After approximately 90 days and over 150 posts, and several full-length articles, reviews, and interviews, polyscience is closing up shop. I’m not going to stop writing, though. You might say I’ve been “acquired” — Ars Technica is launching a new science journal to go with their other technology journals. It will most likely be going live tomorrow.
It is with a small amount of sadness that I’m saying goodbye to polyscience.org. I will leave the site here as it stands now, with comments still open. (I get email notifications of new comments so I’ll still reply.) I accomplished more here than I ever really thought I would. I learned quite a lot about a great many things, and I’ll be referencing some of the posts that I wrote here in my journal entries for Ars. When I say I accomplished more than I thought I would, you have to understand that most of the projects I start start well, and then fizzle out in about a month. You see, I’ve got a fantastic first gear, but when it comes to doing things for the long-haul, well… I’m not the greatest at consistency. I am surprised and pleased that I ended up having several full-length features. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day that that happened without someone holding a gun to my head.
It was nice to have my own sandbox to play in. I’m a little depressed because I won’t be able to write longer features like I used to here. I am pleased, though, to be writing under Ars’s “pirate” flag for lack of a better term. I will be free to speak my mind to a much larger audience. I will have to elevate my game, though, and I know that. More background research, more review time before I click the publish button, as recent comments by Hat Monster have shown. And this is fine; I look forward to the new challenge. I’m sure I’ll get flamed plenty often by people who know more than I do about a given subject — that is simply the nature of the game when you write about such a broad field like “science.” As I said in my very first post, I am a science enthusiast, not a scientist.
Some closing stats for you all. All of these are figures from July 3 up until now.
- 17,638 page impressions
- 156 comments and pingbacks (more comments than PBs, though)
- 152 posts (including this one)
And an immeasurable amount of pride. :)
A few days ago, I wrote about the trial going on in Dover, PA wherein the school board is trying to shoehorn intelligent design into the science curriculum. The textbook they are using, Of Pandas and People, espouses the theory of intelligent design. But intelligent design is simply a rewording of the term “creationism” for political reasons. Literally.
Reports are now out now showing that the book literally swapped terms like “creationism” for “intelligent design.” (Hey, I can do that too, with a simple Control-H!) The move shows how thin the veneer of “science” in the intelligent design camp is, because most proponents of ID have claimed that they are not creationists. Of course, teaching creationism in a public school is illegal because of the constitutional separation of church and state. Not to mention that it’s a little tough to try to teach “creation” as science. (By anyone’s standards.) By adding one more layer of abstraction between a deity and science, you get intelligent design which is politically acceptable to teach as science.
Forrest compared early drafts of Of Pandas and People to a later 1987 copy, and showed how in several instances the word “creationism” had been replaced by “intelligent design”, and “creationist” simply replaced by “intelligent design proponent”.
Matzke, who was at the trial, points out that the “switching” of the words is also suspicious because of its timing, which came just after the US Supreme Court’s decision on 19 June 1987 that it was unconstitutional to teach creationism in schools.
The names of the drafts alone are incriminating, he says. The first draft, in 1983, was called Creation Biology, the next is Biology and Creation, dated 1986, and is followed by Biology and Origin in 1987. It is not until later in 1987 that Of Pandas and People emerges.
Regardless of what one’s religious beliefs and political views on the matter, I believe that using underhanded tactics such as these is disingenuous and undermines the study of science in favor political maneuvering. While I have also said that science does not and should not exist in a political vacuum when it comes to ethics, it should exist in that vacuum when attempting to determine the truth and report facts. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the United States in this day and age.
Some quick morning bullets.
- A UK heart surgeon, Mr. Francis Wells (anyone else find it strange that he goes by the title “Mr.” rather than “Dr.”?) has pioneered a new way of restoring normal mitral valve function by studying the heart diagrams made by Leonardo da Vinci. His technique allows him to avoid some of the drawbacks that current repair operations introduce. Mr. Wells has successfully treated 80 patients with the technique. Three cheers for Leonardo?
- Pathological liars often have anatomically different brain structures which allow them to create complex lies quickly, with relatively little inhibition. Excess white matter in the prefrontal cortex (used for high-level thought) and decreased gray matter (which mediates inhibitions) giving them an edge over anti-social people and normal control subjects.
- Yesterday, I wrote about Gary Olsen, the third “space tourist,” and how calling him simply a tourist was unfair. As a materials scientist, it stands to reason that he’ll conduct experiments on himself. He’ll be investigating space sickness, lower back pain, and be collecting data on microorganisms inside in the ISS.
I find the commentary on Leonardo da Vinci interesting. It’s been said that some of the best doctors come from backgrounds outside medicine: particularly engineering because they bring a different mindset and way of looking at problems with them when they go to medical school. With no formal background in medicine, da Vinci brought an engineering perspective to the table when he looked at the body and drew his illustrations and diagrams. I think it’s all sorts of cool that even today, people are learning from his work.
Now there’s a headline I never thought I’d see… The British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has formally determined what practitioners have known for quite a while: that children and anti-depressants should only be mixed in moderate to severe cases of depression. The risk of SSRIs leading to suicide and suicidal thoughts is relatively well-known given the civil suits against Pfizer (the makers of Zoloft) stemming from teenaged suicide allegedly triggered by the drug.
