Author Archives: Alison

Twitter is a Wretched Hive…

Twitter is a Wretched Hive…

As @gorskon (on Twitter, find his blog on likes to say…of scum an villainy. My account there started off in 2014 because a friend had signed up, and I decided to give it a try. It soon became my favorite, and it wasn’t long before I began being engaged by anti-vaxers trying to convert me to their cause. Dr. Gorski had changed my mind about science, which I’d always hated because I didn’t understand it. But actual scientists and science advocates are very generous with their knowledge and resources, so I soon found myself getting links to research papers, textbook excerpts, and scholarly articles from them. And whatever I didn’t understand, they explained until I got it. This was…ummm…27 years ago, I think?

Twitter has been a phenomenal source for this. Many of the scientists I ended up following became friends as well, and I’ve met some of my moots in real life, shared video calls, had ongoing DM conversations. It’s been delightful.

So over time, my main account became a science advocacy one as well as a social one. (It’s part of the reason my blog has been inactive for so long!) Much of it, of course, was countering anti-vax misinformation, because anti-vaxers are deeply committed to all kinds of pseudoscience and outright woo. They have a high-profile presence in this regard.

But it was manageable.

Until Covid19.

It brought the purveyors of dangerous, often deadly, misinformation out in droves. And it has changed my, and many others’, experience of Twitter. Never have we had to repeat the same debunking of the same lies so many times. Never has it been so obvious that Twitter rules and Terms of Service are there only for the sake of appearance. Accounts that exist for the purpose of disseminating outright lies and selling useless and even dangerous substances to purportedly treat or prevent Covid19 flout these rules with impunity. Individuals who repeat these lies and spread ludicrous rumors about the disease and the vaccines we currently have to prevent it are protected by Twitter. We know this because we report them, and nearly every report comes back saying that Twitter sees no violation.


Yes, this is personal. I’ve had my account locked twice and four tweets hidden for violating their rules about Covid19 misinformation, even though a human being reading them would know immediately that they were correcting misinformation being spread by covidiots. They apologized for the hidden tweets and the first lockout, which did no good because it came after my account would have been unlocked anyway. This time, well…

They locked me for telling a covidiot that when vaccines were found to have potentially dangerous side effects or could cause dangerous adverse events, they were withdrawn from the market. It was determined that this tweet was spreading “misleading and potentially harmful information about Covid19.” I kid you not. When I appealed it, they changed their minds and said they were upholding my lockout for a completely different reason.


We’re writing to let you know that your account features will remain limited for the allotted time due to violations of the Twitter Rules, specifically our rules against abusive behavior.

To ensure that people feel safe expressing diverse opinions and beliefs on our platform, we do not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse. This includes behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another person’s voice.

Please note that continued abusive behavior may lead to the suspension of your account. To avoid having your account suspended, please only post content that abides by the Twitter Rules:



In the meantime, no action whatsoever has been taken regarding the tweets I reported from the account to which I was responding. You can check it out and scratch your heads as to why not…

I’m far from the only one. Twitter has locked/suspended/banned many scientists, doctors, researchers, science teachers, and other science advocates for years while ignoring the huge amount of “diverse opinions and beliefs” that are the reason we’re still in a pandemic. Many of them left and never came back. I don’t want to leave because of the friends I’ve made there and the education I continue to receive from science twitter.

So…my blog will have to come back to life so I can call out the ghouls and death merchants Twitter feels deserve a platform. It’ll take some time for my ADHD brain to get used to doing this, and I’ll have to figure out a way to get images on here without having to pay a site for image hosting. But I need to do this, because if Twitter is going to allow people to lie about a disease that’s killed millions and disabled millions more, it needs to be publicized. I might not be able to make a huge dent, but I can’t just do nothing. Wish me luck!

Anti-vax and Immunity From Cognitive Dissonance

Anti-vax and Immunity From Cognitive Dissonance

I spend entirely too much time on Twitter reading and participating in arguments with anti-vaxers. This is not to convince them they’re wrong so much as to convince fence-sitters and lurkers they’re wrong. Because they are. Their arguments go around in circles so fast, you could get whiplash trying to follow them. I’m going to try to compose a post that follows some order despite the subject matter being so disordered.

