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How Microbes Defend and Define Us
By CARL ZIMMER, The New York Times, July 12, 2010

Dr. Alexander Khoruts had run out of options.

In 2008, Dr. Khoruts, a gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota, took on a patient suffering from a vicious gut infection of Clostridium difficile. She was crippled by constant diarrhea, which had left her in a wheelchair wearing diapers. Dr. Khoruts treated her with an assortment of antibiotics, but nothing could stop the bacteria. His patient was wasting away, losing 60 pounds over the course of eight months. “She was just dwindling down the drain, and she probably would have died,” Dr. Khoruts said.

Dr. Khoruts decided his patient needed a transplant. But he didn’t give her a piece of someone else’s intestines, or a stomach, or any other organ. Instead, he gave her some of her husband’s bacteria.

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Visual Science: Map of Knowledge
By NICHOLAS WADE, The New York Times, March 16, 2009

A new map of knowledge has been assembled by scientists at the research library of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is based on electronic data searches in which users moved from one journal to another, thus establishing associations between them.

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Skin Deep: Flush Those Toxins! Eh, Not So Fast
By ABBY ELLIN, The New York Times, January 22, 2009

DIOXINS. PCBs. Phthalates. Those are the reasons Randall Hansen and his wife, Katharine, embark on an annual detoxification program.

The Hansens, who live in DeLand, Fla., have made a ritual of doing the “Fat Flush Plan” at least once a year “to cleanse our bodies and help break some bad habits,” said Mr. Hansen, 48, president of Quintessential Careers, a career guidance Web site.

The regimen, made famous by the nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman in a 2001 book, mostly targets the liver, which Ms. Gittleman believes is less able to metabolize fat because of toxins absorbed orally or through the skin. Her plan includes a low-carbohydrate, high-protein menu of about 1,200 calories a day, with no alcohol, caffeine, sugar, grains, bread, starchy vegetables, dairy products, fats or oils (save flaxseed oil). She also recommends a “Long Life Cocktail” of diluted cranberry juice and ground flaxseeds, or a teaspoon of psyllium husks, in the morning and evening; and a mixture of cranberry juice and water throughout the day. Ms. Gittleman sells a Fat Flush kit for $112.50 with herbs and nutrients like dandelion root, milk thistle and Oregon grape root.

“It’s horrible when I’m on it — I feel very deprived,” said Mr. Hansen, who credits the program with helping him lose more than 70 pounds. “But I always feel better after, and I end up dropping about 10 pounds in the two weeks — an added bonus on top of the detox.”

The Hansens are among the thousands of Americans who regularly “detox” in an effort to rid the gastrointestinal system of unsavory substances that proponents believe build up and can cause allergies, exhaustion and certain cancers.

But many Western doctors question the legitimacy of the regimens and their claims of promoting good health, believing detoxification does little to no good, and is possibly harmful.

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In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr., The New York Times, January 22, 2009

AUSTIN, Tex. — The latest round in a long-running battle over how evolution should be taught in Texas schools began in earnest Wednesday as the State Board of Education heard impassioned testimony from scientists and social conservatives on revising the science curriculum.

The debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.

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Instead of Glory, the Finder of a Rare Dinosaur Fossil Faces Charges of Theft
By JIM ROBBINS, The New York Times, January 22, 2009

MALTA, Mont. — In October 2006, a respected amateur paleontologist, Nathan L. Murphy, took a large rock containing the well-preserved bones of a new species of dinosaur to be X-rayed at the Dinosaur Field Station here.

He called the fossil, a raptor the size of a wild turkey, Sid Vicious. The find was a coup, bringing Mr. Murphy prestige and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars from the rights to cast the fossil for sale to museums and collectors.

Mr. Murphy was no stranger to fossil hunting success. He was part of the team that found Roberta and Elvis, two beautifully articulated duckbill fossils, and, in 2000, a team he led found a priceless fossil of a 77-million-year-old duckbill that has come to be known as Leonardo. The fossil is the only herbivore found with eaten meals intact.

But Montana law enforcement officials now say that the fossil Mr. Murphy took to the field station in 2006 had actually been found four years earlier on a private ranch and therefore belongs to someone else.

In September, after a yearlong investigation by state and federal authorities, Mr. Murphy was charged with felony theft. Federal agents have also questioned his associates about his other fossil discoveries. The investigations have caused consternation in this small town in the middle of some of the world’s richest dinosaur fields.

