Sunday, August 31, 2008

Looking Stupid, Feeling Safe

Now that the threat of summer is almost over, it's time to think about going back to school.

When it comes to wearing a backpack, safety is more important than style, says researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

That's right. Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeons spend time worrying about how your children are wearing their backpacks.

That's right. Medicine can get so specialized that there are people who earn livings as pediatric orthopedic surgeons.

Listen to the pediatric orthopedic surgeons. It's not what you've got, it's how you wear it. Use both straps, people.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hmm. College, or That Life-Saving Operation?

Health Insurance costs have more than doubled in the past 10 years. And it's not a trend that's going to be reversing any time soon. With the cost of treatment so expensive, is it any wonder that more people are trying to medicate and/or treat themselves at home?

It's just too depressing to think about.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Yes, They Need It Spelled Out For Them

They're kids, they don't know any better.

It turns out that growing up in a nonsmoking household isn't enough. According to researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health, if you don't want your kids to smoke, you need to take an extra step. Households that had an explicit ban on smoking did a better job of keeping their kids from using cigarettes than homes that were only populated by nonsmokers.

So much for leading by example. It's leading by example and then laying down the law in clear, black-and-white directives that gets things done. Have you ever tried getting through to a teenager? It makes sense that they wouldn't pick up on the subtle nuances of someone trying to act as a role model.

So to recap, firm ground rules and strict parenting are great ways to get your kids to stop smoking and start having sex.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Your Lousy Boss Is Trying To Kill You

Oh, science, you never go far enough. Take, for example, a recent study in workplace health. The American College of Environmental Medicine says that good leadership makes its employees healthier. Specifically cited were reduced sick leave and disability time taken by employees whose bosses rated higher for positive leadership attributes.

Reduced compared to what? Are these so-called "good leaders" actually improving the health of their employees, or are they just not damaging their employees? Because that's what I'd like to know.

I think that the health benefits from good leaders and mediocre leaders would be neck-and-neck, but the bad leaders drive employees out of the office, making them take sick days when they can't put up with the stupidity, futility, and redundancy enforced by so many terrible employers who have no idea how to run a business or motivate an employee.

The beatings will stop when the morale improves. Maybe we can deal with crappy bosses if we didn't have to spend so many days with them.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Setting a Good Food Example

It's sad when common sense has to be researched and published as an academic study. Washington University in St. Louis is looking into healthy eating habits for children. It turns out that the best way to get kids to eat their vegetables is to start them eating vegetables at an early age.

No, corn syrup does not count as a vegetable.

One good thing that can be said about the study is that it was part of a program to teach parents about nutrition in their own homes. It provided education and outreach efforts designed to help parents make sure that their children were making healthy, nutritious choices about the foods that they ate. The bad news is that overweight children who had already been exposed to salty, sweet foods that were bad for them had already developed (negative) preferences.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bugs Make Chili Spicy

Well, not the actual bugs, but the fungus that tries to enter and attack the chili peppers through the tiny holes made by bugs eating the fruit. And it's technically not made by the fungus; it's a defense mechanism that the peppers developed to keep the fungus at bay. This was discovered by a team of researchers including scientists from the University of Washington.

In my opinion, being spicy is a better survival plan than just trying to grow really fast. In general, being tasty is also a good strategy, since it encourages people to cultivate the plant, multiplying its numbers and helping to ensure its survival. Mmmmm, chili.

Interesting side note: Birds don't feel pain from eating spicy food. The spicy capsaicinoids developed by the chili peppers are especially clever because they keep the fungus out but still allow for the seeds to be consumed and... ah... "distributed" by birds who eat the fruit.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

There's Only One Indestructible Cheerleader

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (yes, that is an awesome name for a research center), cheerleaders see more than their fair share of injuries. A lot more.

The center found that two thirds of severe sports injuries to females happened to cheerleaders. The researchers cited an increase in the number of gymnastic stunts used in cheerleading, and took a swipe at coaches who they felt were not "competent."

There is no news about the number of severe injuries to females who are engaging in sexual role-playing as cheerleaders.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Got Pee on the Brain?

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is making dramatic strides in the science of rat bladders. They have found that an overactive bladder can affect the brain. Specifically, focus and sleep.

The weird thing here is that they tested this effect by surgically controlling rat urine. There have been a lot of strange animal studies performed, but I would not want to be the lab assistant on rat-pee detail.

It's also odd to me that they needed to test this so thoroughly. I mean, when I have to go to the bathroom, I can't focus on ANYTHING. The sleep connection is news to me, though.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm Mildly Confused

According to UVA, alcohol-related consequences are on the decline among college students.

