Friday, August 29, 2008


I've been fairly busy since school's started, so I'm very sorry for not updating to the people who may or may not be reading this.

I am, however, doing science! Which is a lot more hectic than I could possibly have imagined. I think it has something to do with schooling full time.

I need to go chill out.

Here's a link dump so you guys have something to read:

The War on Drugs. Or on whatever.

Two different takes on McCain's newly announced running mate:
Obama Plays Good Cop/Bad Cop: Fox News, fer shits n giggles.
McCain picks young, unknown female VP: Sydney Morning Herald's take, including some blatant PUMA-pandering.

Obligatory Pharyngula link: Salem's hypothesis does not always hold! There is hope for you engineers yet!

Oh, and how about a laughing baby?

Even better yet, an embedded laughing baby:

Oh come on, you watch that and tell me it didn't make you laugh.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Your voice could change the world.

It's almost disheartening. Seeing news in my feed that says that McCain is running tightly against Obama, that he has leads in various places or is cutting close in other places.

Notice that I said -almost- disheartening.

Because I want a President like this:

And I think you do too.

If all of us bring our voices to the polls, we will change the nation.

If you wanted to know what's going on with oil...

Stephen Colbert explains (with the help of himself) over at The Intersection.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One small step for a woman...

I filed my first real scientific paperwork today!

I needed to fill out a form and include a summary letter, a feedback sheet, and a copy of the approval letter from our IRB, and take it to this guy's office.

I have the feeling that this kind of paperwork will continue to be important in my scientific career.

Another inconsequential moment that makes me SQUEE!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Faculty behaving badly.

Shanara Reid-Brinkley, coach of the Pitt debate team, who is mad at...
William Shanahan, coach of the Fort Hays State U (Kansas), for apparently moving to strike her from being a judge of the event, and also apparently shaking his head while a student was speaking.

Watch it all the way to the end if you want to see them make a student cry.

Sometimes I am embarassed of people, in general.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A sad Caturday for me...

... in that my cat is not here. He's been missing for four days now.

But here are some recent pictures of his cuteness anyway.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Don't blind-drunk men who rape bear ANY responsibility for what happens?

I know, I know. It's the Daily Mail. But still...
After the witness describes her ordeal, defence counsel triumphantly produces CCTV of the victim having a drink - or two or three - with the accused, or being too drunk to remember what happened to them.
I don't see why this is an argument against women drinking as much as it is an argument against men drinking. Basically what this ass is saying is that when men and women get together and drink, well then it's no surprise that the man will overstep his bounds and rape the woman.
Women always retain the right to say no whatever condition they are in.
But if they have been drinking, they may not be able to make that clear to someone stronger than them who doesn't wish to hear it.
Emphasis mine.

I would agree that women always retain the right to say no whatever condition they are in. I would also add that women always have the right to have their 'no' taken seriously whatever condition they are in. And doing otherwise is - hello - rape.

Remember, rape isn't just something that 'happens' to women who drink. Rape is something that men do to women, and I will grant that maybe it's more likely to happen when drinking occurs. If men are more likely to rape women in a situation where drinking occurs, then shouldn't the men stop drinking?

I will say this again, because it bears repeating. Women are not gatekeepers of sex as a resource. Women are participants in what should be a mutual act. Men shouldn't just want their sexual partners to not-say-no. They should want their partners to actively say yes. Anything otherwise is bullshit entitlement, and should rightly be scorned.

Note: Just realized that The Curvature already said exactly what I did, except 10x better.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Denialism? Crankery? Them's fightin' words!

I've been looking over some of the critiques of the fat acceptance movement.

Denialism Blog starts out good: Apparently a post at Junkfood Science quote-mined an article to a certain degree. She had said, and I quote:
The article, “Do current body mass index criteria for obesity surgery reflect cardiovascular risk?” was “work presented at the 2005 American Society for Bariatric Surgery Meeting in poster form.” The authors, led by Edward H. Livingston M.D. at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, reported that many of the conventional risk factors for cardiovascular disease “decreased with increasing degrees of obesity.”
Emphasis and links all hers.

Denialism Blog went straight to the source and found that it was only partially true.
Of the conventional CVD risk factors, blood pressure, serum glucose, and waist circumference increased linearly with adiposity. The reverse was observed for high-density lipoprotein. Insulin, C-peptide, apolipoprotein B, non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, and serum triglycerides all peaked in the body mass index range of 30-40 kg/m2 and then decreased with increasing degrees of obesity.
Emphasis was added by Denialism Blog, I don't think it was in the original.

So there's three factors that increase as you get fatter, and seven that decrease. Junkfood Science could have let us know about that, and it makes sense for Denialism Blog to point that out.