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Nov. 14th, 2008 03:15 pm
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Now in Sight: Far-Off Planets
By DENNIS OVERBYE, The New York Times, November 14, 2008

A little more of the universe has been pried out of the shadows. Two groups of astronomers have taken the first pictures of what they say — and other astronomers agree — are most likely planets going around other stars.

The achievement, the result of years of effort on improved observational techniques and better data analysis, presages more such discoveries, the experts said, and will open the door to new investigations and discoveries of what planets are and how they came to be formed.

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First off - local health news:

Norovirus outbreak at UW biggest in 10 years
Bill Novak, The Capital Times, November 12, 2008

University of Wisconsin health officials are cautioning students in dorms to wash their hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food after what's being called the biggest outbreak of the norovirus on campus in the last 10 years.

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Veterans’ Families Seek Aid for Caregiver Role
By LESLIE KAUFMAN, The New York Times, November 12, 2008

Tracy Keil met her husband, Matt, in August 2005 between his first and second tours of duty in Iraq. They married in January 2007. Six weeks later, Staff Sergeant Keil was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq, and rendered a quadriplegic.

Because her husband, now 27, could no longer take care of himself, not even to get a drink of water, Mrs. Keil, 31, quit her job as an accountant to take care of him.

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Google Uses Searches to Track Flu’s Spread
By MIGUEL HELFT, The New York Times, November 12, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — There is a new common symptom of the flu, in addition to the usual aches, coughs, fevers and sore throats. Turns out a lot of ailing Americans enter phrases like “flu symptoms” into Google and other search engines before they call their doctors.

That simple act, multiplied across millions of keyboards in homes around the country, has given rise to a new early warning system for fast-spreading flu outbreaks, called Google Flu Trends.

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Supreme Court Rules for Navy in Sonar Case
By ADAM LIPTAK, The New York Times, November 13, 2008

WASHINGTON — Courts must be wary of second-guessing the military’s considered judgments, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in lifting judicial restrictions on submarine training exercises off the coast of Southern California that may harm marine mammals.

In balancing military preparedness against environmental concerns, the majority came down solidly on the side of national security.

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Oct. 25th, 2008 08:45 am
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Half of Doctors Routinely Prescribe Placebos
By GARDINER HARRIS, The New York Times, October 24, 2008

Half of all American doctors responding to a nationwide survey say they regularly prescribe placebos to patients. The results trouble medical ethicists, who say more research is needed to determine whether doctors must deceive patients in order for placebos to work.

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Who Is the Walrus?
By NATALIE ANGIER, The New York Times, May 20, 2008

I was about to meet a walrus for the first time in my life, and I felt fabulous. After all, Ronald J. Schusterman of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied them for years, had assured me over the phone that to meet a walrus was to fall in love with walruses — the mammals were that smart, friendly and playful. “They’re pussycats!” he said.

Phoenix Lander Is Ready for Risky Descent to Mars
By WARREN E. LEARY, The New York Times, May 20, 2008

To get to the ice, you have to go through the fire.

A spacecraft now completing a nine-month journey from Earth to Mars must survive a fiery, risky descent to the Red Planet to have a chance to scoop up water ice believed buried under an arctic plain.

After traveling 422 million miles since its launching last Aug. 4, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander is aiming for a touchdown on Sunday in the unexplored northern regions of Mars. But first, it must survive what its developers call the final “seven minutes of terror” to reach the surface.
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Project Digitizes Works From the Golden Age of Timbuktu
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, May 20, 2008

From Timbuktu to here, to reverse the expression, the written words of the legendary African oasis are being delivered by electronic caravan. A lode of books and manuscripts, some only recently rescued from decay, is being digitized for the Internet and distributed to scholars worldwide.

These are works of law and history, science and medicine, poetry and theology, relics of Timbuktu’s golden age as a crossroads in Mali for trade in gold, salt and slaves along the southern edge of the Sahara. If the name is now a synonym for mysterious remoteness, the literature attests to Timbuktu’s earlier role as a vibrant intellectual center.
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Oral Cancer in Men Associated With HPV
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR, The New York Times, May 13, 2008

The sexually transmitted virus called HPV, for human papillomavirus, is well known to lead to cervical cancer in women — which is why the federal government recommends that all girls be vaccinated for HPV at 11 or 12, before they become sexually active.

Now researchers are finding that many oral cancers in men are also associated with the virus.

