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A Storm is a' Brewing (from Paige Brown's blog)

Tue, 06/12/2012 - 5:45pm

Glacial_lakes,_Bhutan.jpgImage showing termini of the glaciers in the Bhutan-Himalaya. Glacial lakes have been rapidly forming on the surface of the debris-covered glaciers in this region during the last few decades. USGS researchers have found a strong correlation between increasing temperatures and glacial retreat in this region. (NASA)______**The reverberating sound of cracking ice and trickling water pervades areas of even once-permanent ice-sheets in the Artic this time of year.* With carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere passing up a proverbial ‘milestone’ of 400 parts per million, or ppm, as measured by local monitoring stations in the Artic, the time for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change impacts is today, if not yesterday. Before the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 levels were around 275ppm (The Guardian) M Carter, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program, or SCIPP, at Louisiana State University, is passionate about climate change communications and the need for adaptation and resiliency planning in the face of all-too-real climate change impacts in Louisiana and beyond. Carter heads to Washington, DC this week for a meeting of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee, or NCADAC, to help synthesize and summarize the science and information pertaining to current and future impacts of climate for the 2013 NCA Report. The last such report was published in 2009.“We need to do things differently than we’ve been doing them,” Carter said. The associate director of SCIPP often travels around Gulf Coast giving her ‘Planning to Protect’ talk to help residents think about a changing climate and how to be more ready for its impacts. Carter is a PhD educated scientist and serves as an expert advisor on the ICLEI Climate Adaptation Experts Advisory Committee, but she finds her passion in speaking to people about climate change and adaptation, in everyday language. “My goal is to communicate to the public in a way that they can understand,” Carter said. “We are not going to change people’s attitudes on climate change… it’s going to take talking in practical terms. People need the ‘big picture’ of climate change – they need the right mental models.” The follow are some of the key messages that Carter presents in her talks to community members:1. *Climate change is here. We are already observing changes.2. *The future will be different than the past and there will be consequences for the region.3. *Decisions made today can help us to be better prepared for tomorrow.**While many people that Carter speaks to attribute environmental changes to natural cycles vs. human-forced climatic changes, she constantly tells people to “look at the trend.” While short-term temperatures from one season to the next may vary significantly according to natural variation, long-term and underlying trends are quite clear. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased 31% since the industrial area in a trend that does not follow previous natural cycles, accompanied by steady increases in temperature and nearly unprecedented decreases in glacier and ice-sheet thickness worldwide.Gulf Coast states including Louisiana have special concerns when it comes to climate change impacts. Sea level rise due to melting artic ice and warming, expanding waters is aggravated in regions such as the Louisiana coastline, where confining river levees starve wetlands of sediment. Wetlands that could theoretically keep up with sea level rise if they were consistently nourished with sediment from the Mississippi river are gradually being starved and dried. The dependence of the local economy on the oil and gas industry doesn’t help. “The land here was built by the Mississippi river dropping sediment as it encountered salt water and marsh lands,” Carter said. “Oil pumping and squeezing… that is why the land is sinking.” Wetland loss and drilling for oil is causing land subsidence that is in turn causing rates of relative sea level rise in the region to be significant and dangerous to coastal cities and their inhabitants.Marsh.jpgImage from the LSU Lakes, Baton Rouge.“But we can do things differently and better,” Carter said. As she tells her presentation viewers, we can anticipate, plan ahead, and act … or we can react to inevitable damages and live with the consequences. As temperatures and sea levels rise, as precipitation increases and the likelihood of highly-damaging hurricanes mounts, Carter calls upon the Gulf Coast region to protect, accommodate, and retreat_. While building up levees can actually foster a false sense of security and increase wetland loss, coastal communities could adapt to climate change by accommodating rising waters through elevated roads and facilities, improved flood control, and wetland restoration, while making plans to evaluate and even retreat from the coastline as anthropogenic climate forcing continues to warm the planet.As Carter says, adaptation is “just better planning.” But the consequences are significant. Without efforts to mitigate climate change through emissions reductions and increased efforts to foster energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, the Gulf Coast could be in a cyclone of trouble.smokestakes BR.jpgSmokestacks in Baton Rouge._____LSU’s Lynne CarterLynne M. Carter is the program manager of SCIPP on the Louisiana State University campus. Dr. Carter is active in climate impacts and adaptation work. Among other things, she was a member of the writing team for the 2009 Climate Impacts on the United States document from the Climate Change Impacts Program (CCSP), was the regional liaison for the US National Assessment of Climate Variability and Change, as the director for a non-profit organization focused on building resilience and adapting to climate changes with communities, and continues to work in education and outreach around climate issues.National Climate AssessmentThe NCA will help evaluate the effectiveness of our mitigation and adaptation activities and identify economic opportunities that arise as the climate changes. It will also serve to integrate scientific information from multiple sources and highlight key findings and significant gaps in our knowledge.

A Natural Historical Interlude (from Tom Webb's blog)

Tue, 06/12/2012 - 8:27am

I’m just emerging from that special juggling act that UK academics perform at this time of year, when a stack of marking is chucked into the air alongside everything else. And given that last time out I provoked a few people (and reinforced a few preconceptions) I thought I’d ease back into things with some nice, non-controversial musings on natural history.Now first-up, I’m not much of a natural historian. Periodically I resolve to learn a relatively manageable group – British trees, say, or dragonflies – but to be honest, I simply don’t have the patience required to work meticulously through a key. Neither do I have that instinctive eye for the salient feature that characterises the great observers. Many’s the time I’ve thought I’ve committed to memory a particular unknown little bird, only to open the fieldguide and find I have no idea of the prominence of its supercilium, or the relative brownness of its legs.Nonetheless, I muddle on. I am quite good at noticing things, and it’s really important for me to see lots of nature, even if I can’t put a name to absolutely everything. In fact I have a theory that there are two routes into ecology. There are those who as kids collected beetles, who cleaned up and displayed roadkill, or who have subsequently crossed continents to extend their life list of birds. And there are those of us who just sort of liked messing around outside – for whom the important thing remains the experience of nature as a whole, rather than the infinite dissection of its parts.Over the last four years or so, my major outlet for this interest has been our back garden. One of the advantages of moving back to Sheffield was that a terraced house with a good sized garden fell within budget. And one of the pleasures of staying in the same place for a few years is that early work starts to bear fruit (sometimes literally).For instance, the other day I trimmed the mixed native hedge that we planted and which is now in its fifth growing season. Originally just a line of sticks, it’s now around 5’ tall, thick and lush. Already populated by sparrows it also shelters blackbirds and starlings, ladybirds and hoverflies. Watching this new habitat flourish gives me as much satisfaction as any paper I might write. pond.jpgOur pond, in progress (2009) and with water soldiers breaking its surface a year later.Likewise, the pond I dug in 2009 is an endlessly fascinating mini-experiment. Perhaps I should have kept meticulous records of colonisation dates, but for me it’s enough to remember that the first pond skaters were skating before I’d turned off the tap from filling it; that the frogs appeared to be waiting for me to dig it (I have no idea where they bred before); that great crested newts found it within a year, as did water boatmen, dragonflies and damselflies. The weather’s been rather peculiar this year – the warmth in March got the algae blooming, but then it was too cold for the grazers to do much, so it’s a bit green at the moment. But fishing out some blanket weed at the weekend, I was excited to net three large dragonfly nymphs which I suspect will be climbing up some of the emergent vegetation any day now, as well as the first water beetle I’ve seen there. The birds use it to bathe in and drink from, as do the grey squirrels (which have far less right to be in a Yorkshire garden than the rats that I can’t keep away from the compost heaps, but which have much better PR).garden inverts.jpgSome of the smaller garden residents: a pioneering pondskater, and its near-mirror image water boatman; frogs in various stages of development; a hoverfly suns itself; and a bee visits a foxglove.Two more things which have got me into the natural history of my garden. First, buying a good macro lens for my camera – if you look closely, there is always something interesting to see. And of course, sharing it with a 1½ year old for whom all of this is fresh and exciting (and who’s new favourite word is ‘bee’).Years ago, I studied Candide for my French A level. I’ve never been sure that I grasped in full the philosophical implications of its final line, “‘Cela est bien dit,’ répondit Candide, ‘mais il faut cultiver notre jardin’”. But I like to take it literally, and whenever the stresses and strains of the life scientific start to bite, I take the role of Candide, heading outside with my own version: That’s all well and good, but this garden won’t look after itself.

