Gene Responsible for DEET Resistance Believed Dominant in Mosquitoes

•May 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

Unlike the active ingredients in most household products, DEET holds a special place in our hearts. In as much as any mosquito repellent component can be, DEET is constantly in the news. The lambasting it has received throughout the years, however, is mostly unwarranted. Under household doses (if you bathe in the stuff I think you might be in trouble), DEET doesn’t cause birth defects or induce seizures. Some people die of DEET poisoning every now and then, but people die from huffing gasoline too. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. DEET prevents the transmission of malaria, West Nile Virus, and many other potentially lethal diseases. In the developed world, where the fear of dengue fever takes backseat to the more relevant usage of DEET as employed when enjoying a picnic or going for a summer walk, it is easier to view insect repellent as a convenience rather than a necessity. But we do take our convenience very seriously. It’s especially unfortunate for everyone then that researchers from the UK found breeding DEET resistant populations of mosquitoes to be remarkably easy, so simple that it suggests that DEET resistance is, in fact, a dominant gene (or set of genes) in the larger mosquito genome.

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Lasers Another Tool in the Climate Engineer’s Box of Tricks?

•May 2, 2010 • Leave a Comment

More and more evidence mounts that the effects of global climate change are already drastically altering the ecology of our planet. The apparent acceleration of warming trends produces a call to action in many scientific and political circles, but the traditional chorus baying for enhanced efforts at conservation may never be capable of offsetting the momentum inherent in this change. This slowly dawning realization begins to push the once fringe science of climate engineering into the forefront of the public conversation. As part of this shift, terms like cloud seeding, once connoted with Soviet-era mad scientists shooting unpleasant sounding chemicals into the atmosphere, are not uncommon parlance in the mainstream outlets of daytime television and nightly news media. Modernizing the discussion even further, optical physicists at the University of Geneva discovered that firing short pulses of laser beams into the air may result in the desired effect of cloud seeding, rain, without the ecological uncertainty involved in aerosolizing the atmosphere with silver iodide, as was the preferred convention in times past.

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Dutch PSA Uses Augmented Reality Billboard to Immerse Viewers in Violent Conflict

•April 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

While assaults on public servants are not rare in many countries, they are frequent enough in the Netherlands that the government dropped some coin on a provocative new public education campaign geared at shaming bystanders who fail to get involved when witnessing such an attack. Growing concern at this civic shortcoming prompted officials to place interactive billboards at busy intersections in Amsterdam and Rotterdam that literally pull their viewers onto the sidelines of a violent confrontation between thugs and emergency medical responders.

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Reintroduction of Oxygen May Increase Morbidity Following Cardiac Arrest

•April 27, 2010 • 3 Comments

When modern medical professionals talk about death, they’re usually speaking in terms of the absence of brain activity. Not so long ago, the conventional signifier of shuffling off the mortal coil was the cessation of the heart beat. Modern CPR and electronic defibrillation make that definition obsolete, but both standards for morbidity deal with a common problem: the lack of oxygen. Until recently, the conceptualization of death on the microscopic level consisted of a cell, choked and suffocated after four or five minutes without oxygen, being irreparably damaged and irrevocably lost. This longstanding convention went largely unquestioned until the last few years, when doctors studying oxygen deprived cells under a microscope realized that it took hours, not minutes, for them to die. They also unearthed a second mystery; following four or five minutes without any O2, the cells actually initiated apoptosis (self-destruction) when oxygen was reintroduced. That suggests that the standard practice of oxygenating patients when they arrive at the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest may significantly increase the risk of death instead of helping to reduce it.

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Study Reports Health, Life Insurers Invest Nearly $2 Billion in Fast Food

•April 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

You may remember the survey published in 2009 by Harvard Medical School researchers which claimed that health and life insurance companies had almost $4.5 billion invested in tobacco stock. Heavily disputed as the numbers were, the comprehensive database compiled from SEC filings used in the study proved sound. MetLife, Cigna, Sun Life, and others released press statements denying any significant direct investment in tobacco stocks. Their cumulative total through subsidiaries or third-party index funds, however, was staggeringly high.

Harvard Medical School is in the news again after publishing further analysis in the American Journal of Public Health regarding the investments of health and life insurance companies. They tracked the total value of stock in the top five fast food companies as of June 2009, which summed to a quite sizable $1.88 billion.

