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Guess What I Learned Today

The Purkinje Effect!

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day's useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.

But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion
- The Moody Blues, "Late Lament", Days of Future Passed

Writer's Block: Proven by Science

Do you believe everything has a scientific explanation?

Oh, what a good question! Clearly laden with subtext, though. I'll paraphrase from the book "The Liberal Art of Science" by the AAAS: It is important to understand what is and is not a scientific question. There are many questions that we have that are unresponsive to the methodology of science.

I love that turn of phrase: Questions unresponsive to the methodology of science.

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From Nature News, 23 July 2009

Mice made from induced stem cells

This is going to be hailed as a success in cloning, or as a big breakthrough in the path to using induced pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine. I think it's going to greatly increase understanding of developmental mechanics after all of the strangeness gets explained (high mortality rate, unspecified "abnormalities" in the adults) but I don't think it represents a really significant move towards getting you a set of magic beans with which to repair your damaged heart.

Hm. Stem cells as magic beans. I'm going to think on that metaphor for a bit longer.

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Edit: Wired's article on this is absolutely excellent.

Stuff in History of Biology

Ed met and married Pamela Harrah, a Stanford graduate, in 1946. Their meeting was arranged by George W. Beadle, who had returned to Caltech from Stanford in 1946 to chair the biology division. That same year Ed had taken responsibility for supervising the extensive Caltech Drosophila Stock Center and was looking for a stock keeper. While still at Stanford, Beadle called Pam into his office and said, "Hey Pam, how tall are you?" to which Pam replied, "5'3"." Beadle then said, "Your new Boss is 5'4" tall, he's twenty-eight and maybe you will like him so much, you will fall in love and decide to stay there at Caltect." A few months after meeting, Ed and Pam were married; they remained so until Ed's death more than fifty-seven years later. It was Pam who, working as a technician in the laboratory in 1947, discovered the Polycomb gene, which Ed went on to report in his famous 1978 paper in Nature as the first "regulator of the regulators."

- p. 16, "Biographical Memoir," from Genes, Development, and Cancer by Edward B. Lewis and Howard D. Lipshitz

D'y'all wanna take bets on whether or not Pam gets credit in the paper? Any takers? I haven't looked yet, so I don't know. To be fair, at that time period she might not have gotten credit if she were male and not married to the PI; it only pisses me off because I've spent my *life* looking for women in science history, sometimes not even aware of it, and it just grates to find them hidden away in labs and footnotes of papers. I'm gonna find the paper now, and see if it soothes my nerves.

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The Wikipedia entry on Seahorse Courtship is both factually accurate and ridiculously well written and evocative. Go read it now. Or, I'll cut and paste here:

Seahorse CourtshipCollapse )

Now, it's important for me to make it clear that I do not endorse using natural history/biological facts about non-human critters as justification for any social narrative about humans. But I do want to point out why the Seahorse's mating habits strike us as so interesting--they turn our narrative of "females have the babies, males just provide the sperm" on its head. We don't expect that a male would be the one to be pregnant, but that's exactly what happens in seahorses -- it is a full role reversal as far as pregnancy and birth-giving are concerned.

And apparently, trying to explain why this happens is a big challenge for scientists. One of the long-standing theories regarding sexuality in the animal kingdom is that the "less-invested" sex is the more aggressive and risk-taking. Edit: Male seahorses are the more aggressive sex, where "aggressive" means fighting with other seahorses, usually males. "Less-invested" here means that fewer personal resources are consumed in the creation of offspring. Apparently, while the male seahorse does invest a lot of his personal *time* into the gestation and incubation of the young, he still invests only half as much of his own personal resources (food-and-oxygen-derived energy) than the female does simply in producing the yolky eggs. However, some scientists think that that having the male do the gestation and incubation means that there are shorter birth intervals -- while the male is taking care of the young, the female can eat and rebuild her reserves and make another clutch of eggs.

And because I cannot help but anthropomorphize, let me just say Awwwwwwwwwww, seahorses are so darn cute!

They are monogamous! They greet each other every day and swim around holding each others' tails, or holding on to the same bits of seaweed, and changing colors at each other. Their highly involved daily courtship appears to be very important in maintaining their monogamous relationship. She comes and visits him every day while he's pregnant! D'awwww!
(x-posted from Facebook)

In the Huffington Post today: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-carrey/the-judgment-on-vaccines_b_189777.html

A quote: "Veterinarians found out years ago that in many cases they were over-immunizing our pets, a syndrome they call Vaccinosis. It overwhelmed the immune system of the animals, causing myriad physical and neurological disorders. Sound familiar? If you can over-immunize a dog, is it so far out to assume that you can over-immunize a child? These forward thinking vets also decided to remove thimerosal from animal vaccines in 1992, and yet this substance, which is 49% mercury, is still in human vaccines. Don't our children deserve as much consideration as our pets?"

