Archive 018 (APR - AUG 2005)

a dusty old archive by chris lawson

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Complex Life
Further designs on intelligence
Bellicose running dog!
A grump about news media and science
Terry Prachett speech
A pictorial review of War of the Worlds
A brief history of Waardenburg's
Year in Science 2004/05
Margo Lanagan blogs
A new god
Continuum 3
Cosmos launch
2005 Ditmars
Dying art of proofreading
Acid tongue
A survey of the realm
Taking a beating for science

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Complex Life

27 AUG 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

I bought a graphics tablet the other day and I've had to shoo the kids away constantly since then. They love it. So do I. Here is a little 54Kb piece I drew called "Complex Life". It's primitive, but I like it.


Further designs on intelligence

26 AUG 2005 | source | permalink

First came the Flying Spaghetti Noodle Monster . Now comes another challenger to His Noodly Appendage. I refer to my friend Rob Hood's new theory of Intelligent Thought .

'[S]cientists have not been able to explain how we think in any thorough or even reasonable way -- and since much of what we claim to be "thought" is ludicrous, it is obvious that something other than a scientific process is going on.'

Don't forget to buy a Pastafarian T-shirt.


Bellicose running dog!

16 AUG 2005 | via The Register | permalink

"You bloodthirsty human scum!"

We've all visited variations of the Shakespearean Insult Generator.

"You extra-large philistine!"

Now there is the North Korean News agency version.

"You psychopathological reactionary, you have glaringly revealed your true colours!"

Apparently it was distilled from over 50Mb of text from the official news agency of North Korea, the KCNA.

"You swollen-headed gangster, your accusation against the DPRK is no more than barking at the moon!"



A grump about news media and science

5 AUG 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

There are two stories today that reflect poorly on the mass media's treatment of medical science.

The second death of Robert Atkins

Dr Robert Atkins slipped on an icy pavement in New York in 2003 and died not long after. Now he is dying all over again. The company he founded, Atkins Nutritionals, has filed for bankruptcy less than two years after a majority stake in the company sold for US$500 - 800 million to Goldman Sacks and Parthenon Capital. It is closing its books with more than US$300 million in unrefundable debt. The diet is now officially a fad. According to Business Week, the number of Americans on Atkins-style low-carb diets has dropped from an extraordinary 9.1% (think about that for a moment) to 2.2% in just over a year.

How did this happen? Well, I'll leave the financial analysis to people who know how to do it, but I would just like to point out that Atkins was another doctor who in my opinion betrayed his scientific training by adopting pseudoscientific principles (unrealistic claims, selective use of research, refusal to admit errors, claims of conspiracies against his work whenever confronted with scientific critiques, and the use of testimonials as the main source of evidence) which just happened to provide him with a handy income. Before the Atkins Diet took off, one of his main sources of income was the Atkins Centre for Complementary Medicine. Of course the bubble was going to burst.

But how did it get to be a bubble in the first place? Because the media lapped up Atkins's spin. (Remember the unrealistic claims, selective use of research, refusal to admit errors, claims of conspiracies against his work whenever confronted with scientific critiques, and the use of testimonials as the main source of evidence.)

Now, of course, the same media outlets are out for blood. And what are they using? Testimonials. Goddamn testimonials.

Only 2½ years later he visited the doctor again and was told that his cholesterol was 230 and one artery was almost completely blocked. "I could have very easily been dead," the 54-year-old said from Florida. "For what? Because I wanted to trade my health for a 33-inch waist?"

See? Why bother reporting on things like controlled trials or the biochemistry of digestion when you can find a guy who is suing Atkins? The fact that these testimonials are appearing in stories the day of the bankruptcy notice means that the journalists already had access to these stories if they had been interested in reporting them earlier. So all they're doing is switching from testimonials provided by the Atkins Foundation to testimonials provided by people suing the Atkins Foundation. Can anyone say "conflict of interest"?

It reminds me of the diet cycle of women's magazines. Every other issue carries a breathless and uncritical story about a new fad diet, and every alternate issue carries a story about the evils of fad diets. It's about time the media outlets started learning some basic science so they can actually report on these things accurately.

Miracle cure for Alzheimer's #397,212

This is, to be fair, a story about an interesting finding with enormous potential. A group of Australian researchers (cue patriotic music) have announced the discovery of the role of quinolinic acid in accelerating Alzheimer's disease (AD). It appears that quinolinic acid, a natural nerve toxin, is found in higher concentrations in the brains of people with AD, and is most concentrated around the nerve plaques that are found in AD. Quinolinic acid appears to play a role in the progression of Alzheimer's, and this means that it may be possible to manipulate quinolinic acid levels to slow progression.

It's a great new finding, and unlike many other breathless new press releases, it comes on the heels of a real paper that has been actually published in a good journal.

