Saturday, April 11

New Yorkers to be Entered in Science Experiment

Michael Bloomberg and Thomas R. Frieden forego the constraints of compelling evidence and consent to engage NY in the largest unapproved science experiment in a long time.

Check out this article by John Tierney from the NYT:
Suppose you wanted to test the effects of halving the amount of salt in people’s diets. If you were an academic researcher, you’d have to persuade your institutional review board that you had considered the risks and obtained informed consent from the participants.

You might, for instance, take note of a recent clinical trial in which heart patients put on a restricted-sodium diet fared worse than those on a normal diet. In light of new research suggesting that eating salt improves mood and combats depression, you might be alert for psychological effects of the new diet. You might worry that people would react to less-salty food by eating more of it, a trend you could monitor by comparing them with a control group.

But if you are the mayor of New York, no such constraints apply. Read more...

Do you want New York's mayor and health commissioner leading a nationwide initiative to halve the salt in your food? Join the discussion. Go to TierneyLab »

Florida's Solar City

I already posted about this once, but for those of you who missed it, here is another article about Babcock Ranch, the first solar city in the U.S. (from

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Florida utility and a real estate developer are aiming to bring the country's first solar-powered city to the Sunshine State.

FPL Group Inc's utility Florida Power & Light is working with the realty group Kitson & Partners to construct what the utility says will be the world's largest photovoltaic solar plant in a planned, environmentally friendly city near Fort Myers in southwestern Florida.

Called Babcock Ranch, the city will aim to build 19,500 houses and about 6 million square feet of retail, light industrial, and office space when it is completed, the developers said.

The entire project is expected to cost $2 billion. Read more...

Rare Megamouth Shark Caught in the Phillipines

On the morning of March 30, fishermen casting their nets in the Burias Pass, a centrally located channel in the Philippine archipelago, got the catch—not to mention surprise—of their lives: a megamouth shark so rare that some people still consider it a "cryptid", a creature that is seen so infrequently science can't confirm its existence.

That's likely an overstatement when it comes to the megamouth, first spotted in 1976 in waters near the Hawaiian island of Oahu. But, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) in Gainesville, which dubbed last month's catch "megamouth 41" (this being only the 41st observation of one of these sharks)—this is the eighth specimen snagged in the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines. Read more...

Like Loud Misic, Scared of Going Deaf - Fear No More

Anti-Loudness Protein

Fans of club music and rock concerts who like the volume cranked up to 11 but want to save their hearing might someday pop a pill rather than plugging their ears. Scientists have pinpointed the biochemical mechanism in ears that works to limit damaging effects of loud sound. When a noise registers in the brain as too loud, the protein nAChR, located on sensory hair cells in the inner ear, kicks in to limit the ability of the hair cells to respond. Mice genetically altered to produce a more potent nAChR could not hear soft sounds, and they suffered less permanent damage to their hearing when scientists blasted 100-decibel noise at their ears. "We know some drugs can modify the protein," says Paul Fuchs of Johns Hopkins University, who published the findings in the January 20 PLoS Biology. "But we need to know more about specific amounts" before a sound-protecting drug can be made. So don't toss the earplugs yet.
--Kate Wilcox

Why Do People Believe in Creationism or Evolution?

For anyone interested in the evolution/creationism debate, I would like to direct your attention to this extremely interesting podcast from It is somewhat long, but the first ten minutes are an interview with University of California, Berkeley, psychologist Tania Lombrozo, who talks about why people believe what they do, especially regarding evolution or creationism.

Friday, April 10

Anatomically Normal Girl with Y Chromosome

This is quite amazing and could prove to be a significant finding for the field of developmental biology, and it might not have been discovered if it weren't for prenatal genetic screens. Check it out (from NewScientist):

A seven-year-old girl with a Y chromosome is providing new clues about a possible "master switch" of maleness.

The girl has the normal chromosome count – 46 – and should be male. Other children who have the male sex chromosome but do not appear to be boys have been found to have gene mutations that temper the Y chromosome's effects. However this child doesn't have ambiguous gonads, shrivelled testes or other developmental defects. She instead has a normal vagina, cervix and set of ovaries.

A team led by Anna Biason-Lauber, of University Children's Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, thinks the patient's normalcy is due to mutations in a poorly understood gene on chromosome 17 called CBX2.

The child's unique condition might not have been discovered were it not for tests performed before birth to check for major genetic defects, such as an extra copy of chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome. Those tests came up negative and indicated the child would be a boy.


