Post List

  • December 28, 2010
  • 06:00 AM

When Is A Placebo Not A Placebo?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Irving Kirsch, best known for that 2008 meta-analysis allegedly showing that "Prozac doesn't work", has hit the headlines again.This time it's a paper claiming that something does work. Actually Kirsch is only a minor author on the paper by Kaptchuck et al: Placebos without Deception.In essence, they asked whether a placebo treatment - a dummy pill with no active ingredients - works even if you know that it's a placebo. Conventional wisdom would say no, because the placebo effect is driven by the patient's belief in the effectiveness of the pill.Kaptchuck et al took 80 patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and recruited them into a trial of "a novel mind-body management study of IBS". Half of the patients got no treatment at all. The other half got sugar pills, after having been told, truthfully, that the pills contained no active drugs but also having been told to expect improvement in a 15 minute briefing session on the grounds thatplacebo pills, something like sugar pills, have been shown in rigorous clinical testing to produce significant mind-body self-healing processes.Guess what? The placebo group did better than the no treatment group, or at least they reported that they did (all the outcomes were subjective). The article has been much blogged about, and you should read those posts for a more detailed and in some cases skeptical examination, but really, this is entirely unsurprising and doesn't challenge the conventional wisdom about placebos.The folks in this trial believed in the possibility that the pills would make them feel better. They just wouldn't have agreed to take part otherwise. And when those people got the treatment that they expected to work, they felt better. That's just the plain old placebo effect. We already know that the placebo effect is very strong in IBS, a disease which is, at least in many cases, psychosomatic.So the only really new result here is that there are people out there who'll believe that they'll experience improvement from sugar pills, if you give them a 15 minute briefing about the "mind-body self-healing" properties of those pills. That's an interesting addition to the record of human quirkiness, but it doesn't really tell us anything new about placebos.Kaptchuk, T., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J., Sanchez, M., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J., Kowalczykowski, M., Miller, F., Kirsch, I., & Lembo, A. (2010). Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome PLoS ONE, 5 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591... Read more »

Kaptchuk, T., Friedlander, E., Kelley, J., Sanchez, M., Kokkotou, E., Singer, J., Kowalczykowski, M., Miller, F., Kirsch, I., & Lembo, A. (2010) Placebos without Deception: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. PLoS ONE, 5(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015591  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 03:27 AM

Narwhal: Unicorns of the Sea

by beredim in Strange Animals

Also known as the "unicorn of the ocean," the narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is one of the rarest and strangest whales of the world. These elusive and mysterious creatures, are best known for their horn-like tusk on their faces. The tusk is actually an enlarged tooth. Some Narwhals (about 1 in 500) even have two tusks !... Read more »

Nweeia MT, Eichmiller FC, Hauschka PV, Tyler E, Mead JG, Potter CW, Angnatsiak DP, Richard PR, Orr JR, & Black SR. (2012) Vestigial tooth anatomy and tusk nomenclature for monodon monoceros. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 295(6), 1006-16. PMID: 22467529  

Nweeia MT, Eichmiller FC, Hauschka PV, Donahue GA, Orr JR, Ferguson SH, Watt CA, Mead JG, Potter CW, Dietz R.... (2014) Sensory ability in the narwhal tooth organ system. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007), 297(4), 599-617. PMID: 24639076  

Laidre, K., & Heide-Jorgensen, M. (2005) Winter feeding intensity of narwhals. Marine Mammal Science, 21(1), 45-57. DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2005.tb01207.x  

Watkins, W. (1971) Underwater Sounds of Monodon (Narwhal). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 49(2B), 595. DOI: 10.1121/1.1912391  

Williams, Terrie M.; Noren, Shawn R.; Glenn, Mike. (2011) Extreme physiological adaptations as predictors of climate-change sensitivity in the narwhal, Mondon monceros. Marine Mammal Science. info:/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00408.x

Laidre, K., & Heide-Jørgensen, M. (2005) Arctic sea ice trends and narwhal vulnerability. Biological Conservation, 121(4), 509-517. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2004.06.003  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 01:32 AM


by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Raw Oysters, especially ‘wild’, are excellent sources of several minerals, including iron, zinc and selenium, which are often low in the modern diet. They are also an excellent source of Vitamin B12. Oysters are considered the healthiest when eaten raw on the half shell.
A search on PubMed also reveals that eating these creatures can be [...]

