Post List

  • October 11, 2010
  • 08:34 AM

Special editorial: Bullying, gay teen suicides, and a need for a solution

by Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD in Child-Psych

A call for support of anti-bullying efforts and the The Safe Schools Improvement Act. Last Sunday a 30 year old gay man was lured into a house in the Bronx where he thought he would be attending a party. Instead, he was tortured and sodomized by a group of teenagers and young adults. He was [...]... Read more »

Vreeman, R., & Carroll, A. (2007) A Systematic Review of School-Based Interventions to Prevent Bullying. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 161(1), 78-88. DOI: 10.1001/archpedi.161.1.78  

  • October 11, 2010
  • 08:00 AM

Should sprinting shape scorpion’s stingers?

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Scorpions still have to be careful. They have a painful sting, but some animals have evolved immunity to that. Even if they can drive off a predator with a sting, a scorpion close enough to sting its attacker is close enough to be damaged by its attacker.

Temperature could play a big part whether scorpions get away from an attacker. Daily temperatures can vary quite widely where scorpions live, particularly in desert regions.

Carlson and Rowe took a look at how temperature and drying affected bark scorpions (Centruroides vittatus). They didn’t have real predators in the lab, but instead tested how those two factors affected scorpion’s running and stinging abilities.

Cooled animals ran slower, which was not surprising. What was surprising was that scorpions that were partly dried out ran faster than normal controls. The authors speculate that this is is because animals that have lost water are lighter. It suggests that the physiological tolerance of these scorpions to water loss is fairly high, because you would expect at some point that water loss would be bad.

Tangentially, Carlson and Rowe rated the running speed of their animals, and concluded that males ran faster than females, who ran faster than juveniles. Unfortunately, this comparison isn’t very informative, because they didn’t measure the size of the animals. The authors mention that many of the females were gravid, and imply that mass could be factor. And it’s easy to imagine body size would also be a factor: a bigger body means longer legs, which means a longer stride length. All animals ran the same distance (half a meter), rather than some distance relative to their body size.

One hypothesis floated in the discussion is that the sprinting results might explain a difference in the shape of the stingers between males and females. The females are slower when reproducing. Running is not a good option for them compared to males. They authors suggest that the longer, thinner stinger of the males not be as good for delivering repeated stings as the thicker stinger brandished by females.

This hypothesis is somewhat deflated, because they found no significant differences between males and females in stinging behaviour! The authors do make the claim that some of the comparisons between males and females are “almost significant.” Sorry, but I’m hard-assed about this: you either meet the criterion, or you do not. It’s possible that a more detailed analysis, with a different threat stimuli, might reveal some differences.

Chilly scorpions took longer and stung less often than those at room temperature and up. Stinging was not affected by temperature as much as running was. These particular scorpions are not all that aggro: the authors had more success in getting them to run away.

The authors did not test whether scorpions’ stinging behaviour was affected by drying them out. This is an odd omission, given that the title of this paper promising an examination of both temperature and drying on antipredator behaviours in general.


Carlson B & Rowe M. 2009. Temperature and desiccation effects on the antipredator behavior of Centruroides vittatus (Scorpiones: Buthidae). Journal of Arachnology 37(3): 321-330. DOI: 10.1636/Hi09-06.1

Top photo by Wyatt Berka 2010 on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.... Read more »

  • October 11, 2010
  • 05:35 AM

Ex situ conservation in botanical gardens in theory and practice

by Jeremy in Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

Three papers on the role of botanic gardens in ex situ conservation have recently come across my desk, one of them a meta-level thing, the other two more fine-grained. I think it may be worth discussing them all together. Science had a longish piece by Elizabeth Pennisi out in the 5 October edition entitled “Tending [...]... Read more »

  • October 11, 2010
  • 04:43 AM

Cultivating little scientists from the age of two

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Young children are little scientists. They instinctively stretch, prod, observe and categorise the world's offerings. This natural inquisitiveness can be cultivated even before school and several studies have shown the benefits, in terms of general learning ability and specific maths and science skills. But just how early can this 'sciencing', as it's known, start? A new study by Tessa van Schijndel and colleagues claims that a six-week sciencing programme for two to three-year-olds boosted their exploratory 'science-like' play.