Anti-vaxers can’t decide what’s wrong with vaccines

First there was Wakefield…and the argument that the MMR vaccine caused autism. It’s been widely debunked by many large, well-designed studies, but that means nothing to the anti-vax community. So little that they went looking for something that the researchers had missed, like thimerosal. Which wasn’t in the MMR, and which has been also thoroughly tested, and whose removal from all childhood vaccines besides flu had no effect on the rates of autism diagnosis. Anti-vaxers like to call it mercury and equate this ethyl mercury with methyl mercury or even elemental mercury so that the miniscule amount that’s in a vaccine that you can get without it is so neurotoxic that getting a single flu vaccine is even more dangerous than getting all the vaccines before thimerosal was removed from them.

Well, something has to cause autism, right? So it’s the aluminum adjuvants! You can explain all you want about the ubiquity of aluminum in the environment, the amount in our brains that we tolerate just fine that far exceeds the amount in a vaccine, the fact that there is more aluminum in what we eat and breathe every day than in a full course of vaccines over years, or that the only people who’ve ever shown deleterious effects from aluminum have had renal failure or renal failure plus parenteral nutrition.

And again, they misrepresent aluminum adjuvants as elemental aluminum. The adjuvants are a compound that’s designed to stimulate an immune response and then get flushed out by the kidneys in short order. Anti-vaxers’ arguments frequently depend on a deliberate misunderstanding of chemical compounding. One I butted heads with frequently declared “pro-vaxers think aluminum is salt!” when presented with both the explanation of how the adjuvant is an aluminum salt, not elemental aluminum, but also with the example of how dangerous sodium is on its own, but how safe it is when combined with a chloride to make table salt. You can’t make this stuff up. They want to take the aluminum hydroxide out of the vaccines, but that means using more of the antigen or using a live virus instead of a weakened or killed one…so clearly if we did that, the vaccines would be even less safe, so we shouldn’t have them at all! You can’t win here.

They’ll move the goalposts over to formaldehyde. As with ethyl mercury and aluminum hydroxide, no amount of telling them about the dose making the poison will have an impact. And as with aluminum, no amount of comparing natural levels of exposure will convince them that they survive worse than vaccines. The amount of formaldehyde inn our bodies is already several thousand times higher than what’s in a vaccine, and is absolutely vital for cell reproduction. As well, the most dangerous way to be exposed to formaldehyde is through the lungs. Some anti-vaxers will reiterate the injection vs. ingestion trope here, forgetting entirely that vaccines aren’t inhaled. Tell them that baby’s going to breathe in a ton of formaldehyde from the new clothes and sheets and stuffed toys than he’s going to get from a vaccine, and you’ll get all kinds of crazy responses. Or blocked.

Now, when it’s actually penetrated to one or two of them that these individual ingredients are not toxic or not toxic in the amounts given in vaccines, they will often turn to “synchronous toxicity,” which means that it’s THE COMBINATION of all of these at once that creates a devastating neurotoxin. At this point, they will probably have told you that since there are no studies of the individual ingredients vs. saline (the only placebo they will accept) that we need to look into synchronous toxicity. Forget that the vaccines are tested for this every time they’re not tested vs. saline. Or that we have decades of clinical data to show that VACCINES ARE SAFE AND DON’T CAUSE AUTISM. I suppose we’ll have to devise tests on every possible combination of ingredients using saline as a placebo until we get the results the anti-vaxers want.

Anti-vaxers will read only poorly designed studies

They will also misinterpret good studies and cite them as proof of their anti-vax claims, not knowing that the studies actually contradict them.

Their favorite studies on ethyl mercury are the ones that say “since we didn’t have information on the toxicity of ethyl mercury, we substituted the numbers for methyl mercury.” If you give them the actual information on ethyl mercury, they’ll find a reason to dismiss it or ignore it entirely. Or block you.

They still insist that the studies that seemed to indicate higher levels of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients (currently not considered supportive of causation) are clearly also supportive of less than a microgram of aluminum in a vaccine causing ASD. They will play math games that make it look like all the vaccines are given at once so as to compare it to a single day of exposure from food, or they’ll insist that “injection is different from ingestion” as if that causes the aluminum in a vaccine to multiply from less than a microgram to several milligrams. A study comparing different kinds of aluminum adjuvants using cells in a petri dish becomes concrete evidence that all adjuvants immediately cause irreversible brain damage.

While they bang the drum of “injected vs. ingested,” they’ll dig up information on the results of exposure to high levels of inhaled formaldehyde and insist that the trace amounts of formaldehyde will, guaranteed, produce equivalent results. They can’t explain, though, why morticians and scientists who work with preserved large specimens, or people who work with textiles don’t develop autism.