Related posts:Wine is Healthy
SurgeXperience, Grand Round at Buckeye Surgeon
... Read more »

  • December 28, 2010
  • 01:00 AM

How a change of gaze affects the eye optics?

by Pablo Artal in Optics confidential

Discover how your change in the direction of gaze can affect the optical properties of the eye... and more.... Read more »

Prado, P., Arines, J., Bará, S., Manzanera, S., Mira-Agudelo, A., & Artal, P. (2009) Changes of ocular aberrations with gaze. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 29(3), 264-271. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-1313.2009.00652.x  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 10:51 PM

Meme Theory Today (NSFW)

by Neurobonkers in Neurobonkers

A look at how meme theory can explain the wide spread misquotation of it's own "inventor" Richard Dawkins.... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 09:42 PM

Was There Any Cannibalism during the “Great Drought”?

by teofilo in Gambler's House

The best-known examples of probably cannibalism in the prehistoric Southwest all cluster in a very short period of time and in a relatively small geographic area: around AD 1150 in the area surrounding the modern town of Cortez, Colorado.  Perhaps the most solidly documented of these assemblages is the one at Cowboy Wash on the [...]... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 07:37 PM

Why are the letters "z" and "x" so popular in drug names?

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

Freelance medical and science writer Rob Stepney noticed the rapid growth of "x" and "z"-named products included in the British National Formulary (BNF). So for the Christmas 2010 issue of BMJ (Stepney, 2010), he investigated this phenomenon:Of 1436 products added to the BNF between 1986 and 2005, more than a fifth had names that began with z or x or contained a prominent x or z within them. In 1986, only 19 branded drugs began with one of these letters. Over the next two decades, the number of brands beginning with a z increased by more than 400% (to 63) and those beginning with an x increased by 130% (to 16). In the same period, the overall content of the BNF grew by only 80%. Why did it happen? He first asks whether use of the voiced fricative “zuh” sound might be special in some way, but he quickly dismisses this possibility, along with the popularity of z in the Middle East.Instead, he speculates that x and z might have been perceived as making products stand out in a crowd:Reflecting their infrequent occurrence in English words, x and z count for 8 and 10 points in Scrabble, the highest values (along with j and q) in the game. So names that contain them are likely to seem special and be memorable. “If you meet them in running text, they stand out,” is the way one industry insider explained. Generally, they are also easy to pronounce.In my view, however, the rush to uniqueness resulted in an overcrowded field. The market became saturated with X and Z brand names, which can cause confusion.Fig 1 (Stepney, 2010). Number of drugs with a brand name beginning with z or x listed in March edition of BNF for each year. New formulations of existing brands and zinc related compounds have been excluded.For instance, the August 9, 2007 newsletter from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices discusses Progress with preventing name confusion errors and links to a document on the most problematic look-alike and sound-alike drug names of 2006-2007 (PDF). These include:ZYPREXA (olanzapine) and ZYRTEC (cetirizine)Name similarity has resulted in frequent mixups between Zyrtec, an antihistamine, and Zyprexa, an antipsychotic. Patients who receive Zyprexa in error have reported dizziness, sometimes leading to a related injury from a fall. Patients on Zyprexa for a mental illness have relapsed when given Zyrtec in error.Other frequently confused Z/X pairs:Zantac – XanaxZantac – ZyrtecZestril – ZyprexaZestril – ZetiaZocor – ZyrtecAt any rate, here's Stepney's (2010) conclusion:I suggest that this phenomenon arose because of the fast rate at which new products were being introduced, the fact that the difference between many “me too” drugs was more apparent than real, the immense rewards that were seen to accrue from innovative marketing, and the fact that the ploys available for use in the naming of drugs are so restricted.A full list of the drugs mentioned in the article can be viewed here.ReferenceStepney, R. (2010). A dose by any other name would not sell as sweet. BMJ, 341:c6895 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c6895

... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 07:20 PM

Genetic Propensity to Lupus Affords Protection Against Cerebral Malaria

by Michael Long in Phased

Genes which favor the development of lupus impart protection against a deadly variant of malaria in mice.... Read more »

Waisberg, M, Tarasenko, T, Vickers, B. K., Scott, B. L., Willcocks, L. C., Molina-Cruz, A, Pierce, M. A., Huang, C.-y., Torres-Velez, F. J., Smith, K. G. C.... (2010) Genetic susceptibility to systemic lupus erythematosus protects against cerebral malaria in mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1017996108