Manufactured Landscapes (from Paige Brown's blog)

Tue, 06/12/2012 - 1:02am

manufacturedlandscapes.photo05.jpgVast factories… Teeming lifeGoes up in smoke,Toxic rivers, red as blood,Sweat and tears.One man’s wasteIs another’s chore. Oil drilled until no more.A smog that never lifts,Assembly-line calloused fingers.Beautiful boxes of trash,Toxic fumes, workers abashYet unheeding of deathly concerns.Black black piles, among the ruinsOne lone woman knits asUrbanization sprawls.Decrepit oil tankers, Crude, up to their knees, Dangerous work.My leisure, gone global.Dam, oil sucks.These are my thoughts after watching Manufactured Landscapes, a stunning documentary film and Winner of Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival based on the work of artist Edward Burtynsky. “…”manufactured landscapes"—quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines and dams—Burtynsky creates stunningly beautiful art from civilization’s materials and debris."bq. “If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves. I believe that as a fundamental philosophical position…” – BurtynskyIn Manufactured Landscapes, environmental destruction is turned abnormally beautiful, leaving viewers like myself aghast at my own wasteful society and disturbed landscapes. From urbanization, to peak oil, to downright ghastly working conditions, Burtynsky lays bare our troubled energy monger society in beautiful ‘as is’ fashion.As Burtynsky says near the end of the film:“I think many people sit in that uncomfortable spot where we don’t necessarily want to give up what we have, but we realize that what we are doing is creating problems that run deep. It’s not a simple right or wrong… it needs a whole new way of thinking.”I highly recommend the film, available via iTunes. “Maybe the new landscape of our time… is the landscape that we change… the one that we disrupt in the pursuit of progress.” – Burtynsky Image: Shipbreaking # 4", Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000Photo: Edward Burtynsky

More Rs than Pirates (from David De Roure's blog)

Sun, 06/10/2012 - 7:41pm

I’ve previously presented The Twelve Rs of the e-Research Record: repeatable, reproducible, reusable, repurposable, reliable, referenceable, re-interpretable, respectful, respectable, retrievable, replayable, refreshable and recoverable. This exercise started with an August 2009 piece, and listening to discussions at meetings last week I note a few more are being r-raised…But first, let me set the scene with something that’s been causing confusion. Traditionally I might conduct an experiment in my lab, repeat it, share it in the research record and you can come along and reproduce it in your lab. But let’s be clear about an important issue in our increasingly in silico world. If I publish an algorithm and you write new software to implement it then you might be reproducing my algorithm. However, if I publish my software (or virtual machine) into the research record and you just run it as-is then that’s a bit more like me giving you a bit of equipment from my lab! Some might then debate whether that’s a repeat or reproduce or somewhere in between – but whichever, it’s useful. It means you know exactly how the results are produced and therefore how to interpret them. It helps find out if my results were somehow peculiar to my environment and hardware (the same programs don’t always produce the same numbers, this is well known). And anyway your goal might simply be to achieve a capability in your lab and check it works so that you can use it. We’re getting better at installing software artefacts into the research record, for example with the new journals of Open Research Computation and Open Research Software.It’s not easy though! Like a piece of equipment, the software needs maintenance, testing and calibration. Worse, software decays thanks to all its external dependencies one way or another (libraries, services, operating systems, …) – it’s not rust or (bit-)rot, it’s the world in flux, but it has a similar effect. We can preserve software in archive aspic for retrospective examination, but keeping that equipment running for all time is a tall order. I note in passing that one of the things that helps provide some stability is standards (or should I say recommendations). I also note there’s a role for machines in helping us with all of this.Anyway, I’m inclined to propose a new R-word to meet my three usefulness criteria above, which is reconstruct, and perhaps then our new journals are Journals of Reconstructable Research. Reconstruction is what we actually do, so it helps if our research is reconstructable. We might have a goal to repeat, reproduce, replicate, re-use, repurpose or whatever, but the reconstruction is a necessary and useful step. We should acknowledge that there’s machinery involved, and see software, scripts and workflows as equipment in the research record to provide the reconstruction kit. In fact the software world is rather good at reconstruct and we can learn from that thinking and tooling for the research record.A related word that came up last week was restore, as Carole Goble talked about restoration (returning to a former condition), further developing the notions of preservation and conservation introduced in Accelerating Scientists’ Knowledge Turns. Similarly our decay experts (research dentistry anyone?) were talking about repair. Provenance information is set to play a big part in all of this.Another R-word lurking for some time has been review, but interestingly what we’ve been hearing recently is re-review – which also accommodates our evolving peer-review models, like post-publication peer review (is that publication, or release like software?) That’s not all. In the Wf4Ever project we now have roification, which means to convert something into a Research Object(!) And my music colleagues are now talking about remixing research as well as music. ☺

Support rationalism and free speech in the world's largest democracy - petition (from Lee Turnpenny's blog)

Sun, 06/10/2012 - 7:03pm

India’s constitution explicitly protects free speech, but is apparently failing Sanal Edamaruku right to it.Please follow the link for information and sign the petition

Neat Cat Trick (from Linda Lin's blog)

Sun, 06/10/2012 - 2:00pm

Just for fun…Can you tell what’s “fake”?