Cosmic Hand

This awesome picture is just one of eight great astronomy pictures from NewScientist's gallery rounding up the best images released in commemoration of 100 Hours of Astronomy, an event celebrating the International Year of Astronomy.

Check out the rest of the images here.

Better Light Bulb?

The pending extinction of traditional incandescent bulbs in the United States and abroad has created an enormous market opportunity for energy-efficient lighting technologies. The current shortcomings of compact fluorescent lights and pricey LED bulbs show that future dominance of the American socket is still very much up for grabs.

Vu1 (that is, “view one”), a company based in Seattle, thinks it has a shot.

The company’s tag line, “light without compromise,” suggests that it’s keenly aware of the biggest stumbling block for most next-generation lighting technologies: they don’t behave like incandescent bulbs, which is what most consumers are accustomed to. “We believe that we’ve got something here that will be much more comparable with people’s expectations than what’s been out there until now,” said Vu1’s chief executive officer, David Grieger. Read more...

Thursday, April 9

"Do Parents Matter?"

Sorry Mom and Dad, but I didn't say it. From

Do Parents Matter?
A researcher argues that peers are much more important than parents, that psychologists underestimate the power of genetics and that we have a lot to learn from Asian classrooms.
In 1998 Judith Rich Harris, an independent researcher and textbook author, published The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do. The book provocatively argued that parents matter much less, at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children, than is typically assumed. Instead, Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more important. The Nurture Assumption has recently been reissued in an expanded and revised form. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Harris about her critics, the evolution of her ideas and why teachers can be more important than parents.
If you have any interest in the nature/nurture debate, I suggest that you read the interview...

Solar City to Rise In Florida: Will it Work?

A Florida developer unveiled plans today to build the nation's first solar-powered city – a cluster of homes, offices and factories less than 20 miles from Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast.

"Babcock Ranch" would be built on 17,000 acres in Charlotte and Lee counties, with more than half of the land set aside for nature preserves, agriculture and other open space. Florida Power & Light Co. would build a 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic array to supply electricity to the development's 6 million square feet of residential, industrial and retail buildings.

The big question: If you build it in this economy, will buyers come? Find out...

Wednesday, April 8

Armed and Curious

A fleet of 40 vehicles armed to the teeth with advanced tornado tracking/monitoring equipment controlled by 100 scientists will spend next month trying to unravel the mystery of tornadogenesis. For more of the techie details, click here or check out the video below (kind of long, but pretty cool):

Duckweed: The Newest Alt. To Corn Ethanol

Duckweed is a small aquatic flower that can convert nutrients in waste into starch. And not only can it remediate polluted water, it is actually more productive than corn. According to researcher Jay Cheng, ""Based on our laboratory studies, we can produce five to six times more starch per unit of footage." Read more...(from Wired Science)

Tuning in on Back Pain

Full article from NewScientist:

TUNING forks, brushes and erasers can all help to quickly and cheaply reveal which painkiller to prescribe for back pain.

From a patient's description, doctors struggle to distinguish between neuropathic pain from nerve damage, such as in sciatica, and pain from inflammation, yet each requires a different painkiller. Only expensive tests such as MRI scans reveal the source precisely, leading Joachim Scholz of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and his colleagues to look for a quicker, cheaper way.

The team compiled a list of quick questions and physical tests and assessed the response of patients diagnosed with each type of pain. From this, they whittled the list down to six questions and 10 physical tests that included rubbing brushes, safety pins, tuning forks and pencil erasers on the back. Together, the tests can show whether or not the pain is neuropathic (PLoS Medicine, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000047).

The whole list takes just 15 minutes to complete and also distinguishes between three types of neuropathic pain.

Viral Batteries

From NewScientist:
GENETICALLY engineered viruses that assemble into electrodes have been used to make complete miniature rechargeable batteries for the first time. The new lithium ion batteries are as powerful as existing devices but smaller and cleaner to make, claim the team behind the work. The technology could improve the performance of hybrid electric cars and electronic gadgets. Read more...

100 mpg Car Contest

From NewScientist:

Last night in California a list of 111 teams was announced – one of which may hold the key to motoring's green future. They are the registered entrants to the Progressive Auto X Prize, a contest that will award prizes totalling $10 million for vehicles that can go 100 miles on the energy equivalent to that in a gallon of fuel.

Notable by their absence were the world's largest car manufacturers – bar Indian firm Tata – who don't seem interested in taking part. The list is varied spanning slick Californian start-ups with electric cars, to less-refined backyard efforts still finalising their designs. Read more...

