Tag Archives: Science

All science-related posts

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

A new study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about neuroimaging to determine response to medication or therapy in Major Depressive Disorder. It seems much more exciting if you don’t actually read it. Fortunately, Neurocritic did, so you have someone to explain what’s hope and what’s hype.

Paul Offit explains why we shouldn’t take multivitamins.

He also has a book coming out soon called “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine” and USA Today covers some of the issues that make this stuff such a dangerous alternative.

And Darshak Sanghavi at Slate wonders why so many of us think we need to avoid gluten

Now, if you happen to be near Washington, DC, and you want to see some cool genetics stuff, hit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for an exhibit called Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code.

Teaching otters to use vending machines might not be the best idea, but it sure is cute to watch.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Yes, it’s been a while since the last set of links. I’ll try to do better. Enjoy these for now.

Carl Zimmer wrote an article on Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva for the Atlantic. One of the reasons I think it’s important to read stories like these is to see examples of the success that comes from investigating genetic origins of diseases. Another is to show that there are real reasons that a treatment may or may not be produced outside of the simple profitability of the treatment itself. All in all, this is a great story with some human interest thrown in for good measure.

I’ve often had the discussion with people about how even though we have names for colors, not everyone perceives them the same way. Well. . .who’d have known it? Apparently some of our perception differences arise from how we name the colors in the first place! Empirical Zeal discusses it in two parts. Part 1. Part 2.

Beyond Recognition: The Incredible Story of a Face Transplant
Yes, it’s graphic, but it’s also absolutely amazing.

Scicurious has an interesting piece about genes and environment. . .interesting not only because it shows an actual mechanistic result in the brain that can differentiate genetically identical mice, but also because those of us on SSRIs can take comfort in knowing our meds are assisting us in hippocampal neurogenesis.

Another thing that seems to be related to a mechanical malfunction in the brain is Body Integrity Identity Disorder, in which a person is uncomfortable with the very presence of a part of his or her body. Mindscapes: The man who needs to paralyse himself in New Scientist talks about some of the possible roots of this condition that makes people seek elective amputation procedures.

From Nature, an explanation of what a chemical is, and why it’s not inherently dangerous or toxic.

Some tips
on distinguishing science journalism from infotainment.

And. . .a tap-dancing seagull.

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Watching the Lights Go Out is a blog by a man who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimers’, chronicling his life and thoughts and how the disease affects him. It’s touching and thought-provoking. Go read it.

How animals grieve – make sure to watch the video, too.

Scientists playing around with the prefrontal cortexes of rats may have come across a new way of treating addiction.

People who don’t understand epigenetics or neuroplasticity have no compunctions about writing about them anyway. Then we get books like this that the average reader thinks represent real science. And because genetics and epigenetics is so nuanced and complex, people automatically assume a position of nature OR nurture – with the nurture enthusiasts often accusing people who talk about genetics as being genetic determinists. Virginia Hughes has some wonderful insights about how we really think.

And Bradley Voytek explains why this should be fixed by more science – it’s an investment in wonder. Kevin Mitchell at Wiring the Brain adds that, well, it works.

Images of g-coupled protein receptors
that may help us understand how they work and how to treat the problems they cause!

Before kitten can drink the milk, kitten must DEFEAT the milk!

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Here are some references to help you win at logic: The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe explains how logic works and doesn’t work before delving into its top 20 logical fallacies – how to spot them and how to counter them. The Nizkor Project breaks them down by type, and you can search them by name. Logical Fallacies is an encyclopedic reference, a little more detailed than Nizkor, and an easier font and background than Skeptic’s Guide. Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies is great if you’re a visual learner, with little icons for each individual fallacy. The Master List of Logical Fallacies is written for writers, has a few different names for some fallacies that you might not recognize, but is maybe a little easier to understand because there’s less Latin.

Speaking of fallacies, one of the big ones is the “teach both sides,” or “teach the controversy,” usually found regarding evolution. Dave Hone, in The Guardian blogs, shows how misleading this is with a specific case of a TV show that showed “both sides of the debate” regarding the evolution of birds. One side is represented by the majority of experts, the other by people who have an opinion.

Genetic research unearths a possible marker for prostate cancer, which may help us develop targeted treatments to cure it.

More on genes and cancer. . .apparently the genetic condition called Laron’s syndrome makes people’s bodies short, but their lives long. Somewhere in their genes, they’re resistant to growth hormones and resistant to cancer. Fascinating.

