Archive for: September, 2009

The Goal-Directed Nature of Relapse

Sep 30 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

One of the biggest problems with drug addiction is that it is a disorder that is characterized by relapse. You just CAN'T QUIT. It'd be one thing if you got hooked, got sober, there were some initial bad reactions, and then you were ok. But drug addiction isn't like that. Drug addicts relapse, even when they are completely and totally sure they never want to do the drug again, when they know the drug isn't worth it. They relapse anyway. And this is one of the biggest problems with trying to treat drug addicts. Scientists have been working for years to determine what triggers relapse to drug taking behavior, what connections in the brain are involved, and how permanent they are. Answers so far: a lot of triggers, lots of connections, and pretty long-lasting.
So when Sci saw this paper in PLoS ONE, she got excited: Root et al. "Evidence for Habitual and Goal-Directed Behavior Following Devaluation of Cocaine: A Multifaceted Interpretation of Relapse" PLoS ONE, 2009.

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9 responses so far

The Road I Traveled By: October Scientiae

Sep 29 2009 Published by under Terrible Poetry

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

-Robert Frost
Two roads diverged, and there I stood
Trying fruitlessly to see ahead
Tried to divine, as if I could
Both roads and where they might have led.
Immersed school, nearing journey's end
Fearing to leave those hallowed halls
To scholarship my steps would bend
But to what ivy-covered walls?
To warm red brick, chalk dust, books piled high
Wittgenstein, Sartre, contemplation, debate
The inner world of the mind, letting life go by
To wrestle with new philosophical states?
Or to the other, stark, seeming cold
Walls folded round a hive of activity
To study the mind with test tubes and pipettes
How foreign it seemed then to me!
I took the cold road, as I thought I must
In search of cures for tortured minds
Philosophy left behind, books to dust
I walk logical paths of different kinds.
The science road, revealed to me
Was never cold nor stark
It glows with passion and energy
Making other paths seems dark.
Though now I remember my two roads
and philosophy with a sigh
I do not regret my test tube choice
And love the road I travel by.

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What's Wrong with Negative Data?

Sep 28 2009 Published by under Academia

This entry inspired by Sci's running partner. I can definitely say I have been very lucky in my running partner, in that she is also a scientist and also pretty awesome. Talking about science and being awesome can really eat up a long run. And this past weekend, we ran one heck of a 30K, in under three hours. Couldn't have done it without her.
So the other day we were running and talking about science and awesomeness, and Running Partner said "yeah, I have all this data, and I did the comparison, and you know, no difference!! I worked so hard, man, it sucks. It's not publishable."

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Friday Weird Science: The Hyena Mating Game

Sep 25 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Natural Sciences

Editor's Selection IconThis post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for (w00t!)
Today's post comes to you courtesy of Laelaps. Sci's been wanting to cover sex in other species for a while now (I mean, it's so WEIRD!), and Laelaps has kindly provided a whole series of great articles!!! This is good, as Pubmed is not particularly informative on other species. The weird science is flowing today. Or maybe oozing. I imagine weird science likes to ooze.
So. Hyenas. Having sex. Which they don't really seem to do very often. And there's a good reason. The females don't have it very easy. What they masculinized genitalia.
Warning: pics below the fold. Does it count as NSFW if it's a hyena pseudopenis? Szykman et al "Courtship and mating in free-living spotted hyenas". Behavior, 2007
And these scientists are DEDICATED. I know it takes a long time for me to get through grad school, but these folks spent 11 YEARS making various trips to watch hyenas on the savannah. While it's a much better and more exciting location than my graduate work calls for, it still might get kind of old. Eternal vigilance with low hope of success must grind you down after a while. Their perseverance impresses me.

