Archive for: December, 2009

The Year's Book List

Dec 30 2009 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Last year (that was 2008), Sci made a resolution to read 100 books in a year. She did pretty well at the outset. But then she went and start thing. Book reading declined steeply. But I still fit in a good bit. Last year's list is here.
But this year, I knew I would be busy, so I resolved only to try and read 30 books this year. So far, I haven't made it. But I retain hope for the future!! Anyway, here are this years books. And Sci would very much welcome any recommendations any of you might have for what to read next. I'm always looking for some good science, and I'm REALLY looking for some good history. Also, good fantasy. I haven't really found anything that grabs my attention since the Martin Song of Ice and Fire group. Anyone?
General Non-Fiction
1)Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.
2)Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Stone, Patton and Heen.
3)Professionalism is for Everyone by James Ball. Waste. Of. Time.
4)Communicating Science: Giving Talks. 43 pages. Less of a waste of time.
5)Whipping Girl: a transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity by Julia Serano.
6)More Sex is Safer Sex: The unconventional wisdom of economics by Steven E Landsburg.
7)The Gender Knot: Unraveling our patriarchal legacy by Allan G Johnson. Wow. Just wow. It gave me SO much to think about. So so much. One of those books that will really change how you see society.
8)Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. AWESOME!
9)Instant Egghead Guide to the Mind by Emily Anthes and Scientific American.
10)The End of My Addiction by Olivier Ameisen.
11)How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.
12)An Odyssey with Animals: A veterinarian's reflections on the animal rights and welfare debate by Adrian R Morrison.
13)Unscientific America: How scientific illiteracy threatens our future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum.
14)Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion by Lee Kirkpatrick.
15)The search for the giant squid: the biology and mythology of the world's most elusive sea creature by Richard Ellis. COMPLETELY AWESOME!!!!! SQUIDS ARE SO COOL!!!
16)The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology by Masaharu Takemura.
17)The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution by Carl Zimmer.
18)Don't be SUCH a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style by Randy Olson.
General Fiction
19)Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and some guy named Seth who thought that Jane Austen would be cooler with zombies. OMG SO FUNNY. Even funnier if you love Jane Austen.
20) Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi.
21)Of Darkness, Light and Fire by Tanya Huff.
22)Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Fantastic!
23)Rhapsody by Elizabeth Hayden. I GET IT. THEY ARE UNDERGROUND. TIME PASSES. Did we really need to spend 200 pages on it?!
24)The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. BRILLIANT!
25) Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. About the only good thing I can say about it is that it's a quick read. Terribly written, the conversation is positively wooden, and the multiple descriptions of Edward's scintillatingly perfect chest are positivity eye rolling. It's like really cheap candy. It pushes all the right BUTTONS (romance, awww I felt that way in high school buttons), but that doesn't make it good. I think I wasted some neurons on this one.
Historical Fiction
26)The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Excellent.
27) Empress: A Novel by Shan Sa.
28)The Annals of Imperial Rome by Cornelius Tacitus. Apparently suicide was VERY popular in the first century.
29)A History of God: The 4000 year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Karen Armstrong. Pretty good, less so in the more modern eras.

15 responses so far

Monkey Pay Per View

Dec 28 2009 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

As humans, we know how important social interactions are. Aside from the importance of immediate family members, we also like to socialize with new people, unrelated people, and generally just people. There are several other species which are also known to be very social, and I'm not talking about bees. In mammals, the size of the frontal cortex, which is very important for higher informational processing, actually varies according to how high the group size of the species generally is. For example, macaques, a very social species, have large frontal cortices,while less social species of primates do not.
Social information is extremely important to primates, including humans. For example, in a job environment, it's very important to know who your boss is, who's under you, and who your direct peers are. In a social group, there are usually undeclared leaders and followers. And in any social situation, you NEED to know who the hot member of the species is over there.
Of course, most things that are necessary for survival become things that are worth doing for other reasons. Thus, social interaction is not only good for us, it FEELS good (for most of us, anyway). We like hanging out with other people, and we especially like (and work hard to) hanging out with those who we perceive to be more powerful or sexually available. And of course it's the same for other primate species such as monkeys, who want to obtain information about other animals in their environment.
But the question is, how worth it is it to hang out with, or obtain information about, other individuals in your social environment? And what would a monkey pay to look at this hotness?