We need to "unlearn" to believe in some science: Let's start with fMRI data! (from Noah Gray's blog)

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 1:50pm

Jonah Lehrer recently moved his blog to The New Yorker and one of the first entries was Why We Don’t Believe In Science, a discussion of how counter-intuitive facts need a little “unlearning” to occur before we can accept them.I made a comment on the post, but it’s unclear whether they have the Comments section turned on over there, so I figured I’d go ahead and post that comment here, in an attempt to update this blog after nearly two years of dormancy! Enjoy.__________________________________________________________________In the spirit of improving scientific literacy and buying into the, at times, counter-intuitive notions that inevitably arise during the pursuit of “believing science,” I propose we all unlearn the over-simplified, naive intuitions about what fMRI data really mean.The A.C.C. has indeed been implicated by several groups during the process of error perception and other such “Oh Shit!” moments. But other studies involving patients who have unfortunately experienced damage and lesions to their “Oh Shit!” circuits still experience “Oh shit!” moments. Of course, just like the data supporting the A.C.C.‘s role in error detection, such clinical observations are far from perfect since not all lesions are of the same size or are strictly limited to the A.C.C. Like most fMRI data, lesion studies are suggestive at best. In addition, a simple search of the neuroscience literature will reveal that the A.C.C. also receives a squirt of blood during reward anticipation, decision-making, when viewing “emotional” videos, when experiencing pain, during the control of blood pressure and heart rate, when conflict monitoring, when we focus attention, when experiencing empathy and to signal motivation. So was the “Oh Shit!” circuit being activated in Dunbar’s study, or was the subject experiencing a very strong autonomic response to being placed inside a loud, confined space while having to sit perfectly still (thus, raising heart rate and blood pressure)? Who knows!! But it makes a nice story to explore the CORRELATION between the A.C.C. fMRI signals and the task being explored.The sooner the public learns that scientists have really no clue how the “Oh Shit!” circuit fully works, the more receptive and open they may be to digging deeper into citizen science projects and performing their own fact checking. The latter is a must if the public and scientists are ever going to maintain fruitful, collaborative relationships based on trust. The motivation to learn for oneself is diminished when science writers, scientists and communicators consistently feed the public “facts” that are presented as unequivocal, but are anything but. I fully understand that to present an interesting story, a communicator cannot discuss all caveats, but one can also give the audience a bit more credit, challenge them to do their own digging and provide them with at least part of the two (or more) sides of the story for further reflection. Science is constantly evolving and so should the way and style with which it is communicated to an audience with an ever-increasing intelligence, savvy and willingness to be challenged.

Show, don't tell (from Lee Turnpenny's blog)

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 10:12am

Two ‘scientific’ failures this week: one fact, one fiction, but both real. First off, I got up around 0500 on Wednesday (no mean feat for me), and trudged out with white paper pad, binoculars and camera to hand, hoping to catch the transit of Venus. I decided to walk down the hill – not as daft as it seems: there is no solar vantage that time of the morning where I live, plus it was overcast and so didn’t bode well anyhow; but I reasoned there would be improved vistas down in the more spacious ‘valley’. Once down, however, rather than continue ‘flat’, I decided to turn right, and walk up the incline towards the golf clubhouse (which is the high vantage point in the valley, if that makes sense). This was (or would have been) inspired. After a short walk, I was forced to squint as I turned my head to the right, the low bright sun evident through the hedge gap access to one of the tees. I walked through and made a quick assessment. And thence made my mistake. With three items to handle, it was going to be tricky to keep a steady hand; and propping up the pad could only be done on dew-wet ground/hedge. It was around 0530. About twenty-five minutes left. So I decided, rather than sodden the pad, to continue on up towards the clubhouse, where there is apparatus upon which to prop things up at stable angles, so freeing up my focusing and capturing hands, and wherefrom I ‘calculated’ taking advantage of an improved vista. Except it was vistaless. Although still bright, further, but taller trees intervened. So, I about-turned and yomped back down to my original site, returning less than five minutes after leaving it to find the sun now obscured by clouds. I’d got my angles and my timings wrong. And so it remained, as I stood there looking up and cursing at the wind-blown inverted grey carpet smothering my opportunity. But in actuality, I was cursing myself: I’d managed the difficult part in hauling myself out of bed, then failed to get on with it during that brief bright window, when (as it turns out, although I’d set off unconvinced) my basic equipment would have done the job just fine – and I could have self-satisfyingly posted my own shot here. And my self-annoyance lingers, unquelled by reminders that there will be other transits (Mercury in a few years?). After all, there are no guarantees of being around for future eventualities. And I’ll for certain never get the opportunity to see a transiting Venus again. But I was alive last Wednesday.I was still alive yesterday, when I saw something that, it turns out, I would not have been sorry to miss – I went to the cinema to see (in 2D. Please ) a hyperridiculous titanic turkey. I’d rather be tied to a rock.

Someone like you ~ Adele Covers (from Linda Lin's blog)

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 1:32am

I love Adele’s music and voice. It’s not any wonder she’s a reigning queen of pop/rock/what-have-you. And usually with any hit singers, you get a collection of Youtubers who cover their music. Generally, it’s so-so, but occasionally there’s real gems. This one’s a cover is by a med student/Masters of Biotech grad from the ANU (here in Oz). Who says you can’t have a side job as a singer during a science or med degree? He’s even better live with back up singers and a band of science/med students. Something different is the awesome ukelele catching skills and real team work in action below. Wish I was that coordinated and great at multi-tasking. by Walk off the Earth. the cover’s garnered about 12 million views. which is still just a fraction of the original song that now has 180 million hits.