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Global Update: Fake Malaria Drugs Emerging in Vulnerable Countries in Africa
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., The New York Times, May 13, 2008

Until recently, fake malaria drugs have been a problem largely confined to Southeast Asia, where a sampling two years ago found 53 percent of the drugs substandard, and drug experts said Asia was facing “an epidemic of counterfeits.”

A study released last week suggests that the epidemic is spreading to Africa, where the malaria burden is even greater, and the regulatory agencies are even weaker.

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For the Disabled, Age 18 Brings Difficult Choices
By MARC SANTORA, The New York Times, May 14, 2008

Outside Sam Stabiner’s room pumps the steady drone of ventilators, giving life to his neighbors breath by breath. Most are in their 80s and 90s, in the twilight of their years.

But Mr. Stabiner’s parents never imagined they would have to visit him in a place like this. On the eve of his 21st birthday, he is living in a Manhattan nursing home.

The Stabiners’ predicament, however, is far from unique. As medical advances have allowed patients who might have died as children to survive into adulthood, the patients are falling into a void in a health care system that has yet to develop institutions for the young and “medically fragile.”

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brdgt: (Scientist by wurlocke)
Researchers Seek to Demystify the Metabolic Magic of Sled Dogs
By DOUGLAS ROBSON, The New York Times, May 6, 2008

When humans engage in highly strenuous exercise day after day, they start to metabolize the body’s reserves, depleting glycogen and fat stores. When cells run out of energy, a result is fatigue, and exercise grinds to a halt until those sources are replenished.

Dogs are different, in particular the sled dogs that run the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. This is a grueling 1,100-mile race, and studies show that the dogs somehow change their metabolism during the race.
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Family Science Project Yields Surprising Data About a Siberian Lake
By CORNELIA DEAN, The New York Times, May 6, 2008

In 1945, when Stalin ruled the Soviet Union, Mikhail M. Kozhov began keeping track of what was happening under the surface of Lake Baikal, the ancient Siberian lake that is the deepest and largest body of fresh water on earth.

Every week to 10 days, by boat in summer and over the ice in winter, he crossed the lake to a spot about a mile and a half from Bolshie Koty, a small village in the piney woods on Baikal’s northwest shore. There, Dr. Kozhov, a professor at Irkutsk State University, would record water temperature and clarity and track the plant and animal plankton species as deep as 2,400 feet.

Soon his daughter Olga M. Kozhova began assisting him and, eventually her daughter, Lyubov Izmesteva, joined the project. They kept at it over the years, producing an extraordinary record of the lake and its health.

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Redefining Disease, Genes and All
By ANDREW POLLACK, The New York Times, May 6, 2008

Duchenne muscular dystrophy may not seem to have much in common with heart attacks. One is a rare inherited disease that primarily strikes boys. The other is a common cause of death in both men and women. To Atul J. Butte, they are surprisingly similar.

Dr. Butte, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford, is among a growing band of researchers trying to redefine how diseases are classified — by looking not at their symptoms or physiological measurements, but at their genetic underpinnings. It turns out that a similar set of genes is active in boys with Duchenne and adults who have heart attacks.

The research is already starting to change nosology, as the field of disease classification is known. Seemingly dissimilar diseases are being lumped together. What were thought to be single diseases are being split into separate ailments. Just as they once mapped the human genome, scientists are trying to map the “diseasome,” the collection of all diseases and the genes associated with them.

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Really? The Claim: Running Outdoors Burns More Calories
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR, The New York Times, May 6, 2008


Pavement or treadmill? Most avid runners have a strong preference for one or the other, but how do the two differ in producing results?

According to several studies, the answer is not so simple. Researchers have found in general that while outdoor running tends to promote a more intense exercise, running on a treadmill helps reduce the likelihood of injury, and thus may allow some people to run longer and farther.

Read More )
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Basics: Noble Eagles, Nasty Pigeons, Biased Humans
By NATALIE ANGIER, The New York Times, April 29, 2008

The other day I glanced out my window and felt a twinge of revulsion delicately seasoned with indignation. Pecking at my bird feeder were two brown-headed cowbirds, one male and one female, and I knew what that meant. Pretty soon the fattened, fertilized female would be slipping her eggs into some other birds’ nest, with the expectation that the naïve hosts would brood, feed and rear her squawking, ravenous young at the neglect and even death of their own.