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Government Requests – Google’s New Software Shames the Man

•April 20, 2010 • 1 Comment

Coming off their recent corporate soul-searching spurred by the censorship and cyber warfare plied through the Chinese government, Google is understandably sensitive to the impingement of the free disclosure of information, especially by state actors. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that out of what seems to be a mixture of societal responsibility and atonement for complicity, emerged Google’s newest online service: Government Requests.

Currently housing queries from July 1st to December 31st 2009, Government Requests is a composite of official state appeals for information held by Google or for the removal of material hosted by Google. Selecting any one country reveals an interesting breakdown by the types of removal requests. It even specifies whether it was the result of a court order. While they stop shy of posting the specific Gmail accounts or blogs that got the axe, they don’t hesitate to list the percentage of requests in which Google, at least partially, complied.

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iPhone Serendipity: the Best Childhood Education Tool on the Market

•April 18, 2010 • 3 Comments

My generation lived its youth in a time of great technological change. My twenty-five years saw innovative leaps from the invention of the personal computer all the way to the ubiquity of the smartphone. The first research papers that I wrote were with the assistance of real glue and paper books in actual brick and mortar libraries. Those that are older than me might chuckle at this banal statement, but not many of my juniors will relate to such an antiquated practice. Now I write this blog and avoid hardcopy source references because I cannot cite them as easily through hyperlinks, making them less valuable as verifiable proof for an argument. How times have changed. From card catalogs to global search engines, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this great shift in perspective manifest firsthand. While we might not yet make Tom Brokaw’s list, ours will surely prove to be one of the greatest generations, if not mostly due to circumstance.

Now a portion of generation Y (Z, Millennial, or whatever), having rode the wave of technological innovation throughout the 90’s and 00’s, is making babies. These infants enter a world saturated with social media, having parents who, for the first time in history, maintain large numbers of friends and acquaintances online through virtual networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. These parents have access to the largest information repository ever, the Internet, in their pockets or purses, wherein all answers (and falsehoods) are present. Among rational people, arguments concerning the particulars of one known fact or another are a thing of the past, made extinct by the on-hand access to information offered by devices like smartphones, which put the wealth of all recorded knowledge at finger’s reach.

I would argue that the future of handheld computing rests at the confluence of power and accessibility, a model dominated in its current paradigm by Apple’s iPhone. As it so happens, the timing of the brood born by generation Y coincides with the rapid advances in ease-of-use functionality taking place within the smartphone industry. This, coupled with its (mostly) open access to third-party application development, makes the iPhone a dominant platform for children’s educational software beginning, serendipitously, with the kids of the first generation to reap the educational windfall offered by the Internet.

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British Chiropractic Association Drops Suit against Simon Singh

•April 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As I mentioned last week, science writer Simon Singh recently won an appeal in a suit brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) about an article he wrote in The Guardian that was critical of treatment claims made by the BCA. The outcome of the appeal interpreted Singh’s commentary, specifically that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments”, as subject to a “fair comment” defense. As a result of this change in momentum and a near continuous stream of bad press, the BCA decided today, after two years of litigation, to drop the suit against Singh.

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Hallucinogenic Mushrooms Strongly Correlate to Depression Relief in Terminal Cancer Trial

•April 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

Most people, some more intimately than others, are aware that many species of fungi contain the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin. While widely regarded as a recreational staple, research suggests that it shows medicinal promise as well. Dr. Roland Griffith, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University, conducted trials over the last few years seeking to understand the interaction between psilocybin and the brain. Most recently his research finds him testing the efficacy of psilocybin in assisting cancer patients coping with feelings of intense depression and anxiety associated with the disease and its treatment.

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iPhone 4.0: the Good, the Bad, and the Continued Lack of Flash

•April 8, 2010 • 5 Comments

The greatly anticipated iPhone OS 4.0 birthed its way into the public eye today, with each new feature enhancement to the SDK carefully enumerated for developers by Cupertino’s greatest, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. As was typical of Spring seasons past, the mad scientists at Apple conjured up another generation of functionality, complete with several fist-pump worthy innovations, to keep their smartphone competitive in one of the world’s fastest growing industries. Also typical of the past, the upgrade lacked several key improvements, leaving some to ponder if the ears on Steve’s head are truly just for show (I also heard he is the Stig).

