Research

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Why can’t science be fun?

I mean, sure – I’d love to see cancer cures, and schizophrenia cures and even more on the promising telomeric theory of living forever.  But sometimes, we learn a lot of things that seem – if not useless, then inconsequential –and they prove invaluable later on in ways we can never predict.

Would you like to know in advance if a pop song is going to be a big hit?  I’m sure some people would.  Believe it or not, that has been the topic of recent research. Okay, so it is a small study.  Who would fund further research on this one? There is a certain part of the tender adolescent brain (remember, our brains don’t get completely myelinated until age 28.  That means we do not have all the fatty-insulation around the nerves to conduct impulses) that reacts in a very interesting way to music. Based mostly on animal studies, the ventral striatum seems to be associated with emotions that generate behavior.  This differentiates it from the dorsal striatum, which has mostly sensorimotor control.   Makes sense.  Although they are similar, these two different types of behavior are slightly different.  Sometimes we decide what we want to do by what we feel physically.  If it is too cold, we go for a jacket.  The sensory input probably goes through at least a couple of brain centers, like thermoregulation. Read more on Using Science To Predict Pop Music Hits…

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This is the quotation that was next to my picture, smiling and cuddling an electron microscope, in my high school yearbook: “Seek truth and do not part with it…” Yeah, I can’t be the first person who had that idea in mind at least a little bit when considering a research career.  

There is a truth about the universe that is being revealed slowly.  It takes us a while to get things right.  I remember telling some people who thought religion and science were at odds with each other that perhaps whatever deity you believe in will only reveal what people will understand. 

If an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head was God’s way of revealing the laws of gravity to him, it was probably because the work of Galileo had already paved the way for this knowledge to be revealed.  For the TRUTH to be revealed.  Yet Newton was not ready for genetic recombination. Now, most scientists I know would accept that as universal truth.   But, as Jack Nicholson said to Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men,” — ” You can’t handle the truth…” (from the script by Aaron Sorkin). Read more on There Is Science and Then There is Military Science…

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The death rate is down and the life expectancy is up.  “Nothing but good news,” says the statistician.

Perhaps our prevention programs and treatments are working.  Statistics are unwieldy things, but these are so general, the news of less death and more life can only be seductive. I want to look at it closer. I want to look at the differentiations among groups, which I doubt have changed. If you ever wondered about women living longer than men, both in the African-American race and the Euro-American races, you should have seen my waiting room the day I encountered a soft spoken and personable but physically-challenged African-American man.  He was surrounded by obviously smitten females bearing gifts.  Two of the three young ladies offered him homemade baked goods and made a point of telling the third she did not have a chance because she only had a dozen store-bought doughnuts. Read more on Why Do Some People Live Longer Than Others?…

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I Am A Doctor, But I Don’t Play One On TV

Personality-wise, the cranky and inconsiderate title character of the hit TV series House, MD are mirror opposites.  I actually LIKE people – especially people who need help (patients).

Obviously many people enjoy this series, since it is one of the highest rated. But for me, the challenge is to out-diagnose him.

In case you’ve never watched, the formula for each episode is a seemingly straight-forward illness, which (of course) is the wrong diagnosis.  The rest of the show is slapping another diagnosis on the patient, and testing the patient, which makes the patient worse.  Read more on Being Locked-In May Not Be So Bad For Everybody…

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The first known account of this plant, known by Latin (Carolus Linnaeus) nomenclature “Sceletum tortuosum allegedly dates back to Jan van Riebeeck, Dutch founder of South Africa. He appears, also, to have seen the first recorded comet that passed through that distant place, so we know he was educated enough to be a scientific dilettante at the very least. He has earned, rightfully, a lovely place in the history of South Africa. I am not knocking such status, mind you. I think few people would be clever or concerned enough to be scientific even at dilettante level in our day and age — thinking of even the cleverest of politicians. I am somewhat more concerned about what the South Africans seem to be excited about. Read more on African Drug Being Developed For Antidepressant…

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Sometimes the most accurate answer is “maybe.”

Sometimes if there is a lot of scientific data about something, and someone wants to know what is real and what is not real, what is dangerous and what is not dangerous, you can look at all of the data and come up with something complex .

Perhaps something is dangerous in some situations, not in others — watch this and not that.

This is science for adults, not Beakman’s World — as much as I love his show.  I admit, I’m out there shouting “I love science” at the top of my lungs right along with Dr. Beakman.

But this is more serious. It is also not politics, not a love-have question.  Not a “get every atom of this compound out of here” plea, nor a “it is safe and just fine so let’s stop worrying” answer, either.

The compound I’m talking about is Bisphenol A, known as BPA. Depending on who you believe, it was first synthesized in either the late 19th or early 20th century, from acetone and phenol. This makes the basis of a “thermoplastic,” one of the easy-to-work-with plastics that is used for containers you see everywhere. Read more on Pass The Bottle — But Be Careful!…

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Beware the rare tree octopus, for he/she is in reality possessed of a frightening power.  For this animal can show us how the internet has rendered us gullible.
This was an internet hoax, apparently created by Lyle Zapato in 1998. It not only persists, but grows.
I brake  for the tree octopus bumper sticker I had suspected that people believed anything if it appeared on a television screen, but this way far beyond adolescents believing Hannah Montana lives and has a double life as a plain, ordinary high school girl. This research seems to have been picked up by — would you believe — the British Daily Mail, people who speak the same language we do although with quite a bit of “panache.” Read more on Chasing The Tree Octopus…

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If this is the first time you’re reading my blog – Welcome!

If not, you know that I’m … ummm … mature and that I’ve been restless enough to study many branches of medicine.

My current credential is in psychiatry, and like Rodney Dangerfield, we shrinks “Don’t get no respect.” Read more on Researchers Are Short-Sighted When Looking At Data…

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Okay, let me get this straight.  We are looking for new science to stop an aged population from getting Alzheimer’s and getting dependent on others for that structured “senile” type care that is expensive and — let’s be honest — usually not enough to keep people really productive.

The first of the two studies reported here is basically saying that people with lower amounts of measurable beta amyloid marker have more cognitive decline over the nine years studied.  Another report on the elusive “marker” for Alzheimer’s.  If someone can tell with a blood test that you got it, what are you going to do? There are several drug companies, presumably including the folks at Avid Pharmaceuticals, who sponsored the second study, for a molecule that binds to the protein that ends up in microscopically visible “tangles” that show up in biopsies and autopsies of Alzheimer’s type brain tissue. It is also reported that educated people are less likely to get Alzheimer’s.  Frankly, this sort of finding is usually attributed to a “use it or lose it” analogy to the physical workout.  In some ways this is true. I remember some lovely studies when I was in France that led La Nation to tell seniors to slowly practice memorizing their shopping lists, and they did indeed seem to improve their recent memory.

I also remember a study I suspect the rest of the world has forgotten, called the “Minneapolis Nun Study.” Read more on Misguided Research Is Dithering Around Alzheimer’s Again…

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Research is something that many people find suspicious.  The mass public doesn’t know what makes “good” research and what is just plain manipulation.

Most people know that studying a lot of cases gives a more accurate picture than studying a single case – or just a few cases.  But speaking as a formally trained and professional researcher, let me tell you that – contrary to conventional wisdom — it is really hard to make any sense of any kind of statistics that study a big-lot-much-HUGE number of human people.

Read more on Beware Of Governments Bearing Statistics…

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