As I said above regarding “synchronous toxicity,” you can provide them with long lists of studies of the individual ingredients, combinations of ingredients, individual vaccines, combination vaccines, and they simply will refuse to read them. Some dismiss them out of hand because of some perceived conflict of interest (this came from the CDC! CORRUPT!!) while others will read only the title and make all their assumptions from there. Sometimes they’ll peek at the abstract, select a sentence or a few words that they can interpret as admission of danger or doubt, screenshot it and share it as if this proves their point. On rare occasions, they’ll skim through the study with the same motivation as they had for the abstract, picking a fragment that has no impact on the data, but that they think changes everything. What they will not do is read anything critically or learn enough science to understand what constitutes a good study.

They pretend that they like diseases better than vaccines

I say this because liking the diseases involves a fair amount of mental gymnastics to paint the diseases as benign. If you tell them that worldwide, over 130,000 people died from measles, they will dutifully explain that those are only people in third world countries (they’re not) or with compromised immune systems (also wrong) or “poor health,” which boils down to victim blaming for not eating what they’re supposed to or jogging every day or whatever. Don’t ask an anti-vaxer to define “health.” You’ll never get out of that rabbit hole.

Playing with statistics is one of their favorite ways to downplay the danger of disease. They don’t want worldwide stats, they want the number of people who died in an area with high vaccine compliance during certain years. They don’t care about morbidity, only mortality, and don’t want to see outcomes based on numbers of cases if numbers based on total population better suit their narrative. They point to relatives who survived a given disease as proof that disease is harmless, and refuse to acknowledge that there are still plenty of people who lived through the epidemics and remember the people who didn’t.

One of the weirder things they argue is the dangers of “shedding.” They claim to want their kids to get “natural immunity” to preventable disease by getting the diseases themselves. They never quite explain how natural immunity to rabies or tetanus is going to help their children survive them the next time, though. Anyway, in order to prove how frightened they are of vaccines and “vaccine injury,” they support the idea that the recently vaxed will shed a disease simply by being in the same room as their precious unvaxed children. Now, shedding is possible, but only in two vaccines – rotavirus and oral polio (not given in the US anymore.) In order for these to shed, you need direct contact with urine or feces. People who get a reaction to a live virus vaccine can theoretically “shed” a weakened form of the disease, but try finding verified cases of that (I found one on PubMed after a good amount of searching.)

So here it is that they want their kids to get diseases that have serious consequences, but are terrified that they might be exposed (somehow) to a weakened form that won’t actually cause the disease. At the pediatrician’s office, they could catch measles from an infected child who left a couple of hours ago, but they’re scared of the baby that just got the MMR.

To further reinforce their fears, they have increased the number of conditions that constitute “vaccine injury” to the point that pretty much any disease or disorder is caused by vaccines no matter that it predates vaccines or has a known cause or hasn’t increased except by population increases. They also increase figures for conditions that they say are caused by vaccines (like the diseases themselves) by adding unrelated diagnoses to things like polio while also saying that the reason we see drops in VPDs in areas with high vaccine compliance is because doctors are diagnosing VPDs as other diseases to cover up the “fact” that vaccines don’t work. They are, again, terrified that their children will catch these diseases (the ones being vaccinated against, or the ones they imagine the vaccines cause) while still espousing the idea that catching these diseases is a good thing for their kids’ immune systems.

Just keep arguing

As pointless as it is to argue with people who have developed this amazing ability to resolve cognitive dissonance by ignoring it, it’s not pointless to argue with them. What you see in these discussions is this lunatic fringe, but others are reading. If those others are not entirely convinced of your point by your sharing of factual information and scientific support, they’ll quite possibly be turned away by the contorted, angry, constantly self-contradictory arguments of the anti-vaxers with whom you’re engaged. Let them dig their own holes. Keep calm and keep bringing on the science. Herd Immunity depends on it.

My Brain Diary, Part 14

My Brain Diary, Part 14

And maybe, I hope, the last. Unless something miraculous happens and there are significant improvements or something terrible happens and I need more surgery. Neither case is very likely. Things are pretty well stabilized and my MRIs continue to look good.

It’s still very frustrating that my brain doesn’t work the way it did before. People see me and talk to me and say how amazing it is, they would never know I had a problem. I respond politely because their intentions are good and they can’t possibly know how much more difficult certain things are. I guess it’s a good thing that I have ADHD, because it’s taught me how to accept that I can’t change and figure out ways to compensate instead. That doesn’t mean I have to like it!