Oh my gosh! Yes! My children need to be treated as well as or better than my pets! Why is there thimerosal in pediatric vaccines!?

Oh, wait, there's not. http://www.fda.gov/CBER/vaccine/thimerosal.htm -- "Thimerosal has been removed from or reduced to trace amounts in all vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and younger, with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine."

So what is Jim Carrey on about? Well, it seems like Carrey thinks that the pharmaceutical industry, who are developing vaccines, are just into this because it's profitable. That's right -- vaccines are profitable. To quote Carrey:
"With vaccines being the fastest growing division of the pharmaceutical industry, isn't it possible that profits may play a part in the decision-making?"
"Paul Offit, the vaccine advocate and profiteer, who helped invent a Rotavirus vaccine is said to have paved the way for his own multi-million dollar windfall while serving on the very council that eventually voted his Rotavirus vaccine onto our children's schedule."

Far be it from me to defend the pharmaceutical industry against charges that they are reckless profiteers. I think that's true, and I think they manipulate patent law in many different ways to increase their own profits.

But vaccines, far from being profitable business, are generally considered one of the least profitable and most desirable kinds of scientific research. They're not profitable for two reasons:
1) You only need one to three doses, rather than a treatment-style medicine like antibiotics where you can sell hundreds of doses to the same patient over their lifetime.
2) They're so beneficial and so useful, there is usually demand for pharma companies to donate hundreds of doses of vaccine to needy organizations and developing countries.

And that Rotavirus vaccine has saved thousands of lives. In 2003, the incidence of death from Rotavirus was still at 9% in wealthy countries (http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol9no5/02-0562.htm) And, as an aside, a vaccine for rotavirus (RotaShield) was introduced in 1998, but was pulled a year later when it was found to cause one case of intestinal blockage per 12,000 vaccinated infants. This indicates to me that the FDA and CDC are not, generally, in the business of protecting pharmaceutical companies when vaccines are shown to cause problems.

Carrey is suggesting that the profiteering of pharmaceutical industries in the creation of vaccines is so vast and corrupting that the FDA, the CDC, and numerous independent research organizations are all collaborating to continue giving our children dangerous vaccines that will cause healthy, normal, active children to suddenly withdraw as they develop autism and autism-related disorders.

Favorite: "With all the doubt that's left hanging on this topic, how can anyone in the media or medical profession, boldly demand that all parents march out and give their kids 36 of these shots, six at a time in dosage levels equal to that given a 200 pound man?"

'I can't believe they're giving kids vaccines in dosages equal to that you would give a 200 pound man! That just seems insane! If you gave a kid a dose of benadryl equivalent to what you'd give a 200 pound man, that'd kill the kid, right?' Yes, it would, but vaccines don't work the same way as chemical medicines that get metabolized. The whole point of a vaccine is to put enough of the material into your body to make your immune system recognize it and form a response. I would not be surprised if that dosage is the same for kids and adults.

Doubt? The doubt that you and Ms. McCarthy, that Andrew Wakefield, that "Generation Rescue" continue to sew? You guys are the only ones who think there's any doubt. Good science, and good legal reasoning, have shown to everyone else's satisfaction that this just isn't an issue -- and even if it were, we've taken the thimerosal out of the vaccines because: why toy with children's safety?

Why, indeed? Why are you still toying with children's safety by continuing to encourage parents to not vaccinate their children, and instead leave them susceptible to deadly childhood disease?

Here's another, probably better written opposing analysis of Jim Carrey's column. http://www.opposingviews.com/articles/opinion-jim-carrey-s-autism-claims-are-wrong

This just makes me so angry. It makes me angry because kids have a hard enough time getting health care that really gives them good preventive medicine, and it's so vital to one's long term health to have access to that kind of thing. And it makes me angry because my sainted mother, who is a nurse, for some reason thinks that Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy are trustworthy voices in this mockery of a debate. I mean sure, they are charismatic, but seriously, who do you want to trust when it comes to your child's health?

This guy? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJej6kCgxVM

Or this nice doctor lady? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oespzYVUaI8#t=47s
From transvercity

I (also) prefer this version:

If you've NEVER had a crush on me, or wanted to sleep with me, play with me, date me, etc., feel free to post here.

Otherwise, I'll just assume y'all want me.