Archive for: January, 2008

SchadenFriday: James Dobson

Jan 25 2008 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Maybe we should call this one SchadenThankFuckingChrist. It appears that Dobson's influence has been steadily falling off.

The ministry apparently has been "flat" for some time. For example, in 1994 Dobson's monthly newsletter had a circulation of 2.4 million copies. Today, that circulation is about 1.1 million. Also, in the 1990s, Dobson was drawing audiences of 15,000 or more to his speeches; but in the lead-up to the 2006 mid-term election, only about 1,000 people heard his anti-abortion speech at the 2,500-seat Mt. Rushmore National Monument amphitheatre. Daly explains that the event was a last-minute invitation and that Dobson rarely accepts speaking engagements.
According to news accounts and audited financial reports posted online for potential donors, the organization's staffing is down (30 layoffs last September). Total donations and number of donors are down as well. Focus orders and resells copies of Dobson's tapes and books, which are the evangelist's personal business; but those purchases have declined from $678,000 in 2004 to $269,000 in 2006. His last book was published in 2001; another is not anticipated until 2009. The whole Dobson family, including wife Shirley, daughter Danae and son Ryan, produce books and tapes, but revenue from all Dobson-family materials are down, from $781,000 in 2004 to $307,000 in 2006.

Perhaps most importantly...

Even Focus on the Family Action - Dobson's most recent project, founded in 2004 to help steer public policy - seems stalled. Daly says Action's fortunes are tied to "hot issues in the public square"; in his letter to potential donors, Dobson offers "occasional specific voting recommendations on ballot measures in your area and on a national level." But contributions declined from $8.8 million in 2004, its start-up year, to $6.8 million in 2006, while website hits fell from 18,000 monthly in 2005 to 8,700 monthly in 2006. A Focus spokesperson says Focus Action is not the main public policy website and that, where the candidate assessments were announced, is doing much better.

Anytime we can see the theocon scaremongering Morality Police losing influence, the future looks a bit brighter for people who value their personal freedoms and choices. Dobson's crap is so insidious that even my Catholic cousin was at one point buying (and giving to me for a wedding present) his taped lecture series, probably not even realizing that as an evangelical, Dobson is at best an ally of convenience to Catholicism.

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The DANA Guide to Brain Health: a quick book review

Jan 23 2008 Published by under Neuroscience

If you haven't checked out the DANA Foundation, well, you should. The DANA Foundation and DANA Alliance for Brain Initiatives are dedicated to providing up-to-date scientific information to the public, as well as supporting research and the arts. And they do a heck of a good job at laying out new findings in a very accessible fashion.
I wanted to take a quick moment to plug their book The DANA Guide to Brain Health: A practical family reference from medical experts. This book and CD-ROM, with over 100 scientists and clinicians contributing to the contents, is an excellent primer in a whole slew of brain disorders, running the spectrum from degenerative diseases to pain management, to addiction, psychological disorders, tumors, you name it. They also provide good background material about how the brain functions normally, and what happens throughout the lifespan with excellent chapters on infant/childhood, adolescent, and adult brain development.
If you have an interest in disorders of the nervous system, or a number of nervous system-related disorders that are prevalent in your family or friends, I highly recommend you purchase a copy. Each disorder is clearly and concisely defined with a minimum of jargon, and followed by a section on clinical presentation and diagnosis, along with a description of prognoses, treatment options, and medication strategies as appropriate.
The appendices are also useful in their own right: a handy glossary is provided, along with a list of commonly used pharmaceuticals for treatment of different disorders, a list of other foundations that address specific nervous system disorders in greater detail (and may provide patient support), and a list of additional resources.
I didn't find the CD-ROM to be particularly useful. There was little content in addition to the book itself, and while it would come in handy if you want to tote the book around on your computer, there's not much else available outside of some slide shows and a couple interactive images that aren't particularly interactive. Perhaps a future edition will expand these options.
Despite the lackluster CD-ROM, this book is a gold mine for the lay person. Go to DANA Press to check out the contents and perhaps get your hands on one.

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Hanging out at the Science Blogging Conference '08

Jan 19 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

And wouldn't you know it, we're supposed to get 2-4 inches of snow. In NC. I lived here for 8 years and saw hardly any snow, and what we got didn't last but for a day or two.
At any rate, I'm having a good time. Getting to meet a bunch of colleagues from Seed again, and attending some good sessions on Public Heath and Medicine, and also Gender/Minority issues. We've had sessions on the uses of technology and also using blogging as a resource for K through Ph.D. education!
Bora's got more on how you can check the conference out online. So, check it out!