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WikiLeaks Video: Journalists Killed in US Attack, Military Rationale Dubious

•April 6, 2010 • 4 Comments

WikiLeaks is a non-profit website that serves the world community by publishing classified media concerning human rights violations and abuses of government power. By remaining largely anonymous and protecting the sources of its information, WikiLeaks bypasses censorship in its many forms, and provides a valuable service that mainstream media organizations simply cannot accomplish. In perhaps their most memorable posting to date, last year the website listed 570,000 hacked pager intercepts from a 24-hour period encompassing the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The hours I spent reading intercepts from that day made the experience more vivid than all of the media coverage surrounding the event that I’ve seen over the last eight and a half years. Yesterday, WikiLeaks released another string of heart-wrenching media, but in this footage, it is the “enemy” that garners sympathy.

On July 12, 2007, two Apache AH-64 helicopter gunships along with 240 soldiers in Humvees supported by Bradley Fighting Vehicles made their way into the Al-Amin neighborhood of Baghdad. Responding to reports of small arms fire directed at coalition troops, a contingent of the force including both Apache helicopters descended on the epicenter of activity in east Al-Amin. With Bradleys and Humvees strong pointing perpendicular streets adjacent to several open blocks, the helicopters scanned rooftops and avenues for signs of any insurgent activity in between their positions. Here is where the WikiLeaks video footage begins.

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Simon Singh, Libel Law, and the British Chiropractic Association

•April 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For those not aware, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) brought a libel suit in English courts against science writer and comedian Simon Singh for an article he wrote in The Guardian in April 2008. The crux of their disagreement rests in this excerpt from Singh’s article:

“You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.”

For some time, it appeared that Singh would lose the battle on legal semantics. Following a May 2009 preliminary hearing, the judge found Singh’s statement that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments” was Singh’s assertion of fact and not opinion. Therefore, the burden of proof rested on Singh to show that the BCA knowingly provided treatments which they (as an organization) and their members (as individual practitioners) patently knew to be ineffectual. Short of every BCA member sitting on the stand and admitting their malfeasance (a near impossible task), Singh was sure to lose the case and face financial ruin in the process. The scientific and libel reform communities could do nothing but hang their heads in disgust. A break in a string of bad news came earlier in the week, however, when the Royal Courts of Justice in London rendered an appellate decision to permit Singh’s statement as a matter of opinion, thereby permitting a “fair comment” defense. While this is great news for Simon Singh and a first step towards the much-needed reform of British libel laws, it is still a capitulation to the slovenly and ignorant BCA and the pseudoscience they employ to justify their actions.

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Strong Magnetic Fields Muddle Moral Inferences

•April 1, 2010 • 2 Comments

Early this week, researchers from MIT’s moral psychology lab announced a provocative new discovery. By applying a strong magnetic pulse through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in the brain, researchers were able to create a measurable difference in the capacity of people to infer the intentions of others. This change manifested itself in trials as an increase in “all’s well that ends well” perceptions. In other words, the subjects were more likely to judge the morality of an event based on its outcome than the means to achieve it.

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Call a Terrorist a Terrorist

•March 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Over the last two days, FBI agents arrested nine members of a heavily armed religious extremist group. These militants plotted to murder a police officer, and then go on a killing spree at his funeral using assault rifles and improvised explosive devices. They hoped that following this rampage, their actions would set off widespread violence against government targets from other like-minded groups. The members of Hutaree, as the group calls itself, are charged with the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosives, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, and more. The group’s website promotes their fundamentalist religious world view, and contains embedded YouTube footage depicting the team undergoing tactical maneuvering and automatic weapons training. But according to every mainstream news report I’ve seen, these would-be murders are not terrorists. Their mug shots might give you a hint why. Since they are trailer park white Christians from rural Michigan, when they want to maim and murder for political purposes, they are called radicalized members of the American militia movement.

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Google Fiber and Greenville’s People-Powered Google Chain

•March 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

It seems everyone is working themselves into Google Fiber frenzy. After the internet giant’s announcement in February that they plan to construct an experimental fiber optic infrastructure serving gigabit connections to as many as a half a million residents, candidate cities lined up by the hundreds. During the ensuing courtship, some communities went to extremes to show their adoration for Google. The town of Topeka, Kansas renamed itself Google for the month of March, and the mayor of Duluth, MN took an icy bath in Lake Superior to demonstrate his commitment to the project. So it was with some merriment that I discovered that my adopted hometown of Greenville, SC entered the media melee on March 20th by creating the largest “people-powered Google chain” in history out of hundreds of volunteers and a couple thousand eco-friendly glow sticks. Seeing this impressive display got me wondering, what is Google really looking for in a candidate, and do towns like Greenville have it?

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