The pseudoscience of anecdotes (from Peter Etchells' blog)

Wed, 06/06/2012 - 5:29pm

The results from the TREAD study (TREAtment of Depression with physical activity) came out today in the British Medical Journal – you can check it out here. TREAD was a long term randomised controlled trial (considered the ‘gold standard’ in clinical testing) which aimed to figure out whether giving people who were suffering from depression a bit of help with their exercise regime (in other words, having a facilitator provide advice and encouragement to the patient) actually improved their mood or not over time. It would be great if it did – it would mean that we’d have an alternative to drug-based therapies that would be simple for doctors to prescribe, and desirable for patients who were worried about the side effects of antidepressants. The trouble with the results from TREAD, though, is that they didn’t show any benefits for those who received the intervention, when compared to those who didn’t – either in terms of improved mood or reduced antidepressant use. In fact, the only thing that did improve was the intervention group’s amount of physical activity during the follow-up period. If his article in the Guardian today is anything to go by, this seems to be a huge irritation for Simon Hattenstone. The article, in fact, provides a masterclass in what you should look out for in a poor piece of science journalism. Let’s have a look what the problems are.“So all of you who thought you were learning how to cope with your out-of-kilter brain, who had worked so hard to release endorphins and get a serotonin surge, who had made life manageable by running, going to the gym, dancing, or whatever, were WRONG.”Making out that the the study is telling people who are depressed that if they’ve been exercising, it’s a waste of time, is a good way to get readers on side. It tends to rile people up, and make them amenable to the point that the writer wants to make.“According to this report, carried out by the universities of Bristol and Exeter, and funded by the Department of Health, you exercise-tastic depression-battlers are simply deluding yourself. The study is, apparently, the first large-scale, randomised controlled trial to establish whether exercise should be used in primary health care to help treat adults with depression.”Or, y’know, just spell it out in no uncertain terms – ‘this report is telling you that you’re stupid if you’re trying to make yourself feel better with exercise.’ It’s got good shock value. Also, note the use of the word ‘apparently’ in the second sentence – it makes it sound like the research is trying to make itself sound more important than it actually is. For reference, the actual words from the BMJ article are ‘the trial is one of the largest trials of physical activity and depression to have taken place in primary care.’"As a depressed manic exerciser, who has found running hugely helpful, I would like to blow a great big Panglossian fart in the face of this churlish research. Writers who have a drum to beat tend to identify themselves as authorities-from-experience on some subject or another. It lends weight to any points they make because they can say “I’ve been through that, and I know that X actually does work for me”. And actually, that’s a perfectly valid opinion to have – I don’t wish to belittle anyone in this way at all. The trouble is, it’s not particularly scientific. For example, I’ve suffered from moderate-to-severe depression over the past fourteen years, and I’ve often taken to the gym in the hopes that it would help my mood. It’s never worked. Actually, at times, it’s made me feel worse about myself, because I could never stick to it. Does that mean that exercise doesn’t work for depressed individuals? Not at all, it just meant that it didn’t work for me. It’s in this way that arguments from experience are extremely compelling; the ones it works the best on are those that make the arguments in the first place. As we’ll see later on, it’s also why they’re potentially the most dangerous sort of evidence.First of all, slightly less depressed, even if not statistically valid, has to be better than the same or more depressed.“And here we get to the crux of the problem. The results from TREAD found that those in the intervention group were very slightly less depressed at the end of it all, when compared to the control group, but this difference wasn’t statistically significant (or, in the article, ‘valid’). ‘Significant’ (and ‘valid’, but for different reasons) is one of those words that means different things for scientists and the public. In everyday terms, if something is significant, it means that it’s really important – for example, the European Championships is a significant tournament in the footballing calendar; it’s a huge honour if you even get picked to play in it, let alone win it. So when you say that something’s not significant, like a result from a study in which some people become slightly less depressed, the impression you get is that of a cold and heartless scientist; someone who doesn’t care that a patient got a bit better, because it ’didn’t fit with the rest of the results’. Significance in the scientific or statistical sense, though, doesn’t mean this. If something is statistically significant, it means that it is unlikely to have occurred because of random, chance factors. What that means for the TREAD study is that, yes, some people did get a bit better, but we can’t be sure whether that’s because of the intervention they were given, or because of something else that happened to them. In this way, it’s a form of caution. It’s great that some people got better – it would be great if even more did – but if they didn’t get better because of the treatment, then there’s no point in rolling that treatment out (at great expense) across the NHS. ”Second, it is unclear, to me at least, what stage of depression the participants were at. Yes, if somebody was so depressed that they can’t face getting out of bed, ordering them to go for a 10km run probably wouldn’t do the trick. Indeed, it might make them feel considerably worse.This is actually a fair point – it’s really good practice to critique studies in this sort of way. We have to be sure that the people being tested are appropriate for the study. Moreover, it’s difficult – as the article states – to compare how the intervention might affect someone who is diagnosed with dysthymia to someone with severe depression. You need to try and keep your patient population as similar as possible to each other in lots of different ways, so you can be more sure that the results you get are because of the intervention you’re providing, rather than because of individual differences in the patients. From reading the BMJ article, it looks like the researchers performed a pretty comprehensive baseline screening session, and had quite detailed exclusion criteria. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect; scientific studies never are. But the right sorts of protocols seem to have been followed.However, we depressives don’t “use” exercise like this – it’s not a panacea, it’s a means of managing depression once we’re beginning to feel better or when it is in remission; a way of keeping it at bay."So just when you think the article’s getting better, your hopes get completely undermined by this sort of statement; lumping ‘depressives’ together into a characterless group, defined only by the fact that they’re all depressed. Making a point about how it’s important to consider individual differences, and then completely ignoring your own advice straight away is an automatic fail and renders the rest of the argument redundant.I’ll finish by going back to the points about arguments from experience, summed up nicely in the final sentence of the article:Perhaps we should rely on self-knowledge rather than research when it comes to depression. After all, nobody knows your own body and mind quite like you do. So sod the academics, I’m off for a run.No. No no no no no. No. The absolute last thing that we should be doing is relying on self-knowledge. If you rely on anecdotal evidence, then health policies (any sorts of policies, actually) just become a shouting match where whoever yells the loudest gets their way. Sometimes, when I get depressed, I eat loads of chocolate. Sometimes it makes me feel better. If we were to appeal to self-knowledge, then on the basis of my ‘evidence’, the NHS would be sponsored by Cadbury’s and we’d be paying £7.40 for a bar of Dairy Milk at the pharmacy. And weirdly, it might actually work for some people. The thing is, other treatments would work better and for more people. So for the vast majority of people, eating chocolate would not only be a monumental waste of time and money for everyone involved, it would also have the more threatening implication that people would not be having the proper treatment that they should be getting – the one that actually works. The only way that we can figure out what those treatments are is through randomised controlled trials and solid, objective research. So, what we need to take home from the TREAD study is that, while having someone support you and provide advice on your exercise regime might help some people with depression, it doesn’t seem to work for most – so at this point in time, it’s probably a good idea not to spend loads of money rolling it out across the country. We need to look at it again, and think about why it’s not working (and who knows? That sort of research might find something that does work for everyone). What we shouldn’t be doing is writing sensationalist articles that misrepresent both the study in particular, and science in general. It doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Transit of Venus from St Werburghs Hill, Bristol! (from Suzi Gage's blog)