Oh yeah, you know you'd pay good money to see that. Deaner et al. "Monkeys Pay Per View: Adaptive Valuation of Social Images by Rhesus Macaques" Current Biology, 2005.

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Happy Xmas

Dec 25 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

So, today you might know that, to people of the Christian persuasion, it's Christmas. To people of the non-Christian persuasion, it's ALSO Christmas. Or at least, nothing is open but Chinese restaurants. Sci's here for the food.

Delish. We'll be back on Monday, kids. A happy holidays to all!

One response so far

When Dec 25th Isn't Christmas Day

Dec 21 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

In celebration of the holiday season, Sci went looking for something seasonal. But referring constantly to things like how many calories we eat around this time (Sci is no exception) is really a downer. So this season, Sci decided to find out what would happen if you plug the word "christmas" into pubmed.
It turns out there are a lot of people named Christmas.
But Sci ALSO came across this study, which she found to be a really really cool phenomenon of SCIENCE! And so, as her holiday gift to you today, she presents you with this: Cappelletti et al. "A case of selective impairment of encyclopaedic numerical knowledge or 'when December 25th is no longer Christmas day, but '20 + 5' is still 25'" Cortex, 2006.
One of the things Sci finds interesting about this paper is the idea that the brain distinguishes between two "types" of numbers. Numbers that...are numbers, and numbers that MEAN something.

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: The Million Diatom Orgy

Dec 18 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci is unfortunately unable to get her hands on the real journal article behind this week's weird science. That's because it isn't out yet. But look for it soon in "Deep-Sea Research II", which to Sci sounds a lot like an awesome sequel to an action-biography about Jacques Cousteau. I would definitely go and see those movies. I would buy them. SOMEONE SHOULD MAKE THESE MOVIES.
EDIT: GOT THE PAPER!!! Thanks very much to Dr. Sarno, who responded so quickly to my email. It should also be up online soon.
For this week's Friday Weird Science, I present to you:
Sarno et al. "A massive and simultaneous sex event of two Pseudo-nitzschia species". Deep Sea Research II, 2009.
aka: Massive Simultaneous Sex Event Documented
I bet journalists LOVE it when they get to use "sexually explosive" while covering marine biology. I would.
So what happened? In the Gulf of Naples off the coast of Italy, on Sept. 20, 2006, millions of diatoms of two different species came together for one crazy event.
Whoa there.

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Homeopathy: the basics

Dec 16 2009 Published by under Health Care/Medicine

I feel kind of weird doing a post on homeopathy. But it drives me crazy when people talk about homeopathy as though it is the poor unfortunate soul of modern scientific medicine. So this is an "info" post. I've read a lot of blogs out there, and many of them attack homeopathy without explaining why they think it's bunk, and many people defend homeopathy without knowing what it is they are defending. And I hate when people say things, and then look like idiots because they didn't know ANYTHING about what they were saying. Sci has done this in the past, and wants to save you all from the same embarrassment.
Ah, homeopathy. Almost everyone has an opinion, and opinions are very strong. I managed to find only one article that I could say made an effort to be unbiased, looking at various studies done and whether the studies were enough to determine effects. This article is actually a statement from the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education by Johnson et al in 2007, and it's an article about homeopathy and how it should be covered by those in pharmaceutical practice. So I'm relying pretty heavily on that one article, with other articles as supplement. I do think this stuff is bunk, but this is not about what I think. Rather, it's about what homeopathic remedies are, and how they are purported to work.
I've tried to talk to several people about this post, and every single one of them started out saying "Ooh! Homeopathy! Can you tell me about [insert herbal remedy/ Airborne/ Zinc tablets/ aromatherapy]?!"
I wish I could, and maybe if you ask me a specific question about a specific herbal remedy, I can (hint for possible future posts). Unfortunately, homeopathy is not ABOUT that. Recently, homeopathy has come to mean pretty much anything in the way of alternative therapy, from aromatherapy and herbal remedies to pressure points and chiropractic techniques. But homeopathy itself is actually something very different. It doesn't mean that homeopathy doesn't often coincide with herbal remedies or aromatherapy, many homeopathic remedies are herbal in origin. But what I will be covering today is homeopathy in the very strictest sense.
So, for the record. Homeopathy ≠ herbal remedies. A lot of people say stuff like "you scientists hate homeopathy, but herbs can have many medical properties". Yes, herbs can have many medical properties, and many researchers are still looking at plants to isolate possible active ingredients for new drugs. We wouldn't even have aspirin if the Bayer company hadn't started questioning why people took Willow infusions for headaches (willow bark contains salisylic acid, which is a relative of acetylsalisylic acid, or asprin). But herbal remedies like those are NOT homeopathy. The difference lies in how homeopathic remedies are made and the theory behind how they work.

