Monday, November 22, 2010

Forced Out?

A study from the University of Haifa has asked whether early retirement is as optional as it appears. According to their data, most people take early retirement options because of workplace pressure. However, their data set was taken from men who had taken early retirement from government companies that became privatized, which makes me wonder how applicable it is across the entire workforce.

I'm not saying government employees are lazy and terrible at their jobs (because plenty of other people are saying it), I'm saying that I can see where a profit-motivated corporation would look to trim its workforce as much as possible. That's probably the source of the pressure cited in the study. Is this kind of thing really happening in companies that aren't making a dramatic shift in managment and objectives?

The ideal put forth by Sigal Naim, who carried out the study, is that "everyone would be able to continue working based on his or her abilities and desires." He goes on to suggest a removal of mandatory retirement ages. That's all well and good in theory, but what happens in reality, when elderly workers who are well past their prime insist on bitterly clinging to jobs that could be used to lower the nation's unemployment rate?

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Can't BEET it!

Ha ha ha. Sorry for the pun, I just couldn't help myself. I'll try not to go too nuts with this story (because that would be BEET-ing a dead horse!)

Apparently, beet juice is kind of a big deal. They've been looking into it over at Wake Forest University, and it has some pretty beneficial health effects. It's all about the nitrates, which I thought were supposed to be harmful compounds found in processed meat like hot dogs, but then I'm not a university biologist so my knowledge is crap.

The body turns nitrates into nitrites, and nitrites improve blood flow. The Wake Forest researchers divided up their test subjects into a group that ate a lot of nitrates, provided by beet juice, and a group that didn't. Then they switched diets halfway through for the participants to make sure that it really was the food that was having the effect. And in all cases, the research supported the theory that increased nitrate consumption leads to improved blood flow.

From there, they are saying that this improves brain activity, and think it's going to be helpful for older adults.

What I want to know is how nasty it was to have to drink 16 ounces of straight beet juice. That's a full pint glass, and when dealing with glasses of that size, I'd rather have the beer. Does beer help increase the blood flow to the brain? If they're interested in studying that, I want to volunteer to be one of the test subjects!

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Do they have oil in Iowa?

Iowa's the corn state, right? I think it's the flat state where Napoleon Dynamite was set, but I'm not too strong on the geography in that region. I know Idaho is potatoes, but when I think of U.S. oil reserves, I know the big players are Texas and Alaska, and I don't think that Iowa contributes much.

It figures that the non-oil-rich states would be the ones working hardest on oil alternatives. After all, there's no incentive to come up with a scientific development that might undermine one of your state's big industries. Anyway, the point is that Iowa State University has come up with an organic asphalt that doesn't require petroleum to produce. They're testing it on one of their bike paths.

I'm happy about the idea, because even if I don't completely embrace all the "peak oil" hysteria, I still think it's important to use renewable resources. Non-renewable resources, by definition, have to run out sometime, after all. An Iowa bike path is a small start, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it catches on.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

But what if you're allergic to mice?

Remember a few years back when there was a news story about a lethal "peanut butter kiss"? A girl had died, and the rumor that was circulating was that her boyfriend had just eaten a peanut butter sandwich and kissed her, and she was so fatally allergic to peanuts that she had a reaction and died. It turned out to be a load of crap--the coroner released an official report after her autopsy stating that she did not have an allergic reaction to kissing her boyfriend--but the urban legend was just too juicy for people to let go. I still hear coworkers talking about it.

I haven't seen anyone die from a food allergy, but I have seen some pretty bad reactions. Allergies to things like wheat, peanuts, and milk can be serious business. I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be for allergy sufferers since those items end up in so many of the food products available in stores and items on restaurant menus these days.

Given all that, I think it's kind of a big deal that Johns Hopkins prevented mice from having fatal allergic reactions. I think that's good news. Granted, it usually takes a long time for something to get from the "tested in mice" stage to the "making life better for everyone" stage, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Motorcycles are racist?

Sure, they're dangerous, but according to Johns Hopkins, motorcycles are more likely to be fatal for black people. Blacks and whites, with similar injuries from motorcycle accidents, have noticeably different mortality rates. Even when they both wear helmets, a white motorcyclist has a greater chance of surviving his injuries than a black one.

I'm not really sure how to interpret the results, although I give credit to the scientists for admitting that more research needs to be done. Although they tried to account for factors like the sex of the motorcyclist, the severity of the injuries, and their insurance status, it was 1.5 times more likely for black victims to die, with even white motorcyclists without helmets having a greater survival rate than blacks with helmets. I don't know if this is institutional bias on the part of the hospital, if black motorcyclists are more likely to have pre-existing conditions, or what.

Personally, I'm not a fan of motorcycles. I've never been comfortable on one. All of this reading about motorcycle-related fatalaties makes me more nervous than ever to even think about riding them.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010


Wow, so I've been blogging for over two years. I had no idea it had been that long. I guess time really does fly when you're having fun.