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Blogs Worthy of Note: Edition 2

Sep 24 2009 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Last week I mentioned a blogger (this guy) who has been a real inspiration to me. This week, I'm gonna keep it up. I cannot say whether it will be every week, but there are a LOT of bloggers out there who impress me, so who knows?
And this week, I'm featuring this one:

This is Brian, of the blog Laelaps. Sci's always liked dinosaurs and old mammals and stuff, but I'll admit I didn't know a lot about them. Then I started reading Laelaps. I'm always so impressed by his dedicated to his subject, his careful research, and his tone. This is old stuff, it's cool stuff, and it's completely understandable. And he does it, five days a week plus numerous pictures, while working AND going to school. The dedication of Laelaps and other bloggers like him makes Sci pale in comparison. I am continually inspired by his energy and enthusiasm. Check him out if you're interested in fossils, and even if you're not.
Also, Laelaps and Mrs. Laelaps foster kittens:

*phew* done. Seriously, that cat is cute. And it goes to show how many bloggers devote themselves to the world around them, both scientifically and in other ways (like fostering kittens, or founding scholarships, or organizing charities!). Laelaps is just one of them, but he's one of the best.

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A Balloon in your Stomach and your Brain

Sep 23 2009 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

Sci is still tracking her caloric intake every day for the goddess (well, mostly for herself, but also for the goddess). It's very long, slow haul. Sci still considers days when she eats no more than 2000 calories (preferably a little less) as good days. That may not seem like much of a diet, but compared to my previous intake, it's quite a big cut. And many days I just don't make it.
But obviously, this has stayed on my mind. I can't help thinking about how we register food in the brain, how we tell when we are full, and if there's a difference between when we know we are full vs when we KNOW we are full. Sci will admit there's often a big difference between when I feel myself getting full and when I stop eating.
But then I found something that made the issue even more near and dear to my heart. It could have something to do with dopamine! Tomasi et al. "Association of body mass and brain activation during gastric distention: implications for obesity" PLoS ONE, 2009

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5 responses so far

Scientia Pro Publica is out!

Sep 22 2009 Published by under Blog Carnivals

It actually came out yesterday, but Sci was crazy busy doing awesome sciency things. I would say I looked a lot like this:

But anyway, Scientia Pro Publica is up at Lab Rat. We're in it, and there's a cool thing on sperm wars from Mauka to Makai. And there's a post on the possible psychiatric illness of Salvador Dali. What, you thought those dripping watches were NORMAL?
Check it out!

3 responses so far

Science Communication: A Conversation

Sep 21 2009 Published by under Academia

So a few days ago, Brian of Laelaps and I had a conversation. The conversation went like this:

Sci: Somebody wrote a book where he referred to the "tone" of as being bad for science. The book is "Don't be SUCH a scientist". Because we are "such scientists", as in, people who are obsessed with facts and take passion and interest from everything we communicate with. I'm really getting annoyed by this. Though I see the point, in that we all know many scientists can make learning some pretty dry stuff. But look, I'm a communicator, so are you. We write stuff people find entertaining! It's on a blog for ALL THE WORLD to see, it's even on the NY Times sometimes. Yet. I get 1500 hits a day. I know twilight fanfic websites that get way more than that. So I'm communicating, and I'm doing it well, and it's not for lack of exposure...why aren't people clicking then?
Brian: Yeah, [that scienceblogs reference] I don't understand how it's bad for scientists to help more people understand science! I haven't read "Don't Be Such A Scientist" yet, but a copy should be coming to my mailbox soon.
Sci: I think I want to post something. Because one wonders. There are those of us out there. Scientists, students of science, etc, who post about science. We try to do it so everyone can understand. It's interesting, it's relevant. It's not fact-obsessed. There are tons of popular science books out there doing the same thing. But NO ONE CLICKS. And no one reads. Scientists might be part of the problem, but we're not the only ones causing a major lack of interest.
Brian: Well, the people that read us are already interested in science. It's harder to reach everyone else. You can't make people care about something if they're just not that interested. How about we write our own book, "Maybe they're just not that into science?"
Sci: hehehe. That would be SO FUN! So it comes around again. How do we get people interested. People focus on scientists and science being portrayed as "cool". But I don't know if that's it. People want to become doctors, and doctors are not necessarily cool. They want to become doctors because doctors save people. I want to be a scientist because scientists save the world. Perhaps we should focus more on how people doing science are heroes. Saving the planet, saving people.
So it comes around to how do we get people interested
Brian: Right, and for me, science just had this inexplicable draw. I loved nature, and if I wanted to learn more about nature I knew I would have to become a scientist. Making scientists "cool" will not solve the problem, and it might be a problem we never really solve. We just have to keep working as hard as we can to popularize science.
Sci: But you will contribute to human knowledge. You will inspire, which is very important.
Brian: I think a major improvement would be getting more science-savvy people into mass media outlets to replace some of these journalists who are on the science beat but don't know a thing about science! I reject this idea that there was some golden age when people respected science all the time and we need to go back. There never was such a time. It's always been a fight to get people to understand science, but it's something that is worthwhile.
Sci: Yeah, i definitely agree. People talk about how, during the "space race" people were interested in science. Of COURSE they were. It could come down on their heads any minute. If I were building a fallout shelter and heard about spy satellites orbiting the earth, I'd want to know how they worked, too. But that's because it's relevant, not because science was somehow "cooler". And people NOW are interested in science. They are interested in medicine, in vaccinations and psychiatry, because it's relevant. It's something they're dealing with every day. I don't think we can say that people are "less" interested in science than they used to be. They are interested in what is relevant to them at the moment.
Brian: Right. Well lots of people are interested in science, it is just what aspect, and to what extent. And it would be great if we could get people excited about science that isn't directly relevant to their everyday lives, because there's more to science than just medicine and technology.