Wed, 06/06/2012 - 8:08am

VENUS.jpegAfter seeing Paige‘s post about witnessing the transit of Venus, I thought I’d share my pictures from my slightly less glamorous location!When the planet Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun, this is known as a transit. Rather than an eclipse where the moon can completely obscure the sun, you can see Venus as a small dot passing over the sun (in the above photo Venus is on the edge of the sun at 1 o’clock, if the sun were a clockface). Venus transits occur in regular repeating patterns of 243 years, with gaps of 121.5 years, 8 years, 105.5 years and 8 years. It was 8 years since the last transit, so we’re in for a long wait until the next one!I awoke from a vivid dream about watching the transit at 4.45am, fell out of bed and into some clothes, and wandered bleary eyed to St Werburghs hill in North Bristol.moon.jpegThe moon was visible, but there was a lot of cloud cover in the direction of the sun!cloud.jpegGradually it cleared, and my boyfriend revealed he’d brought a thermos of tea up the hill – things were looking up!breakincloud.jpegFinally, the cloud cleared enough to catch these images! The telescope belonged to one of the 3 other people who’d ventured out at that early hour!telescopecloud.jpegadjustingtelescopt.jpeg

Transit of Venus from the Bayou, Louisiana! (from Paige Brown's blog)

Wed, 06/06/2012 - 1:43am

Images of the sun as the planet Venus crosses in between us and the sun! Taken with my Canon Powershot digital camera and sun-gazing filter, as I sat atop a levee overlooking the Mississippi river in Baton Rouge, LA. Venus can be seen as a dark dot in the upper right corner of the sun. The other dark spots on the sun, I learned from an LSU Physics and Astronomy student who sat next to me during the event, are sun spots, where the sun is ultra-active! Yes, the sun has spots and blemishes too! IMG_2834_mod.jpgIMG_2830.JPGIMG_2819.JPGTransit of venus watch.jpgMe and my dog Mojo watching the transit! Photo compliments of an LSU Biological Engineering student sitting next to us!

Fly Scout Fly is a new video about Greg Walker's work with unmanned vehicles in Alaska. (from Liz O'Connell's blog)

Tue, 06/05/2012 - 4:00pm

Aircraft_FlyScoutFly.jpgFairbanks, Alaska, June , 2012—- “So our job is to get it out there, get exposure to the technology, get people to understand it’s benefits and its limitations. And see how it can solve their problems.” said Greg Walker, Unmanned Aircraft Program Manager at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.Impressively the Aeryon Scout has proven it’s got the “right stuff” to fly in the Aleutian Islands. Or is it the operators who have figured out how to make it work? You be the judge. Watch Fly Scout Fly, the first video about Walker’s testing of practical applications for unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV’s) in Alaska. Keep in mind, the Aleutian islands are noted for their winds—25 knots is a normal wind speed, high seas—think over 10 foot sea waves like in the “Deadliest Catch”, and unpredictability—their vessel the Norseman waited 2 days in a cove as hurricanes blew through. Since the April 2011 web launch, Frontier Scientists continues to share first person accounts and real time insights from leading archaeologists, grizzly bear biologists, volcano researchers, climate change specialists and other scientists.The research covers these categories:GrizzliesPetroglyphsPaleo-Eskimo HistoryCook Inlet VolcanoesComputational ScienceAlutiiq WeaversClimate Change WatchArctic Winter Cruisethe Arctic’s Amazing BirdsRaven Bluff & Archaeology*Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft ResearchFascinating video of current scientific discoveries in some of the Arctic’s most remote and dramatic landscapes are chronicled in short videos, Twitter feeds, blogs and web reports. “We want to let travelers, teachers, students, aspiring scientists, and anyone else interested in science feel as if they are with scientists as they track grizzlies or take the temperature of permafrost in a borehole,” explained Liz O’Connell, video director for Frontier Scientists. Visitors to Frontier Scientists can ask questions to our scientists directly; follow some of them on Twitter and Facebook, and converse with scientists on their blogs.Frontier Scientists is funded by the National Science Foundation, with additional support from the National Park Service and 360 Degrees North. Follow us! View Alaska videos at www.FrontierScientists.com.

Bubbles for Life (from Paige Brown's blog)

Tue, 06/05/2012 - 12:33am

Soap bubbles…They are a childhood delight. Big and billowy, small and ephemeral… all bubbles are magical.IMG_2776_2.jpgBut the properties of bubbles are more important to life than we can fathom as toddlers chasing magical floating circles around the yard at dusk. Bubbles are a form of self-assembled monolayers… the thin soap-water-soap layer that forms the bubble assembles by itself (given the proper puff of air from our lips into the soap-covered bubble stick, of course).bq. “I do not suppose that there is any one in this room who has not occasionally blown a common soap-bubble, and while admiring the perfection of its form, and the marvelous brilliancy of its colours, wondered how it is that such a magnificent object can be so easily produced.” – Soap Bubbles and the Forces Which Mould Them, 1959 Soap bubbles self-assemble because of the properties of the soap molecules themselves. Soap molecules are amphiphilic, from the Greek ‘amphis’ meaning both and ‘philia’ meaning love. Each soap molecule has one side that is attracted to water, or water-loving, and one side that is repelled by water, or water-hating. This dual-sided nature of soap molecules causes them to arrange themselves into structures such that all the water-loving ends face water – in other words, they face the water layer inside the thin film that surrounds the air at the center of a bubble. On the other hand, the water-hating ends – also called hydrocarbon chains – face the air outside the bubble or the air inside the bubble… but not the water inside the bubble’s film. Because of their amphiphilic nature, soap molecules automatically form circular structures – a core of air surrounded by a soap-water-soap film in which the water-hating ends of soap molecules crowd to either the inner or outer surface of the bubble – that minimize the energy inherent in the system. Think of lazy bubbles.This energy-minimization effort on the part of soap molecules and bubbles also gives rise to the typically spherical shape of bubbles. Surface tension tends to mould bubbles into perfectly spherical shapes to minimize the area of the bubble that is surface for a given bubble volume_, because energy is highest at the surface of the bubble. Beautifully for our childhood imaginations, the structure with the smallest surface area to volume ratio is the perfect sphere (there is a mathematical proof to show that this is true… trust me).All the pretty colors…One of the more beautiful traits of bubbles are the brilliant ‘rainbow’ colors that can be seen at their surfaces. Bubbles shine with bands of color because of the interference of light wavesinterference being reflected and refracted (as in a prism) from both the outer soap interface (air-soap-water) and the inner soap interface (water-soap-air). Remember that a bubble has three layers: soap, water, soap. This interference of light waves depends on the thickness of the soap bubble. Thin bubbles that are about to pop may appear dark (with no color) because the light waves reflected from the inner and outer soap interfaces cancel each other out. Thicker bubbles display vibrant colors separated out of white light because the light waves reflected from the inner and outer soap interfaces combine together. Because different colors of light have different wavelengths (length from the crest of the wave to the trough of the wave, just like in an ocean wave), different colors of light waves cancel out or add together as they are reflected from bubbles of different film thicknesses: bubbles can appear to be different colors dependent on the thickness of their films! Over time, a bubble loses its inner water layer (due to evaporation of the water), meaning that the bubble’s thickness decreases over time as it floats across your yard. This means (magically indeed) that the color of a bubble can change over time as its thickness decreases until the bubble pops!I didn’t mean to burst your bubble…So if a soap bubble forms so easily through of self-assembly, why doesn’t the bubble stay around longer? Why does it eventually have to burst?The answer to this question is that it’s all about pressure. Starting out, the pressure on the inside of the bubble is greater than the pressure on the outside. As the bubble floats around your kitchen or around your yard, especially if you are blowing bubbles in the sunlight, the water inside the thin film of the bubble will start to evaporate. Eventually the pressure difference from inside to outside the bubble becomes too great for the thinning bubble film to withstand, and thus the bubble bursts!A bubble can also burst when it comes into contact with a dry surface, because the dry surface sucks the water out from within your bubble’s thin film! So here is a tip: keep your hands wet when trying to catch a bubble!What is the big deal about bubbles?So I said that the properties of bubbles are important to life itself. This isn’t just because bubbles make us happy, thus improving our quality of life! This is because the self-assembling soap-water-soap layer of a bubble is very similar to the self-assembling lipid bilayer that forms the membrane around each and every single one of the cells in your body. The cell membrane lipid bilayer is composed of amphiphilic molecules similar to soap molecules. The water-loving ends of these molecules face the outside and inside of your cells, as both the outside and inside environment of the cells in our bodies are composed largely of water! The water-hating ends of these molecules, however, crowd together inside the film that composes a cell membrane. This lipid bilayer structure surrounds the entire cell, and serves as a barrier to intruders (like bacteria) and keeps the cell in a defined shape. Bubbles and bilayers.jpgSo, what do you see when you look at a bubble now? More than a billowy colorful childhood delight?Images:1. By Paige Brown. Not for reproduction.2. Wiki