See a gallery of some of the vehicles entered into the Auto X Prize

Prop 8: The Web Series - Episode 1 - Religion

Prop 8: The Web Series - Episode 2 - Military

If Atheists Ruled The World...

Does Requiring Evidence Make You Close-Minded???

Tuesday, April 7

Is GM Serious?

Check out their latest project. Is this supposed to be the idea that revitalizes the company? I hope not!!!

Monday, April 6

Green Porno: Fly

For the Bird Watchers

From Wired Science:
With an old computer and 30 dollars worth of off-the-shelf components, you can gear up with cutting edge avian monitoring technology and help save the birds.

For years, birdwatchers counted by sight during the daytime. The night — when most migratory birds travel — was literally hidden to them. But that's changing. Anyone can attach a microphone to a computer running birdcall-identifying software and track birds passing overhead in the darkness.

"You wouldn't be able to understand what's happening at night without this technology," said Andrew Farnsworth, a Cornell University ornithologist. "And when it comes to recording the things I work on, that's something anyone can do."

Scientists already depend on citizen birdwatchers for data that provides the foundation for estimates of species health and behavior. Their spare-time jottings are collated in efforts like the Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, North American Bird Phenology Program and Project Feederwatch. With hundreds of species threatened by habitat loss, climate change and pollution, that data is now invaluable for conservation efforts.

But because many species migrate at night and are hard to find during the daytime, birders can miss them, said Farnsworth, or are forced to use proxy measures: If a bird seen yesterday isn't seen today, then it probably left. "It's not that the proxy methods are bad," he said, "but we're finding this method of nocturnal tracking can be incredibly powerful." Read more...

NYT: The Green Home

The NYT has an ongoing series called The Green Home (pretty self-explanatory). For your convenience (because we're all lazy when it comes down to it), I have provided links below to the articles that have been published so far:

A Lawn as Healthy as It Looks

In honor of spring and the continuing quest for the perfect lawn, here are some tips on achieving an attractive yard without wreaking environmental havoc.

Don’t Sweep It Under the Rug

Jeffrey L. Carrier, who heads the sustainability effort for the Carpet and Rug Institute, discusses the environmental impact of carpeting.

Five Beginners’ Steps to a Greener Home

The author of “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies” distilled a vast amount of green advice into five must-do steps.

Recycling Gadgets When They Go Pffft...

Jason Linnell, the executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, discusses how to dispose of old electronics.

Investigating whether cleaning products labeled “organic” and “natural” really are better for the environment.

"It's the Economy AND the Environment, Stupid!"

From NewScientist:

A big cloud of cyber-fuss has blown up over an article in the New Yorker which argues that prosperity can only be achieved by rampant greenhouse gas production.

By pitting the economy against the environment that article, by David Owen, makes a mistake that the former chief economist of the world bank, Nicholas Stern, has been warning us of for several years now: It's not either the environment or the economy. It's both. Read more...

Galaxies Spell Out Cosmic Warning/Apology!

From NewScientist:
Trolling through a physics preprint server today, a colleague of mine spotted several highly intriguing papers.

One (pdf), from a project called Galaxy Zoo that invites volunteers to analyse and categorise galaxies in images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, reports on a strange new class of galaxy cluster (see images).

The team writes: "Upon detailed inspection, the morphologies of individual galaxies and close systems approximate the familiar geometric shapes of letters of the basic modern Latin alphabet. . . . the existence of these messages might indicate intelligent life beyond our own."

From the observed phrases ("Caution! Structure formation in progress", "Delays possible for 7 Gyr" and "We apologise for the inconvenience"), it's clear that these are cosmic road signs, and that the creator of the signs speaks the Queen's English (this I deduce both from the "s" in apologise and from the general politeness of the message).

"Congress Delays Obama's Green Push"

From NewScientist:
The US president has big plans to revitalise his nation by pumping vast amounts of cash into 'green jobs' and reducing carbon emissions, but Congress seems to have other ideas. Read more...

Sunday, April 5

PrayerMax 5000

CT Scan Music Video

Inside The Jaymis: Squishy Bits Version from Jaymis on Vimeo.

Inside The Jaymis: Skeleton Animation - Wide Time from Jaymis on Vimeo.

Masturbation Relieves Hay Fever

From NewScientist:

Spring is here and with it come the woes of hay fever. Never fear, however, as there may be a quick and pleasurable treatment to clear those bunged noses, for guys at least – a well-timed ejaculation.