Looking at this blog now, I see some stuff that I've outgrown, and other stuff that I never really grew into. I'd feel better if I spent some time cleaning things up a bit. I have some ideas about what's working and what needs to go, but haven't made a final plan yet.

Does anyone have any suggestions? What widgets work for you? What has helped your blog, and what just takes up space?

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are Kids Worse Off, or Just More Honest?

This press release from the American Psychological Association has me questioning what they're actually trying to say. I mean, the headline is that college students are "exhibiting" more severe mental illness these days. But does that mean that they're suffering from more severe illness?

What I'm getting at is that just because more college students are reporting (and seeking help for) mental illness now, isn't it possible that there were just as many students in the past who suffered in silence? Let's face it: there's a stigma attached to mental illness, and I think that the current prejudice against mental illness and the people who admit to suffering from it is not nearly as pronounced as it has been in years past. So it's all well and good to call it something like "a shift in the needs of students seeking counseling services," (as John Guthman, director of student counseling services at Hofstra University calls it) but isn't it possible that this is something that they have consistently needed but were afraid to ask for?

Maybe I'm getting wound up about nothing, but I have serious problems with the language used in large parts of the APA's press release. "More students are coming to college with pre-existing mental health difficulties"? Sounds to me like another way of saying "they were like that when they got here!"

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

KSU does NOT have a gambling problem.

I repeat, KSU does NOT have a gambling problem. I cannot stress that enough. They're just really interested in sports odds.

In a study reminiscent of something from Guys and Dolls or any story that involves hustlers hanging around racetracks with "can't fail" systems, a Kansas State University professor says that there's a way to predict the outcome of some college football games. And it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Well, the contrast between humid and arid regions.

Apparently, this economics professor found that teams from humid regions end up getting their butts handed to them when they play in arid regions. Bookmakers take note. After all, the study was about ways to make the market for sports betting "more efficient," so I'm glad that someone gets to benefit from this state-funded research work, even if it's not starving orphans, cancer victims, or war amputees.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

"All Hands on Deck!"

"Screw that, I'm getting mine!"

At least, that's how the exchange goes in "disturbed ecosystems," according to Georgia Tech Researchers. They were looking into whether organisms all try to work together when their ecosystems are under assault, or if it's dog-eat-dog business as usual. It's probably an area of study that's going to be of relevance for quite a while (I'm looking at YOU, gulf coast!).

It was panic in the petri dish as biologists exposed microbes to acoustic disturbances. They looked at how many were killed off when they were in disturbed environments, how many were killed off when they were competing with other organisms for the same resources, and how many were killed off when competing for resources after their environment was disturbed. Rather than both populations of competing organisms declining equally in the third scenario, one group would wipe the floor with the other.

To rephrase that, creatures that are neck and neck in an environment where they have to fight each other to survive no longer remain neck and neck when their environment gets unusually dangerous. That's when the men are separated from the boys, and one group curb stomps their opponents while they're most vulnerable. This is bad news for species diversity, especially when you consider all the ecosystems that we're disturbing...

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And this, boys and girls...

Is why we don't get attached to any one particular ideal, mindset, organization, or whatever. I mean, when it gets right down to it, is there anything out there actually worth dying over? Okay, fine, possibly the allies in WWII ending the holocaust, but examples are few and far between.

The University of Texas at Austin has been looking into extremism, and what people are willing to die for. They describe people willing to die for other members of their group as "fused," which is an interesting way of looking at it. Personally, I think it's commendable to be willing to sacrifice yourself to save others regardless of who they are, but this study focused on what people would do for members of their "group" versus people outside of it.

The bottom line? Spainards want Americans dead. That's only a slight exaggeration, but the gist of it is that Spanish college students (who were studied for the project) were more willing to die for people inside of Europe than they were for people outside of it (specifically, America). There were also some interesting follow-up questions about who would be willing to die so that terrorists would get killed that raise some interesting ethical questions and insights into the nature of extremism.

Hopefully, I'll never be in a situation where I face a choice like that in real life.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse: Binge Drinking and Crippled Teens

I'm sure you remember my coverage of Loyola University's last study on binge drinking and long-term health effects. Guess what? They've built on that, and it turns out that binge drinking is (still) bad for you in the long term.

The latest news from Loyola University is that binge drinking messes with your genes. I'm not really clear how this is different from their last study, though. Maybe it's more specific? This time, they've managed to shoehorn teen binge drinking in there, possibly to garner more media attention.