Plant Genetic Material (miRNAs) can Alter Animal Gene Expression (from Linda Lin's blog)

Mon, 06/04/2012 - 11:45am

Eat your greens & grains! It’s not just the macromolecular nutrients in them that are good for you (the natural carbs & proteins), but the genes too. Yup, plant genes can change the expression of our genes, and we just have to eat them.Relatively recently, Zhang et. al. suggested that rice miR168 can regulate fat metabolism in animals and humans after eating rice. They were able to detect the plant miR168 in the sera/blood of multiple animals. It was also found in multiple organs. If you follow the time course experiment (at the bottom), they also observed that miR168 levels went up in the sera of rice fed mice. Moreover, miR168 levels were higher in mice that were on rice diets v.s. control mice that were on non-rice diets (chow). (credit: stevendepolo )It’s pretty ground breaking, as it is unprecedented. The question had arisen before, can the genetic material from one organism in another kingdom affect the gene regulation of another? Or more specifically, can potent genetic regulators in one species affect another? (and..how different are we from other living things are we anyways? if viruses and bacteria can invade our cells and alter our genetic expression patterns,…why not plants?)Initially I thought it was too far fetched…But now there’s in vivo and in vitro evidence by Zhang et al in Cell research". The article’s also summarized by Vaucheret et al. who characterized the function of miR168 in plants, Ingested plant miRNAs regulate gene expression in animals, published online last October 2011 in Cell Research. And a pop sci/easily read/short article is available on Science DailyA few interesting findings of the report:mature miRNAs are highly stable *(hell, they got through the human’s highly toxic digestive system that likes to break things down into bits at different pH levels and temperatures with multiple different chemicals and enzymes. And it somehow passed through the equally diligent liver & biliary and renal systems that like to eliminate biomolecules). The authors of the paper found traces of a particular plant miRNA (rice miR168a) in human sera (type of blood fluid), time course experiments have suggested that miR168 levels go up in sera with time after initial ingestion. This means that potentially in the future, RNAi therapeutic drugs can be given orally. Also, if RNAi drugs can be cloned into plant miRNA genes, it may be possible to produce vegan friendly oral medication. sequence of miRNAs in humans showed that 5% of them corresponded to plant miRNAs they later showed they are bona fide plant miRNAs through sequencing (refer to link to paper below). miRNAs and possibly other small RNAs may also be considered important essential nutrients, particularly in controlling fat The role of plant miR168a in humans is thought to limit the expression level of a low density lipoprotein receptor adapter protein in the liver, which removes lipoproteins from blood & stops their circulation to other organs in your body. Typically, lipoproteins function in shuttling fat and cholesterol to your fat cells in the rest of your body. (yea it makes you fat if you have too much, otherwise it’s important to have fat as they help make up the membranes in your cells). Removing lipoproteins from your blood, reduces fat in your cells. Rough conclusion, miR168 appears to be good for you. in the study, rice miR168 was the one found in the blood of Chinese men and women. Additionally, levels of miR168 was high in mice fed on a rice diet, compared to control mice who were not. plant miRNAs regulate animal genes like other animal miRNAs In other words, in plants, miRNAs have one particular role. In animals, they do something else entirely. In this case, it was generally believed that plant miRNA mainly silence other genes by degrading their mRNA and animal ones inhibit protein synthesis (this opinion is changing). No one was previously sure what would happen if plant miRNAs were introduced into animals, would they follow the same pattern of silencing? Apparently not, they go with the flow of other animal miRNAs. It also suggests that sequences in miRNAs themselves are read differently by different proteins. Truly, there’s unresolved complexity in how the sequences determine the mechanism for silencing other genes (there are so many different mechanisms, including mRNA degradation, DNA methylation etc.). In this case, plant miR168 controls AGO1 levels. AGO1 being the main protein in plants that interacts with miRNAs to silence other genes. Thus it has an important regulatory role of endogenous miRNA pathways. It’s a genetic regulator of other similar genetic regulators. Of course in humans, it has another role entirely, it controls liver protein levels responsible in regulating the amount of fat in your body :PNerd.Mind.Blown.

What's in a Name? (from Graham Morehead's blog)

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 10:21pm
me-arabica2.jpg

<!-- Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render --> <!-- Place this tag where you want the StumbleUpon badge to render --> ')What’s in a name? What sort of self-awareness does it take to call yourself something? What if you didn’t have one? In Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, Wang Lung’s oldest daughter remains unnamed throughout her life. Would you experience the world differently if you had no name?

Take an idea, any idea. If you have a word for it, you can pin it down. You can refer to it efficiently. That concept can now be used as a reference point. Your name is a reference point for self-contemplation and interaction with others. It can help you find your place in the world.