Denialism Blog goes on to say, basically, that obesity correlates with a handful of things like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which can contribute to things like heart disease and diabetes. This is undeniable (except to denialists, of course).

Denialism Blog also seems to think that it's a good idea for obese people to treat their high blood pressure and high blood sugar medically, instead of just trying to stop being fatty moo cows. He also seems to think that treating fat people as fatty moo cows is a bad thing. In fact, he agrees that there is no empirically proven long-term weight loss technique.

"If you eat more than your baseline metabolic requirement plus your daily caloric output, you will gain weight. If you eat less than your baseline metabolic requirements plus your daily caloric output, you will lose weight. Anything else, and you're suggesting energy is being created or destroyed, and I just don't have time for such nonsense."
Calories In/Calories Out!

Ok, so I know I'm just a wee kiddo, merely a student. But I remember something in physiology about trying to maintain certain parameters in homeostasis. One of those parameters is (gasp!) energy stores in the body - better known as subcutaneous fat. Your body likes to have a certain amount of fat on it. Each body may have a different preferred level, of course, just like your baseline body temperature might be a little higher than 98 degrees, and mine might be a little lower.

If you take in more calories than you burn, you may gain weight. Or your metabolism might spike, and you'll feel full sooner, and if you follow your body's signals you'll return to your normal caloric intake and your normal weight range.

If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you may lose weight. Or your baseline metabolism may drop, and you may become sluggish, and you'll definitely feel hungry, and if you follow your body's signals you'll return to your normal caloric intake and your normal weight range.

And if you follow your body's signals, you'll probably find that fresh fruit is yummier than gummy fruit snacks, and that you actually crave broccoli when it's cooked right, and that you don't actually want to snarf down six plates at the all-you-can-eat because you're "taking a holiday" from your latest diet and no one's watching you (and eating only grapefruit/lettuce/cheerios/"what you should eat" is killing you).

For those of you who really, really think that if you follow demand-feeding -- that is, eating what you are hungry for and then stopping when you are full -- that means you'll just eat burger after burger, day in and day out, until your fat makes you explode like a bad Monty Python sketch, well then, Kate Harding and I have a message for you:
How about the assumption that without the aid of 100-calorie packs, people will be helpless in the face of the dreaded (but oh-so-desired) Girl Scout Cookie, and just eat BOX AFTER BOX? Children, even. Children with their child-sized stomachs. There’s certainly no way they would naturally figure out when to stop, based on cues like, oh, I don’t know… feeling satisfied? Or, failing that, eventually feeling like they’re gonna barf — which, for the vast majority of kids, will happen well before they get through one box? (And also might just teach them a valuable life lesson like, “Don’t eat so damn many cookies,” without parents, educators, or MeMe Roth ever having to say a word?)

For the gazillionth fucking time, eating “box after box” of cookies is called Binge Eating Disorder, not “What every human being would naturally do if we weren’t all bugfuck crazy about calorie-counting.” But if you don’t have BED, and instead you just have some insane fucking nightmare/fantasy about how you TOTALLY WOULD eat box after box of cookies if you ever stopped rigidly controlling your diet for ten seconds — and accordingly, you assume that that is how all fat people eat, all the time, so not only do you have to rigidly control your own diet, you’re morally obligated to make sure everyone else is equally vigilant? Well, you might have an eating disorder, too, come to think of it. But you also might just be a giant douche. In which case, please eat 10 whole boxes of STFU and call me in the morning.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Starter Kit for the Willfully Ignorant

Ray Comfort (BANANA MAN!) posted this absolutely brilliant "Atheist Starter Kit" on his blog. There's a post about it, and it's also featured on the right sidebar.

If blatant ignorance of logical fallacies and philosophy 101 hurt your mind, I'd skip it if I were you.

