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Scientia Pro Publica 32: Biology Overload

Posted by tigerhawkvok on June 07, 2010 03:01 in General , evolution , physics , biology , astronomy , news , anti-science , medicine , paleontology , sci-fi , public science , climate , scientia pro publica

Welcome to Scientia Pro Publica, 32th edition!

Scientia Pro Publica logo

Scientia Pro Publica logo (C) by Flickr user jmarcx via loryresearchgroup. (Hotlinked by my usual policy)

This round, it seems that the name of the game is biology. Submissions really ran the gamut in biology, including some delightfully from-left-field posts. Bryan Perkins having some fun with embryological development, and Amanda Morti shows us why we have actinomycete bacteria to thank for that fresh rain smell (and for throwing off Latinate intuition - anyone else read "actinomycete" and think muscley whale?). Speaking of whales, David "WhySharksMatter" Shiffman does a great bit of ResearchBlogging and reminds us why not all fish (fine, non-sarcopterygian gnathostome) stock are created equal - sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) are closer in population dymanics to bowhead whales and other balaenids than cod.

That wasn't the only bit of ResearchBlogging this time around (Hey! ResearchBlogging! Stop hating my feeds!). Kelsey has a great post about the intraspecific male competition among red-eyed treefrogs. Sure, they amplex for dear life, but what about before that? Turns out that ... they shake their butt (Does that mean that the frog Sir Mix-a-Lot is a lady?). Madhu R-Blogs over at Reconciliation Ecology takes the opportunity to do a great smackdown on a pet peeve of mine — evolution is not a "ladder" or any such silliness. It is blind and targetless. It was a statement from a Stanfurd professor, though, so what can you expect (Go Bears!)? But before we get ranty, Luigi diverts our attention from critterland and the rivalries of my alma mater to teach us about why Kibale's Wild Coffee Project didn't get off the ground, concluding that scientists, once again, just can't do "messaging".

Illustration: Peter Trusler for Wildlife of Gondwana/NOVA (PBS). From Grrlscientist's post.

Thonoir continues to take us down our diversion away from Critterland, showcasing two sets of endangered non-metazoans, and my total ignorance of plant/photosynthizing phylogenies. We don't stray from Critterland for long, though, as John at Kind of Curious details a very interesting ponderous borer. Emily talks about sensationalism, mountain lions, and that Fox, even as they get extirpated from areas densely populated by a certain primate. Which, as Amanda points out, is no good thing, and there are difficulties restoring predators to ecosystems that they have been extirpated from (trust me, a one sentence synposis does not do that entry justice). The great Grrlscientist brings us some aborignal rock art possibly depicting Genyornis newtoni (Dromornithidae, incomplete phylogeny link (Anseriformes)). This is both the oldest paintings in Australia at 40,000 years (predating the earliest European cave paintings) and is of something that can be loosely imagined as an ostrich-sized duck, which simply can't be awesome.

Now, we don't end here. Oh no. That was just organismal biology and evolution. How about a dose of medicine? Michelle Dawson is better than Mary Poppins, because her post about circadian rythyms certainly doesn't need any sugar for you to take it down (and introduces you to an interesting side effect of autism-spectrum disorder). Scientific Chick writes about cell phones improving mental performance in Alzheimered mice. Meanwhile, Wendy at Bioloser gives us the physiological background of shock, and a shocking description of shock in a man nearly severed in half.

The larger constructs of medicine were not neglected, either. Bradley Kreit discusses the fact that we need to accept our intellectual limits, while Luke examines the crazy in large groups, looking at HIV denialism and Ryan looks at child mortality.

Bisected men and child mortality? Lets get a bit more lighthearted. Jessica Drake at Soilduck ponders what makes a scientist a scientist, and Romeo Vitelli tells us how subliminal messaging was an advertising gimmick (how many levels of fake-out is that?). Adam Park redeems some sci-fi stories with various predictions made therein that have come true today. Of course, Asimov gets a mention for the mention of pocket calculators in Foundation, but Asimov also nailed our reliance on them as time went on in The Feeling of Power (psh, arithmetic).

BP, the Gulf, and the utter dismaying farce of the spill have been in the news, and oil makes its showing in Scientia this time around. Scienceguy238 gives us a history leading up to the spill, and Grrlscientist looks at the ethics involved with oiled seabirds. Jeremy at The Voltage Gate writes about how the Saudi coast has recovered, 20 years later, from the 11-million-barrel (1.2 GL, or 1.2e6 m3) spill. A decade afterwards, 1 million cubic meters still persisted. Every spill is different, though, so hopefully ours won't be as bad.

You know you love it.