Hey, you parasites, get your beaks off my seed, I thought angrily. That feeder is for the good birds, the birds that I like — the cardinals, the nuthatches, the black-capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the woodpeckers, the goldfinches. It’s for the hard-working birds with enough moral fiber to rear their own families and look photogenic besides. It’s not meant for sneaky freeloaders like you. I rapped on the window sharply but the birds didn’t budge, and as I stood there wondering whether I should run out and scare them away, their beaks seemed to thicken, their eyes blacken, and I could swear they were cackling, “Tippi Hedren must go.”

In sum, I was suffering from a severe case of biobigotry: the persistent and often irrational desire to be surrounded only by those species of which one approves, and to exclude any animals, plants and other life forms that one finds offensive.
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Essay: A Great Pox’s Greatest Feat: Staying Alive
By MARLENE ZUK, The New York Times, April 29, 2008

The findings were hardly earth-shaking. They dealt with an obscure bacterial infection found in an equally obscure group of natives in Guyana. Nonetheless, they made headlines.

Why? Because the disease was syphilis. The new research suggested that syphilis originated as a skin ailment in South America, and then spread to Europe, where it became sexually transmitted and was later reintroduced to the New World.

The origin of syphilis has always held an implied accusation: if Europeans brought it to the New World, the disease is one more symbol of Western imperialism run amok, one more grudge to hold against colonialism. Sexually transmitted diseases have always taken on moralistic overtones — they seem like the price of pleasure. We tell ourselves that if we can just make everyone behave responsibly, we can halt the attack.
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Really? The Claim: Tilt Your Head Back to Treat a Nosebleed
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR, The New York Times, April 29, 2008


Most people know the right way to stop a nosebleed: lean the head back and apply pressure to the nose.

But medical experts say that what most people know about nosebleeds is wrong. Tilting the head back, a technique widely considered proper first aid, can create complications by allowing blood into the esophagus. It risks choking, and it can cause blood to travel to the stomach, possibly leading to irritation and vomiting.
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Animated Bambi Debate Arouses Pastoral Passions
By PATRICIA COHEN, The New York Times, April 23, 2008

When Ollie Johnston, one of Disney’s pioneering animators died at 95 last week, his family requested that instead of flowers mourners should donate to an environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Anyone who has seen “Bambi,” one of the many films that Mr. Johnston worked on, can understand why. The loving depiction of the woods and animals, particularly Bambi with those big soulful eyes and long lashes, was hailed by wildlife conservationists and denounced by hunters when it was released in 1942. An insult, declared Outdoor Life magazine, while the National Audubon Society compared its consciousness-raising power to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Just how much of a friend Disney has been to woodland folk (and their kin in the sea and the jungle) has long been batted about by scholars and writers. The latest addition to the debate comes just in time for Disney’s announcement this week that it is creating a new production unit for nature documentaries (not to mention Tuesday’s Earth Day celebrations).

In “The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation” (Ashgate), David Whitley, a lecturer at Cambridge University, argues, in the overstuffed prose that launched a thousand academic careers, that the finely wrought imagery and emotional power of Disney movies like “Bambi” and “Finding Nemo” helped inspire generations of environmentalists.
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Really? The Claim: During a Seizure, You Can Swallow Your Tongue
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR, The New York Times, April 22, 2008


One problem with old wives’ tales and medical myths is that they can sometimes lead well-meaning people to do ill-advised things. Armed with the adage that people having seizures can swallow their tongue, Good Samaritans will sometimes try to force an object into the victim’s mouth to keep that from happening.

A persistent belief, experts say, but a wrong and potentially injurious one.
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Panel Finds Link Between Smog and Premature Death
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, The New York Times, April 22, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Short-term exposure to smog, or ozone, is clearly linked to premature deaths that should be taken into account when measuring the health benefits of reducing air pollution, a National Academy of Sciences report concluded Tuesday.

The findings contradict arguments made by some White House officials that the connection between smog and premature death has not been shown sufficiently, and that the number of saved lives should not be calculated in determining clean air benefits.

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brdgt: (Scientist by wurlocke)
Hermaphrodite Frogs Found in Suburban Ponds
By FELICITY BARRINGER, The New York Times, April 8, 2008

Just as frogs’ mating season arrives, a study by a Yale professor raises a troubling issue. How many frogs will be clear on their role in the annual springtime ritual?

Common frogs that make their homes in suburban areas are more likely than their rural counterparts to develop the reproductive abnormalities previously found in fish in the Potomac and Mississippi Rivers, according to the study by David Skelly, a professor of ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Read More... )

A New York City subway car being added to an artificial reef off the coast of Delaware. The reef’s success has led to crowding for marine life and fishermen.

