Archive for November 14th, 2007

“R” rule for eating oysters

November 14, 2007

A very interesting piece in NPR on oyster eating; I will just give two excerpts — for the rest, go here:

  1. Jacobsen does recommend sticking to the “r” rule: avoiding oysters from warm waters from May through August — the months without an “r” — both for safety and for taste.
  2. Jacobsen is writing about a Belon oyster, also known as a European flat, which he calls the “Sean Penn” of oysters: memorable and intense, but not one you’d want to eat every day.

Take a look!

Placebos and Nocebos

November 14, 2007

D Balasubramanian, in his Speaking of Science column, describes some recent experiments on the placebo effect. The most interesting part of the story is about cheating (wihtout actually cheating), which, in turn leads to some interesting ethical questions:

Team C was given nothing in the first two sessions, but morphine in the third, and was shot with the same placebo on the competition day as Team B, but told that they too have been morphined.

The drug-in-practice Team C maintained its usual 21-22 second tolerance time even on the placebo-given event day.

Morphine is a performance-booster and is not allowed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) during sports competitions. However, it differs from drugs like steroids in an important way. Its action is temporary, lasting but a few hours. Steroids, on the other hand, build muscles and thus give much longer lasting effects. They are completely banned for sportsmen by WADA, but morphine is banned on competition days alone.

Benedetti asks: my volunteers did not use morphine on the competition day, yet their performance was better. Is placebo response then doping?

Are placebo responses ethically acceptable in sports competitions or should they be considered a doping procedure in all respects?

In the latter part of the essay Balasubramanian describes nocebos which are the opposites of placebos, and also some of the mechanisms behind the placebo effect. An interesting piece, and happy reading!

Which is your favourite railway poem?

November 14, 2007

Peter Ashley at the Guardian chooses his favourite ten; I liked this one by C L Graves called Railway rhymes a lot:

“When books are pow’rless to beguile
And papers only stir my bile,
For solace and relief I flee
To Bradshaw or the ABC
And find the best of recreations
In studying the names of stations.”

Link via Jenny Davidson.

Amardeep reviews Gifted 

November 14, 2007

Amardeep finds Nikita Lalwani’s debut novel Gifted enjoyable (though it is not clear to me as to how he arrives at the possible gender bias in appreciating this novel):

I tend to suspect that this book will be slightly more popular with women than with men, though it is (thankfully) a far cry from those deeply irritating Chitra Divakaruni type books, where the goal is for the desi woman to “find herself,” usually after extricating herself from a bad marriage with a bad desi man. Dating and boys do play a role in Gifted, but again, the story is really about Rumi’s fraught relationship with her father and mother, and all those familiar clichés of 1st/2nd gen Indian fiction (i.e., involving arranged marriage) are fortunately absent.

Take a look!

Australian classics

November 14, 2007

Australian Classics is quite an unusual book: it’s not an anthology but a thorough readers’ guide, a kind of photographic negative of an anthology. In this follow-up to her 2005 Classics: Books for Life, Gleeson-White has chosen an Australian list of 50 great books (although this subheading is immediately problematic, as some of her chosen books are single poems and others are individual short stories) that she thinks will provide this overview.

On each of the 50 works chosen, she writes a short, lucid, informative essay, plus 10 extra such essays on various background topics and issues, such as the Ern Malley affair, the Sydney Push and the glory days of The Bulletin in the late 19thcentury. She provides simple, clearly put plot summaries, biographical information about the authors and interesting scraps of anecdote and information.

This kind of thing is surprisingly difficult to write and make interesting — or, sometimes, even to make coherent — and it’s to her great credit that she has made this book so easy and engaging to read.

From this review; via Literary Saloon. Sounds like a must read book, isn’t it?

John Hawks reviews Judgment day

November 14, 2007

Not this Judgment day or even this one, of course, but this one:

I can recommend the film for anyone who didn’t get a chance to see the first version. It documents the great chicanery of ID, still foisted on school boards across the country by scoundrels preying on religious feeling and misunderstanding of science. It gives a good feeling to see the truth about evolutionary biology’s successes so effectively portrayed. And yet, it is really not suitable for showing in the forum that matters most: to students of biology.

Take a look!

Update: Greg Laden and Laelaps on Judgment day.

Update 2: I notice that last week’s Nature had a piece too on Judgment day:

The judge at the centre of the dispute, John E. Jones III, is the hero of the piece. When this republican lutheran, appointed by the commander-in-chief himself, was assigned to the case, the pro-evolution lobby feared they had been dealt an unsympathetic ear. Happily, the measured, dry-witted Jones was fascinated by the comprehensive scientific case for darwinian evolution. He handed down a damning judgment that intelligent design is not science, and that its teaching is a violation of the cherished First Amendment. As a result, Time magazine rightly put him in their 2006 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

But the Kitzmiller vs Dover verdict, matched this September with the outlawing of intelligent design in the UK national curriculum, marked the official neutering of this unpleasant, sneaky movement in much of the western world. Judgment Day is just the sort of thoughtful programming that celebrates how sensible people — faithful and otherwise — can use science and reason to combat fundamentalism.

Science host: spamming, melting make-up, Jane Goodall, Michael Jackson and all that!

November 14, 2007

Ziya Tong gives a 101 on how to become a science host (via Tara at Aetiology):

I’m often asked how one becomes a Science Host or Presenter, and as I got a lovely email from a viewer named Gabe requesting advice, I figured maybe I could offer a few thoughts through ye olde blog here.

Here is a list of Tong’s six pointers:

  1. Write a list of ten things you love to do.
  2. Intern.
  3. If you are too old to intern, go sideways.
  4. Don’t listen to naysayers.
  5. Follow your dream.
  6. Don’t do this job if you just want to be famous.

Well, looking at the list, it also seems to be as good for how to become a researcher!

Revising a reviewed manuscript

November 14, 2007

Science woman has some wisdom to impart on the Tao of revisions (for young authors):

I know that the review process serves as a necessary screening tool to ensure the quality of published science, and for young investigators and writers like myself, the reviews are tremendous learning experience and chance to greatly improve the paper. But dealing with those comments can be hard on the ego. Sometimes I look at the reviewers comments (especially the one about not buying our conclusions) and I curse under my breath. It is difficult to internally sort out criticisms of the work from criticisms of the author (me!) when I spent so long laboring over the project. Maybe as I get more experienced with paper writing and revising, the process will feel less personal. I look forward to the day when I read a review and think only “OK, I’ll get right on that” and not “Oh, crap, I’ll never be sophisticated enough to get this stuff right.”

I also look forward to the day that I get a review that says: “Even though I haven’t done any research myself (or cited any papers) to prove it, I know that I am right and the authors who have done the research are wrong” and I have the confidence in myself and my results to write back to the editor telling him to tell the reviewer to shove it, and not to spend weeks of research time duplicating the original results.

Take a look!