Thirty-five two- to three-year-olds at an Amsterdam day-care centre were assigned to the six-week sciencing programme. This involved a specialist science teacher encouraging the children to play two kinds of games in their sandpit: 'sorting and sets', which had a cake-baking theme, and 'slope and speed' which had an 'on top of the mountain theme'. The children were free to join in or leave the sand-pit games as often as they wanted, but were encouraged to take part at least once a week. The games involved toys of different colours and materials, as well as plastic tubes and balls. The key elements of the guided play were manipulating the objects, repeatedly sorting them into various combinations, and observing the effects of these manipulations. The regular teachers complemented this play by reading from books that matched the cake and mountain themes.

Twelve age-matched kids at another day-care centre run by the same organisation acted as controls. They were provided with the exact same sand-pit toys but they weren't guided in how to interact with them.

The researchers devised a scale for rating the sophistication of spontaneous exploratory play and, using videos of the children's unguided sand-pit play during the five weeks preceding and following the sciencing programme, they were able to see if the programme had made any difference. Coding of the videos showed that the sciencing programme children's spontaneous exploratory play had become more sophisticated (including more manipulation, re-combining, observation, and more symbolic play) - especially among those whose initial exploratory play levels were lower. By contrast, the control children's play had actually become slightly less exploratory, probably as a result of their having grown bored with the same sand-pit toys.

van Schijndel's team acknowledged that more research is needed to identify the effective aspects of their sciencing intervention. Indeed, they admitted that the programme may have worked by altering the practices of the day-care centre's regular teaching staff, an outcome they said should also be considered a success.

'...[W]e plead for more attention in the initial and in-service training of teachers for science-related subjects,' the researchers concluded. 'Our study shows that the curiosity of young children in natural phenomena and in how things work, needs to be supported by playful and scaffolding teachers. Probably, this is especially true for children with a low level of exploratory play.'

Their plea comes at a time when primary school teachers in the UK with a science degree are a rare breed. Speaking to the Independent recently, Sir Martin Rees, outgoing head of the Royal Society, said there is just one such teacher for every three primary schools. 'It is depressing that a tiny, tiny fraction of primary school teachers have any higher education qualification with a scientific component,' he lamented.

van Schijndel, T., Singer, E., van der Maas, H., and Raijmakers, M. (2010). A sciencing programme and young children's exploratory play in the sandpit. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7 (5), 603-617 DOI: 10.1080/17405620903412344

... Read more »

van Schijndel, T., Singer, E., van der Maas, H., & Raijmakers, M. (2010) A sciencing programme and young children's exploratory play in the sandpit. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 7(5), 603-617. DOI: 10.1080/17405620903412344  

  • October 11, 2010
  • 04:27 AM

Supply Chain Integration as major Value Driver

by Daniel Dumke in SCRM Blog - Supply Chain Risk Management

"Arcs of integration" is a concept developed by Frohlich and Westrook (2001) which describes the degree of integration of suppliers and customers within a Supply Chain.Arcs of Supply Chain Integration (Frohlich and Westrook, 2001)

This concept was developed within the scope of an international study on supply chain strategies. In this survey the authors used the mail survey research method to collect over responses form over 700 companies from all over the world (Asia/Pacific: 26%, Europe: 50%, North America: 14%, South America: 10%). Data was gathered not only on the supply chain integration of each respondent (eg. shared access to planning systems, shared production planning, knowledge of inventory levels), but also on performance parameters on each company (eg. market share, profitability, return on investment).
Continue reading "Supply Chain Integration as major Value Driver"
... Read more »

  • October 11, 2010
  • 01:57 AM

Why do you Blog?

by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Why does someone write a personal blog and not simply use the Internet for taking in media content? Personal blogs are composed of shorter posts concerning the blogger’s life in contrast to filter blog. Filter blogs are devoted to external information, such as politics or news and are far better researched than personal blogs.
From recent [...]