Growing Pains for a Deep-Sea Home Built of Subway Cars
By IAN URBINA, The New York Times, April 8, 2008

SLAUGHTER BEACH, Del. — Sixteen nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet and about 80 feet underwater, a building boom is under way at the Red Bird Reef.

One by one, a machine operator has been shoving hundreds of retired New York City subway cars off a barge, continuing the transformation of a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog.

“They’re basically luxury condominiums for fish,” Jeff Tinsman, artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said as one of 48 of the 19-ton retirees from New York City sank toward the 666 already on the ocean floor.

But now, Delaware is struggling with the misfortune of its own success.

Read More... )

The ruins of an Anasazi home near the Chimney Rock buttes in southern Colorado.

Vanished: A Pueblo Mystery
By GEORGE JOHNSON, The New York Times, April 8, 2008

Perched on a lonesome bluff above the dusty San Pedro River, about 30 miles east of Tucson, the ancient stone ruin archaeologists call the Davis Ranch Site doesn’t seem to fit in. Staring back from the opposite bank, the tumbled walls of Reeve Ruin are just as surprising.

Some 700 years ago, as part of a vast migration, a people called the Anasazi, driven by God knows what, wandered from the north to form settlements like these, stamping the land with their own unique style.

“Salado polychrome,” says a visiting archaeologist turning over a shard of broken pottery. Reddish on the outside and patterned black and white on the inside, it stands out from the plainer ware made by the Hohokam, whose territory the wanderers had come to occupy.

These Anasazi newcomers — archaeologists have traced them to the mesas and canyons around Kayenta, Ariz., not far from the Hopi reservation — were distinctive in other ways. They liked to build with stone (the Hohokam used sticks and mud), and their kivas, like those they left in their homeland, are unmistakable: rectangular instead of round, with a stone bench along the inside perimeter, a central hearth and a sipapu, or spirit hole, symbolizing the passage through which the first people emerged from mother earth.

“You could move this up to Hopi and not tell the difference,” said John A. Ware, the archaeologist leading the field trip, as he examined a Davis Ranch kiva. Finding it down here is a little like stumbling across a pagoda on the African veldt.

For five days in late February, Dr. Ware, the director of the Amerind Foundation, an archaeological research center in Dragoon, Ariz., was host to 15 colleagues as they confronted the most vexing and persistent question in Southwestern archaeology: Why, in the late 13th century, did thousands of Anasazi abandon Kayenta, Mesa Verde and the other magnificent settlements of the Colorado Plateau and move south into Arizona and New Mexico?

Scientists once thought the answer lay in impersonal factors like the onset of a great drought or a little ice age. But as evidence accumulates, those explanations have come to seem too pat — and slavishly deterministic. Like people today, the Anasazi (or Ancient Puebloans, as they are increasingly called) were presumably complex beings with the ability to make decisions, good and bad, about how to react to a changing environment. They were not pawns but players in the game.

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The sample of fossilized feces that was radiocarbon dated to 12,300 BC and contains preserved 14,000-year-old human protein and DNA.

Evidence Supports Earlier Date for People in North America
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, April 4, 2008

The discovery was one for the pages of an archaeology classic, something with a title like “Gods, Graves and Scat.”

Some people, coming into new country long ago, stopped at a cave for years perhaps, or only a day’s rest. Time enough, in any event, for them to relieve themselves — you know, answer nature’s call, if they bothered with euphemism. The cave was their in-house outhouse.

Exploring Paisley Caves in the Cascade Range of Oregon, archaeologists have found a scattering of human coprolites, or fossil feces. The specimens preserved 14,000-year-old human protein and DNA, which the discoverers said was the strongest evidence yet of the earliest people living in North America.

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For Seattle Shoppers, Paper or Plastic Could Come with a ‘Green Fee’
By WILLIAM YARDLEY, The New York Times, April 5, 2008

SEATTLE — The cashier’s chorus has long fallen on deaf ears among the sustainability set here. Paper or plastic? “Neither” is of course the greenest answer.

Soon, however, “neither” may be the cheapest answer, too.

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Health Database Was Set Up to Ignore ‘Abortion’
By ROBERT PEAR, The New York Times, April 5, 2008

WASHINGTON — Johns Hopkins University said Friday that it had programmed its computers to ignore the word “abortion” in searches of a large, publicly financed database of information on reproductive health after federal officials raised questions about two articles in the database. The dean of the Public Health School lifted the restrictions after learning of them.

