Slide of "Defendant's" Damaged Frontal Lobe (Top: Normal, Bottom: Damaged)

The judge sits at the front of the room.  He has a distinguished look, graying at the temples, and a commanding air.  Glasses perched on the tip of his nose, he addresses the room, “The Bailiff will excuse the jury at this time.”  And as he waves his hand dismissively at the jury, the audience breaks out in titters of laughter.

This is not actually a courtroom, and the judge isn’t wearing robes.  Instead, this is room 2 in the San Diego Convention Center and it is this morning’s session, The Brain on Trial: Neuroscience Evidence in the Courtroom, at the AAAS 2010 meeting.  The judge is a real judge, the Honorable Luis A. Rodriguez, from the Superior Court of California in Orange County.  The session however, is not your normal scientific meeting, and boy is it refreshing and eye-opening. Read the rest of this entry »


Peter Agre's Presidential Address at AAAS

Peter Agre, the President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, opened the 2010 annual AAAS meeting with a poignant, memorable speech.  Standing at the podium in front of a screen displaying this year’s theme, “Bridging Science and Society”, Agre took the audience through a personal narrative of his life as a scientist, beginning with his early inspiration from his father, a chemist, through his discovery of aquaporins which won him a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2003.   Relating a story about drawing a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up during a class exercise (a chemist of course), he recalls looking over to his neighbor drawing a picture of himself as a burglar.  Wryly Agre quipped, “I always wondered whether he grew up to be a lobbyist.”

He also encouraged the undergraduate and high school students in the audience to get involved in research opportunities.  This, as well as some of his slides, seemed vaguely familiar as I flashed back to the other time I’ve heard Agre speak, my senior year of college at the American Society for Cell Biology meeting a year after he’d won his Nobel Prize.  When he later showed a picture of his lab on the day that he got that once-in-a-lifetime phone call from Oslo (unless you’re John Bardeen, Linus Pauling, Marie Curie, or Fred Sanger), I realized that he didn’t look the same as that day six years ago when I sat in the audience, he’d had a quite impressive gray mustache that’s now been replaced by a slick, clean-shaven look, perhaps in keeping with his ever-growing international reputation. Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow morning I make the trip from frigid Boston to sunny, warm San Diego for AAAS 2010!  The theme for this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting is Bridging Science and Society!  Could there me a more perfect meeting for me to blog about?  I am looking forward to the President of AAAS, Peter Agre’s opening night talk.  Agre shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Rod McKinnon for their discovery of aquaporins – proteins that stick into a cell’s membrane and transport, but-of-course,  water in and out of the cell.  I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak once before at an American Society for Cell Biology meeting when I was an undergrad, pretty inspirational stuff let me tell you.

Even more exciting is Friday’s live broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday.  I get to actually sit in the audience during the show!  Focusing on breaking science new, this program is probably the best (only?) live science show out there (check out my previous podcast on another awesome science radio program, Radiolab).  Host Ira Flatow bravely interviews scientists who don’t always prove to be the best at explaining their oftentimes esoteric research to the public.

Other fun events I’m looking forward to include a session enticingly entitled, Watching the Watchmen and Cheering the Heroes: The Science of Superheroes on Friday morning, a Social Media Soiree on Friday night where I suppose I have to put myself out there and meet new people (*eep*), and a Saturday morning session, The Brain on Trial: Neuroscience Evidence in the Courtroom. I actually have this fantasy of one day writing a dramatic novel involving manipulating memory and a courtcase… Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for a source of quality science information?  Look no further than this fantastic radio program! Radiolab! While it might not report breaking science news, it will definitely entertain and educate.

Each hour-long broadcast of this program, produced by public New York radio station, WNYC, explores a different topic concerning the human condition and life in general.  Generally they’re complicated, even abstract themes like “Stochasticity” and “Deception”.  Jon Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, the shows hosts, have a fantastic dynamic, making jokes and playing off each other while getting their points across.  During one show, “Numbers”, one host proposed that he could live just fine without numbers, saying to his co-host, “I have two words for you.”  To which the other responded, “How many words?” Read the rest of this entry »

creative commons Krelic

Just to make things clear, I am a huge fan of Discovery News – I even have a link to them from my blog.  However, I have a gripe.  If they are going to use the word “News” in the title, they should be reporting things in a responsible, news-worthy manner.   A recent piece from their technology writer, Tracy Staedter, reads a lot more like a lousy blog post than a news article.