Related posts:Why Blog?
Why Blog? 2
Blog writing for professionalism in medical education
... Read more »

Hollenbaugh, E. (2010) Motives for Maintaining Personal Journal Blogs. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2147483647. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2009.0403  

  • October 11, 2010
  • 01:20 AM

Mind: A Brief Discussion of the Journal Mind Prior to 1900

by John Wayland in The Darwin Tribune

"Mind" was a significant journal that appeared in the latter part of the 19th century. Staley (2009) states that it was original at the time, encompassing philosophical dimensions. However, one fails to grasp the significance of Mind until it is noted that such heavyweights of 19th century thought have all written for Mind. Staley states that Alexander Bain (the founder), Hermann Helmholtz, Herbert Spencer, John Venn, Wilhelm Wundt, Charles Darwin, William Stanley Jevons, William James, TH Green, and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) all contributed to the Journal at some point. Staley goes as far to state that virtually every British philospher or psychologist would have published in Mind, significantly, too, women.Lanzoni (2009) maintains that Wundt's experimental psychology was helped in part to develop from Wundt's own laboratory to the University of London and University of Cambridge in 1897, arguably due to Mind. However, the journal has not been without its problems. Green (2009) contends that initially, Mind focused on philosophical issues, but began discussing and supporting experimental psychology from the mid 1880s, which to some extent supports Lanzoni's suggestion that the journal helped experimental psychology develop in the Anglophone nations. However, in the 1890s, Green suggests the editorial installation of George Stout brought a return to pure philosophy. To some extent, this effectively spelt the end of Mind's contribution to the development of experimental psychology in Britain.However, Lanzoni argues that Mind published an eclectic mix of works, such as physiological, evolutionary and associationist psychology, logic, ethics, idealism, and naturalism to name a few. Additionally, Staley maintains one of Mind's successes was it's quality and mix of scholarship. According to Staley, early 19th Century publications were predominantly edited by societies, as evidenced by other citations in this blog (American Phrenological Journal etc).Clearly, the history of Mind was a significant one. Along with Nature, Mind represented a dawning of more prestigious and respected journals. This is evidenced by its publications over the 20th century, which include:"The Refutation of Idealism" (1903) - G.E. Moore"On Denoting" (1905) - Bertrand Russell "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (1950) - Alan Turing"Language and Nature" (1995) - Noam ChomskyConsidering the excitement of its early years, when individuals such as William James, Charles Darwin and Wilhelm Wundt each wrote for the journal at some point, what will the future hold for Mind?Green, C. (2009). The curious rise and fall of experimental psychology in Mind History of the Human Sciences, 22 (1), 37-57 DOI: 10.1177/0952695108099134Lanzoni S (2009). Sympathy in Mind (1876-1900). Journal of the history of ideas, 70 (2), 265-87 PMID: 19831207Staley TW (2009). The journal Mind in its early years, 1876-1920: an introduction. Journal of the history of ideas, 70 (2), 259-63 PMID: 19831206... Read more »

Lanzoni S. (2009) Sympathy in Mind (1876-1900). Journal of the history of ideas, 70(2), 265-87. PMID: 19831207  

  • October 11, 2010
  • 01:02 AM

Welcome, Science Readers!

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the passage of NAGPRA, Science has an interesting special section of short articles on the impact of NAGPRA on archaeology and physical anthropology.  They’re all definitely worth reading, and free with an annoying registration.  Among them is an interview of Steve Lekson by Keith Kloor which is of [...]... Read more »

  • October 11, 2010
  • 12:23 AM

Does ecology tell us that some species are worth more than others?