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brdgt: (Pollen death balls by iconomicon)
Guidelines for Epidemics: Who Gets a Ventilator?
By CORNELIA DEAN, The New York Times, March 25, 2008

It may sound unthinkable — the idea of denying life support to some people in a public health disaster like an epidemic. But a new report says doctors, health care workers and the public need to start thinking about it.

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Cases: When the Disease Eludes a Diagnosis
By BARRON H. LERNER, M.D., The New York Times, March 25, 2008

Lucy, one of my longtime patients, has a neurological ailment she believes I have been unable to adequately diagnose.

Although I hope to make further progress on her case, I have also told her that there may never be a definitive answer. Not surprisingly, she is feeling pretty frustrated with me.

Why do doctors and patients often approach the diagnosis of disease so differently?

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SEA SHRINKS FOAM Cups and their messages back from the Arctic Ocean: left, from recent Russian dives; right, from an earlier dive, with a landlubber.

Far Below the Surface of the World’s Oceans, a Tough Place for Foam Cups
By WILLIAM J. BROAD, The New York Times, March 25, 2008

Last August, as a team at the North Pole prepared to plunge more than two miles to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, some of the dozens of specialists who staged the dive engaged in a time-honored ritual: drawing on foam cups, decorating more than 100 of them.

The cups were then gingerly sent into the deep. During the historic dive, led by Russian scientists, the pressure of the surrounding water crushed the cups to the size of thimbles, also squeezing their whimsies of writing and drawing.

Afterward, the tiny cups became instant mementoes of the polar dive, offering striking proof of the descent into an unfamiliar zone and silent testimony to the crushing power of plain old water.

“The real North Pole,” read one cup’s shrunken writing. “Explore the abyss,” another urged.

Deep explorers have made thousands of such keepsakes over the decades, and more recently, schools have joined the fun as a way to drive home some of the peculiarities of a planet where very deep water covers some 65 percent of the surface.

Read More )
brdgt: (Creationist by iconomicon)
Public Health Risk Seen as Parents Reject Vaccines
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER, The New York Times, March 21, 2008

SAN DIEGO — In a highly unusual outbreak of measles here last month, 12 children fell ill; nine of them had not been inoculated against the virus because their parents objected, and the other three were too young to receive vaccines.

The parents who objected to their children being inoculated are among a small but growing number of vaccine skeptics in California and other states who take advantage of exemptions to laws requiring vaccinations for school-age children.

The exemptions have been growing since the early 1990s at a rate that many epidemiologists, public health officials and physicians find disturbing.
Read More... )

New Analysis Suggests Earlier Start for Upright Walking
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, March 21, 2008

As early as six million years ago, apparently close to the beginning of the human lineage, an ancestral species had already developed the transforming ability for upright walking, scientists reported on Thursday.

A new, more detailed analysis of a fossil thigh bone found eight years ago in Kenya yielded strong evidence that the species Orrorin tugensis stood and walked on its hind limbs. The scientists said this was the earliest known example of bipedal locomotion.
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The Professor as Open Book
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM, The New York Times, March 20, 2008

IT is not necessary for a student studying multivariable calculus, medieval literature or Roman archaeology to know that the professor on the podium shoots pool, has donned a bunny costume or can’t get enough of Chaka Khan.

Yet professors of all ranks and disciplines are revealing such information on public, national platforms: blogs, Web pages, social networking sites, even campus television.

Wait a minute, you have a life? )

Debate Over ‘Little People’ Intensifies After Recent Island Discovery
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD,The New York Times, March 18, 2008

The dispute over the “little people” of Flores continues, unabated.

The bones and a single skull of these “little people” are believed to be remains of a separate species of the human family that lived about 18,000 years ago on an island in Indonesia, as the scientists who made the sensational discovery concluded in 2004.

But persistent skeptics have contended in a recent flurry of scientific reports that they were nothing more than modern humans with unusually small bodies possibly malformed by genetic or pathological disorders.

Neither side is backing off in this sometimes bitter row, which intensified last week with the announcement of the discovery that in Palau, in the Western Caroline Islands of Micronesia, other abnormally small-bodied people had lived long ago. Their bones were found in two caves and described in the online journal PloS One.

Microcephalics or new species? )

The Tropics: Why a Genetic Blood Disorder Seems to Protect Against Malaria
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., The New York Times, March 18, 2008

Researchers believe they have figured out why a genetic blood disorder found in the tropics protects against death from malaria.