That's what Sina Zarrintan, a neurologist from the Tabriz Medical University in Iran proposes, anyway. The logic behind the proposal is based on the fact that the nose and the genitals are both connected to the same part of the nervous system that controls certain reflexes – the sympathetic nervous system.

A blocked nose is caused by swollen and inflamed nasal blood vessels, irritated by an infection or pollen in the air. But during ejaculation, the sympathetic nervous system constricts blood vessels across the body. That should soothe the swollen nasal blood vessels, freeing the airway for normal breathing, according to Zarrintan. Read more...

What If We Had No Forests?

From NewScientist:

THE acres upon acres of lush tropical forest in the Amazon and tropical Africa are often referred to as the planet's lungs. But what if they are also its heart? This is exactly what a couple of meteorologists claim in a controversial new theory that questions our fundamental understanding of what drives the weather. They believe vast forests generate winds that help pump water around the planet.

If correct, the theory would explain how the deep interiors of forested continents get as much rain as the coast, and how most of Australia turned from forest to desert. It suggests that much of North America could become desert - even without global warming. The idea makes it even more vital that we recognise the crucial role forests play in the well-being of the planet. Read more...

Stem Cells May Provide Cure For Hearing Loss

From NewScientist:
Human ear cells vital for hearing have for the first time been created in the lab, and could eventually yield new treatments for hearing loss.

Such cells have been created before from mice, but the new cells will reveal more about how human hearing works.

"We believe these are the first from humans," says Marcelo Rivolta of the University of Sheffield, UK and head of the team presenting its findings on Monday in Oxford at a conference on stem cells.

"Stem cell therapy for hearing loss is still some years away, but this research is incredibly promising and opens up exciting possibilities," says Ralph Holme, director of biomedical research at the UK Royal National Institute for Deaf People, which co-funded the research with Deafness Research UK.

The team grew the cells from cochlear stem cells they'd isolated from fetuses following abortions, with the full consent of the women involved.

Robot Makes Publishable Discovery in Genetics

From NewScientist:

Fish Glow Red But You Can't See

Scientists have assumed that since red light doesn't travel through water, fish must not emit it - what a silly assumption! From NewScientist:

Gene Linked to Motor Skill Acquisition

Entire article from

Scientists know that small variations in certain genes can predispose people to cancers or heart disease. Now researchers are starting to show a direct, quantifiable effect on learning traceable to these types of genetic influences: single-nucleotide polymorphisms. A difference in just one amino acid in a protein might explain why some people learn new motor skills faster and reach higher levels of performance.

The protein, called brain-derived neurotro­phic factor (BDNF), is a key driver of synaptic plasti­city, the ability of the connections between brain cells to change in strength. This plasticity is an important factor in learning, explains neurologist Janine Reis, who led the study at the National Institutes of Health. According to Reis, this finding offers the first evidence that slight variations in BDNF’s structure affect learning ability.

Volunteers with one type of BDNF learned faster and performed better at a task in which they had to grip a handle more or less tightly to move a computer cursor through a sequence of targets. Those with a different variant never reached the skill level acquired by the faster learners. (The researchers excluded people who play video games.)

Other groups have found that the BDNF version that Reis linked with poorer acquisition of skills is associated with reduced function of the hippocampus, a brain region involved in motor learning.

This difference in BDNF may be a clue as to why certain people excel at athletic perfor­mance, Reis says, or it may help predict how well patients will recover motor skills after a stroke. Her team and others are gearing up to look at gene variants in stroke patients, hoping to find new targets for drug therapy.

Making a Stink Over Mushrooms

From "Can science keep mushroom farmers from stinking up the Commonwealth of Pennyslvania?"

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of six features on the science of food, running daily from March 30 through April 6, 2009.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—Donald "Buster" Needham and his sons Artie and Don are moving their mushrooms out of Pennsylvania. Needham, 73, took over the business from his own father 50 years ago, but his West Grove operation—fueled with several hundred tons of steaming horse and chicken manure each week—has proved too stinky for city folk buying up homes in this township 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

In 2004 Needham announced plans to expand, but his neighbors shut him down, complaining of fetid odors and the potential for manure runoff to seep into groundwater and nearby streams. "The regulatory people, the township supervisor in the area, and neighbors—they wouldn't accept anything," Needham says...

