that's the case, how do you get from here to the apparently completely selfless altruism sometimes seen in humans? How come we are kind to strangers?

Well, it really is all to do with how humans work together in groups.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch Bob's

Reciprocity doesn't need to be direct to be effective. If, by sharing with you I help to set up a virtuous circle, that will likely result in some benefit to me down the line. This has been seen in practice, with virtuous deeds propagating out to at least three degrees of separation.

In group life, the issue is even clearer. If my deeds help the group to survive and grow, then I will benefit. From a genetic perspective, it doesn't matter that most of the benefit goes to others - so long as I also get some overall survival benefit.

I would lay down my life for eight cousins... or the bloke who lives next door

Throughout most of human existence, we've lived in small groups and not travelled much. What that means is that, for our ancestors, pretty much everyone they met was a close genetic relative. Even if they were not related in any formal sense - not brothers, or cousins, for example - they would still be carrying similar genes.

And that means that your 'kin, from a genetic standpoint, is likely to be anyone who's in your group. Even people in neighbouring groups are going to be closely related.

So evolution would favour genes that promote altruism to anyone nearby - since they likely carry the same genes. It won't be perfect, but so long as migration is low, it's a good enough rule of thumb.

What's this got to do with religion?

It's popular at the moment to talk about religion in terms of 'gene-culture co-evolution'. The idea behind this is that religion is a cultural adaptation that builds upon a bunch of otherwise unrelated psychological misfirings to promote pro-social behaviour. Since cultures that are pro-social are more successful, religion spreads.

All well and good, but the question then is, what kind of altruism does religion promote? If it promotes the kind of altruism that is directed towards neighbours, then it's working together with evolution, and so the two can co-evolve.

But religion that promotes more general altruism - 'universal love' - is not going to be favoured, at least from an evolutionary perspective.

Of course, in the modern world we see a lot of both kinds of religion. The challenge for anyone trying to explain religion in terms of evolutionary psychology is to explain this!

West, S., El Mouden, C., & Gardner, A. (2010). Sixteen common misconceptions about the evolution of cooperation in humans Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2010.08.001

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

... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 03:34 PM

Flora Helper: Synbiotic therapy is a promising treatment for ulcerative colitis

by Kristina Campbell in The Intestinal Gardener: Exploring the science of gut bacteria