It looks like the 2008 study proved that binge drinking makes for brittle bones. This new study proves that binge drinking messes up your genes. So their hypothesis from the original study, that binge drinking might be messing with your genes, appears to have been proven.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Being a Moose Must Suck

Putting aside the problems of not being able to enjoy things like television and the internet, you'd have to spend cold winters outside and worry about getting killed by hunters or inattentive drivers. And then you'd have to be constantly eating to support yourself, considering that moose can weigh around 1,000 pounds. Now imagine what it would be like if you had arthritis. Ugly, right?

It looks like scientists at Michigan Tech are also thinking about what it would be like to be a moose. Unsurprisingly, they also think it would suck, but for different reasons. They're worrying about osteoarthritis.

I can see that. I can only imagine how bad joint pain is when you weigh ten times as much. That's a lot of stress to put on bones. According to them, malnutrition early in life leads to the bone and joint problems later, so I guess their next project should research how they can get moose to eat healthier.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Firewater? Really?

It's always important to examine prejudices to see if there's any truth to them, or if it's just mean-spirited people spreading rumors. Like the idea of Indians and their firewater. Let's face it, that assertion in this day and age is just naked bigotry.

So the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services keeps records on this sort of thing. Actually, their subdivision, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) tracks it, and then releases their data. According to a survey the released in June, American Indians and Alaska Natives had a lower rate of alcohol usage than the national average. Mind you, that's past month alcohol usage.

It's a mixed result. Although the past month usage is lower than the national average, the rate of binge alcohol and illicit drug use is higher than the national average, with one in eight American Indian or Alaska Native adults seeking treatment at a speciality facility for alcohol or drug use. Make of that what you will.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surprise! Marketers will sell you out!

You've got bigger problems than privacy violations if you needed to be told that marketers want as much of your personally identifying information as they can get their hands on. Strangely enough, the consumers providing that information would rather not give them carte blanche to track their myriad personal details. Who would have guessed?

A UMass Amherst study shows that marketers and consumers have differing expectations of "privacy." I'm not surprised. Most of the consumers would rather choose or control what information that marketers had access to. Most marketers didn't expect consumers to be bothered by the fact that they were harvesting as much data as they could get their hands on.

I don't understand why marketers don't get this, especially after the backlash generated by so many embarrassing incidents. Google took a hit by pre-emptively connecting people through Google Buzz. Blizzard provoked fan outrage by trying to get everyone in their forums to post using real names. I can respect the fact that they want to grab as much information as they can to increase their sales, but I wish they'd be honest about their motivations instead of lying to us (and possibly themselves) about how they just want to use this information to make our lives better.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010


You're screwed, for several reasons, according to the University of New Hampshire.

First, you've got to deal with a lot of punks joining the workforce. The recent crop of graduates is "entitlement minded," and I'm sure you can guess what that means. They think they deserve preferential treatement, are less likely to enjoy their job, and freely take credit for other people's successes while denying responsibility for any shortcomings. You know, kind of like the contributors to Brazen Careerist.

Once these entitlement-minded workers hit your workplace, they are going to be frustrated on the job and likely to abuse co-workers. That's right, if they don't have an objective view of their relative worth and their contributions, they end up feeling slighted on the job. Or, as Professor Paul Harvey puts it, they respond poorly to "perceived inequities in the rewards received by co-workers to whom psychologically entitled employees feel superior.” This surly attitude leads to lashing out, including workplace abuse like rumor mongering, ignoring promises, and slinging insults. So you've got that to look forward to.

The best part of all? When supervisors try to communicate with these entitled employees, the entitled workers end up feeling more frustrated, not less.

What I would like to see is how this study correlates with the one from University of Toronto that showed how women working for a female supervisor are more distressed. Does this have anything to do with the way that different genders view entitlement? I'm sure Penelope Trunk would have something to say about it.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Weed, but not Marijuana

Weed science. Sorry, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Cornell University is only studying that unwanted crap that grows in your garden, but at least they're taking it to the next level. It's part of their horticulture department.

Cornell is so stoked about studying weeds that in two weeks, they're holding a contest. This "world series of weeds" is supposed to cater to those with "a special interest in weed science" (again: no stoners). The contest involves four categories: identifying weeds, identifying herbicides, calibrating sprayers, and solving farm problems. A whopping 105 students have already registered!

Does anyone else think that this level of specialization is funny? I bust on soil scientists a lot, but the whole field seems kind of nuts. Making your living by studying dirt?

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Another Way to Screw Up Your Kids

Look out, world! Another scientific study has been published to tell you something you already knew! That's right, the Cornell College of Human Ecology has announced that playing favorites with your children will make them depressed adults.

I will concede that the study had an interesting finding: even the favored children end up with problems. I'm not overflowing with sympathy for them, but they have to put up with the pressure of their parents' expectations, and they end up shouldering the resentment of their less-favored siblings. So even the winners end up losers when parents play favorites.

The sad thing is that some parents don't even realize that they're treating their children unequally. 30% of mothers surveyed said that they treated their children equally, while only 15% of children felt equally treated. That's right, you can cause lasting emotional damage without even trying! Hooray?