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In which I become (sort of) gainfully employed again

Jan 17 2008 Published by under Academia

After the Big Relocation, I've had not much to do while I wait for a job to open up. Specifically there is a university position that is (was) supposed to become available. It's about the perfect position for somebody coming off a rather disappointing postdoc experience (to put it mildly); a lab coordinator for undergrad neuro labs, where I can get a little teaching experience and still enjoy lab work. Problem is, I'm still waiting for the job to get posted.
Today I got a smidgen of good news; I can do some part-time work doing a lot of the same stuff, which is really nice. It lets the potential employers see that I'm good at what I do, and pays what few bills I have. I'm hoping that HR will get that job up soon, though. I know I'd be quite good at it. It will be good to get some teaching experience and help me figure out where I want to go next in life. It is nice to know, however, that there's something a Ph.D. can do if the research environment isn't what it used to be.
In the mean time, I gutted and patched the moldy drywall in the shower, retiled the patch, and now have to finish grouting the damn thing and be done with it already. Then it's time to get rid of the nasty carpet and throw down some laminate flooring. Yay.

4 responses so far

Oops! Memantine's actions really aren't all that and a bag of chips

Jan 14 2008 Published by under CNS Diseases and Disorders

Memantine is the most recent weapon in the fight against Alzheimer's. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the drug because....

The first-generation of compounds aimed to boost the brain's acetylcholine levels led to the development of drugs such as Aricept™ (donepezil) and Excelon™ (rivastigmine). Attempts to develop drugs that block the action of glutamate by a considerable number of pharmaceutical companies and researchers were not successful for a long time, since these receptors are also required for normal brain function, learning and memory in particular. It was therefore considered a major breakthrough when a drug called memantine was discovered to have beneficial effects in Alzheimer's disease, which did not affect the normal function of glutamate signalling, but only the excessive actions leading to cell death.

Sounds awesome, right? Well, things aren't always what they seem.

In the present study, researchers report that memantine has a much more complex pharmacological profile than originally described. It does in fact work rather similar to the originally introduced drugs that affect acetylcholine-related signalling, in addition to weak actions on glutamate, and has negative effects on neuronal communication at high concentrations. At lower concentrations, memantine was able to enhance signalling between neurones of the hippocampus (the main brain area affected in Alzheimer's disease) and was indeed able to reverse learning and memory deficits. However, a pharmacological analysis showed that this was not due to its ability to block glutamate signalling, but rather to an additional and more potent action on the acetylcholine system.

The press release mentions that there's a lot of hope that memantine can be applied to other brain disorders that involve exessive glutamate release, such as following stroke or trauma.
This isn't to say that memantine doesn't work. But we do need to be judicious in how we apply these drugs as they have a presumed mechanism of action, but the targeted mechanism may not be the primary one affected in humans.

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Iowa Caucuses

Jan 03 2008 Published by under Uncategorized

I make no secret that I'm pretty liberal, which means I don't generally support the Democrats (especially after spending 8 years as a NC/VA resident, since they ain't always that liberal in those parts). This year I find myself musing over what would be best for the Dems; currently, with about 1/3 of precincts reporting in, the Edwards/Hillary/Obama trio are all receiving about the same support, with the former two around 31% and Obama with a slight edge at 34% or so.
Edwards has always impressed me. I like his populist progressive message after the last 8 years, and I do think it would be in the country's best interests. Not to mention that something could conceivably actually be accomplished with a Dem Congress (although not likely). Next to Kucinich, though, he's clearly the most progressive of the bunch and given that Kucinich is a bit, well, "odd" is being polite, he's my candidate of choice. But part of me wonders if merely having a woman and an African-American running for, and winning, the two top offices in the land wouldn't have a greater, long-term effect on the political process. That's a clear signal that America is finally ready to start ditching the not-quite-vestiges of racism and sexism, and although I'm neither a woman nor a minority, if I were I'd personally feel a sense of validation after the steady parade of Old White Rich Men. Maybe that's naive of me, but I think that much of the Dem's base would be highly energized for many years to come following the Hillary/Obama combination, even though they do tend to be rather centrist and may not be the best choice for the Dems in the short term.
Regardless, the next few hours are going to shape an interesting year.

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