Monday, February 28, 2005

Science de jure.



The recent arrest of the BTK serial killer is an example of the tremendous impact science has had in criminology. Here's the skinny on how they caught the bastard -- apparently police had a blood sample from BTK's daughter. A genetic search found that portions of her genome matched up with DNA samples they had from BTK. The authorities then knew that the BTK killer had to be in her family. Mix these scientific results with a little bit of the Five- O action and voila -- they found the killer. Of interest is the reliability of these tests. Current estimates demonstrate that such testing is 99.9% accurate. Yet, does the .1% constitute reasonable doubt? Don't think so? Me neither. However, many attorneys claim sample contamination when DNA evidence is used against their clients. I argue that any technique with 99.9% reliability is pretty damning and that human error is the cause of most genetic evidence mishaps. I read a great interview of Bruce Weir, an expert witness in the O.J. Simpson case. It looks like it's the lack of peer review that makes DNA testing suspect. Remove human bias and the technique is bulletproof, methinks.

Above is a
spectral karyotype of the 23 paired human chromosomes.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I Love to Hate Spin.



I was cruising around on the GOP and DNC websites tonight and found something interesting. Republican pollster Frank Luntz has made a handbook for 2006 GOP congressional hopefuls. This mini manifesto coaches Republican candidates on what to say and how to say it. Suprisingly, Luntz's guide has appeared on the internet. On page 4 of the section entitled: "Growth, Prosperity & Restoring Economic Security," Luntz tells GOP candidates to keep 9/11 in perspective when discussing the economy:

"September 11th changed everything. So start with 9/11. This is the context that explains and justifies why we have $500 billion dollar deficits, why the stock market tanked, why unemployment climbed to 6% and why we are still in rebuilding mode. Much of the public anger can be immediately pacified if they are reminded that we would not be in this situation today if 9/11 had not happened, and that it is unfair to blame the current political leadership or corporate America for the consequences of that day."

"Without the context of 9/11, you will be blamed for the deficit. The deficit is a touchy subject for both Republicans and Democrats -- your supporters are inherently turned off to the idea of fiscal irresponsibility, and Democrats see nothing but hypocrisy. The trick then is to contextualize the deficit inside of 9-11 and the war in Iraq, which Republicans sometimes do, but not early enough in the answer."

The DNC seems to think such language is appalling. I'm not so sure I agree. Yes, I lean heavily to the left. Yes, I think it sucks to use 9/11 to justify bad policy. I also believe, however, that 9/11 did hurt our economy and I think there exists Republicans that believe that 9/11 and Iraq are somehow connected. Still, I think that some of Luntz's suggestions troubling: "It's tempting to counterattack using facts and figures. Resist the temptation."

In any case, I found the Luntz handbook to be a fascinating look at the world of spin. Anyone interested in how campaign messages are forged should give this document a close look. Get it here. (Note, this is a zip file.)

The Death of A Great Man.



In our society, lawyers are oft viewed as trouble makers, not advocates. Peter Benenson was an English barrister who proved that compassion can be delivered through legal action. As an ardent advocate of human rights and the founder of Amnesty International, Benenson changed the world. He fought diligently to ensure that people everywhere were treated with dignity and respect. Despite all his hard work, Benenson never sought public attention and shunned awards recognizing his good deeds. Irrespective of your political views, we must all agree on one thing -- more people like Benenson are needed in this world. He died February 25th, 2005 and will be sorely missed.

Go Egypt!!!



Hosni Mubarak announced yesterday that he will ask the Egyptian Parliament to allow presidential elections featuring more than one candidate. This historic move, while futile in the short term, will allow for more democratic elections in the most heavily populated nation in the Arab world. Mubarak and his party, the National Democratic Party, has had a death grip on presidential elections since the 70s. I say the move is futile in the short term since Mubarak will not have stiff competition for some time. Still, this constitutional amendment is a big step for Egypt. Do you think regional protests or American pressure had a greater impact on the Egyptian government?