Phineas Gage is probably the best-known case of the effects of traumatic brain injury on behavior. New technology attempts to recreate the damage that was done by the railroad spike in his head in an effort to understand it better. Mindhacks isn’t sure he wants to know more, but shares it anyway.

Sometimes you need an outside perspective to see that an idea looks stupid. People in the UK think the NRA’s idea to put armed guards in schools is nuts. I think they’re right.

The Keystone pipeline could make this a scene anywhere along its entire length. Maybe that’s better than an ocean spill, but wouldn’t we rather avoid it in the first place if we can?

Rhinos are dangerous animals. Really dangerous. But how can you be scared of one that looks this cute?

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Chiropractors playing to a parent’s deepest fear – SIDS. We don’t know what causes it, we know little about how to prevent it, but Chiropractors lay claim to secret knowledge and take advantage of new parents’ willingness to do anything for their children by lying to them.

Ed Yong tells an inspiring story of a triumph in genomic medicine. Lilly Grossman carries a gene mutation that fills her nights with shaking and seizures instead of sleep, but finding it delivers the treatment she needs to live an almost normal life. Grab your hankies.

This won’t make a lot of sense to many people, but an abstract that shows a possible neurobiological connection for skin picking and hair pulling (dermatillomania and trichitillomania) makes me think how nice it would be to eventually find a way to fix it.

Take this, people who think diet can prevent all disease. So there.

This may seem like a wonderful advancement in prosthetics, but can you say. . .mind control?!?!?

Recognize a pattern? Republican sticks to party platform, opposes gay marriage. Republican offspring comes out as gay. Republican weasels out of original stance.

I can’t say this where it’s appropriate, but you can tell when someone thinks he knows more than he actually does when he’s not even wrong. Unfortunately, the Dunning-Kruger effect means it will be impossible to educate him as to why this is so. He does not experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance and learns only what strengthens his confirmation bias. Worse, this is willful ignorance and intellectual dishonesty. Rationalwiki is an appropriate source of information to reflect my repressed snarkiness. Enjoy.

Bookmark this site for when you need a good laugh or a healthy dose of schadenfreude. There is simply too much here for me to give it to you a bit at a time. Bask in its guanophrenic glory as it slowly loads the page bit by bit up to the top. If you really want to get in the spirit, go to the pantry and get some tinfoil to make yourself a party hat first.


The Problem With Science. . .

The Problem With Science. . .

Just venting here in response to seeing these horrible arguments concentrated in a heap somewhere else. There may be others, but these are the ones that make me particularly irritated.

1. “Science doesn’t consider the bigger picture!” This implies that there is a “bigger picture,” and that science should concern itself with researching only what fits into it. This isn’t science. Science is not designed to confirm what we want to know, but to find out what we don’t know, whether it comes out the way we want it to or not. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that comes in a giant plastic garbage bag. We don’t have the big picture. Even if we start working on putting together just the edge pieces, we might find some edges are straight, some are curved, some of the angles are acute and some are obtuse. We can gather together all the pieces that have the same shade of blue, but that doesn’t mean those pieces will fit together. You can’t consider a “bigger picture” unless you already know what the picture is, so science works on putting the pieces together and building from there.

2. “Science doesn’t answer questions about the soul/mind/spirit/etc.” Science is the study of the physical world. It is a method by which we can observe and study objects and phenomena that exist in, affect, and are affected by the physical world. Complaining that science is flawed because it doesn’t study the supernatural is like complaining that a bicycle is flawed because it doesn’t fly. It does what it is designed to do. Just because it doesn’t do what you want it to do doesn’t mean it’s broken. In fact, it means it’s working.

3. “Science is inaccurate because it’s being done by humans.” First of all, science has methods of self-correcting. Evidence has to be predictable, repeatable, and falsifiable. Human error might result in flawed evidence, but the scientific method provides a way for other humans to verify or overturn that evidence. Second of all, this complaint comes most frequently from people who tout ideas that are built on anecdotes and wishful thinking, promulgated by charismatic leaders of cults of personality. Magical thinking is fraught with human error, yet its proponents are the quickest to complain about human error in science. The mind boggles.

4. “Science is being financed by big business, so scientists don’t really care about discovering the truth!” There are certain problems that arise from what research is financed and what research flounders. But this doesn’t mean that science is corrupt. Scientist is not a glitzy, high-paying position, even if you’re doing pharmaceutical research. Again, though, this view is expressed by people who believe in things that are being sold by companies that make broad, sweeping statements about the efficacy of their products without having to worry about regulatory oversight, and individuals profiting from the sales of these products, or non-evidence-based practices, whose faces you see on book jackets and TV talk shows. The hypocrisy seems evident only to people who haven’t been taken in by the purveyors of anecdotal proof.