It's interesting to see what they have defined as "alochol-related consequences." There were 10, ranging from police confrontations to unprotected sex, with some less-severe issues like missing class.

The thing is, I'm not sure if this is local to UVA, or nationwide. After all, it seems like some researchers are saying that crime is up among college students.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Hot, Wet Teens Define "Hot" and "Wet" Differently from Adults

Abstinence-only programs don't work. We all knew that, but a University of Washington study is trying to find out why. They're saying that adults and teens define abstinence differently.

The researchers propose an "escalator theory," saying that once teens start thinking about abstinence, it makes them aware of sex, and their awareness of sex leads to them having sex. I'm not sure if it's arguing that we're just never supposed to tell teenagers about sex ever, or what. I guess that we could just start telling teenagers that bras are supposed to serve the same purpose as road flares, or something.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

You Can Eat "Don't Eat That"

Wait, what?

Well, it seems that Tufts researchers are developing (and patenting) edible optics, which are supposed to use the "natural optic traits of silk" to change colors.

The idea is that this adapted silkworm silk would detect and change colors in the presence of substances like the e-coli virus. That way, you'd have a visual indicator of whether or not your food was safe to eat, and you could eat the indicator itself without any adverse effects.

A lot of ideas are being kicked around as to the best way to use this, whether it should be in the food itself, sprinkled on the food before eating, or just used to make the bags the food is shipped in. Nothing has been finalized yet. According to the developers, it doesn't taste awful, but I'm not going to take their word for it.

It seems like researchers are paying a lot of attention to optics these days, though.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dutch Announce: No Point to Exercise

For some people who just want to feel better, anyway. The Archives of General Psichiatry is reporting on a study from VU University of Amsterdam showing that in diverse populations, voluntary exercise does not ease anxiety and depression.

For some people, there is a genetic link between exercising and feeling better, but the rest of us can skip walking and take the bus.

Since exercise doesn't help with depression, and we're treating it the wrong way, what is there to do?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cancer Lasers

As in, lasers that shoot at cancer cells to kill them, not lasers that shoot cancer cells at people, or give people cancer. Lord knows we have enough non-lasers giving people cancer that we don't need any other sources.

In what they're calling a "multimodal" (read: multi-step and wicked complicated) approach, the University of Virginia is working with semiconductor nanostructures called quantum dots.

First the patient takes a drug. Then they get bombarded with radiation. The radiation triggers the quantum dots, which start emitting light. The light increases the effectiveness of the drug, which kills the cancer. The tough part is calibrating these approaches so that none of them are harmful to the patient individually, while the lethal overlap occurs only in the cancerous areas.

I have to say that on a mollecular level, this looks a lot more cool than just boiling water.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

The Computer Always Wins

The University of California has been working on programs that teach computers how to play poker.

While I am very much in favor of taking all of our most social activities and engineering them so that they can be enjoyed without interacting with any other humans, I think that this is a terrible idea. Why? Robot doom, of course. Do we really want our computers learning how to tell when humans are bluffing? ("There's no one else hiding in this house. I swear, you don't need to hunt down my wife and children, you already killed them!") Worse yet, do we want them learning how they can bluff? ("I LIKE YOU HUMAN, I PROMISE I'LL NEVER HARM YOU.")

In the end, it will probably just be the computers distracting us with poker while they send the hunter/killer squads after us.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Overweight Teens Need More Sleep

We all need more sleep. Kids just may need it a little more. Studies at the University of Pittsburgh are showing that lack of sleep can lead to obesity in children.

The study reviewed 355 children from 7 to 17, and found that heavier children slept less. Not only did the overweight children sleep less, but they had less eye activity during REM sleep, the REM sleep was of a shorter duration, and the interval before the first REM period was increased.

So, it sounds like kids can keep weight in check by getting plenty of sleep, plenty of exercise, and NOT eating plenty of corn syrup.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Educated Criminals

While we're talking about the unruly, it appears as though college men are just a bunch of thugs.

According to Bowling Green State University's research, male college students spend more time drinking, engage in more substance abuse, and commit more property crimes (vandalism, theft, etc.) than their peers who are not in college.

Is this a surprise to anyone? I bet that the worst of them probably end up having more sex, too.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Better Living through Chemistry

Why deal with unruly children when you can just drug them? Especially if they're not your kids in the first place. At least, that's what Texas appears to be thinking.

A scary study of Texas children with Medicaid coverage shows that prescription medications are being used on children without completing tests to establish their safety and effectiveness.

Three times as many children in foster care were on psychotropic medication to alter their behavior or emotions than comparable children. I'm sure that this just gets aggravated when they have to go to emergency rooms.