The anomia comes and goes. I’ll have days when I’ll forget most of the names of people whose faces come into my head, not be able to tell anyone what a thing I want or am looking for is called, or even identify something I’m holding in my hand verbally. But since it happens so often, I don’t get as agitated when people try to help me by suggesting words (that are often wrong) while dredging through my memory for a connection that’ll bring the word to the surface.

I’ve learned little tricks to work around my still slightly impaired sense of direction. Most of them involve planning ahead. That’s not my forte, but I try. When I don’t, I turn on navigation on my phone. I need to look at a larger picture to get a sense of relative position of everything, so even when I’ve already been somewhere I might pull out a map and spread it out so I can position the place mentally among multiple spots I’m already familiar with.

Since the last Brain Diary, I’ve been to school for Cosmetology and am waiting for my license to arrive any day (week, month. . .) I know, it doesn’t sound sciency at all. You’d be surprised, but that’s beside the point. Learning new things and performing services with my hands was not only great occupational therapy, but also gave me insight as to some particular effects I need to work around that I might not have noticed otherwise. For example, at the beginning, I would need to hold a picture of a hairstyle up to the mirror next to my mannequin head so they were both facing the same way, because I couldn’t mentally flip images. I still have to do some extra thinking sometimes, especially if I’m looking at something that’s asymmetrical, and sometimes I need to have my hands on a head at the same time as I’m looking at a picture. I also need to go very slowly right now to create symmetry, because as I go from one side to another my visual perception and body angle change unless I pay very close attention to altering my posture and directional gaze.

I simply can’t “do the same thing on the other side.” Braiding taught me this in a singularly humiliating way. I needed to find something that stayed the same no matter which hand was working because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t mirror what my right hand was doing with my left. If you watch me as I do it, you’ll see that I don’t hold my hands or the hair the same in both hands. The harder I try, the worse I do, and the more frustrated I get. I need to look at it almost as if it were two separate things I was doing. I described it to my fellow students as if I was trying to make a braid on two different heads, one hand for each. (Plus, I need to learn this for each different braid, and there are lots of them.) It was the first thing we learned, and the last thing I figured out. I’m still a ways from mastering it, and if I make up a stunning new design, it’ll be completely by accident!

This distorted sense of spatial relations is even worse on myself. Yeah, everyone says they have trouble doing their hair or makeup in the mirror, but I remember what that was like. It was like what I deal with now when working on someone else. Just like with the map, I need to establish points of reference that are outside myself that I can associate with one another. If the main point of reference is ON ME, that just can’t happen. I have become less inefficient at doing my own hair, but it’s still kind of comical how many different directions my comb and brush will go on different areas of my head and how many things I hit with the blow dryer that are not anywhere near my hair. My style is different every day because I can’t do it the same no matter what. I let people think it’s all creativity, but the most creative thing is figuring out how to get it to look like I did it that way on purpose. More often than not, I had an idea, tried to do it, then pulled out super strong holding products for damage control.

The other things I tried to do on myself were very useful for pinpointing specific deficits. I got it into my head that fake eyelashes would be better than mascara, and spent countless hours trying to put them on, went through three tubes of adhesive, and threw out 8 pairs of lashes and three packs of individuals before I gave it up. Towards the end, I realized that not only does my right eye not close independently without squinching it up tight, but it has weird “blind spots” where I can see colors and shapes but not “understand” what they are. I would finagle my way around getting a lash strip on my partially-open right eye, but when it came to the left, these “blind spots” made it impossible to put one on. I’d try with the left eye open enough so I could see through it, but each time my hands or wrists covered one eye or the other, my “sense of direction” would change. I’d have the strip placed perfectly, say, on the outer corner, but once I moved towards the center and one eye or the other was even partially blocked, I’d start pulling the strip in the wrong direction and sticking it to the middle of my eyelid, the tips of my lashes, or even pulling it off. It was during one of these frustrating sessions that I stopped and just covered and uncovered my eyes one at a time and realized that the world moved in different ways from one eye to the next and made more sense in the left than the right.