Many other animals treat each other as individuals, exhibiting long-term memories of who has done each of them favors or harm, but do any of them have names? Scientists look for animals which create sounds that appear to be unique to each individual. One such animal is the squirrel monkey.

squirrel_monkey.pngWhen alone, the squirrel monkey will often make a sound that is unique to each individual. Scientists call this sound an isolation peep [Animal Behaviour]. Does this constitute a name? Is it just a unique sound that carries identity information. Is there even a difference?

Consider another intelligent animal, the bottlenose dolphin. For years, scientists have debated whether the bottlenose dolphin has a so-called signature whistle. Unlike the squirrel monkey, the bottlenose has not been observed making this noise in isolation (at least according to McCowan and Reiss). However, they have been recorded using their signature whistles in a much more interesting way — meetings and introductions.

Emperor-Dolphins-credit-Irena-Tyfora.jpgWhen bottlenose dolphins meet at sea they exchange signature whistles. The dolphins of one group speak their signature whistles to the other group [MORE]. Often it is one dolphin making the whistles of other dolphins in his group [PRS]. It really seems like these are names. It doesn’t even matter who says them. In another study it was found that dolphins recognized the names of their family members even if they were computer generated [PNAS].

Names are a sign of intelligence, but there are many other signs which indicate that these dolphins are extraordinarily intelligent.

dolphin-child.jpgBottlenoses are renowned for the complexity of their long-term relationships. It’s hard to guess which came first, complex relationships or names. They do favors for each other and are able to remember those favors, but not just on an individual basis. Groups and groups of groups can remember what favors were done for them by others. It has been observed that such relationships can last decades [PRS]. The main driver of these relationships is mating, of course. The common favor that one male does for another is to fend of others while his friend is attempting to mate [PLOS]. That’s what I call a wingman.

Dolphins play. Their sounds sometimes indicate play [MORE]. Bottlenoses have an inquisitive playfulness which to me looks very human. Watch this video of a dolphin playing with bubbles [VIDEO]

Bottlenose dolphins use tools. They can learn and they can train others. One group of dolphins was observed to use sponges as tools. We have reason to believe the behavior was learned. Each generation trains the next [PNAS]

Theory of Mind is something we humans have. It means we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We can draw conclusions about the mental state of another being based purely on external observations. Dolphins may have theory of mind, and they might be altruistic to boot. On a continuing basis, the bottlenose dolphins of Laguna, Brazil, cooperate with humans to help them fish [DailyMail]. Regularly, the fishermen gather in the shallows of the bay, each with a net. The dolphins can be seen herding the fish toward the humans. When the moment is right, the dolphins send the signal by slapping their tails repeatedly on the surface. The fishermen end up hauling in a great deal of fish.

It is not clear that the dolphins get much out of this interation. It is clear that the dolphins that participate are the same ones that act more cooperatively toward other dolphins. These dolphins are beloved by the fishermen, who have names for each dolphin and can recognize them on sight [VIDEO].

I leave you with this final note: Don’t let the dolphins drown. Dolphins are continually getting caught in nets. They die if not freed within 15 minutes [MORE]. We’ve got to protect these creatures. We should develop our relationship with them. It’s amazing that dolphins can be so intelligent and astounding that they may even have names. Our increasing knowledge of biology tends to find new ways in which we humans are not unique. If we care about humans, we should care about the bottlenose dolphin. The way they think about themselves and experience the world is so much like us. They may be the most similar to us of any species we know of.

“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” -Andrew Carnegie

dolphin-net.jpg

LINKS:

Dolphins Name Themselves With Whistles, Study Says

Dolphins’ Unique Whistles Say, ‘Hey! Come Play!’

Signature whistle shape conveys identity information to bottlenose dolphins

Why Are Male Social Relationships Complex in the Doubtful Sound Bottlenose Dolphin Population?

Donate Today to Save Dolphins from Nets

Bottlenose dolphins exchange signature whistles when meeting at sea

Vincent Janik

Dolphins at sea greet each other

Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins

Individuality and stability of isolation peeps in squirrel monkeys

The fallacy of ‘signature whistles’ in bottlenose dolphins

Use of signature whistles during separations and reunions by wild bottlenose dolphin mothers and infants

Context-specific use suggests that bottlenose dolphin signaturewhistles are cohesion calls

Trying to sell "original" data is like... (from Linda Lin's blog)

Sun, 06/03/2012 - 1:55am

from: Dropping The Science total fail sometimes? always gotta have that precedence to every trend. no matter how unusual or unexpected.

Liable to confusion (from Lee Turnpenny's blog)