  • December 27, 2010
  • 06:58 PM

Understand Juror Bias, But Bet On The Evidence

by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm in Persuasive Litigator

By: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm - As closing arguments finished in a recent employment jury trial that I sat through, the defense team and I felt, predictably, that we had the overwhelming weight of evidence on our side of the case. But still, we worried as the jury filed in to deliberate. We had faced a Plaintiff's case based on the single simple appeal that a big heartless company will always try to squash the little guy and cover up its tracks in the process, and supported that narrative with nothing other than the Plaintiffs' own testimony and the attorney's narrative...... Read more »

Joshua Warren, Deanna Kuhn . (2010) How do jurors argue with one another?. Judgment and Decision Making, 5(1), 64-71. info:/

  • December 27, 2010
  • 04:03 PM

Strawberries, Chocolate and Open Access Genomics

by Iddo Friedberg in Byte Size Biology

Nature Genetics seems to have taken a page from the Food Network Magazine by timing two publications to the annual obsession with festive foods among many, NG readership included. I am talking about the genomes of the Strawberry and of the Cocoa plants. Both are important crops, both are components of luxurious eating. Both papers are comprehensive reports, which give no immediate new insights into the biology of either plant but whose data can be hopefully used later to the advantage of crop growers.

One thing I learned form the Cocoa paper: Cocoa may be a recent descendant of the common eudicot ancestor, and becuase of that and because it is easily manipulated, it can bee a good model for tree fruit crops.

It does not, however, boost immunity:... Read more »

Argout, X., Salse, J., Aury, J., Guiltinan, M., Droc, G., Gouzy, J., Allegre, M., Chaparro, C., Legavre, T., Maximova, S.... (2010) The genome of Theobroma cacao. Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/ng.736  

Shulaev, V., Sargent, D., Crowhurst, R., Mockler, T., Folkerts, O., Delcher, A., Jaiswal, P., Mockaitis, K., Liston, A., Mane, S.... (2010) The genome of woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/ng.740  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 02:40 PM

Paying Attention To Reading and Math

by APS Daily Observations in Daily Observations

Children with ADHD often have more difficulties on math and reading tests compared to their peers. That’s not surprising in itself. A new twin study published in Psychological Science is ... Read more »

Hart, S.A., Petrill, S.A., Willcutt, E., Thompson, L.A., Schatschneider, C., Deater-Deckard, K., & Cutting, L.E. (2010) Exploring how symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are related to reading and mathematics performance: general genes, general environments. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21(11), 1708-15. PMID: 20966487  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 02:20 PM

Managers’ embeddedness in the organization may be detrimental to their career development activity

by Rebecca Quereshi in Occ Psy Dot Com

When organizations attempt to retain their best managers, by firmly embedding them in the organization, this may intuitively appear to be an effective strategy. It sounds like a win-win situation for both parties: The managers are fortunate enough to work in an environment that affords them high person-organization fit, within an organization that encourages good contact among members of the organization. This increases the sacrifice necessary if the manager were to leave the organization. Consequently, the organization increases its chances to retain these managers as valuable assets to its performance.... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 10:15 AM

Are the old folks holding us back?

by Christina Pikas in Christina's LIS Rant

We’ve been hearing a lot about how hard it is to get a tenure track job – arguably harder even than it was during other economic recessions. We’ve also been hearing about how the age of NIH PIs is going up. I guess the age at first award is going up as well as the [...]... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 09:37 AM

explaining the origins of dark matter. or not.

by Greg Fish in weird things

Ordinary baryonic matter, the stuff from which living things, planets, stars, and galaxies are composed, is just a bit player in the grand scale of things. Accounting for about 4.6% of the universe’s mass and energy content, it’s easily overshadowed by dark matter, the invisible clumps of something which creates gravitational lenses and lets spiral [...]... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 08:48 AM

Double life of bacterial elongation factor EF-Tu

by Vasili Hauryliuk in stringent response

Protein biosyntheses is performed by the ribosome and is assisted by a large number of accessory molecules, with several of them belonging to the GTPase class. EF-Tu is a GTPase which is responsible for bringing the amynoacyl-tRNA to the ribosome, and it is one of the most abundant proteins in bacteria.So abundant, in fact, that it is impossible to explain this abundance by EF-Tu's role in translation. And indeed, recent microscopy investigations has shown how EF-Tu works as a part of bacterial cytosceleton.EF-Tu works together with another bacterial structural protein, actin-like protein MreB, which froms spirals underneath bacterial membrane. In this tandem EF-Tu leads the formation of more dynamic MreB filaments. In eucaryotes eEF1A does the job of EF-Tu and delivers the tRNA. It is involved in interactions with the cytosceleton just as it its bacterial counterpart, but instead of MreB it interacts with the filamentous actin, causing it to form bundles. Bunai F, Ando K, Ueno H, & Numata O (2006). Tetrahymena eukaryotic translation elongation factor 1A (eEF1A) bundles filamentous actin through dimer formation. Journal of biochemistry, 140 (3), 393-9 PMID: 16877446Defeu Soufo HJ, Reimold C, Linne U, Knust T, Gescher J, & Graumann PL (2010). Bacterial translation elongation factor EF-Tu interacts and colocalizes with actin-like MreB protein. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (7), 3163-8 PMID: 20133608Vats P, & Rothfield L (2007). Duplication and segregation of the actin (MreB) cytoskeleton during the prokaryotic cell cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104 (45), 17795-800 PMID: 17978175... Read more »