The determination by NICE went a step further and stated what I’ve known for quite a long time: that many of the folks on anti-depressant need therapy more than they need medication. In the UK, NICE has said that this doesn’t happen as often as it should due to a shortage of therapists. I suspect that this is one of the problems, but the other is that people simply don’t want to take the time out of their lives for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) when they could have a magic bullet that does almost as well. In the United States, this is certainly the case.
There are certainly legitimate cases where people need these medications, but nowhere near the numbers that actually take them. I believe that we have direct-to-consumer advertising and doctors and patients who simply don’t want to bother with therapy. I hope that this will change soon. Frankly, I expect that it will as insurance companies realize that while paying for therapy now is more expensive, they can save a fortune later in long-term drug costs when those people that only needed a little help are back on their feet, SSRI-free.
American millionaire Gary Olsen became the third private citizen in space on October 1 when his rocket blasted of from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket reached its initial designated orbit with the 60-year-old founder of an infrared-camera company based out of New Jersey onboard.
Then yesterday, the Soyuz spacecraft docked with the International Space Station five minutes ahead of schedule on day 2 of its 10-day mission. Olsen reportedly paid $20 million to be a part of the re-supply mission to the ISS. Olsen and the other two cosmonauts will perform experiments while they are there in addition to supplying the space station.
Space “tourism” is a bit of a misnomer in this day and age, simply because it’s not a matter of writing a check and going for a ride. Olsen had to pass rigorous health checks and be trained before strapping into the Soyuz capsule. Indeed, Olsen says he prefers the term “space flight participant” to “space tourist,” and the term is probably more apt since he’s not just along for the ride. (There simply isn’t the resources to allow someone to literally just go for a ride into space.)
Russia has turned to space tourism in recent years to finance their largely-broke space program. The first civilian in space was Californian Dennis Tito, and Mark Shuttleworth of South Africa was second. Currently the United States is dependent on the Soyuz program because of the problems with the Shuttle program. But now there are legal issues to contend with because of a law passed in 2000 prohibiting space-station-related payments to Russia because they helped the Iranians build a nuclear power plant. In theory, this could mean no more continuous American presence on the ISS, though this seems unlikely.
William McArthur, another American alongside Mark Olsen is scheduled to remain on board the ISS when Olsen leaves. With this law in effect, it is unknown whether McArthur will be able to return home, as the Russians are under no obligation to fly him home if the US doesn’t pay. (Which seems perfectly reasonable, not that I think they’d leave him there.) NASA would like to replace him in the spring, but again, the Russians are not obligated to fly a replacement there, or return McArthur at that time. Fortunately for all parties involved, the US Senate agreed unanimously to lift the ban on purchasing Soyuz seats until 2012.
Once again, I think a mandatory expiration date for all laws is in order, here, to prevent silly situations like this from happening in the first place.
Living in the US, I’m usually plugged into things that happen to the north-western hemisphere, unless it’s a breakthrough that affects the world as a whole. Nonetheless, things like solar eclipses don’t usually escape my notice, but regrettably, this one did. (Not that I have many non-US readers.)
A partial solar eclipse took place today, viewed by millions from Portugal to India where the moon took a chunk off the top of the sun. The moon’s orbit was too far out to create a full eclipse, but the event is pretty cool nonetheless. I remember going outside during school hours to view a solar eclipse — they’re way more interesting than lunar eclipses.
I wish we could have seen it here in the US.
Helicobacter pylori, the stomach bacteria best known for causing stomach and duodenal ulcers was discovered in 1982 by Doctors Robin Warren and Barry Marshall. The organism is one of the only bacteria able to survive in the low pH in the stomach which can dip as low as 1 to 2 after a person eats a meal. A stomach ulcer (image), of course is a hole in a mucosal lining of the stomach which causes inflammation and bleeding. Before the bacterial cause was found, however, many people died because the root cause of the ulcer was never fixed.
In the days before the discovery of H. pylori, people thought that ulcers were caused by stress and a poor diet. While these things can help trigger an ulcer, they generally aren’t the root cause. By identifying the underlying culprit, not only did Doctors Warren and Marshall help many people suffering from ulcers get better, but they also changed the way society looked at those who had ulcers. Instead of being looked at almost as a moral problem, they made it a “real” physical ailment by isolating its cause.
So determined was Dr. Marshall to prove that H. pylori was the cause that he infected himself with it to prove once and for all that it was, indeed, the culprit. Because H. pylori prefers an acidic environment, it can stimulate the parietal cells to secrete more acid which can further damage the mucosal lining, which can lead to bleeding and eventually death. H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) can decrease the amount of acid in the stomach, but they don’t completely get rid of the problem, they just stifle one of the symptoms. Combining a PPI and antibiotics (generally two at a time), you can get rid of the ulcer for good — or at least until the next infection. Generally, amoxicillin with Flagyl or Biaxin is used to treat an ulcer.
While deadly stomach ulcers are generally a thing of the past in first-world societies, they’re still a huge problem in developing countries, where almost everyone has an H. pylori infection, even over 20 years after the discovery of our little friend.