So I guess that the official stance of the Texas state government is just to drug these kids into complacency until they do something that warrants the death penalty.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Finger as a Visual Aide

Washington University in St. Louis reports that we pay closer attention to objects near our hands. Their working theory is that we evolved this way because we need to know how to handle or protect ourselves against whatever is closest to our hands, and would be less concerned with things that were farther away.

I don't know if this will bear any relevance to visual computing, but they may want to consider it as a way to improve processing.

I disagree with their "hands on steering wheel may keep eyes on road" theory, though. It's a bit of a leap to go from paying attention to the steering wheel to looking at the road as a whole.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

So, Exxon Mobil reported their second-quarter earnings recently (USD$11.68 Billion), and someone went and did some jaw-dropping math.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, it amounts to $1,485.55 per second. I wouldn't mind having that kind of money. Sure, it might be tough trying to figure out where you'd spend it, but that's just a burden that I'm willing to bear.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Now It's Brain Food, Memory Food, and Anti-Stroke Food

Fish is truly good for you. The medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology is reporting in the August issue of their magazine that eating fish may prevent stroke and memory loss in old age.

Brain scans showed that eating fish three times a week correlated with a reduced formation of lesions that can cause dementia and stroke. We still need to keep two things in mind, though. First, it's important to avoid (non-Freddy) mercury poisoning. Second, the study showed that fried fish doesn't help, which isn't exactly a surprise.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Four-day Workweek? Please!

Stay at your job longer by spending fewer days there.

Brigham Young University has wrapped up their study on the effects of a 4-day work week recently adopted by government employees. Note that this means fewer days at the office, not less time, as participants would work 10 hour days to complete a 40-hour work week in just 4 days instead of the usual 5.

More than 60% of the participating employees reported higher productivity, and most cited a reduction of conflicts at home as the major factor allowing them to get more done at work. I would be interested in seeing whether productivity was actually affected, or whether the participating employees just thought that they were better workers.

Maybe on their days off, they can spend some time walking. Nah, probably not.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Smooth Extraction

Are you at all familiar with NOTES (natural-orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery)? It's when doctors try to remove internal organs without making external incisions. They enter through natural orifices. You heard me. That's exactly where they put the instruments.

Well, maybe not exactly. Doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center have been pulling gallbladders through uteruses (uterii?) for the past year now, and have plans to start surgeries through the mouth or rectum in the future.

Okay, there have only been two surgeries of their type so far. Both gallbladders, both removed through the uterus. The big news about the latest procedure is that before, they had to cut external holes in the patient to see what they were doing. This time, there were no external incisions.

I'd be more enthusiastic about it if I wasn't worried that it was just paving the way for the killer robots to have an easier time plucking out your eyes without any fuss.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

There's Nothing Good On the Internet(s)

According to a recent study at Cornell University, online research articles are read more and cited less.

Well, not significantly less, but their studies show that even though more people read research articles that were freely available online, those articles weren't cited any more frequently than other articles out there.

It's bad news for people who thought that increased exposure online would lead to increased distribution of their work. Having your work cited in other research can make or break academic careers. Unfortunately, having your writing freely available isn't enough, it actually has to be good, as well. (Sound familiar?)

It could be worse. When I saw the title of the research, I thought that the work was being used without getting cited (the study thinks that authors are just citing better work). It's bad enough that identity so much else can get stolen online, we don't need the intellectual property theft to get any worse.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Ecologically Sound Public Transit

A new, lightweight urban transit bus offers the same crowd of smelly, unwashed passengers with twice the fuel efficiency! Finally we can talk about "green buses" without referring to fungus.

The Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and two private companies have collaborated to design a bus with twice the fuel efficiency of conventional hybrid buses.

The bus uses a special nitrogen-strengthened stainless steel that is supposed to be stronger and stiffer than conventional stainless steel. That means that less is used in the construction of the bus, which means less weight, and that leads to less fuel expenditure.

These fuel-efficient buses are probably going to be popular with urban transit authorities that are struggling to meet increased fuel costs, even if they don't have to worry about carbon emissions these days.

Of course, all the work they put into reducing the weight of the buses may end up being futile if they're used in neighborhoods full of fat passengers who refuse to walk anywhere.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

You've Isolated the Problem. Step 2 Is Removing It.

Biochemists at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston have been looking at pre-eclampsia, and they think that it's an auto-immune disease.

Pre-eclampsia affects pregnant women, and is a serious issue that contributes to 15 percent of premature babies and has been associated with infant and mother morbidity and mortality. The problem is that right now, the only existing treatment is delivery. Figuring out its causes may assist in developing new treatments.