Defeu Soufo HJ, Reimold C, Linne U, Knust T, Gescher J, & Graumann PL. (2010) Bacterial translation elongation factor EF-Tu interacts and colocalizes with actin-like MreB protein. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(7), 3163-8. PMID: 20133608  

Vats P, & Rothfield L. (2007) Duplication and segregation of the actin (MreB) cytoskeleton during the prokaryotic cell cycle. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(45), 17795-800. PMID: 17978175  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 07:19 AM

2010 – twelve months of great science

by Joerg Heber in All That Matters

The past year has been a great year for science with major advances in several areas. Too many exciting results to mention here. Instead, to reflect about the past year I have chosen a representative paper for each month of the year that I hope can serve as an example of the great science going [...]... Read more »

Chuang, T., Allan, M., Lee, J., Xie, Y., Ni, N., Bud'ko, S., Boebinger, G., Canfield, P., & Davis, J. (2010) Nematic Electronic Structure in the "Parent" State of the Iron-Based Superconductor Ca(Fe1-xCox)2As2. Science, 327(5962), 181-184. DOI: 10.1126/science.1181083  

Lin, Y., Dimitrakopoulos, C., Jenkins, K., Farmer, D., Chiu, H., Grill, A., & Avouris, P. (2010) 100-GHz Transistors from Wafer-Scale Epitaxial Graphene. Science, 327(5966), 662-662. DOI: 10.1126/science.1184289  

Kelzenberg, M., Boettcher, S., Petykiewicz, J., Turner-Evans, D., Putnam, M., Warren, E., Spurgeon, J., Briggs, R., Lewis, N., & Atwater, H. (2010) Enhanced absorption and carrier collection in Si wire arrays for photovoltaic applications. Nature Materials. DOI: 10.1038/nmat2635  

Ergin, T., Stenger, N., Brenner, P., Pendry, J., & Wegener, M. (2010) Three-Dimensional Invisibility Cloak at Optical Wavelengths. Science, 328(5976), 337-339. DOI: 10.1126/science.1186351  

Yu, X., Onose, Y., Kanazawa, N., Park, J., Han, J., Matsui, Y., Nagaosa, N., & Tokura, Y. (2010) Real-space observation of a two-dimensional skyrmion crystal. Nature, 465(7300), 901-904. DOI: 10.1038/nature09124  

Chadov, S., Qi, X., Kübler, J., Fecher, G., Felser, C., & Zhang, S. (2010) Tunable multifunctional topological insulators in ternary Heusler compounds. Nature Materials, 9(7), 541-545. DOI: 10.1038/nmat2770  

Bae, S., Kim, H., Lee, Y., Xu, X., Park, J., Zheng, Y., Balakrishnan, J., Lei, T., Ri Kim, H., Song, Y.... (2010) Roll-to-roll production of 30-inch graphene films for transparent electrodes. Nature Nanotechnology, 5(8), 574-578. DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2010.132  

MAIMAN, T. (1960) Stimulated Optical Radiation in Ruby. Nature, 187(4736), 493-494. DOI: 10.1038/187493a0  

Kim, R., Kim, D., Xiao, J., Kim, B., Park, S., Panilaitis, B., Ghaffari, R., Yao, J., Li, M., Liu, Z.... (2010) Waterproof AlInGaP optoelectronics on stretchable substrates with applications in biomedicine and robotics. Nature Materials, 9(11), 929-937. DOI: 10.1038/nmat2879  

Wunderlich, J., Park, B., Irvine, A., Zarbo, L., Rozkotova, E., Nemec, P., Novak, V., Sinova, J., & Jungwirth, T. (2010) Spin Hall Effect Transistor. Science, 330(6012), 1801-1804. DOI: 10.1126/science.1195816  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 07:02 AM

Mistrials due to lawyers making faces, internet misconduct & more

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

Even though we have been hearing about (and writing about) jurors and the internet for a several years now—it was still something of a shock to see the ABA piece identifying 90 verdicts challenged due to jurors’ alleged internet misconduct. We wrote an article on Jurors and the Internet in The Jury Expert back in November [...]