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I Got That Itch

From milkyelephant.com:

Little Richie has an itch. Scratch it using your keyboard. Be advised -- if you check these things out while at work, turn the volume down!

Also worth checking out from Karl's section on milky elephant:

Build your own Valentine's Day card.
Party Monster.
Tickle Tykes #2.

There's a ton of other great stuff on this wildly inventive site. These are the creators that are also responsible for the amazingly funny Strindberg and Helium. Strindberg is a miserable playwright. Helium is his bizarre floating side kick. Be sure to check out both sites.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Prison Segregation.



The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against racial segregation in California's prisons. I applaud the ruling. The argument in favor of segregation goes something like, "It'll help prevent violence." Hasn't that always been the argument in favor of racial segregation? If people are sent to prison to be rehabilitated, shouldn't part of their rehabilitation include racial harmony? I understand that the prison system is a tough place and that it's not your normal social construct. Still, I think prisoners may benefit from learning to get along.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

You Have Some Nerve.



Scientists at the Schepens Eye Research Institute have discovered a way to regenerate a damaged optical nerve. If you read the press release, they cite politicians and claim the technique will help injured soldiers. The results are promising, but the technique is far from being ready for implementation in human subjects. I'm sure mentioning soldiers and restoring their sight will ensure that their research funding remains plentiful. I'm all for their research and I think that it will eventually help anyone with optical nerve damage. I do think the soldier angle was interesting, though. The image above is of a nerve bundle obtained by using three dimensional optical coherence tomography.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hey Bra, Got Some Stem Cells?



Stem cells hold great promise in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and cardiac tissue regeneration. Given their vast potential, how could they best be put to use? Wired.com has a report on the use of stem cells for breast augmentation and other cosmetic reasons. I can see how stem cell based therapies are justified for burn victims and women who have had a mastectomy. As for those simply seeking bigger boobs, forget about it...

Ouch.

Like stories about pain, sewage and surgical reattachment?
Read here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Business-Like Environment.



I absolutely love the environment. I'm all for saving it. I've always been a harsh critic, however, of environmental groups. I've always felt like many have become self serving lobbying groups operating under the guise of "we're working in the public interest." I came across a fascinating set of articles written by Tom Knudson, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist with the Sacramento Bee. In this series, Knudson exposes the "big business" approach that has taken hold of the environmental movement. Although these articles were written in 2001, they largely ring true today.

Who Cares???



I can't stand George W. Bush. I loathe a great majority of his policies -- domestic and international. Yet, I feel the overwhelming need to defend him. Why should we care if he's done a little blow or smoked some pot? As long as he's not addicted to coke while in office I couldn't care less. From what I've heard of the "secret" tapes, it sounds like W is legitimately contrite about having used drugs in the past. In my book, his remorseful attitude is enough to warrant letting the situation go.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Fun With The Number 6.

From planet-science.com:

1. Get your friends to sit down in their respective chairs.

2. If they are righthanded, get them to cross their right leg over their left, and circle their right foot clockwise (very important it's clockwise). If they're lefthanded, cross the left leg, and circle the left foot (clockwise).

3. Now challenge them to write the number '6' neatly on their piece of paper AT THE SAME TIME AS circling their foot clockwise (you might want to appoint some under-table observers to check on the foot-circling motion). They will probably find this quite difficult ...

4. Now you can show them to do it properly - it's easy when you know how. The secret is that you have to write your '6' in a different way to how you were taught at school. What you need to do is draw it 'clockwise', ie. beginning in at the middle of the number and curling outwards so that you end on the highest-up part of the 6 ... When you do it this way, everything flows like a dream.

By the way -- doing this trick three times in a row, on the same piece of paper, will send you straight to hell.

A Religion of Peace.