In my previous post, I explored the relationship between ulcerative colitis (UC) and gut bacteria. Here, the theme of "treatment" continues.A UK microbiology team, led by Sandra Macfarlane at the University of Dundee, pored over the UC research and became convinced that UC has something to do with the body overreacting to its normal gut bacteria. Basically, it's a case of the gut is crying wolf, saying, "Hey, there's something wrong with this bacteria in here!" even when everything's fine.We already know that "Biff" (Bifidobacterium) has a calming effect on the gut. In general, a healthy Biff population makes it less likely that the gut will get all inflamed and upset.The researchers compared small pieces of rectal tissue from people with UC and people without UC. Indeed, they found that those with UC had a lot less Biff than healthy people - about 30 times less.The team thought they would use this information about the lack of Biff to design a treatment for UC. But instead of just using a probiotic pill containing Biff, they thought they would boost Biff's power by using a prebiotic.A prebiotic is something in the diet that encourages the growth of good bacteria. Using a prebiotic along with a probiotic is akin to adding fertilizer if you want to grow a healthy plant.Now, we get to do some fun bacterial math! Guess what happens when we combine a PRObiotic with a PREbiotic?PRObiotic + PREbiotic = SYNbioticThat's right, a treatment that combines a PROBIOTIC pill with a PREBIOTIC substance is called SYNBIOTIC treatment.These clever researchers tested their synbiotic therapy on 18 patients for one month. They had the test patients take a capsule of Biff along with a sachet of prebiotic powder twice a day. The results were good - the synbiotic therapy resulted in higher numbers of Biff and reduced inflammation (when compared to a placebo therapy). One step back here: I told you that a prebiotic is "something in the diet". So why didn't the researchers use natural prebiotic foods instead of little sachets that contain the same substance (which, if you care, was oligofructose-enriched inulin)?I emailed these researchers to ask that very question. Sandra Macfarlane says, "We chose sachets so that we could determine the exact amount of prebiotic the patients were receiving and that they complied with the protocol." She adds, "This would be difficult to do using a foodstuff."So those of you who want to simulate this treatment at home - **with the permission of your doctor, of course** - you're welcome to try using a "foodstuff" rather than a sachet of prebiotic.I found one more study from a different lab that supported synbiotic treatment for UC. Some Japanese researchers took it upon themselves to compare: (1) Probiotic treatment alone, (2) Prebiotic treatment alone, and (3) Synbiotic treatment, in a randomized controlled trial. The 120 patients received one of the three treatments above; they completed quality-of-life questionnaires before, during, and after their treatment. The result? SYNBIOTIC therapy had the greatest impact on their quality of life.Since I don't have ulcerative colitis, I couldn't tell you whether this research has made its way into the clinic or not. But it's certainly good to know it's out there.Macfarlane, S., Furrie, E., Kennedy, A., Cummings, J., & Macfarlane, G. (2007). Mucosal bacteria in ulcerative colitis British Journal of Nutrition, 93 (S1) DOI: 10.1079/BJN20041347Furrie, E. (2005). Synbiotic therapy (Bifidobacterium longum/Synergy 1) initiates resolution of inflammation in patients with active ulcerative colitis: a randomised controlled pilot trial Gut, 54 (2), 242-249 DOI: 10.1136/gut.2004.044834Fujimori S, Gudis K, Mitsui K, Seo T, Yonezawa M, Tanaka S, Tatsuguchi A, & Sakamoto C (2009). A randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of synbiotic versus probiotic or prebiotic treatment to improve the quality of life in patients with ulcerative colitis. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 25 (5), 520-5 PMID: 19201576... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 02:52 PM

Who’s Problem? Screening for Interpersonal Violence in ERs

by Ida Salusky in ionpsych

A pregnant woman comes into an emergency room on a weekend evening. She reports that she fell on her stomach and is worried about her unborn child. The woman also has some minor bruising around her wrists and arms not … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 01:46 PM

Teaching Electricity and Magnetism: Part II

by Ryan K in A Quantum of Knowledge

This is the second part of my posts about teaching Electricity and Magnetism (EM). Part I can be found here, which dealt with the confusion of students in learning electricity and magnetism together. Part II deals with a paper looking at ways to help improve teaching methods for EM. The paper is entitled “Using multimedia [...]... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 01:25 PM

Magnetism’s new hotness

by Joerg Heber in All That Matters

Magnetism remains the most developed way to store digital information. The giga and terabytes of computer hard drives as well as the magnetic stripes that still are used for credit cards or hotel room keys, all function with the help of magnetic fields. There, the direction of the magnetic fields, up or down, expresses the [...]... Read more »

Radu, I., Vahaplar, K., Stamm, C., Kachel, T., Pontius, N., Dürr, H., Ostler, T., Barker, J., Evans, R., Chantrell, R.... (2011) Transient ferromagnetic-like state mediating ultrafast reversal of antiferromagnetically coupled spins. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature09901  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 12:11 PM

Comparing Slime

by Lane Lab @ URI in LaneLab@URI

Figure 1. Slime molds are frikin cool. (Source) Social amoebae (sometimes referred to as slim molds, though they are not true members of the slime mold group) are a diverse group of unicellular organisms that congregate into “multicellular” forms for … Continue reading →... Read more »

Eichinger, L., Pachebat, J., Glöckner, G., Rajandream, M., Sucgang, R., Berriman, M., Song, J., Olsen, R., Szafranski, K., Xu, Q.... (2005) The genome of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Nature, 435(7038), 43-57. DOI: 10.1038/nature03481  