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CATHERINE C. ECKEL, ENRIQUE FATAS, & RICK WILSON. (2010) Cooperation and Status in Organizations. Journal of Public Economic Theory, 12(4). info:/

  • December 27, 2010
  • 07:00 AM

Defining pandemic

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

Defining a pandemic is not an easy thing to do. It turns out that there has never really been much consensus about what constitutes a pandemic. The term pandemic has been used almost interchangeably with epidemic since the beginning of its usage. In the midst of responding to last year’s H1N1 influenza outbreak public health [...]... Read more »

Morens, D., Folkers, G., & Fauci, A. (2009) What Is a Pandemic?. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 200(7), 1018-1021. DOI: 10.1086/644537  

  • December 27, 2010
  • 06:35 AM

Does Peer Review Work?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Scientific peer review is based on the idea that some papers deserve to get published and others don't.By asking a hand-picked team of 3 or 4 experts in the field (the "peers"), journals hope to accept the good stuff, filter out the rubbish, and improve the not-quite-good-enough papers.This all assumes that the reviewers, being experts, are able to make a more or less objective judgement. In other words, when a reviewer says that a paper's good or bad, they're reporting something about the paper, not just giving their own personal opinion.If that's true, reviewers ought to agree with each other about the merits of each paper. On the other hand, if it turns out that they don't agree any more often than we'd expect if they were assigning ratings entirely at random, that would suggest that there's a problem somewhere.Guess what? Bornmann et al have just reported that reviewers are only slightly more likely to agree than they would be if they were just flipping coins: A Reliability - Generalization Study of Journal Peer Reviews.The study is a meta-analysis of 48 studies published since 1966, looking at peer review of either journal papers or conference presentations. In total, almost 20,000 submissions were studied. Bornmann et al calculated the mean inter-rater reliability (IRR), a measure of how well different judges agree with each other.Overall, they found a reliability coefficient (r^2) of 0.23, or 0.34 under a different statistical model. This is pretty low, given that 0 is random chance, while a perfect correlation would be 1.0. Using another measure of IRR, Cohen's kappa, they found a reliability of 0.17. That means that peer reviewers only agreed on 17% more manuscripts than they would by chance alone.Worse still, the bigger the study, the worse the reliability it reported. On the other hand, the subject - economics/law, natural sciences, medical sciences, or social sciences - had no effect, arguing against the common sense idea that reviews must be more objective in the "harder" sciences.So what? Does this mean that peer review is a bad thing? Maybe it's like the police. The police are there to prevent and punish crime. They don't always succeed: crime happens. But only a fool would argue that, because the police fail to prevent some crimes, we ought to abolish them. The fact that we have police, even imperfect ones, acts a deterrent.Likewise, I suspect that peer review, for all its flaws (and poor reliability is just one of them), does prevent many "bad" papers from getting written, or getting submitted, even if a lot do still make it through, and even if the vetting process is not itself not very efficient. The very fact that peer review is there at all, makes people write their papers in a certain way.Peer review surely does "work", to some extent - but is the work it does actually useful? Does it really filter out bad papers or does it on the contrary act to stifle originality? There are lots of things to say about this, but I will just say this for now: it's important to distinguish between whether peer review is good for science as a whole, and whether it's good for journals.Every respectable journal relies on peer review to decide which papers to publish: even if the reviewers achieve nothing else, they certainly save the Editor time, and hence money (reviewers generally work for free). It's very hard to see how the current system of scientific publication in journals would survive without peer review. But that doesn't mean it's good for science. That's an entirely different question.Bornmann L, Mutz R, & Daniel HD (2010). A reliability-generalization study of journal peer reviews: a multilevel metaanalysis of interrater reliability and its determinants. PloS ONE, 5 (12) PMID: 21179459... Read more »

  • December 27, 2010
  • 05:00 AM

The Doctors who cried “Cure!”

by Nsikan Akpan in That's Basic Science

One man's cure for HIV... Read more »

Allers K, Hütter G, Hofmann J, Loddenkemper C, Rieger K, Thiel E, & Schneider T. (2011) Evidence for the cure of HIV infection by CCR5Δ32/Δ32 stem cell transplantation. Blood, 117(10), 2791-9. PMID: 21148083  

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