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Profits or Predators Don't Matter, We're All Doomed

I don't think this study will change much in the long run, but it turns out that we might not properly understand what drives the commercial fishing industry. The currently accepted theory is that fishermen use a "top down" approach, starting with predators at the top of the food chain (notably tuna and halibut). Once fishing reduces their population and catches dwindle, fishermen move further down the food chain pulling in the fish those predators used to eat until those numbers dwindle, and so on.

According to the University of Washington, it turns out that our motivations may be more economic than evolutionary. Commercial fisheries are (understandably) motivated to catch whatever fish is the most profitable. This means that governments can influence conservation efforts and maintain sustainable levels of fishing by setting price controls on seafood.

Will it work, though? I'm pessimistic. Governments are going to be motivated by what is politically popular, and I don't think it would be possible to arrange for the kind of national cooperation required to have a lasting effect on ocean populations. We should all cultivate a taste for jellyfish, since they're the only thing that has managed to thrive thanks to our efforts.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Are High Heels Really Worth It?

I think we need to draw a line between cosmetic surgery and ridiculous nonsense that puts people in danger without any real benefits. It looks like The American Orthopaedic Food and Ankle Society agrees with me. They think that you should avoid cosmetic foot surgery.

I think it's worth noting, that of the three surgeries given as examples of unnecessary "foot facelifts," two of them had to do with wearing high heels (making feet narrower and changing the shape of the little toe, if you were curious). Is a fashion accessory really something worth risking permanent physical damage over?

Note that I said fashion accessory. This is about changing the look of your feet to fit into shoes. Getting a nip, tuck, or liposuction for a bathing suit is about an article of clothing, and the subject of a completely separate post. Still, when you are risking (and here we'll quote Dr. Michael Pinzur of Loyola University Health System) "infections, pain, scarring and nerve damage," you might want to ask yourself if the surgery is really necessary.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Pinheads Multitasking

I hate mosquitoes. I don't know why, but I always have the worst reaction to their bites, and I never notice them landing on me. They always manage to dodge me at the last second when I try to swat them, too.

I just don't get how something so small can be so crafty. I mean, I've got fingernail trimmings that are bigger than their brains, and yet they still get the job done, sneaking in, drinking up, and getting away clear. (I wish I could pull that trick at bars!)

University of Adelaide is thinking about bug brains, too. Professor David O'Carroll has been looking at the way that insects are able to judge motion and speed. It turns out that some parts of their brain pull double duty--their vision center also takes into account different light patterns and uses that to judge speed. O'Carroll points out that insects can have as much as 30% of their brain devoted to the visual system, which is more than other animals, so it makes sense that they'd apply it to different tasks in order to get the most efficient usage of space.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Beating Dead Horses and What People Want

So I guess that Indiana University got the rights to some video clips of speed dating in Germany, and they are mining that data just as hard as they possibly can.

As previously reported, Indiana University combed through the footage trying to figure out if speed daters who appeared interested in their partner would indicate genuine interest when they filled out the card at the end of the date. The findings announced that women were tricky and men were easy to read, (but this may only apply in Germany). Building on that dramatic breakthrough, Indiana University looked at the footage again.

Their shocking new finding? You will look to the opinions of others to determine whether or not someone is hot. I'll give you a moment to collect yourself. After all, who would have thought that things are more attractive when it looks like someone else wants them?

To summarize: research subjects found people more attractive if they watched a video of someone else finding them attractive first. That, and Indiana University needs to do something besides watching old clips of German speed-dating sessions.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh, Missouri

Why are your kids so filthy? And I ask because I care, not because I want to pass judgment on you or anything. Seriously, your school kids need serious help.

I'm talking about treatment-resistant ringworm. It's a fungus, not a worm, but the fact remains: 7% of your elementary school children are covered in drug-resistant fungus. That's just nasty.

Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics has issued a press release about it, and hopefully people will pay attention. Sharing hats, combs, anything that touches your head? Knock that crap off right away.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

How come rich people get all the safety?

It must be nice to be able to afford not to die in a car accident. Actual science from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences shows that car safety features do a better job of protecting rich people. (And by "do a better job of," I actually mean "are present to.")

For their study, they went around and compared vehicle safety features like crash test ratings, air bags, etc. They cross-checked this information with ZIP codes, and compared how much money people were earning in that ZIP code (median income) to how safe their cars were. Care to guess the results?

That's right, the rich people had the safer cars. The researchers point out that usually the cutting-edge safety features are installed as optional (and pricey!) components on high-end cars. Later, as their effectiveness has been proven, it eventually "trickles down" and becomes standard features in all cars, regarless of their price point.

Still, it must be nice to be able to afford better protection against injuries from car accidents.

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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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