Something disturbed me today. I am an American. I am also Muslim. I cried when the towers fell. I weep when I see American servicemen and women come home in caskets. I'm outraged when someone equates my faith with terrorism. Islam is a religion of peace. It is not a religion that advocates bombing innocent civilians. It is not a religion that asks its followers to attack innocent men, women and children. I read a blog today that claimed that:

"These folks are trained to have a religious frenzy seemingly every week, pray so often that they can't possibly get any work done and to hate and despise everything within reach."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Do Muslims have more religious events than Catholics? The answer: NO. Do we pray more than a repentant Catholic reciting so many Hail Mary prayers? The answer: NO. It is painful to see my religion dragged through the mud by extremists. By extremists I refer to terrorists abroad who plot the deaths of innocent civilians. By extremists I also refer to prejudiced Americans that are simply unaware about the true nature of my religion.

There exists those in this country that will point out every right wing action by a Muslim group and naively claim, "See, they're savages!" Such faulty logic, I argue, will bring about the very downfall of this nation. What is needed is a deep understanding what Islam truly is -- A religion of peace that has been hijacked by a militant minority. As Lao Tzu once said:

"Know your enemy, know yourself, and you can fight a hundred battles with no danger of defeat. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning and losing are equal. If you don't know both your enemy and yourself, you are bound to perish in all battles.... Know the terrain, know the weather, and your victory will be complete."

A word to the not so wise -- you are not battling Islam. Those that conducted the atrocities observed during 9/11 are not Muslims. Just as most would not refer to abortion clinic bombers as Christians, I claim that terrorists cannot be Muslim. Even President Bush proclaimed:

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."

True story: On 9/11, after I saw the planes hit I went outside and sat on my steps and cried. Two construction workers came up to me and said, "You motherfuckers should go back to where you came from." Two hours later, my car was vandalized. I was shocked. I realized then that I would have to fight two extremists -- terrorists abroad and the prejudiced at home.

I was again angered and saddened by what I read today. It reminded me that those two construction workers aren't the only ignorant ones out there... What's an American Muslim to do?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Fixing Nepal's Drinking Water.



In Nepal, millions of people drink water from wells tainted with Arsenic. Estimates now show that millions more are drinking such poisoned water worldwide. Health experts have referred to this as "the largest mass poisoning in history." Read
here to find out how scientists are working to come up with an affordable solution to this disturbing problem.

Isn't this the kind of stuff the UN should be spearheading?

Oh Man I Hope It's True!



Scientists at NASA will reportedly release findings soon that provide "strong evidence" in favor of life on Mars. Okay, I'll admit -- I'm a bit giddy. If true, the results would have enormous implications for the scientific world. Could life have evolved to handle the harsh conditions on Mars? Okay, I'll admit -- I'm also skeptical. How would life on Mars change your perception of life on Earth? Would you become more of a "God Guy," a "Darwin Guy" or would it not change anything for you at all?

By the way, the image above is a magnified look at Martian soil as taken by the Opportunity rover.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Comments.

In what could be hailed as a victory for the faculty at Harvard, Larry Summers has finally released the transcript from the NBER Conference. This was the conference where he suggested that differences between men and women may explain why there isn't more women in science and math. What do you think?

Lambasting Larry.

Lawrence Summers, the one time Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration and the current president of Harvard University is officially in deep you know what. After postulating that genetic differences may account for the scant numbers of women who are successful mathematicians and scientists, the faculty at Harvard has apparently had enough. On Tuesday, faculty from Harvard's school of arts and sciences hammered Larry for his comments and his inability to work well with faculty members.

I'm conflicted -- on one hand, I can't stand him and the stinky soft serve that comes out of his mouth. On the other hand I find it refreshing that a university president is willing to say what he/she actually thinks. However, I can't help but think that Harvard somehow serves as a symbol of higher education in this country. Thus, it's really disturbing that the leader of the "premiere" university in this country would make such ridiculous claims.

Should Larry be chastised for speaking his mind? I don’t know. Does he have a right to speak his mind? Yes. What do you think? Is it better for such a leader to err on the side of the politically correct?