5. “Science says one thing one day, and then something entirely different later.” Part of that is the nature of science. Remember that mention of falsifiability? The idea is that you don’t close off your options by setting something in stone. The knowledge we have and the tools to gather that knowledge are constantly improving. If we learn something new, and it disproves the old idea, we let go of the old idea. The other part is the dumbing down of science for the layperson that happens in the media. New evidence is presented by journalists as proof of one thing or another – when proof is only for math and whiskey, and when the studies they’re pointing to actually say nothing at all like what they say in the news. Remember that big picture reference? The scientists finish a corner, and the journalists declare the puzzle complete. That’s not a problem with science.

My Brain Diary, Part 7

My Brain Diary, Part 7

Another day of mostly sleep, so far. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been having a little trouble with my balance again. Nothing as bad as before, and it seems to be more physical balance than spatial orientation. Something really weird happened, though, for the first time ever.

I was lying in bed, on my left side with my right arm and leg luxuriously stretched out into the space normally occupied by my darling husband. Suddenly I felt a cat jump up onto the foot of the bed, walk along the edge for a bit, then jump off. Then I felt a cat jump up onto the bed close to my elbow, walk around my hand, up towards the pillow, then jump off. Read the rest of this entry

Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Do yourself a favor and buy or download The Holy Family. It’s a story that follows a man on his path from faith to unbelief, and shows eloquently how he manages to live and love with triumph and tragedy, just like any other person. Even if it hadn’t been written by a friend of mine, I’d be telling you to read it.

A pharmacist weighs in on the (lack of) benefits of dietary supplements.

Researchers have a new tool to help find the genetic causes of disease. Edit the genome of a stem cell and see if it gets sick. . .sounds crazy, but it seems to have potential!

Right after reading an essay by neuropsychologist Vaughn Bell about how the human brain is not as simple as we think, which talks about how neuroscience findings are being dumbed down and twisted to confirm folk wisdom even when they don’t. . .there’s an example of this very thing in action. Athena Andreadis writes in a Scientific American blog about a language gene study being misinterpreted as scientific confirmation that women talk more than men. (N.B., that’s not what it says. . .) Which, of course, brings me back to Dr. Steven Novella’s excellent post from December about why people turn to alternative medicine. Confirmation bias trumps cognitive dissonance every time.


Wednesday Links

Wednesday Links

Sorry for the paucity of links this week, but I have been spending a significant portion of my days either sleeping or wandering about wishing I were asleep. This should keep you busy for a little while, though.

Carl Zimmer explains what’s up with the wrinkly brains.

Theory of Mind describes our ability to understand the emotions and thoughts of others by relating them to our own. Rebecca Saxe is using fMRI to study how it develops.

The Human Brain Map Project proposed by President Obama sounds really cool, but some scientists have what sound like legitimate gripes about it.

Jon Stewart interviewed Steven Brill about his Time Magazine Article, Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, and didn’t ask him too many tough questions about his information. However, Matthew Iglesias did in Slate, and David Dobbs agreed and added a story of his own as illustration on Wired. (H/T to Miss Cellania)

Gorillas playing in leaves!!

Belief Makes You Close-Minded. . .

Belief Makes You Close-Minded. . .

It’s a refrain that’s heard often by skeptics – “You’re close-minded!” “If you’d open your mind, you’d understand!” “By ruling out the possibility of (fill in the blank) you’re closing your mind to all possibilities!” The thing is, in pretty much every instance, these insistences are completely wrong. The believer is the one whose mind is closed. Let me outline why this is.

Someone who believes something is, by definition, rejecting all evidence and argument that contradict with those beliefs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a belief that was taught to them, or when it was taught to them. It doesn’t matter if they came to the belief via anecdotes or personal experience. The core of belief is that it is not based on actual evidence. What a believer views as evidence is actually confirmation of belief. Evidence is reliable, consistent, and reproducible. Evidence doesn’t happen only under certain circumstances or only when observers are believers.

To a believer, evidence is inextricably bound to belief. Stories that support the belief are considered evidence, while those that contradict the belief are picked apart and dismissed as inconsequential. Supporting information is accepted, regardless of whether it is actual evidence, and dissenting information is rejected, even if it is actual evidence. If we’re talking about what constitutes closed-mindedness, I’d put this way up at the top of the list.
Read the rest of this entry