The disease, alpha thalassemia, causes children to produce abnormally small red blood cells, often rendering them listless from mild anemia — a much smaller threat than malaria, which kills an estimated one million children a year.

A simple explanation? )
brdgt: (Creationist by iconomicon)
Clues to Black Plague’s Fury in 650-Year-Old Skeletons
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR, The New York Times, January 29, 2008

Many historians have assumed that Europe’s deadliest plague, the Black Death of 1347 to 1351, killed indiscriminately, young and old, hardy and frail, healthy and sick alike. But two anthropologists were not so sure. They decided to take a closer look at the skeletons of people buried more than 650 years ago.

Their findings, published on Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the plague selectively took the already ill, while many of the otherwise healthy survived the infection.
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Books: A Fight for Life Consumes Both Mother and Son
By ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D., The New York Times, January 29, 2008

Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son's Memoir. By David Rieff. Simon & Schuster. 180 pages. $21

“A good death” may be one of the emptiest phrases in the English language. Research has confirmed that no two people use it to mean exactly the same thing. Even the premise is unclear; for whom, exactly, is that death supposed to be good? Many would prefer a swift, sudden and painless exit for themselves — but a little warning when it comes to friends and relatives, with time to prepare and to say goodbye.

“A bad death” is another matter. We all know those when we see them, the miserably protracted and painful affairs that overwhelm everyone — the deceased and survivors alike — with panic, guilt and bitter regrets.

And now we have a new benchmark of bad. The writer Susan Sontag’s death, as set out in this short and immensely disturbing account by her son, David Rieff, must rank as one of the worst ever described.
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Observatory: 120 Million Years Old, Fossil Shows Divergence of Platypus and Anteater
By HENRY FOUNTAIN, The New York Times, January 29, 2008

The platypus tops many people’s oddest mammal list, what with its ducklike bill and beaverlike tail. Its closest relatives, the echidnas, don’t get the press the platypus gets, but they are pretty weird, too, and are the only other monotremes, or egg-laying mammals, around.
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Whole Foods Chain to Stop Use of Plastic Bags
By ANDREW MARTIN, The New York Times, January 23, 2008

The Whole Foods Market chain said Tuesday that it would stop offering plastic grocery bags, giving customers instead a choice between recycled paper or reusable bags.
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Europe, Cutting Biofuel Subsidies, Redirects Aid to Stress Greenest Options
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, The New York Times, January 22, 2008

Governments in Europe and elsewhere have begun rolling back generous, across-the-board subsidies for biofuels, acknowledging that the environmental benefits of these fuels have often been overstated.
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Birds in Great Salt Lake Felled by Cholera by the Thousands
By SANA KHALID, The New York Times, January 22, 2008

Some of the birds flew upside down or threw their heads back between their wings. Some fell out of the sky. Others tried to land a foot or more above the water, or swam in circles when they got there. And then they died.

The birds — eared grebes, ruddy ducks, California gulls and northern shovelers, about 15,000 in all — have been discovered over the past month on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. According to the United States Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center, they died from avian cholera.
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High Mercury Levels Are Found in Tuna Sushi
By MARIAN BURROS, The New York Times, January 23, 2008

Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.
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Drug Approved. Is Disease Real?
By ALEX BERENSON, The New York Times, January 14, 2008

Fibromyalgia is a real disease. Or so says Pfizer in a new television advertising campaign for Lyrica, the first medicine approved to treat the pain condition, whose very existence is questioned by some doctors.

For patient advocacy groups and doctors who specialize in fibromyalgia, the Lyrica approval is a milestone. They say they hope Lyrica and two other drugs that may be approved this year will legitimize fibromyalgia, just as Prozac brought depression into the mainstream.

But other doctors — including the one who wrote the 1990 paper that defined fibromyalgia but who has since changed his mind — say that the disease does not exist and that Lyrica and the other drugs will be taken by millions of people who do not need them.
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Mind: Crisis? Maybe He’s a Narcissistic Jerk
By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D., The New York Times, January 15, 2008

With the possible exception of “the dog ate my homework,” there is no handier excuse for human misbehavior than the midlife crisis.
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Genetic Study Bolsters Columbus Link to Syphilis
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, January 15, 2008

Columbus, it seems, made another discovery of something that he was not looking for.

In a comprehensive genetic study, scientists have found what they say is the strongest evidence yet linking the first European explorers of the New World to the origin of sexually transmitted syphilis.