by Noam Ross in Noam Ross

I just read a great paper by Michael Soulé et. al. discussing the management implications some ideas in ecology that have outpaced environmental policy.
The authors, a mix of ecologists and conservationists,  argue that some species, which they call "strongly interacting species," deserve higher priority in conservation because of their unique roles in ecosystems.  These species have gone by many names in the ecological literature, including "keystone species," and "ecosystem engineers."  Essentially, these species have a strong effect on the species around them and the functioning of their ecosystems.  For instance, sea otters eat sea urchins, preventing the urchins from razing kelp forests.   Prairie dogs turn over and improve soil, increase plant productivity, creates new habitat for other species.
One problem the authors point out is that our existing policy tools are not designed to handle this level of complexity.  The Endangered Species Act only requires that species be protected until their populations are large enough to prevent extinction.  But much larger populations are neccessary for these species to perform their ecological function effectively.
I think this raises some really interesting economic questions.  For instance, if a species is shown to have a greater ecological function, is it worth more from a social or economic point of view?  It seems to me that such species would have a greater value in delivering ecosystem services, as well as maintaining the "intrinsic" or "existence" value of an ecosystem to society.
Also, how do we measure and define "strongly interacting" species?  The authors put forward some qualitative questions one could ask.  (e.g., "Does the absence or decrease in abundance of the species change an important ecological process in the system?")  However, I think it's a pretty useful exercise to try to figure out what a standardized, quantitative measure would be.   One could theoretically measure the relative impact of one individual of a species on, say, a number that represents food web complexity, or system stability.  This might get us closer to finding effective ways to quantify "regulating" ecosystem services, which are the most difficult to value.
Is there any work out there that's attempted to compare the relative importance of "strongly interacting" species across different ecosystems?  I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this topic.

SOULÉ, M., ESTES, J., MILLER, B., & HONNOLD, D. (2005). Strongly Interacting Species: Conservation Policy, Management, and Ethics BioScience, 55 (2) DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2005)055[0168:SISCPM]2.0.CO;2... Read more »

  • October 10, 2010
  • 11:47 PM

A review to read and enjoy

by Kasra Hassani in The Parasite Diary

Posted by Kasra Hassani I am appointed to do a review paper for a ‘Reading and Conference’ course on Fungi. I chose the opportunistic pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus as the focus of my review. Having studied only on Trypanosomes and innate immune cells so far, my background in mycology is close to zero. So I decided to start from [...]... Read more »

Bennett JW. (2009) Aspergillus: a primer for the novice. Medical mycology : official publication of the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology. PMID: 19253144  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 10:33 PM

New study out of Norway: calling mammograms into question

by Science Exploiter in Science Exploits

A new study came out of Norway and appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine recently, casting doubt on the benefit of mammograms.  It analyzed data on over 40,000 women, aged 50-69yrs, over a nine year period, and found that mammographic screening alone accounts for a modest 10% decrease in breast cancer death.Based on these results, some naysayers may want to denounce the use of regular mammograms to help the battle against breast cancer.  But I would disagree.  As with any study, we need to consider the possibilities. Partial list of risk factors for breast cancerGenetics: BRCA-1 and BRCA-2Family historyAge: increased risk with ageObesityExcessive alcohol useLack of physical exerciseThis list is hardly complete, but I want to stress a point: looking at one group of women leaves open many possibilities.  Do the BRCA gene mutations run in the Norwegian population?  Since it does have a prevalence in the American population, this is an important question.Obesity: a very clear risk factor; America has a definite problem with obesity, does Norway?Excessive alcohol use: is this prevalent in Norway?Lack of physical exercise: America is not known as a very active nation, how does Norway compare?Those four questions alone could drastically change the outcome of the study.  If the population is less likely to develop breast cancer in general, then mammograms will diagnose breast cancer less frequently.  We also have to consider the presentation of breast cancer: how do lifestyle and genetics affect the radiographic presentation of breast cancer?  This too could affect the outcome of the study.Other studies contradict the Norwegian study, and I have to agree with the contradictions, although on different grounds.  Mammography does not expose a woman to significant levels of radiation.  What significant disadvantages exist?  Even going by this Norwegian study: 10% more lives saved is 10% more than zero.For the record: I support regular mammograms!  One study is hardly enough to change a well practiced medical routine.Mette Kalager, M.D., Marvin Zelen, Ph.D., Frøydis Langmark, M.D., & Hans-Olov Adami, M.D., Ph.D. (2010). Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality in Norway NEJM, 1203-1210 Read more »

Mette Kalager, M.D., Marvin Zelen, Ph.D., Frøydis Langmark, M.D., & Hans-Olov Adami, M.D., Ph.D. (2010) Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality in Norway. NEJM, 1203-1210. info:/