Makeup is a bit more symmetrical now, but that also took some training. Initially, I had to use pencils or chopsticks or other long, straight guides to make marks on my face, and even then I would end up with one side higher or lower than the other, farther out, closer together, darker or lighter. I still have to step back frequently because up close the right and left sides are perceptually disconnected. I won’t lie, there have been a lot of tears. When you’ve been doing something for 30 years with almost no thought at all and suddenly it requires slow going and meticulous attention to seemingly superfluous details, it makes you feel impaired. Even if it’s just something as silly as having to give up eyeliner because you can’t draw a single smooth line on your face anymore.

The good thing about this is that with the improved awareness of what’s doing what, I am getting better at accepting and compensating for my new set of neurological differences. They’re not going to change, or they would have by now. So here I am.

Oh, noes, GMOs!

Oh, noes, GMOs!


Everyone calling vociferously for labeling GMOs on the internet seems to go silent when they are asked specific questions about why, and how much labeling they’re actually asking for. Turns out, they usually don’t know how genetic modification is done, how many different kinds of modifications there are, how much actual potential harm there is or isn’t, or, quite frankly, how digestion works. (If it worked the way some alarmists believe it does, I’m afraid we might have to turn to cannibalism!)

Labeling something “Contains GMOs” is not only uninformative and misleading, but will add an average of $500 to each American’s food bill if it were to be instituted. Also, in order for a label to be useful and valid, it would need to be much more detailed. So I would like to break it down a little more realistically.


Bacillus thuringiensis is applied liberally on organic crops to control pests. Catalogs that sell Bt to home gardeners describe it as “Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural occurring, soil-borne bacteria that has been used since the 1950s for natural insect control.” (Planet Natural) and “Bt is a naturally occurring bacteria with many powerful insect-specific strains. Like other biologicals, Bts biodegrade in sunlight and may require reapplication. Bt for Caterpillars & Worms: Safe for the user and the environment, Bacillus thuringiensis v. kurstaki is a pest control mainstay for organic vegetable growers.” (Grow Organic) You would not find any food in the supermarket that would be labeled “Genetically modified with Bt,” because those crops are not used to feed people, but for animal feed and other industrial uses. You would, however, find lots of foods labeled “Sprayed with Bt,” at least if labeling were honest.

So why is it that Bt is safe and organic when sprayed in large quantities (where it drifts and affects insects that are not feeding on the crops, including some beneficial species) but suddenly becomes “Bt toxin” when it is engineered into the crop and affects only the pests that feed on the crops? The EPA has done thorough testing on Bt ( and assured that GM crops with the gene that produces the Bt protein are not in foods meant for human consumption, even though humans do not have the body chemistry that allows Bt to be absorbed.

Big Organic wants to have its cake and eat it, too. In order to continue using Bt itself for pest control, but demonize it as a toxin when it’s made by the plant itself, the very sites that make these statements do some unscientific speculation as to how this is so and present it as factual. Were they to admit that Bacillus thuringiensis is Bacillus thuringiensis and is harmful only to specific species (not human) that are directly exposed to it, they would not be able to continue their hypocritical campaign to use and sell it while simultaneously representing it as a life-threatening dangerous substance.


You would see “Roundup Ready,” but that would be pretty uninformative, also, because many crops that are not “Roundup Ready” are treated with Roundup, because it is an effective dessicant. For example, a wheat farmer would use it to kill and dry his entire field so that all the wheat would be usable, and would not need careful (and expensive) sorting to ensure that a few green grains wouldn’t rot an entire silo of harvested wheat. So, GMO or not, a label saying “glyphosate exposed” would be much more useful. That, however, would be a decision one should make based on environmental concerns rather than personal ones, because glyphosate is toxic to humans in such large doses that you would need to drink about three gallons of it straight to get sick.


There would also have to be a label for trans-species modification. Scientists take a gene for a trait from one species (usually another species of something that we also eat, so we’re eating that gene already, just in some other food) and insert it into another. You would need to do some serious mental gymnastics to see how this would be harmful. You would also have to start giving up a lot of foods, organic or otherwise, because this is also used to protect crops against diseases that would wipe them out. Bananas and papayas and oranges would no longer exist, or might go extinct in the future, without the modifications that allow them to resist the fungi that kill them. You might also want to check out foods that contain other foods, and perhaps stop using recipes. Your Manhattan Clam Chowder has fish genes and tomato genes. . .


The last label would be a cross-species modification. This is when a gene for a particular trait is taken from one species and transferred to a related species – like the gene from one type of salmon that triggers larger size to a smaller sized salmon. Again, if you were to avoid foods with this label, you would need to deny yourself foods that have been cross-bred and hybridized by man for thousands of years, which would be everything we eat. It’s the same process, but accelerated and without the negative characteristics of traditional manipulation by sexual selection.