Fri, 06/01/2012 - 5:00am

Since the recent Queen’s Speech, and its welcome inclusion of ‘A B I L L TO Amend the law of defamation’, I confess, despite welcoming such a positive development, that I’ve been scratching my head somewhat. I wonder that I’m missing something. I’m no lawyer (and my clarification-seeking e-mails to relevant bodies with obvious heavy workloads are apparently of insufficient priority), so am happy to be put right on anything here. But I don’t see the justification (yet) for some of the congratulatory back-slapping. I mean, hang on a minute, are we satisfied that this Defamation Bill goes far enough? Or that it sufficiently clarifies pertinent matters?Nature_’s responding editorialid=NATURE-20120517 seemingly delights in the Bill’s benefits to science. Which, being a scientific journal, is understandable. It cites the ongoing libel case brought against it by Mohamed El Naschie. But, as far as I can make out, this was an information/opinion article, not a peer-reviewed research paper. (Although I’m not sure, because we can’t read the thing. Why has it been pulled when verdict as to its libellous content still awaits?) Peer-reviewed publications were never the issue, were they? Or is it such, assuming the Bill gets through, that any opinion article in a peer-reviewed science journal must now also have those opinion(s) peer-reviewed? Doesn’t scientific discourse, by its impersonal, evidential, dispassionate nature, already cater for this? Nothing goes in without an editor’s assent anyhow. I’m not sure whether this is a potential recipe for (self-)censorship, or for abuse of free licence.So, all good for scientists, then – providing they stick to peer-reviewed journals which, in case it need be stated, most of the public does not read. But what of the interested citizen (scientist/journalist) who seeks to venture an informed honest opinion outside the academic cocoon?As Simon Singh vs British Chiropractic Association demonstrated, (one of) the reason(s) why our libel laws needed reforming was to protect the individual expressing informed opinion on matters of public interest, from organisations or corporations making unsubstantiated claims as to the efficacy of some product/treatment, etc. Anyone with half a quizzical brain must have frowned at the BCA’s refusal to accept the offered right-of-reply opportunity to cite the evidence in substantiation of its claims, thereby knocking Singh’s article off the pages for good. It didn’t because it couldn’t. The BCA bit off more than it could intellectually chew. And Singh, by his own admission, was financially able to stand his ground; plus he had a public profile, which is advantageous to garnering support. He is one of the heroic catalysts for the libel reform progress made. Yet, as I read him, he too is still concerned by the limitations of this Bill. I wonder what would have become of (a similar article by) someone less capable. And will they be any better protected if the Bill gets passed as it is? Are we to understand that, if something akin to Singh’s article was in future published in, say, Nature, it would automatically be untouchable? But if published by an informed public opinion holder operating outside academe, say in a national newspaper, or in a blog, would he/she remain vulnerable? As I read Section 5 of the Bill, the blogger is afforded little, if any, protection by his/her platform provider:bq. 5 Operators of websitesbq. ’(2) It is a defence for the operator [of a website] to show that it was not the operator who posted the statement on the website.’All reputation (where the ‘reputation’ that corporations pay their ‘reputation managers’ and lawyers to bleat on about often really means profits ) should be honestly challengeable. Remember, this country’s libel laws have been ripe for abuse because they allow for corporations and organisations to bring libel actions, not because they necessarily want to fleece the defendant for damages, but because they seek to bring about retraction and stifle open debate – ie, censorship (by threatening to fleece the defendant). I am not convinced that this Bill provides better protection for the honest individual from such bullies. Nature_’s ‘Honest opinions’ editorialid=NATURE-20120517 of 16/17 May 2012 states:bq. ‘And would-be claimants will have to show that their reputation has suffered serious harm.’No they won’t. Section 1 of the Bill states:bq. 1 Serious harmbq. ‘A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.’ (My emphasis in bold.)This is explicated in the Bill’s accompanying EXPLANATORY NOTES document; specifically:bq. COMMENTARY ON CLAUSESbq. Clause 1: Serious harmbq. ‘This clause provides that a statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant. The provision extends to situations where publication is likely to cause serious harm in order to cover situations where the harm has not yet occurred at the time the action for defamation is commenced.’ (My emphasis in bold.)So the plaintiff does not have to demonstrate any actual overt harm; they can bring a case based merely on their prediction that it is likely to, and the onus remains on the defendant, even though there is no harm being ‘suffered’. And something else concerns:bq. 4 Responsible publication on matter of public interestbq. ’(2) … in determining… whether a defendant acted responsibly in publishing a statement the matters to which the court may have regard include (amongst other matters)—bq. (i) the tone of the statement.’ (My emphasis in bold.)Whence, then, satire?If this Bill privileges scientists’ opinions in academic journals, whilst limiting them (and anybody else’s) in other public fora, it does not go far enough. And as it is (although I might be stretching my logic here), I am not entirely unconvinced that the ‘privileged statement’ defence might potentially be detrimental to public perception and trust of scientists, arrogantly sheltered in the academic peer-review bunker, wary of wider public pronouncement on controversial issues. Which would be regressive.So, now I’ve exposed my over-hysterical lack of legal nous, feel free to put me right. I promise I won’t sue.

Bath salts - does what it says on the tin? (from Suzi Gage's blog)

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 9:10am

mephedrone.pngI was alarmed yesterday to see a news report about a man ‘eating another man’s face’. Assuming it to be the beginning of a zombie apocalypse I grabbed my axe and started packing up to head to the safe house, but luckily I decided to read the rest of the article before hermetically sealing myself in.Apparently, the ‘new LSD’ is to blame, a drug called ‘bath salts’ (by the media, not by users). Interesting, so what is it? Well, one problem with legal highs is that in most cases they are unregulated white powders. So, it could be anything. However, most often, ‘bath salts’ is a name used in the USA by online retailers selling mephedrone. In the UK it was sold as ‘plant food’ (to get around medicines and trading standards laws, it could only be sold as ‘not for human consumption), but was occasionally marketed as ’bath salts’ too. You might recognise the name, as in the UK in 2009 and 2010, the drug got a lot of coverage (as miaow miaow – again not called that by users). It was hailed as ‘the new ecstacy’, and was blamed for incidents such as a man ripping off his own scrotum, to the deaths of two young men in Scunthorpe. The Government acted fast and duly made the drug illegal, yet both of these cases turned out to be unrelated to mephedrone (see here* and here). So could this drug turn a man into a ‘flesh eating zombie’, who, when ordered to stop by the police, turns, blood dripping from his face, and growls? Well, maybe. But so could any number of things. At present, there is no evidence that he took anything, let alone mephedrone. One policeman at the scene and one emergency-room doctor have speculated that this was the case, but toxicology tests are ongoing. As an aside, I have not found a single report that interviews someone other than Dr Paul Adams as a medical expert, which strikes me as a little peculiar, but maybe he’s simply the designated press contact for that hospital.Severe psychosis can sometimes bring about extremely violent behaviour, which could result in scenes like those in Miami. Sometimes psychotic episodes can occur while intoxicated on drugs, but this isn’t specific to mephedrone, or other legal highs. Intoxication psychoses have been reported for amphetamines and cannabis, but psychosis often occurs without any drug use. I don’t have a lot of information to go on (mainly the Daily Mail and CBS), and have no evidence for its accuracy, but reports about the man suggest he may have suffered from paranoia in the past, and had shown violent behaviour towards his girlfriends. Of course, this doesn’t mean he was psychotic, and equally it doesn’t mean that all psychotic people will be violent. Psychosis is a very complicated disorder, which can result from many different causes, and can manifest itself in a variety of ways.Until toxicology reports come back and more is known about what, if anything, this man took, speculation is really unhelpful, and sensationalising drug use could potentially make more people try an unregulated white powder, which could be anything.* I’m awaiting confirmation from an author of a paper that I can’t access that this is the case, it’s linked to on wiki as the citation for the story being a hoax…will update as and when.

When GIFs say a thousand words (from Linda Lin's blog)

Wed, 05/30/2012 - 6:56am

If you haven’t heard or seen this site, you absolutely-have-to-check-it out sometime. (Although I get the feeling someone’s probably already posted about it….lemme know if someone haz ^^)It’s called What Should We Call Grad School over on Tumblr.So far, it’s one of the most creative forms of blogging I’ve seen (not that I go around blogs that much :/, so what do I know really?). Best of all, it’s a FANtastic way to waste time & procrastinate. All entries are gifs with one or two phrases that have a research/science twist, expressing the irony of what the author of the post feels. (gif = graphics interchange format = few seconds short animation). Grads around the web contribute by submitting their potentially funny gifs to the blogger who posts up a selection. Just a taste:Taken from the Site~Right when my research starts to go smoothly, WHAM!: Bycolorandnumber)There’s also an equally cheeky sister site called What should we call Med School here’s what they think about grads:For our Ph.D Friends out there“When I realized I should have gone to med school.”“It’s not too late!”