The research, they say, supports the hypothesis that returning explorers introduced organisms leading, in probably modified forms, to the first recorded syphilis epidemic, beginning in Europe in 1493.
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Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs?
By DENNIS OVERBYE, The New York Times, January 15, 2008

It could be the weirdest and most embarrassing prediction in the history of cosmology, if not science.

If true, it would mean that you yourself reading this article are more likely to be some momentary fluctuation in a field of matter and energy out in space than a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star-spangled cosmos. Your memories and the world you think you see around you are illusions.

This bizarre picture is the outcome of a recent series of calculations that take some of the bedrock theories and discoveries of modern cosmology to the limit. Nobody in the field believes that this is the way things really work, however. And so there in the last couple of years there has been a growing stream of debate and dueling papers, replete with references to such esoteric subjects as reincarnation, multiple universes and even the death of spacetime, as cosmologists try to square the predictions of their cherished theories with their convictions that we and the universe are real. The basic problem is that across the eons of time, the standard theories suggest, the universe can recur over and over again in an endless cycle of big bangs, but it’s hard for nature to make a whole universe. It’s much easier to make fragments of one, like planets, yourself maybe in a spacesuit or even — in the most absurd and troubling example — a naked brain floating in space. Nature tends to do what is easiest, from the standpoint of energy and probability. And so these fragments — in particular the brains — would appear far more frequently than real full-fledged universes, or than us. Or they might be us.
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Basics: Tiny Specks of Misery, Both Vile and Useful
By NATALIE ANGIER, The New York Times, January 8, 2008

I spent New Year’s Eve with friends and family. A couple of days later, my pathologically healthy mother called to say she’d gotten very sick after the party, like nothing she’d experienced before. She thought it had been a stomach bug. Hey, it’s just like in “The Devil Wears Prada,” I said lightly, the perfect way to jump-start your new diet!

Hardy har. By that afternoon, my husband and I had been drafted into the same violent weight-loss program, and for the next 18 hours would treat the mucosal lining of our stomachs like so much pulp in a pumpkin, while our poor daughter ran around scrubbing her hands and every surface in sight as she sought to stay healthy. I am relieved to report that she succeeded, and that her parents lost 10 pounds between them.

The agent of our misery was a virus, very likely a type of norovirus. Named for Norwalk, Ohio, the site of a severe outbreak of vomiting, nausea and diarrhea among schoolchildren in the late 1960s, the norovirus is a small, spherical, highly contagious virus that targets the digestive system. Its sour suite of symptoms is often referred to as “stomach flu,” but norovirus infection is distinct from the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and targets not the gut but the lungs.

Well, not that distinct. Noroviruses, flu viruses, the rhino and corona viruses that cause the common cold, the herpes virus that causes the cold sore, all are active players in the wheezing ambient pleurisy of January.
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Ancient Yucatán Soils Point to Maya Market, and Market Economy
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, The New York Times, January 8, 2008

Scientists using improved methods of analyzing the chemistry of ancient soils have detected where a large marketplace stood 1,500 years ago in a Maya city on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.

The findings, archaeologists say, are some of the first strong evidence that the ancient Maya civilization, at least in places and at certain times, had a market economy similar in some respects to societies today. The conventional view has been that food and other goods in Maya cities were distributed through taxation and tributes controlled by the ruling class.
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Jump-Start on Slow Trek to Treatment for a Disease
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., The New York Times, January 8, 2008

Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $19 million to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative to further one of its goals: finding a new drug for African sleeping sickness.

Not that $19 million will come close to doing that. Even if a miracle cure is found, it will take lab work and clinical trials that could easily cost $100 million to prove it is really a miracle and not the Vioxx of the African savannah.

But the gift spotlights just how tricky the search for new treatments can be when the disease is fearsome but nearly forgotten because its victims are poor and obscure.
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Study Finds Vaccine Preservative Is Not Linked to Risks of Autism
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, The New York Times, January 8, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Autism cases in California continued to climb even after a mercury-based vaccine preservative that some people blame for the neurological disorder was removed from routine childhood shots, a study has found.

Researchers from the State Public Health Department found that the autism rate in children rose continuously in the study period from 1995 to 2007. The preservative, thimerosal, has not been used in childhood vaccines since 2001, except for some flu shots.

Doctors said that the latest study added to the evidence against a link between thimerosal exposure and the risk of autism and that it should reassure parents that vaccinations do not cause autism. If there was a risk, the doctors said, autism rates should have dropped from 2004 to 2007.
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