Look at what we’ve done to purebred animals – hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, seizures in Boxers and Spaniels. . .When we tried to breed a rot-resistant potato by hybridization, we ended up with a potato that was kinda poisonous. Genetic modification is working on a rot-resistant potato that won’t make you sick.


Golden rice was created by moving a gene that produces Vitamin A from the leaves and stem of the plant to the grain. This is a technology that may be applied to other species later on. People destroying entire crops of golden rice because it’s GMO is an example of uninformed hysteria. So we’d need a label for this at some point.

If all you want is a nice, simple label that says “Contains GMOs” so you can make buying decisions without thinking, then stick with buying things that say “GMO-Free.” The GMO labeling being proposed by the Organic Foods Industry is not designed to inform or help people make healthy decisions, but to direct buyers to their own products. If you want labels that actually give you useful information, they’re going to be on almost every item in the store, and it’s going to cost all of us. And if you really want to know what’s in your GM food, check the EPA, the ISAAA’s GM Approval Database, and consumer information from the FDA.

If you want to see why the studies being cited as proof that GMOs are dangerous are not valid evidence, here are a few links. Academics Review looks at a large selection of studies and explains what they actually found and whether those findings are accurate. The Seralini rat tumor study was so deeply flawed that even a low-impact journal retracted it out of embarassment – lots of scientific explanation and criticism is collected at David Tribe’s blog. Skeptical Raptor breaks down the information in a recent meta-analysis of 1,783 studies, including at least 600 independently funded, which found no tangible dangers and many benefits of GM crops.

(Image source Also a good article!)

Where I Go For Science

Where I Go For Science

A friend of mine asked me for a few links to science sites so she could learn a little more, so I set to copying and pasting my bookmarks for her. Now I know why I lose so much time sitting at the computer. Most of these sites are life sciences, so sorry about the lack of Chemistry and Physics and such. Here’s the list. . .

Sites in my WordPress Reader, loosely arranged by subject:

Skepticism/Critical Thinking
Science or Not?
I fucking hate pseudoscience
Edzard Ernst
Why Evolution is True
Violent Metaphors

Brain Stuff
Left Brain Right Brain
Mind Hacks
Neurologica Blog
Wiring the Brain
Science Over a Cuppa
Gabriela Tavares
BPS Research Digest

Science Based Medicine
Science-Based Pharmacy
Science-Based Life
Drug Monkey

Bits of DNA
Code for Life

Skeptical Raptor’s blog
Shot of Prevention
The Poxes Blog

Other. . .
Inspiring Science
Double X Science
Bishop Blog

Not on wordpress:

Not Exactly Rocket Science Not only a lot of interesting articles on Biology, but a weekly roundup of interesting links. (You can also visit The Loom and Only Human from here, plus some others, but these three are my favorites.)
In The Pipeline Chemistry, but a lot of it related to Pharmaceuticals.
Skeptical Medicine A critical look at both conventional medicine and pseudoscience.
Scitable Nature Publishing Group’s educational site.

Research Blogging
Science News (limited access for free, but still a lot of good science.)
Science Seeker (you can filter what you see by checking the subject boxes to the right.)

I’m always checking for new places, especially those that would be good for people who are not scientists, but want to understand. I’ll take suggestions for anything that’s not behind a paywall or too difficult for non-academics!

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links


Genetic research has a meaningful place in psychiatry, as a major study has just found out. Thomas Insel of the NIMH blogs about the impact of a study on schizophrenia and explains its importance. 108 gene regions, put together, show a significant increase in the risk for the condition, and with 37,000 affected participants and over a hundred thousand controls, this is pretty big. Thank goodness several hundred million dollars have just been donated to psychiatric research.

What is complex about complex disorders? A paper by Kevin Mitchell explains what’s involved in finding the genes that contribute to polygenic disorders like ” schizophrenia, autism, depression, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, coronary artery disease, obesity, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and probably hundreds of other conditions”. Perhaps some of these will be discovered now that more funding is available!

Is “reductionism” in behavioral genetics a boon or curse? asks if and when reductionism is a bad thing. In behavioral genetics, most scientists are looking for complex genetics behind complex traits, but they need to be careful of how their public statements can be read. The author points out, “There is a difference between methodological reductionism, a tool, and philosophical reductionism, a guiding principle.”