In the interests of rational thinking, I'd like to post my own starter kit - for the willfully ignorant Christian! Ten suggestions for the novice trying to convert those ScArY athiests:
  1. Argue that the Bible is true because God says so in the Bible, and then use the Bible to argue that God exists. Argue that, since all atheists believe with absolute certainty that there is no God, they would have to know everything in the universe and thus be God. Quote Darwin when he says that it's difficult to believe the eye could evolve. Refuse to read anything about "logical fallacies".
  2. Argue that things look designed, therefore they must have been designed. Refuse to acknowledge that anyone has said this before. Absolutely refuse to listen to anyone talk about how "evolution" could be a "plausible mechanism" for the "appearance of design".
  3. Argue that the risks of going to Hell, and the possible reward of going to Heaven, makes being a Christian a good bet. Refuse to acknowledge that anyone has said this before. Refuse to acknowledge that other deities might exist. Refuse to acknowledge the idea of "evidence", or that it affects "odds".
  4. Quote the Bible. Often. Especially the parts that you agree with. Refuse to justify it with "evidence" - remember step 1!
  5. Believe the Bible is flawless. Do not actually read it for yourself. If anyone points out a "flaw" in the Bible, just ignore them. The Bible has to be flawless - it was written by God! Like it says in the Bible!
  6. If any atheist tells you that they used to believe in Jesus and God too, don't believe them. If they had really known Jesus Christ, like you do, they never would have changed their mind! (Also, continue refusing to acknowledge any such thing as a "logical fallacy". It's just common sense!)
  7. Reject any "facts" that contradict the Bible, which you already know to be 100% true. No matter how "well-supported" those "facts" seem to be. Expect people to make fun of you for this. No matter, you already know you're right, and they're wrong.
  8. If all of these well-thought-out arguments fail, start threatening people with Hell. Again, disregard "evidence" - Hell is bad! Anyone who ignores this wisdom must be a fool.
  9. Blame atheism for Stalin and Mao and Hitler. Refuse to admit that Christians commit violence - after all, violence is part of the atheist's basic philosophy, while no true Christian could really commit violence. (Oh, and believe that Hitler was an atheist. He had to be - he was violent after all!)
  10. Finally, keep in fellowship with other like-minded Christians who believe as you believe, and encourage each other in your beliefs. Build up your faith. Never doubt for a moment. Remember, the key to willful ignorance is to be unreasonable. Fall back on that when you feel threatened. Think shallow, and keep telling yourself that you are intelligent. Remember, an ignorant person is someone who pretends there is no evidence.
(Note: I would not have been so harsh if he hadn't been just as harsh. Most of the last bullet-point is directly substituted for what he said about atheists. And please do remember, this is about willfully ignorant Christians, not reasonable people of faith. Thank you, come again.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In which I blind you with neuroscience.

Men have 6.5 times more gray matter in their brains than women do. Women have 10 times more white matter. Gray matter creates processing centers in the brain, and white matter creates the connections between them. In other words, men have lots of areas for processing concrete data — like mathematical equations — and women have lots of connections that allow them to see and process patterns.
(Quote from this, found here.)

First, look at the premise. Men have 6.5 TIMES more gray matter in their brains than women do. Women have 10 TIMES more white matter. This is ludicrous at face value. This would indicate that men's brains are just wobbly with gray matter, and women's are bursting with white matter. In reality, we all have about the same amounts of gray:white matter. (If those had been percentage differences, it might be less ridiculous, but I have no idea if it would be at all accurate.)

If you can remember back to high school biology, you learned that neurons have nuclei and cell bodies like any other cell, and they also have long, skinny axons that project to other neurons' cell bodies and their dendrites.

"Gray matter" is just the term for areas in your nervous system that have lots of cell bodies.
"White matter" is just the term for areas in your nervous system that have lots of axons.

If men and women did have inversely differing amounts of gray/white matter, that just means that men have more neurons with fewer connections, while women have fewer neurons with more connections. By some marginal amount.

And to do any kind of processing, your nervous system uses both gray and white matter. Knowing that a person has more of one or the other cannot be used to predict anything about how they'll handle "concrete data" (mathematics = concrete?) or "patterns" (mathematics != patterns?).

I can point out all this, and I'm still an undergrad. N00bs.

Issues, issues, ISSUES!!

For those of you who are tired of horse race politics.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I dig it

This is entirely true of me.


Additional requirements needed to complete your application to the Center for Neuroscience Graduate Training Program are listed below.
  1. You must submit the names of three references with your application. They may submit their recommendations either electronically or by mail. These letters of recommendation must be from professors or research supervisors with whom you have studied or worked, preferably including those who have sponsored independent research in the laboratory.
  2. You must include a 500- to 1,000-word statement of goals concerning your plans for graduate study and a professional career. Indicate the area(s) of neuroscience that most interest you. Include specific training faculty whose research programs are of great interest and indicate at least three faculty members with whom you would like the opportunity to meet should you visit Pittsburgh. You may submit this information in the "additional information" section of the admissions application.
  3. Provide a brief description of your previous research experience. This should include undergraduate and/or graduate research, your research supervisor in each project and the technical skills that you have acquired, and a description of the hypotheses you were examining in your research. You may submit this information electronically in the "additional information" section of the admissions application.
  4. Provide an official transcript from each undergraduate and graduate school that was attended. Official original academic credentials that are issued in a language other than English must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
  5. You must submit official scores on the Graduate Examination Test through the Educational Testing Service. The verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing tests are required, whereas an advanced test is optional. The institutional code number for the University of Pittsburgh is 2927.

Getting started now was a good idea.