By the way, Harvard's faculty is expected to deliver a vote of no confidence on Larry's lap by Tuesday. Such action won't cause him to lose his job, but will deliver a strong message. I'm glad that they're telling him to work with faculty more effectively. I'm just not sure that he should be rebuked for speaking his mind...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

FDA + Pharmaceutical Companies = Vioxx



The Food and Drug Administration has announced the formation of a
safety board that will warn the public of pharmaceutical dangers in a timely fashion. What's problematic is that the FDA has become a drug mill. In an effort to speed up the delivery of new drugs to the public the first Bush administration advocated a new drug approval system. Under this plan, pharmaceutical companies would assist in the funding of drug trials and the FDA would do their best to speed up the approval process. The outcome of this new plan -- Vioxx, Celebrex etc...

The FDA must now treat pharmaceutical giants like clients that produce revenue for their administration. As is apparent, safety standards have plummeted. The current Bush administration has thankfully agreed to increase funding for the FDA's drug safety office. Hopefully this will help change the growing corporate culture at the FDA and improve the safety of the drugs we all depend upon. It looks like the capitalist approach doesn't work for everything. Go figure...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Collegiality"

I've begun to realize something -- old boys networks exist everywhere. Personally, I embarked on a career in science hoping that I'd escape it. To my dismay, I've learned that the old boys network is perhaps strongest in the world of science. Professors, who are primarily men, protect fellow faculty members from harm's way. In my time doing research at a major institution, I've seen professors protected from the consequences of embezzlement, scientific misconduct, sexual harassment, discrimination of all forms and finally, severe emotional abuse -- all of which are crimes inflicted on graduate students.

In the world I live in, graduate students accept such abuse because they're convinced that if they do so they'll land their dream job -- a faculty position. What's worse, there really doesn't exist a suitable grievance process for students that have had to endure such treatment. Moreover, if you complain you might as well kiss your career goodbye.

Upon discussing the situation with professors I often ask them: "Why can't professors do more to protect students." Sadly, they often answer: "Well, we have to work with our fellow faculty members for twenty or thirty years. Graduate students come and go. You can see why 'collegiality' pays off."

Granted, I've also met some amazing professors. Brilliant men and women dedicated to the intellectual growth of their students. Unfortunately such people are rare in my world.

I guess the worst of it is the consequences it has on the students around me. For the most part, they're miserable. On a daily basis I see the careers of brilliant students drift into oblivion. Often, but not always, this occurs because of the irresponsibility of their research advisor.

I've lived my whole life in love with science. As a child I spent hours in my garage building things and countless time in libraries studying. As an adult, I wanted to be a professor so that I could teach people how to do science properly. I wanted to nurture and mentor them. I wanted to experience my childhood joy everyday and impart it to others. Lately, I must say that my love of science is being overwhelmed by my hatred of "collegiality." For those of you who know me personally, you know how painful this is for me. I can't help it... I'm running out of gas.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Love, Scientifically.



It's that time of year and some of us are thinking about love. Some of us are thinking about science. How about we all think about the science of love? The BBC has a great site dedicated to this subject.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Patent Denied.



The US Patent and Trademark Office has just denied intellectual property protection of animal-human hybrid organisms. This is worth a read.

Patenting Nature



This is how it used to go: you could patent a discovery as long as it isn't a creation of nature. For example, if you discovered a new species of dung beetle in Africa, you couldn't patent it. If you discovered a new scientific technique, on the other hand, then you could protect the method as intellectual property. In came genomics and large corporate conglomerates began patenting human genes. To this day, this makes no sense to me. These companies will, for a very long time, own the rights over our genes. Aren't we creations of nature? I suppose we're not as good as the dung beetle, but still. There is hope: Amazingly, the same open source methods that have revolutionized Linux are now moving into the world of biotechnology. Read all about it.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

So Far So Good...



Wow. I actually like what Condaleeza Rice has done thus far. She's gone to Europe to repair ties. Her visit to the middle east looks like it was productive. The jury's still out, but I like her style. I'll be better convinced when I see how she handles North Korea.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Nice Job Jackass.