Evan Thompson on core theories of neurophenomenology and time-consciousness opens, “Evan Thompson, one of the authors of 1991′s The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, in 2010 authored a sweeping, dare I say even magisterial, account of how science and philosophy should understand consciousness, embodiment, evolution, and neuroscience.” The piece that follows is brief but covers a lot of ground – and makes me interested in reading the book.

An interesting neurological phenomenon is auditory pareidolia – She’s Hearing Voices talks about this symptom that’s common in certain mental disorders and how even ordinary people can be prompted to hear things that aren’t there. In schizophrenia and OCD and certain types of depression and personality disorders, this may be a magnification of what is normally an adaptive trait, IMO.

Shakespeare, Vermeer, and the “Secrets” of Genius takes the almost revolutionary position that practice does not necessarily make perfect – sometimes you have to be born with talent.

Most of Us Still Don’t Get It: Addiction Is a Learning Disorder questions the idea that we have genes or areas in our brain that predispose us to certain addictions. I read it and thought that perhaps all addiction could be characterized as a salience disorder, because it takes the position that it’s a maladaptive state of a survival trait. Just read.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Sorry this is short. Time just got away from me. Enjoy!

Why all medical professionals need to study evolution. I think everyone should, period.

Excellent piece on gender disparities in the study of Autism by Virginia Hughes. This applies to ADHD, too, and it would be nice to see something this well-written on that.

Dorothy Bishop points out the shortcomings in a neuroimaging and genetics study, and in doing so, tells you some things you should be able to find in a good one.

Continuing on the potential pitfalls of neuroimaging studies, here’s a longread that explains in detail what happens when images are taken and analyzed for study. It should give you some perspective next time you see an article claiming that scientists have found something amazing in the brain that explains a huge chunk of cognition or emotion.

There was a scientific dust-up last week in which a journal had to retract a good number of papers because of problems with peer review. Nature suggests a double-blind system. Unfortunately, this isn’t much different from what’s supposed to be happening now, and it’s flawed. Nature even makes note of the bias in the current system, so I’m wondering why they are recommending this.

Kids who are raised by same-sex parents actually do pretty well.

Biodiversity is key to our survival. Scientific American shows us maps where biodiversity exists at high levels – right in the same spots that are threatened by global warming.

I love my pets, too, but this is kind of gross:

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Image courtesy of Science Blogs

A recent MIT study said that glyphosate caused nearly every disease known to man. Except it wasn’t an MIT study at all.

A researcher discusses harassment by animal rights activists and explains why animal research is needed (and how he treats his animals) in Defending Animal Research

Food is not magic, and superfoods do not prevent disease.

Vaccines are safe, according to an analysis of 67 independent papers. We know this because it’s been covered in newspapers and magazines in print and online. Here’s the paper itself.

Along the vaccine lines, it didn’t take long for the conversation at USA Today to turn to Miracle Mineral Solution (aka Miracle Mineral Supplement or just MMS) being a cure for autism. Because, of course, vaccines cause autism. (How do vaccines cause autism?) In case you don’t know, this is a solution that misguided people give their autistic children orally or rectally (the same people who complain about the trauma of getting a needle are giving their autistic kids frequent, regular enemas. . .) because they think it’s going to “fix” them.

But this stuff is industrial strength bleach, which is used to treat water that won’t be used for drinking, and to strip textiles. The FDA warns people to throw it out if they have it. Advocates of alt-med and “natural solutions” even warn you away from it – Johnathan Campbell, who believes food is medicine, does not pull any punches explaining how and why it’s dangerous. Signs of the Times, a site that’s entirely woo-friendly, has nothing good to say about it, either. Health Wyze, otherwise supportive of alternative medicine, calls it a Fraud.

So it’s not only science-based sites that decry this stuff. The Guardian warns people away, Science-Based Medicine explains why it is dangerous woo, The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism considers this stuff even more appalling than chelation and chemical castration., and Thinking is Dangerous explains the chemistry behind MMS. James Randi Foundation informs us that if this stuff isn’t scary enough for you, you can buy MMS2, which is essentially pool shock.

Liz Ditz provides a long list of links from science sites and bloggers telling about the dangers of MMS. PLoS has some additional links.

If all this doesn’t scare you, have this lovely video:

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links


The environmental benefits of genetically modified crops is explored in Conservation Tillage, Herbicide Use, and Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States: The Case of Soybeans

A piece on the claim that GMOs are under-studied, With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science pretty much demonstrates that no, they are not.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are sprayed on crops, and they are bad for good insects. But they’re good for selling plants. Engineered pest resistance doesn’t get sprayed and affects only pests that attack the specific crops. Just sayin’.