What is Homeopathy?

Continue Reading »

28 responses so far

Zicam and your Nose

Dec 14 2009 Published by under Health Care/Medicine

Sci saw this post recently at Dr. Pal's place, and it rang some major bells in her head. So, I figure, I've got to cover it myself, now don't I. Lim et al. "Zican-induced damage to mouse and human nasal tissue" PLoS ONE, 2009.
So let's start with a couple of things:
1) What is Zicam?
2) Why was it recalled?
3) What are the possible effects of zinc on the common cold?

Continue Reading »

14 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: Creative Uses of the Stopwatch

Dec 11 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science

For Sci, the weird science tends to come in spurts (heh heh...heh). There will be times when I am literally digging through Pubmed trying to find ANYTHING ODD AT ALL, and then there are times, like now, when people are tweeting and emailing and g-chatting and all but screaming in my ear with the weird. Got enough crazy sexual crap around here to last for WEEKS.
And a good thing, too, cause it's all about premature ejaculation, and don't we all wish we could last for weeks...
So we get to this week. I was going to cover an amazing dog caper, but this one is so very relevant to LAST week's weird science that I felt they had to follow in sequence. Dog capers next week. Stay tuned. Waldinger et al. "A multinational population survey of intravaginal ejaculation latency time." J. Sex. Med. 2005.
And I hereby dedicate this post (for better or worse...) to Miriam of the Oyster's Garter (and Seaplex!), who sent Sci the paper within TWO MINUTES of me sending out a desperate tweet for journal access. She was not a bit premature. 🙂 Also, yay Twitter.

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Breaking Tuesday Weird Science!

Dec 08 2009 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Normally Sci wouldn't bother with weird science until Friday (the rest of the week is reserved for ACTUAL science, you know. And terrible poetry, of course), but this is just too good. And there's no actual paper on it. So it's Tuesday Weird Journalistic Science...or something. So we're going to have to be...premature.
Premature Ejaculation: Marketing the Condition Before the Drug
*sits down, looks very concerned, and lowers glasses in a very sympathetic sort of manner *
Men, did you ever worry that you were...premature? you do now!

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Perhaps there's more to that guy in the red suit...

Dec 07 2009 Published by under Academia

Ah, the Holiday Season. In the US, beginning around...midnight directly following the Thanksgiving festivities, the holiday stuff comes out. Suddenly, a normal middle America city is transformed (or at least, its downtown is transformed) with Christmas trees and whatever sparkly candy canes or angels they have hanging from all of the street lamps.
And into this rather picturesque downtown, made so by a careful covering of spangles, walked Sci this past weekend. She walked into a delicious, delicious chocolate shop. And she had come for a purpose, for she knew that within this shop, pumpkin flavored truffles were to be had.

And apparently, in this sweet shop on this particular weekend, there was to be a Santa. There were little kids racing around, and in an area near the back sat the Jolly Elf himself.
Sci has had never had much truck with Santas. Even when you're a kid and you want to believe, seeing a parade come down the street at Christmas with an entire HOST of Santas...well...

Motorcycles aside, Sci was a born scientist, and the physics of Santas and chimneys just didn't hold up.
But now, Sci's might be getting a little less cynical, and a little more...desperate. For on Saturday, she approached this charming Santa, pumpkin truffles in hand. He was a very good model, real white fluffy beard, spectacles, and authentic tummy. Sci felt a little old to be sitting on laps, and was therefore gratified when the Santa rose, put an arm around her shoulders in a comforting manner, and asked what she wanted for Christmas.
And I said, "I'd like a PhD, please"

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

Older posts »