I'm following up on yesterday's medicare comments. I'd like to point out that our genius president is threatening to veto changes to Medicare's prescription drug benefits. Please keep in mind that this program constitutes over two hundred billion dollars in unfunded liability to Medicare. I wonder what it'll take before we start paying attention to this critical, but failing social program...

What About Medicare?



While our nation wrangles over Social Security, which will remain solvent for decades, medicare will dip into its trust fund in approximately six years. Are we faced with a Social Security crisis? Sure. Are we faced with a Medicare catastrophe? Yup. Can someone please explain why we're choosing to ignore Medicare???

Dynamite!!!



Rarely does a movie make me laugh out loud. Napoleon Dynamite is a hilarious movie with a great message. You've gotta rent it!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Sad Day in The World of Jazz



The nation's greatest jazz organist, Jimmy Smith, has died.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

GO NIH!!!

Results from all research funded by the National Institutes of Health will be made available to the public. The NIH has enacted a policy that strongly encourages scientists to post research publications at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Are we Justified?



This isn't a new topic, but it's on my mind. How can we possibly justify our invasion of Iraq? At first it was WMD. We've got adequate proof that they don't exist. Then we cited a connection with Al Qaida. The 9/11 report says no such connection existed. Now we're "liberating" Iraq. Is that reason enough to go in? Why can't we simply say, "We made a mistake. Now we have to finish the job."

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Mas Music.



I'm a big Ben Harper fan. Combine his soulful ways with the Blind Boys of Alabama and you've got an absolutely amazing CD. Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama's new CD There Will Be A Light is an investment well worth making.



Since we're talkin' team ups, what happens when you combine the Flamenco vocals of Diego "El Cigala" and pianist Bebo Valdes? Answer: Heaven. Lagrimas Negras is without a doubt the best work I've heard in a long long time.

Bandit Queen



In a world where a woman can be beaten, raped and subsequently made into a social pariah, feminist ideals are sadly lacking. The movie Bandit Queen is the story of Phoolan Devi, an Indian villager turned into bandit and folk legend. Her harrowing story is one worth investigation. This movie is superb way to do so.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A Great Man Has Died.



Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr has died.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The University of California at Bell Labs?



University of California President Robert Dynes has approved 2.4 million dollars in bonuses for administrators of the five medical schools within UC. Dynes was the one time department head of semiconductor research at AT&T Bell Labs. He's made no mistake about his desire to bring the corporate atmosphere of Bell Labs to the UC system. Wow, he's really done a great job. Despite overwhelming budget cuts he's managed to reward those at the top while many are losing their jobs. Man, he is so good at creating that warm corporate feel...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

SEX in the Disney


Take a close look at the word formed by the dust cloud in the stars.

Yes, this is a still taken from the movie. Maybe we should boycott Disney. Maybe we should burn every copy of the Lion King that we can get our hands on. Wait a minute -- I'm not a conservative christian. In that case, I'll just laugh.
Posted by Hello

UNacceptable



Dear United Nations,
I am sick of pointing this out, but you really suck. A report, scheduled for release today, will prove that your oil for food program was "tainted." While millions of muslims starved in Iraq, you irresponsibly stole their resources and fed your wallets. Congratulations, you are the bad guy.
Sincerely,
Vavoom

Roll on You Bears!



I hate to brag, but oh man is Cal's football recruiting class amazing... check it out.

Stanfurd didn't fare so well... nor did Kansas. Sob...

Sigh...



Look, I don't hate W. But it's ridiculous to create a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Said King George in the State of the Union Address, "For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage."

I thought republicans believed in state's rights... Why can't they allow states to decide how they would like to handle the situation?

For the good of our society, Mr. President, please drop the moralistic nonsense and focus your attention on things that matter... like Iraq, al Qaida and our economy.



Tuesday, February 01, 2005

70,000



The United Nations once again proved that it's pathetic. A recent UN report (source) has denied the existence of genocidal activity in Darfur, Sudan. They've placed the number of dead at 70,000.

The UN charter claims that,

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind

Can someone please tell me why the UN is such a preposterous organization???