And this conversation caused me to do a lot more thinking.

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29 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: the malleable prosthesis

Sep 18 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci is sick today. She's cuddled up with her tea, and desperately hoping she has a cold rather than the flu. But the weird science CALLS US, precious. No matter how sick. It calls.
Judging from the vast number of commercials out there hawking various pills and diets and whatnot, you'd think that erectile dysfunction (ED) was the scourge of mankind. Whether or not it leaves the species begging for help is certainly a matter of debate, but there is definitely a quality of life issue to be addressed. Of course there are lots of pills (Viagra, anyone?) marketed to help, and they do often help a great deal, especially for vascular issues. But some types of ED are far more difficult to treat (for example, those arising from badly-controlled diabetes mellitus), and for those which no pill seems to help, a penis prosthesis is one major option. There are several types available, the hydraulic type (which has a little pump you squeeze to fill it with saline), and the semirigid type, which is a flexible, semirigid material, that you just...bend into the correct position (I've heard some great stories of medical student reactions to finding these in the cadavers in their anatomy lab. One wonders if they are mostly myths, though).
Though implantation with these doesn't sound fun, they are relatively safe, and extremely reliable. But what about the feelings of the men who get them? And what about...their partners? Salama, N. "Satisfaction with the malleable penile prosthesis among couples from the Middle East: is it different from that reported elsewhere?" International Journal of Impotence Research, 2004.
And WHY are these studies ALWAYS conducted in the Middle East?!

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8 responses so far

Blogs Worthy of Note: Edition 1

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Sci's been seeing some things lately, wherein people talk about their favorite science writers/bloggers. In fact, Sci was lucky enough to be one someone's short list!!! And I think it's a great idea to recognize bloggers who have influenced us, or who are just simply great, especially if they are out of our area of expertise.
And so, today Sci will begin her short list. She begins it with this guy:

This is Ed Yong, of Not Exactly Rocket Science. Ed is, in my estimation, one of the DAMN FINEST science bloggers out there right now. When Sci first started blogging, she ran across one of Ed's posts first thing. And I was inspired. I wanted to do THAT. To get science across on subjects that might be considered "difficult" to those outside the field, and to get it across in as simple a way as possible. Obviously, I wanted to do it for neuroscience, because it's what I'm passionate about. And I want people to understand neuroscience and pharmacology because this isn't just cool things about the world. It's the pills you take EVERY DAY, the people you see on the street, the diagnosis you got for your child. This stuff is important, and sure, it's not easy, but if you explain it right, ANYONE can understand. And when you understand, you can act in the best way for your health. It was Ed who made me think writing like this would be possible.
And Ed still inspires me. I don't know how that kid DOES IT. Every day. On the dot. New science, on every subject, well explained. I bet he never sleeps. He's got it all, a great voice, a wonderful understanding, and some crazy prolific-ness. Who wouldn't be inspired?
So you should check him out. Read up. You will learn every day, cool stuff, weird stuff, and stuff that you can understand without being a rocket scientist or neurosurgeon. And to Ed, keep on bloggin'. You're an inspiration to us all. <3.
(PS: Also, he sent me sound-blocking headphones in the mail once so I could work in peace. So I'll admit I'm not totally unbiased.)

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