Sucgang, R., Kuo, A., Tian, X., Salerno, W., Parikh, A., Feasley, C., Dalin, E., Tu, H., Huang, E., Barry, K.... (2011) Comparative genomics of the social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum and Dictyostelium purpureum. Genome Biology, 12(2). DOI: 10.1186/gb-2011-12-2-r20  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 11:41 AM

Neuroskeptic Irreverent and Sometimes Profane, Study Finds

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to beIrreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to promoting public education, rational discourse, and a healthy dose of skepticism around important issues in the neurosciences...No really: Scientific literacy and the media. They also list a small number of other neuroblogs, although they leave out many outstanding ones including the blog that most inspired this one, and that everyone confuses me with, The Neurocritic.Anyway, the editorial goes on to note that:Last April, a series of sensationalist stories reporting the “creation of life” and a newfound capability to “play God” appeared in the national media following the demonstration that synthetic DNA could transform a mycoplasma species from one to another subtype(ref). This represented a tour de force of DNA synthesis, but probably only a modest step forward for the science of genetic engineering.In response, President Obama directed his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to prepare a comprehensive advisory report to help frame policies about synthetic biology(ref). The Commission noted that sensationalist headlines may attract readers to scientific topics but do a terrible disservice by promoting “claims that fail to convey accurately to the public the current state of the field, the implications of research results, and the limits of scientists' present knowledge and abilities.” The Presidential Commission recommended creating a well-funded, interactive website... to monitor claims about new scientific discoveries and technologies.Ideally, such a site would be only part of a wider effort to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking across all segments of society... In the coming years, scientific innovation is certain to play an increasingly large role in the global economy... The public discourse on these and related matters needs to be rational, evidence-based, and accurate.Broadly speaking, this is why I write this blog, because it is indeed extremely important. Well, ok, the real reason is that it gives me an excuse to make funny pictures with MS Paint (someone accused me of using Photoshop to do those once - no, that would be too advanced). However, if a few people understand neuroscience a bit better in the process, I can live with that...Hauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011). Scientific literacy and the media Annals of Neurology, 69 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410... Read more »

Hauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011) Scientific literacy and the media. Annals of Neurology, 69(3). DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 11:25 AM

Guest post: Auditory processing disorder – a cause of language problems or an incidental finding?

by Wellcome Trust in Wellcome Trust Blog

What causes a child’s language problems? Is it a problem with hearing? A problem with the brain’s interpretation of speech? Is it genetic? Specialists sometimes diagnose ‘Auditory Processing Disorder’ but the term itself is a complicated affair, writes Dorothy Bishop. Five-year-old Charlie doesn’t speak very clearly, and doesn’t always understand what people are saying. His [...]... Read more »

Moore DR, Ferguson MA, Edmondson-Jones AM, Ratib S, & Riley A. (2010) Nature of auditory processing disorder in children. Pediatrics, 126(2). PMID: 20660546  

  • March 30, 2011
  • 11:09 AM

Watch Out For That Thagomizer!

by Brian Switek in Dinosaur Tracking

Stegosaurus had a formidable tail. Studded with four long spikes, this dinosaur’s business end would have given Allosaurus and other Jurassic predators plenty of incentive to keep moving. But do we have any evidence that Stegosaurus really used its tail this way? Among paleontologists, the four-spiked tail of Stegosaurus is called a “thagomizer.” It is [...]... Read more »

Carpenter, Kenneth; Sanders, Frank; McWhinney, Lorrie A.; and Wood, Lowell. (2005) Evidence for predator-prey relationships: Examples for Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. The Carnivorous Dinosaurs, 325-350. info:/