I can't really make sense of the study, though. Something about inducing pre-eclampsia symptoms in mice, and then blocking those symptoms by giving the mice something else. With a title that starts with the phrase "Angiotensin receptor agonistic autoantibodies," the study is not exactly light reading.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Levittown and Veal Pens

Modern neighborhoods are to veal pens as pre-1950 neighborhoods are to free-range farms.

According to a study from the University of Utah, residents of older neighborhoods are slimmer. The body mass index of nearly half a million people, linked to 2000 census data, shows that larger people live in newer housing developments. The researchers think that it has to do with "walkable neighborhoods."

Neighborhoods built before 1950 offered more opportunities to walk, were more densely populated, and had a larger range of pedestrian destinations. The newer neighborhoods, which are geared towards car travel, actively discourage walking.

I'm not sure how accurate that hypothesis is. Yes, the study shows a correlation between residents having a higher body mass and neighborhoods that were constructed more recently, but maybe skinny people who have good exercise habits are naturally drawn to neighborhoods that give them more opportunities to walk. Or maybe newer neighborhoods offer more opportunities to consume fructose.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mark Changizi Wants to Harvest Your Eyes for Science

Okay, that was worded a little strongly. Still, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's assistant professor of cognitive science has spent a lot of time thinking about how you look at things.

First, he looked into the way that we're actually seeing the future, based on the way that we have to anticipate things like catching objects or getting out of the way of danger. Our eyes compensate for slight neural delays, allowing us to see what is happening in the present even while the speed of light is showing us things that happened in the (very recent) past.

Now he is trying to use these properties to make human eyes into a type of computer that glances at complex visual stimuli and generates perceptions that have resolved computations. His hopes to use "visual circuits" as a rival to DNA computations seem a little ambitious, though. "The visual logic gates do not always transmit the appropriate perception at the output."

Whatever. Just as long as life doesn't turn into some horror movie where evil robots start using body parts to run their advanced human-killing algorithms.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Global Warming Is Correcting Itself!

Not really. That would be pretty sweet if it was, though.

Seriously, Ohio State University has found that typhoons are burying a crapload (yes, that's a scientific term) of carbon in the oceans. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere working with the storm waters ends up eroding silicate rocks. The carbon washes out to sea and gets deposited as sediment.

My first thought was that the carbon emissions causing global warming have created more storms, but the storms end up burying the emissions (at the expense of a few eroded mountains) so that it all balances out. Apparently, that is not the case, but it might mean that it's happening more slowly than previously expected. Climate models will have to be adjusted to accurately reflect how much carbon dioxide is getting naturally removed.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hey, Fatty! Lay off the Corn Syrup!

Maybe. There's a study out from UT Southwestern Medical Center examining the link between weight loss and low-carbohydrate diets. The new theory is that people lose weight because they're reducing their exposure to fructose.

It's a little more coy than an outright declaration that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) makes you fat, but it notes that many processed carbohydrates contain HFCS. It also cites the "surprising speed with which humans make body fat from fructose." The experiments were performed by having people drink sugar drinks (containing fructose, glucose, or both), and then eating a regular meal four hours later.

I wonder if they paid their test subjects? Getting money for drinking sugar water and eating lunch sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Risking Our Own Hea(l)th

Outside of emergency rooms, patients are still making fatal mistakes, now with drugs and alcohol.

The University of California, San Diego, has announced a 3,196 percent increase in "fatal domestic medication errors" (that's a comma, not a decimal point) occuring at home. Granted, these errors were involving "alcohol and/or street drugs," but the authors are linking the trend with our societal shift towards taking medication outside of a medical setting.

To recap from the two stories, we don't understand what our doctors tell us as we leave the emergency room, but then we end up taking more medication at home anyway, with increasingly fatal consequences.

What's really classy about the UCSD news release, though, is how it has sandwiched Heath Ledger references into its opening and closing paragraph.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Miscegenation in the Riverbeds

Scientists from the University of Wyoming have found three species of sucker fish have hybridized to form a new, third species that they call the "muttsucker."

Muddy Creek, where the survey was conducted, had two native species of suckerfish. The flannelmouth sucker and the bluehead sucker coexisted, but were isolated by reproductive barriers. Then the white sucker was introduced into the area, and was able to crossbreed with both species. The resulting muttsucker incorporates genes from all three species.

It's a shocking display of the impact that introducing non-native life to a marine environment can have. You may already know about the problem with zebra mussels in the Great Lakes region. And remember when those amphibious snakehead fish started showing up in the U.S.? Bad news.

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The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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