Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I really enjoy reading this interpretation of the Biblical stories of people being struck down by God.

Sometimes, people just fall over dead.

Nowadays we have very good explanations for why people fall over dead. Heart attacks, strokes, embolisms, aneurysms, hernia, infection, cancer. Sometimes, shit happens. Bodies are imperfect. Eventually they will all fail.

It wasn't that long ago that we really had no clue why people sometimes just fell down and died. And so I am sure that when someone fell over dead, it sure looked like an act of God. So they combed through the person's recent actions, and whatever "sins" they had committed were assigned as the causes.

How quaint, right?


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Science, and also Industry!

As I'm visiting with my guy's family in Chicago, me and the man went to the Museum of Science and Industry today, and I came back with a pile of pictures, most of which have nothing to do with either science or industry.

Okay, so maybe some of them are rather sciencey. I really enjoyed a lot of the more science-oriented parts of the museum, like the chemistry section from whence the above picture was taken. There were also a lot of fun mechanical gadgets to play with and many halls filled with model ships and historical cars.

A lot of the exhibits were very schtick-y, obviously designed to appeal to kids.

Most of them managed to still communicate something meaningful to either science or industry. Some of the more tangential activities at least had placards posted nearby that explained the science involved. However, a good number did not have either. The worst offender that I've seen in this arena was a bunch of activities in the Petroleum Planet section which were completely unrelated to the science/industry at hand. Like the hydrocarbon mirror maze. And I didn't even bother to look at things like the Harry Potter exhibit - I wanted to see some solid info!

And see it I did! I highly recommend going to this, even as an adult, but especially if you have children. A lot of the exhibits were enough to bring wonder even to my jaded, 20-something self.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I'll lend a shoe to the cause

If you haven't heard about The Shoe Guy yet, go check it out.

I'm considering mailing my old (too-worn-out-to-donate) shoes to Our President, with a note that says "This is a farewell kiss from the American people, you dog."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feminist critiques of science journalism actually learns me some science!

There are two studies kicking around the feminist blag-o-web that both tie into the same phenomemon: the idea of trading favors or gifts for sex.

I actually saw the latest study first c/o Razib: Krueger, Daniel J. Male Financial Consumption is Associated with Higher Mating Intentions and Mating Success. Evolutionary Psychology, 2008. 6(4): 603-612.

The results were taken from a public health telephone survey which was set up for a completely different purpose. (This comes with positive and negatives; it effectively acts as an extra layer of blinding, but you also might not get the depth of information that you could otherwise.)

Participants were asked three questions about finances: "I always live within my income range; Each income period, I set aside at least ten percent for savings; I pay off my entire credit card bill each month". They were also asked three questions about sexual habits: "With how many different partners have you had sexual intercourse within the past five years; How many sexual partners would you like to have in the next five years; In the past 12 months, how many different partners have you had sex with on one and only one occasion."

The main result is in the title: male participants who had high levels of "financial consumption" (as assayed by those three questions) also reported high numbers of one-night stands and the like (as assayed by those other three questions).

I looked the entire paper over and to be honest the tables are a little obtuse for me at the moment. As I mentioned on Gene Expression, the biggest issue that stands out at me is that this was a telephone survey, and maybe there was a bias due to self-reporting; maybe high-spending men are just more likely to report high values for one-night stands and higher desire for future sexual partners.

However, as Razib did point out, this fits very well into certain cultural narratives. The blog Yes Means Yes has an awesome feminist analysis of this kind of "gold-throwing" behavior in men.

Then I was skimming The Curvature and noticed this shining beacon of science-journalism criticism. Seriously, the article that Cara cites is just about the most sexist subtext I've seen in text. (I know, shows just how little mainstream news I read, eh?) However, there's no reason to think that the science itself is necessarily bad.

I'll quote the one non-skeezy paragraph from the piece:
A recent study of 475 University of Michigan undergraduates ages 17 to 26 found that 27 percent of the men and 14 percent of the women who weren't in a committed relationship had offered someone favors or gifts -- help prepping for a test, laundry washing, tickets to a college football game -- in exchange for sex. On the flip side, 5 percent of the men surveyed and 9 percent of the women said they'd attempted to trade sex for such freebies.
I like what the commenters had to say about this:

jfpbookworm said:

Okay, the way I understand those statistics:

27% of men offer goods in exchange for sex, and 9% of women take them up on it.

14% of women offer goods in exchange for sex, and 5% of men take them up on it.

Sounds to me like the ratio is about the same (1 in 3, assuming no skew in which people get asked, which there may well be), and the only difference is who’s socialized to be the “buyer.”

Lee said:

If they wanted to write about choosing “a partner who provides more resources — wealth, shelter, home repairs”, how come they didn’t mention McCain?

In other news, have I told you guys how much I appreciate the feminist view of science? (A.k.a: Look for the bias, stupid!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time, time, who's got the time?

I have not got much time. However, I do have some fresh science for ya.

Ever wonder how cats are able to be so sneaktastic?

Figure 1: A sneaky cat.

Cats apparently make trade-offs between energy efficiency and sneakiness. Cat's sneaky gaits are less efficient, whereas distance-traveling animals like dogs have a higher efficiency. Bishop, Pai, and Schmidt will tell ya: "Low energy recovery was not associated with decreased vertical oscillations of the center of mass as theoretically predicted, but rather with posture and footfall pattern on the phase relationship between potential and kinetic energy."

As I may have mentioned, I don't have much time so I'm not going into a deep analysis. But... but... but... SNEAKY KITTIES! Go read. :)

Friday, December 5, 2008


Since I joined this community to actually blog (and not just to have another failed webpage out there with my name on it), I'm making the conscious decision to... actually blog.

I'll be trying to keep the posting to a MINIMUM of 2 posts per week, with at least one of those posts being related to some area of science. Preferably neuroscience or cognitive psych, but I'll take whatever comes to me.

If anyone has any ideas for me, leave a suggestion in ze leetle box. (Ze comment box, that is!)

Traumatic Brain Injury, or Why It's A Bad Idea To Headdesk Too Hard

This little number that showed up on Google News reminded me of the conference I went to last year on Traumatic Brain Injury (or TBI if you like three-letter initials).

Traumatic brain injury is rapidly becoming the hallmark injury of soldiers currently serving in the Middle East. This is because our troops are engaging in less traditional shooting-guns-at-each-other warfare and more stumbling-upon-a-roadside-bomb warfare. Thus, soldiers are more likely to get hit by a concussive impact (coming from a shock wave, slamming one's head into the side of an armored vehicle, etc). As Wikipedia says, as many as 15% of U.S. infantry soldiers who return from the Iraq War suffer from this kind of injury.

What a lot of people fail to realize is that the initial injury is often not the worst part of a traumatic brain injury; the most damage typically comes from the brain's response in the hours to days following the actual insult. When you get knocked in the noggin, it sets off a cascade of events that kill even more brain cells, primarily due to excitotoxicity. Yep, when your neurons get excited enough, they can keel over and die. And on top of that, the brain's inflammatory response (when the tissue gets all swelled up) kills even more brain cells.

Oh, and the best part? A concussive head injury can potentiate any additional injuries. Up to months afterwards (depending on the severity of the initial injury), it's possible that even a little tap on the head can cause immediate unconsciousness, coma, and even death. Because of the previous injury, your brain can become super-duper sensitive to even mild impacts.

So, in other words, please don't hit your head too hard. =)