  • October 10, 2010
  • 10:21 PM

Why the Brain Shouldn't Have Ben&Jerrys Everyday

by Allison in Dormivigilia

A new study found that heavier individuals have reduced dopamine receptor densities that cause them to overeat and to have a less sensitive sweet tooth. ... Read more »

Stice E, Yokum S, Blum K, & Bohon C. (2010) Weight gain is associated with reduced striatal response to palatable food. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30(39), 13105-9. PMID: 20881128  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 09:40 PM

Are autistic people natural born criminals?

by Michelle Dawson in The Autism Crisis

Associations between autism and notorious violent crimes are easy to find--they seem almost automatic. Here is one example, and another, and one more. There seems to be an entire book on this theme, though I haven't read it.In the scientific literature, you can find powerful deficit models of autism at work in predictions that autistics should disproportionately be violent and prone to criminal behavior. For decades now, examples and claims (just a few here, here, here, here) fitting this prediction have been highlighted, while the few dissenting views (e.g. here and here) have had little effect.Then there's political expedience. Without the usual lobbied-for interventions, autistics will disproportionately display criminal behavior and end up in jail. Or so it is claimed--a few examples from the usual autism politics here, here, here.Kathrin Hippler and her colleagues deserve high praise for noticing how well-placed they were to investigate the above popular claims. Their recent paper takes advantage of their access to information about the large group of individuals--177 of them--who are former patients from Hans Asperger's clinical practice in Vienna.Most (93%) of these former patients were male. All were assumed to score at least in the normal range of intelligence as children, but for most there are no recorded IQ scores. They were born between 1938 and 1979, and on average were diagnosed at age eight (range 3-21 years). In 2010 their average age would be about 50. This makes it unlikely that most of this cohort would have undergone the usual lobbied-for autism interventions as children.Hippler et al. obtained information from the Austrian Penal Register about all criminal convictions registered, as of 2002, in this cohort. They found 33 convictions for a total of 8 individuals, resulting in 23 "custodial sentences" ranging from 2-30 months and 11 fines.They also checked whether, compared to the general population, their cohort had a higher rate of newly-registered convictions for the years 1998-2002. Here is what they found:the average proportion of convictions found in our sample (1.30%) is very comparable to that in the general male population (1.25%)As to kinds of crimes:By far the most common convictions in Asperger’s former patients were for property offences [...] Offences against life and physical integrity were rare.And while data for the general population were limited:qualitative assessment of offence types in Asperger’s former patients suggests that they do not differ radically from those in the general publicBecause this point needs to be underlined, here is more from Hippler et al.'s discussion:the findings from our study do not suggest an over-representation of certain offence types. In the case records spanning 22 years and 33 convictions, there were only three cases of bodily injury, one case of robbery and one case of violent and threatening behaviour.Again to their great credit, Hippler et al. also provide data broken down according to Asperger's system of diagnosis. The 177 former patients were divided into an AP group ("autistic psychopathology," N = 73) and an AF group ("features of autistic psychopathology," N = 104). Some guesswork is involved, but the AP group would fall under current criteria either for Asperger syndrome or the specific diagnosis of autism. Hippler et al. conservatively estimate one-third would be specific-autistic, but it's not difficult to find researchers who would guess a higher proportion (here, for example).While a minority of the AF group might meet Asperger syndrome criteria, according to Hippler et al., others might be PDD-NOS, or in the (nonautistic) broader autistic phenotype. The AFs are described as "former patients at the less extreme end of the spectrum" and were included by Hippler et al. because:Asperger believed that ‘autistic psychopathy’ was a heritable condition blending into "normality", which is reflected in the case descriptions of these children in the sense that the core features were the same but symptoms were less severe or could be compensated for better.According to near-universal assumptions, it would be far better to be AF (less "severe" or "extreme") than AP. Transforming AP-types into AF-types is a major goal of the usual lobbied-for autism interventions. But Hippler et al. found that most of the registered criminal convictions in their cohort belonged to not to the "more autistic" AP group but to the "less autistic or not autistic at all" AF group. Indeed, of the 33 convictions found registered as of 2002, only three convictions of two individuals were found in the AP group. The remaining 30 belong to six individuals in the AF group, with two in this group contributing 22 convictions. In the above-mentioned comparison with rates of newly registered convictions in the general poplation, the AP rate was 0.6% while the AF rate was 1.7%. These figures are lower and higher, respectively, than for the general male population, while the AP rate is comparable to the general population, females included (0.7%).Hippler et al. provide a competent overview of the relevant literature (including this recent finding), as well as a fair discussion of their study's limitations. Under the banner "Wider Implications," they write:There is a public perception that individuals with mental health diagnoses in general, and Asperger’s syndrome in particular, present a threat to the general public. We contend that, based on the follow-up data from Asperger’s original cohort, as well as other studies, this perception is wrong.Even wider implications include the neglected question of how being regarded as just naturally violent and dangerous to others, as natural born criminals, has affected the outcomes of autistics. Reference:Hippler, K., Viding, E., Klicpera, C., & Happé, F. (2009). Brief Report: No Increase in Criminal Convictions in Hans Asperger’s Original Cohort Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40 (6), 774-780 DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0917-y... Read more »