And Needham isn't the only farmer feeling the pinch. Mushroom expert Dan Royse of Pennsylvania State University in University Park says it's the same story all over the Keystone State, which is the nation's largest mushroom producer: Some 500 million pounds (225 million kilograms) of button mushrooms grown within its borders hit the market annually, and at $453 million, mushrooms are the state's largest cash crop. As much as residents rave about the yearly Mushroom Festival in historic Kennett Square each fall, few want a mountain of manure in their backyards. And while Republicans may have raised a fuss last month about federal funding of pig odor research in Iowa, farm odors are a national problem that are pitting agricultural economies against a deluge of suburbanites who thought they wanted a piece of the country lifestyle. That's why Penn State scientists are stepping in to try to make the beleaguered mushroom industry more environmentally friendly. Read more...

Small Farms May Suffer Under New Food Safety Rules

As salmonella-tainted pistachios and peanuts fuel the latest in a series of foodborne-illness outbreaks, lawmakers are proposing a flurry of bills aimed at strengthening the country's neglected food safety system.

But while food industry giants that have long opposed new regulations are beginning to change their tune, small-scale producers are growing increasingly vocal about their own concerns.

The problem, they say, is that small farmers, who are most accountable for their food's freshness and health, may suffer the heaviest burden under proposed new food rules.

"A lot of people worry that what's on the books right now is very much geared toward the biggest agricultural players," said Patty Lavera, assistant director of the nonprofit consumer group Food and Water Watch. "It's sort of a one-size-fits-all approach, and when its one size fits all, it's usually written by the big guy."
"A small farm is much more likely to grow multiple things and have a diversified approach," Lavera said. "So if they have to take 19 steps for each of those crops, it's much harder for them than a large farm that only grows one or two things."

Small farmers argue that they are already much more accountable to their customers for the quality of their product than are mass-production facilities, and that they will be crushed under the weight of well-meaning laws aimed at large industrial offenders. Read more...

Insurance Companies: The New Climate Ally?

Insurance companies might not come to mind as key environmental advocates, but they have a vested interest in climate change: billions—if not trillions—of dollars. As sea levels rise, storms gain force and even as agricultural patterns change, insurance companies will have to shell out more and more cash to cover losses. Hurricane Ike, which struck the Texas coast in 2008, cost insurers in that state $6.6 billion, according to a report by The New York Times. Hefty price tags get passed along to consumers, taxpayers and investors alike.

But a new industry survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), a nationwide advisory organization, aims to ensure that insurers are taking a long, hard look at climate change and what it means for their bottom line.

"Once they're aware of the risk," says Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario, "they'll mitigate it." Mitigation in this case doesn't just mean upping premiums or dropping coverage, but actually working to reduce climate change overall. Just as insurance companies helped to make workplaces safer (not because they're altruistic, rather because it makes good business sense—lower risk cuts costs), they "can help foster improvements in global warming," says Peter Kochenburger, executive director of the Insurance Law Center at the University of Connecticut School of Law. Read more...

Towards a Cure for Heart Attacks

Even though heart attacks may not be deadly, they can leave your ticker damaged. The reason: they occur when blood flow to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked. If the flow of blood isn't restored quickly, a section of the heart muscle becomes damaged from the lack of oxygen and begins to die, weakening its ability to pump blood.
A study in Science today confirms that some heart muscle cells do, in fact, regenerate slowly over the course of a person's lifetime.
Those results suggest that heart cells could, in fact, be nudged to regenerate or artificially replaced through cell transplants, according to an editorial accompanying the study. "Even though cardiomyocyte (heart muscle cell) turnover is low in the adult heart, the fact that it occurs at all suggests that it can potentially be therapeutically exploited," write Charles Murray, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, and Richard Lee, an associate physician in cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Read more...

Baseball Stadiums Going Green

At the Cleveland Indians home opener on April 10 crowds can expect to hear super fan John Adams pound away on a bass drum in left center field as he has in virtually every home game since 1973. Over by the first base side of the field—and commanding a bit less attention—game- goers may also notice another distinguishing feature at Cleveland's Progressive Field: an upper deck solar panel array. The Indians were the first American League team to install an alt-energy power source in 2007, making it a member of the growing number of ball clubs whose stadiums are going green.

"We view ourselves as a civic leader, so it's our duty not just to think and act green, but to try to influence fans and the community, as well," says Curtis Danburg, a spokesperson for the team. The franchise put up $100,000 toward the $180,000 panels, with two grants covering the rest. Danburg says the panels generate 8.4 kilowatts, or "enough to energize the 400 televisions we have in the ballpark." Read more...