Organic foods may have been sprayed with pesticides, too – and isn’t necessarily any better for you. Being free of GMOs makes no difference.


A friend and I were blocked from commenting on an online discussion on the terrible, horrible things that are vaccines. This is a typical technique of anti-vaxxers. A detailed description of what it means to be anti-vaccine is on Science-Based Medicine It’s from 2010, but classics never get old.

Because of a new study analyzing the actual risks of vaccination (hint – nearly none, even less compared with disease outcomes) the pro-vaccine message is finally getting the press it deserves. USA Today, The Daily Beast, Think Progress (I know, not a big anti-vaxxer magnet) The New York Times and Time. Even The Economist reminds us that we should take our medical advice from science, not celebrities.


Viruses may be responsible for several cancers. The Big Idea That Might Beat Cancer and Cut Health-Care Costs by 80 Percent explores a virus that may trigger certain kinds. Vaccination to prevent cancer might work better than treating it after the fact, ya think?

Quadruple amputee soldier learns to adapt to life with transplanted arms.

‘Molecular movies’ will enable extraordinary gains in bioimaging, health research


This is stupid, which means it made me laugh a lot.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

reality check


In the wake of pretty much every outbreak of every vaccine-preventable disease, comments on the news articles fill up with people who still think that vaccines cause autism. One article keeps getting referred to, “22 Studies that Prove Vaccines Cause Autism.” I’m not going to link, it doesn’t need any more hits, because it already shows up on the first page of many searches on vaccines. Instead, I’m going to direct you to Liz Ditz’s excellent rebuttal.

Foodbabe proves over and over that she’s all style and no substance. The Foodentists dissect her attack on Lean Cuisine and the Grocery Manufacturers Association with many facts about GMOs that she apparently doesn’t know – or chooses to ignore.

On the topic of GMOs, Gilles-Eric Séralini’s paper linking glyphosate to tumors in rats, which was retracted last year because of methodological and statistical flaws, has been re-published in a journal with apparently less exacting standards. I’m thinking along the lines of “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”

SFARI tells us that autism is not the only neurodevelopmental disorder that’s on the rise. The numbers may actually be a good thing, because it means that more people are getting needed treatment.

You know that study that said watching porn shrinks your brain? Well, maybe not so much. Christian Jarrett at Wired talks about the study’s many shortcomings.

Business Insider has an interesting piece on the Myers-Briggs personality test. By the way, I’m ENFP.

Sometimes things are partly true, or true but misrepresented. In those cases, we don’t need debunking, we need. . .

Critical Thinking

I got a little gut-punch here, because I hate neuroscience hype, but I also did a few little happy dances reading about optogenetics. I pick on optogenetics, but… and Moving on from optogenetic frustrations are actually not too far from the mark, though. I think it is possible to get excited about a new method without looking at it as a be-all and end-all breakthrough. . .as long as you look at the research and stay away from the media version.

Another thing that gets oversold is brain imaging. Again, cool, but not as magical as it’s portrayed sometimes. Lots of times. Virginia Hughes talks realistically about the limits and potential of neuroimaging.

A longread (28 pages) on critical thinking. I have to admit, it’s still open in another tab as I write this. Written from a legal viewpoint, as in how something would stand up in court when exposed to scrutiny, but relevant in a general sense as well.

I often take issue with people who are strict “nurturists” because they are so unspecific about what “environment” is and what it does. Genetics and epigenetics are mechanisms that are, while still being incompletely understood, more logical and straightforward than the more nebulous claims of environmental influence. Many of the people I’ve run across take a Lamarckian viewpoint, or even imagine evolution as a personal change (more akin to Pokemon evolution than anything we see in biology!) So I read Developmental Plasticity and the “Hard-Wired” Problem all the way through, and was pleasantly surprised to see a thoughtful and detailed approach to the “Nature vs. Nurture” question. I don’t know how convinced I am, but it’s more than I’ve been by anyone else presenting this argument.


If you wish to make a gene from scratch explains that, well, it’s not really as easy as that.

Cath Ennis explains how epigenetics works in two parts.

Video – Pallas Cat kittens

Somehow not as freaky when they’re kittens, and funny to see domestic cat behavior in response to the intrusion of the camera.