Hippler, K., Viding, E., Klicpera, C., & Happé, F. (2009) Brief Report: No Increase in Criminal Convictions in Hans Asperger’s Original Cohort. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(6), 774-780. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0917-y  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 06:15 PM

Isolating G-quadruplex Nucleic Acids from Human Cells

by Michael Long in Phased

Raphael Rodriguez, Shankar Balasubramanian (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom), and coworkers have isolated DNA, in a specific type of folding arrangement important to intracellular physiology, from human cells. This news feature was written on October 10, 2010.... Read more »

Müller, S., Kumari, S., Rodriguez, R., & Balasubramanian, S. (2010) Small-molecule-mediated G-quadruplex isolation from human cells. Nature Chemistry. DOI: 10.1038/NCHEM.842  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 06:01 PM

A new and better way of classifying and managing risks?

by Jan Husdal in

Risk. The probability of an event occuring and the consequences of the event occuring. Does it have to be like that or is there a different, or perhaps even a better way? [ ... ]... Read more »

  • October 10, 2010
  • 05:42 PM

Psycasm - How to trick yourself creative

by Rift in Psycasm

[Wherein our hero explores how best to overcome a creative impasse, and how best to generate insight to a variety of problems]
There are things considered by some (and sometimes many) to be enjoyable which I just do not understand.

Doing Burnouts
Eating Chocolate
Riding Rollercoasters

Then there are somethings which I find enjoyable, which many might walk away; (read more)

Source: Rift - Discipline: Psychology... Read more »

  • October 10, 2010
  • 05:02 PM

GM corn helps farmers who don't use it

by Matthew DiLeo in The Scientist Gardener

Everyone's been waiting for long-term studies of GM crops - and now we have one!The European corn borer was accidentally released in the U.S. in 1917. In recent years, it's managed to cost farmers $1 billion each year. Transgenic Bt corn was introduced in 1996, largely in order to deal with this pest. Thanks to the enthusiastic adoption of farmers, over 60% of U.S. corn now contains the ... Read more »

W. D. Hutchison,1,* E. C. Burkness,1 P. D. Mitchell,2 R. D. Moon,1 T. W. Leslie,3 S. J. Fleischer,4 M. Abrahamson,5 K. L. Hamilton,6 K. L. Steffey,7, M. E. Gray,7 R. L. Hellmich,8 L. V. Kaster,9 T. E. Hunt,10 R. J. Wright,11 K. Pecinovsky,12 T. L. Rabaey,. (2010) Areawide Suppression of European Corn Borer with Bt Maize Reaps Savings to Non-Bt Maize Growers. Science, 330(6001), 222-225. info:/

  • October 10, 2010
  • 11:51 AM

Twisting light into a Möbius strip

by gg in Skulls in the Stars

Some months ago, I wrote a post introducing the subfield of optics known as singular optics.  Singular optics is concerned with the behavior of wavefields in the neighborhood of regions where the intensity of the wave is zero, and the … Continue reading →... Read more »

Freund I. (2010) Multitwist optical Möbius strips. Optics letters, 35(2), 148-50. PMID: 20081950  