First off the title is “Man Allergic to Wi-Fi; Sues Neighbor”.  Yet another tiresome sensationalized headline, *sigh*.  Ok, moving on… the next two paragraphs go alright as far as content goes (stylistically it seems a bit lazy to me… but hey, I’m the blogger that wishes I had a writing job, she’s actually got the job).  She tries to make the point of how ubiquitous things like wi-fi signals are.  Fine, fine.  Then she goes on to back up her claims – and this is where things totally fall apart: Read the rest of this entry »

I went to see Avatar last Sunday night at the gigantic IMAX theater in the Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, MA.  (I admit it’s the second time I saw it, but who can resist the IMAX cinematic experience and the “butt-kicker” personal speakers behind every tempurpedic seat?)  Sitting far too close to focus during the frequent aerial action scenes and feeling rather woozy, I realized that maybe there may be something to a Slate article I read a while ago about why 3D may just be a passing fad.  But, on to what people really want to know:  how did James Cameron’s new block-buster, action-packed, fantasy-filled adventure fare when it came to the science it portrayed?

From interstellar space travel for mining the rare mineral, unobtanium, to remotely controlled alien-human hybrids, Avatar’s creators tried to draw on known science, although most not practically applicable yet.  They imagined the technological advances that might plausibly take place in the future to allow much of what goes on in Avatar.

First off,  here is a fantastic commentary by Cameron and others from Discovery on the Science Behind Pandora.

One quote I love is Cameron describing how the creature design team for the movie referenced real animals’ features and anatomies:

“We were going back to nature the whole time and using nature’s resourcefulness and imagination to fuel what we were doing which is why the creatures feel real.”

Read the rest of this entry »

creative commons Drab Makyo

This morning on CNN headline news I heard about results of a new study on coffee and tea consumption and type 2 diabetes.  It was a quick 30 second or so bit in which the reporter claimed that coffee and tea could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes up to 25%.

That is crazy, I first thought.     Then I realized, the problem with all these reports about the effects of tea, coffee, and even wine, on health is this: correlation does not equal causation.

Think about it this way.  The study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that coffee and tea drinkers (decaf or not didn’t matter) have about a 7% decreased risk of type 2 diabetes per cup of coffee drunk on average a day.  People who drank about 3-4 cups of coffee or tea had a 25% decreased risk of diabetes.  However, what if the non-coffee or tea drinkers were instead consuming their caffeine (or if they prefer, decaffeinated beverage) through sugary, high calorie drinks like soda?  Maybe the tea and coffee drinkers instead have the baseline risk of disease, but the soda drinkers have an elevated risk!  So really, if the study had instead looked at consumption of non-diet soda, the headline would have read something like “Soda can increase the risk of diabetes.” Read the rest of this entry »

Will you get the H1N1 vaccine when it is available to you?  Last week to take the poll.  I’ll be posting the results next week!  Please feel free to leave a comment about why you do or don’t choose to get the vaccine.  I’d love to know whether or not the extensive reporting about the flu has persuaded you one way or another.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

The big news story this week, dubbed “Climategate” , involves the release of hacked emails from Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and a professor at Pennsylvania State University.  What’s most notable about the reporting is the lack of reporting on certain major US news networks.  I commend CNN for their relatively unbiased reporting on this on their website, however other networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – chose to bury the story by not even reporting on it.  I was going to commend Fox News for the initial story on the scandal, but the latest story they ran turned it into a political attack on Obama.

Unfortunately, ignoring the story has just fueled the rumors that climate change is a big conspiracy.  Read the rest of this entry »

Fountain in JFK Plaza in Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October / creative commons nakashi

New recommendations on mammography screening for breast cancer came out yesterday from the United States Preventative Services Task Force, a complete reversal of their previous recommendations last made in 2002.  The Task Force recommends no longer doing routine mammography screening for breast cancer in women between the ages of 40 and 50 as well as reducing the frequency of screening for women aged 50-74 to once every two years, and not teaching women breast self exams.  This was reported yesterday in the New York Times by reporter Gina Kolata.  While the article is pretty thorough, it misses some of the details underlying the controversy.

During lunch I took the time to read through the recommendation, published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine, to see for myself what all the hubbub is about.  What I read was disturbing.  The report begins by stating “There is convincing evidence that screening with film mammography reduces breast cancer mortality,” although the greater reduction is seen for women aged 50-74, there is also reduction also seen for women between 40 and 50 years as well.  This to me seems like a benefit to early screening, not a reason to stop. Read the rest of this entry »

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