  • March 30, 2011
  • 09:46 AM

Suicide Tops Death List for Meth Heads

by William Yates, M.D. in Brain Posts

Methamphetamine Chemical StructureMethamphetamine dependence can lead to an early death.  The magnitude and mechanism of this effect is not well understood.  One way to better understand effects of drug abuse/dependence on mortality is the prospective outcome study.  These types of studies tend to be costly and may require many years to yield research results.   That’s why there are not many published studies to answer the question of this post.A recent study from Taiwan provides some valuable insight into this issue.  This study followed a cohort of 1254 individuals with a history of methamphetamine abuse and a psychiatric admission for treatment between 1990 and 2007.  National death records were queried and the methamphetamine abuse cases were compared to an age- and gender- matched control group.  One hundred thirty methamphetamine users died during follow up with the following leading categories of death:  Suicide n=42 (32.3%)Accidents n=26 (20.0%)Undetermined unnatural deaths n=14 (10.8%)Cardiovascular disease n=13 (10.0%)Undetermined natural deaths n=9 (6.9%)Liver disease n=6 (4.6%)In this Taiwanese sample, methamphetamine abuse carried an overall six fold increase in mortality.  Unnatural deaths (suicides, accidents, homicides, undetermined natural deaths) were particularly elevated.  Male amphetamine abusers had about a 10-fold increase in unnatural deaths while female methamphetamine abusers had a remarkable 26-fold increase in unnatural death during follow up.Being married appeared to reduce the risk of death from unnatural and natural causes in this cohort.  Use of other substances in addition to methamphetamine increased risk of death.I would suspect that in the United States, homicide would be a greater contributor to mortality in those with a history of methamphetamine dependence.  Overall homicide rates in Taiwan are much lower than in the United States and may reduce risk for this type of unnatural death. Interestingly, about two thirds of the cohort had exhibited methamphetamine psychosis-a psychiatric complication of methamphetamine use.  Those with a history of this type of psychosis were no more likely to die than those without a history of the psychosis.One problem with this type of study is difficulty assessing the specific effect of methamphetamine from other potential confounding factors.  For example, methamphetamine use is higher in smokers than smokers and so some increased mortality risk could be related to effects of smoking.  Methamphetamine dependence is more prevalent in a variety of mental disorders linked to increased suicide.Nevertheless, this study shows the magnitude and type of mortality risk linked to methamphetamine dependence.  Public health interventions that reduce the prevalence of methamphetamine dependence would like reduce the excess mortality associated with this drug. Wikipedia Commons chemical structure of methamphetamine image authored by Harbin.Kuo CJ, Liao YT, Chen WJ, Tsai SY, Lin SK, & Chen CC (2010). Causes of death of patients with methamphetamine dependence: A record-linkage study. Drug and alcohol review PMID: 21355920... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 09:37 AM

‘Meeting sickness’ and possible cures

by Abi Millar in Elements Science

Meetings are one of the hot topics in occupational psychology. How can this bane of working life best be addressed? Asks Abi Millar.

Related posts:Shopping, Death and Stereotypes
... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 09:00 AM

Evidence on Weight-Loss Supplements Found Too Light

by Arya M. Sharma in Dr. Sharma's Obesity Notes

Reader of these pages are probably well aware of the countless supplements, potions, pills, and other products being enthusiastically advertised (and sold) for weight loss.
Although this is a billion dollar market, most users of these products (after spending a fortune) will have realised that virtually none of them hold any of the advertised promises (viz. [...]... Read more »

  • March 30, 2011
  • 09:00 AM

Why we live in dangerous places

by Tim De Chant in Per Square Mile

Natural disasters always seem to strike in the worst places. The Sendai earthquake has caused over 8,000 deaths, destroyed 450,000 people’s homes, crippled four nuclear reactors, and wreaked over $300 billion in damage. And it’s only the latest disaster. Haiti will need decades to rebuild after its earthquake. New Orleans still hasn’t repopulated following Hurricane Katrina. Indonesia still feels the effect of the 2004 tsunami. The list could go on and on. The unfortunate lesson is that we live in dangerous places.... Read more »

Connell JH. (1978) Diversity in tropical rain forests and coral reefs. Science (New York, N.Y.), 199(4335), 1302-10. PMID: 17840770  

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