  • October 10, 2010
  • 10:36 AM

The Onion on two Nobel Prizes

by David Kroll in Take As Directed

Upon hearing that Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine last Monday for the biological studies and medical implementation of in vitro fertilization, an inkling of cynic in me thought about how this advance primarily serves the relatively wealthy nations of the world.
Not that this is terribly different from any other medicine prize that recognizes contributions to the richest segment of society. For example, malaria has not been the subject of the prize since 1902 and 1907 when Robert Ross won for demonstrating the insect-mammal lifecycle of Plasmodium and Alphonse Laveran won for originally identifying the protozal nature of the infectious agent (and as the founder of the field of medical protozoology), respectively. But even with that, the Nobel citation for Ross noted first the 76,000 members of the British army in India hospitalized for malaria in 1897 before it discussed the five million Indian civilians who died of the disease.
Of course, the 4 million individuals who owe their lives to IVF – and the parents who have the life experience they desired – may disagree as to the relative importance of Edwards’s work. But leave it to The Onion to put such cynicism into their inimitable style:
The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded Monday to Robert Edwards, the British in vitro fertilization pioneer who made it possible for shitloads more babies to be born on top of the half million or so daily births already dangerously stressing the planet’s dwindling resources.
But what equally caught my eye was their closing sentence that joked about awarding the Prize in Chemistry to “the inventor of Pepcid antacids, which allow people to eat twice as much goddamn food as anybody needs.”
In fact, it turns out that the Prize – in Physiology or Medicine – was actually awarded in 1988 in part for the discovery of the forerunner to Pepcid, cimetidine or Tagamet. In that case, one-third of the award went to the industrial and academic physiologist and pharmacologist, Sir James Black, for the discovery of “beta-blocker” drugs for coronary heart disease as well as the identity H2-histamine receptors and design of antagonists for peptic ulcers. Pepcid (famotidine) and Zantac (ranitidine) were second-generation structural analogs that lack the liability of cimetidine in inhibiting the metabolism of other drugs.
An aside – For the chemists and pharmacologists, this was accomplished by replacing the imidazole structure with a thiazol or furan, for famotidine and ranitidine, respectively. If this kind of thing excites you, I encourage you to read Sir James’s beautifully-written Nobel lecture, “Drugs from Emasculated Hormones: The Principles of Syntopic Antagonism” – PDF here. You may also care to read these recollections of Sir James Black published in the July 2010 issue of the British Journal of Pharmacology following his death this past summer. I was honoured – yes, “honoured” – to have my remembrance included in the compilation of reflections (full text, PDF.) In fact, I am grateful to Wiley and the British Pharmacological Society for making the entire BJP issue dedicated to Sir James open-access. It includes not only the personal reflections but several of his original papers and personal history of his work.
The remainder of the 1988 prize was shared with my chemotherapy heroes, Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings, for antimetabolite chemotherapeutics that also gave rise to treatments for gout and in organ transplantation.
Hence, my dear friends at The Onion, the Nobel Prize has already been awarded in reality for the science that gave rise to Pepcid, albeit not to the exact inventors at Merck. These drugs, however, were originally developed to treat peptic ulcer disease, a potentially lethal disease, especially for people over age 55 – not so that we could eat far more food than we need.
However, I have nothing to add on their joke about the Nobel Prize in Literature going to Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. I believe that one is still not true.

Compilation. (2010). Sir James Black (1924-2010) reflections British Journal of Pharmacology, 160: S5-S14 DOI: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2010.00846.x
... Read more »

  • October 10, 2010
  • 10:35 AM

Pavlovsk’s potato problems

by Jeremy in The Vaviblog

A paper published earlier this year used the historic potato collections assembled at the Pavlvosk Experiment Station to shed light on the confused and confusing taxonomy of potatoes. The good news is that the conclusions of the paper “are very similar to other recent studies of cultivated species, and show the need to reclassify the [...]... Read more »

Gavrilenko, T., Antonova, O., Ovchinnikova, A., Novikova, L., Krylova, E., Mironenko, N., Pendinen, G., Islamshina, A., Shvachko, N., Kiru, S.... (2010) A microsatellite and morphological assessment of the Russian National cultivated potato collection. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. DOI: 10.1007/s10722-010-9554-8  

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