Finally, we round out with the physical sciences, which didn't get much love this time around. Lab Rat talks about bacteria and climate change, while Matt Wills talks about the more metaphorical breathing Earth, Charles Lyell, and mollusk damage in Greek columns. Finally, Sarah Kavassalis gives a great article on one of my favorite subjects: special relativity, astronomical distances, and the meaning of "now". After all, if a star (super)nova's in the distance, but you don't see (E&M) or feel (gravity) it, has it gone? She even does it without the inevitable jargoning I'd go into!

That does it for this round of Scientia Pro Publica! This was my first blog carnival, so I more than welcome suggestions. Hope you all enjoyed it!

If you want to learn more about this carnival, head over to the carnival's website. Be sure to check out the next round hosted by Andrew over at Southern Fried Science, on June 21st. And remember — this is a blog carnival! Submissions and hosts are wanted! If you're interested in hosting, check out the current schedule on the official schedule thread and drop Grrlscientist a line (or leave a note in the comments). If you find a cool article, submit it! Send a link via this submission form. Thanks again all!

Repeat after me: HCR does NOT fund abortion

Posted by tigerhawkvok on March 15, 2010 19:53 in politics , religion , news , medicine

There is talk on the news (well, at least making headlines in Google News) about the bill funding abortion. Well, it doesn't. It is on page 2072 of the Senate bill. To quote PoliticsDaily,

But does the Senate reform bill finance abortion insurance coverage? The answer is no, and it is there in the bill, on page 2072: "If a qualified plan provides [abortion] coverage...the issuer of the plan shall not use any amount attributable to [health reform's government-funding mechanisms] for purposes of paying for such services." As Slate's Timothy Noah put it, "That seems pretty straightforward. No government funding for abortions."

But lets run with it for a moment. Assume it does fund abortion. So what? Objection to public funding for abortion runs along the lines of "I don't like it, I disagree, therefore I should not have to pay for it. It kills people". That's like saying "I object to Karl Rove. I disagree with him vehemently. He is responsible for the death of troops and civilians in the Middle East. Therefore, I refuse to pay taxes, since they fund services he uses." Neither argument really makes sense.

I don't really want to get into the abortion debate. All it does is lead to flame wars. I happen to feel that identical twins wreck about 90% of the arguments against abortion as a single argument, and being pro-choice detracts nothing from the other argument, merely leaves an option open to whoever wants it. Sigh.

Broadly acceptable public option?

Posted by tigerhawkvok on December 04, 2009 04:05 in politics , medicine

Just a quick post ... but here's a thought on the public option.

It's been brought up that the real trick to getting healthcare reform through the senate is to have a public option weak enough to attract swing votes but strong enough to not repel strong votes. I think this construction would do it:

  • All states have a weak public option they can opt out of. It begins weaker than the initial senate proposal. Opt out can be done only by public vote with a majority. Opt-out can be pushed only once every five years.
  • If after one year, the relevant factors have an insufficient change (uninsurance rates, fraction of income, mean insurance prices, etc), this changes to the current House version of the public option. This is stronger and has a strong public rate negotiation. This is a "trigger" phase one. This phase is automatically triggered if states that "opted out" fail federal guidelines five years after bill passage.
  • Two years after this (so, three years after the bill takes effect), if set targets are not made, in that state public option rates change to strong medicare negotiation / single payer rates. This is a phase two "trigger".
  • So, it begins weak enough to appease conservatives (so, if weak public option/other measures are sufficient stronger versions will never take effect, combined with an opt-out mechanism). If this is insufficient (in my opinion, the likely case), it changes to a moderate level public option, and once again the market is given a time frame to stabilize (and thus, a chance for the measures to take effect). Evaluation after this period then reverts to a strong public option.

    Thus, every level of "belief" in the public option is given a fair shake, beginning with minimal-intervention, mostly market shaping and depending on the level of ineffectualism, it would reach a stable point within each state.

    I actually really think this is sellable to all all stripes of the political spectrum.

Engineered Bacteriophages

Posted by tigerhawkvok on March 14, 2009 01:52 in biology , medicine

Some quick updates on last week's Nature:

Scientists are coming up with a novel way to fight bacterial infections in light of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, such as MRSA: make viruses do the work for you. By engineering viruses to weaken bacteria, antibiotics become more effective. The trick is, actually not to kill the bacteria. If you kill the bacteria, selection works too strongly, and you have bacteria that become resistant to the viruses. Instead, by making the bacteria weaker, you need bacteria to survive a one-two punch: supression of lexA3 (renders bacteria unable to repair DNA as well) and drugs (particularly of the sort that damages DNA).

MRSA comic.  Source unspecified.

The catch? You need to engineer a bacteriophage that is very specific, down to strain. Unless entire cocktails can be manufactured, strain-specific identification is required.

Lets see if a bit on Higgs gets posted tonight, or if I'm lazy and go watch Dollhouse.