The original abstract is surprisingly difficult to find as none of the media reports seem to think it is worth linking to the actual study. It's true that most readers won't be able to follow the hard science, but it is not true that they won't understand all the qualifiers (emphases added) in the abstract:

Our data imply that QUIN [quinolinic acid] may be involved in the complex and multifactorial cascade leading to neuro-degeneration in AD [Alzheimer's disease]. These results may open a new therapeutic door for AD patients.

That's right. The researchers haven't demonstrated a cure. They haven't demonstrated an agent that will slow progression. They haven't found a way of turning off Alzheimer's. What they have found is that quinolinic acid is found in high concentrations in affected tissues. It is probably involved in the decay of nerve cells. It might make a difference to progression if we could reduce its concentration in target tissues. But this is how it has been reported in The Australian:

"SYDNEY researchers may have found the world's first effective treatment to slow down Alzheimer's disease, with a drug potentially available within five years."

I'm pleased to say that most media outlets have been a great deal more precise in their wording. Special commendation is due to the (Australian) ABC Online which covered the story superbly. Kudos to the reporter, Paula Kruger, for capturing the excitement without losing sight of the many hurdles between an interesting new finding and a working treatment.

This, Mr Howard, is why we need a functioning, well-resourced public broadcaster. I know you're reading this, Mr Howard...ah, who am I kidding?


Terry Pratchett speech

4 AUG 2005 | source via Coode Street | permalink

Terry Pratchett won the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medal for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. This was way back in 2001 but for some reason his wonderful acceptance speech has only just started gaining a lot of attention. I suspect the reason is this...

People have already asked me if I had the current international situation in mind when I wrote the book. The answer is no. I wouldn't insult even rats by turning them into handy metaphors. It's just unfortunate that the current international situation is pretty much the same old dull, stupid international situation, in a world obsessed by the monsters it has made up, dragons that are hard to kill. We look around and see foreign policies that are little more than the taking of revenge for the revenge that was taken in revenge for the revenge last time. It's a path that leads only downwards, and still the world flocks along to it. It makes you want to spit. The dinosaurs were thick as concrete, but they survived for one hundred and fifty million years and it took a damn great asteroid to knock them out. I find myself wondering now if intelligence comes with its own built-in asteroid.

That speech was delivered in 2002, when the world was a much happier and more carefree place. (Hard to believe, isn't it?) Three years later, Pratchett's references to the dismal state of international affairs have only gained in strength and clarity. There's a lot more to the speech besides. Pratchett hits some nails on the head with his comments on fantasy as a genre, on the importance of children's literature, a perceptive description of G.K. Chesterton, and much more. Go ahead and read it. It's funny, too.


A pictorial review of War of the Worlds

31 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

War of the Worlds reinvigorates my love-hate relationship with Steven Spielberg. As one friend has put it, Spielberg is one of the very few directors who sees science fiction as a valid genre for exploring ideas rather than as a mere action spectacular. Spielberg also understands the cinematic value of suspense better than anyone since Hitchcock. On the other hand, for all his ability to turn the screw, he has no idea how to structure a narrative. Every film has to end on a happy note, no matter how contrived. The happy ending in War of the Worlds is so contrived that this is not a spoiler. You will not see it coming because it's freaking impossible! Every scene has to be as DRAMATIC and as IN YOUR FACE as possible. In baseball terms, Spielberg's a slugger. He's always swinging for the home run no matter how the game is poised.

So here follows the Frankenblog Pictorial Guide to the new War of the Worlds movie. A somewhat different perspective can be found at the War of the Worlds movie site.

Tom Cruise stars as the Point of View. He must keep observing events unfold when any sensible person would run and hide because he is not a sensible person. He is in fact a robotic camera dressed in human clothes.

All the phones have been wiped out by an EMP attack. Fortunately, important devices like video cameras and selective automobile equipment are protected by a secret technology known as Dramatic Convenvience.

"Should we run?"
"No! We must look into the distance!"

"Should we run?"
"No! We must look up!"

"Daddy! Should we run?"
"No! We must watch the flames!"

"Daddy! We really should run!"
"No! We must watch the killing machines come this way! They look really cool. "

"The killing machines are scouring the area and we need to sleep. Should we set up a watch?"
"No need."
"Shall we cover ourselves?"
"Nah. We'll sleep as we are."
"How about we hide in the room with the working door?"
"Don't see the point, really."

"Daddy! Please, just this once can we run away?"
"No! We must walk towards the killing machines like everyone else."


And now an exclusive look behind the scenes during the making of War of the Worlds.

Tim Robbins is shown the final shooting script.

He is about to discuss the matter with Steven Spielberg when Tom Cruise intervenes.

"You should have let me kill him while we had the chance."

"Just take the goddamn free personality test."

"I want my publicist back."


Paramount allows webmasters to use a bunch of promotional material provided the webmaster first "agrees not to use the Proprietary Material in any manner that may be disparaging or that otherwise portrays Paramount, Paramount or their parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies, or the Website in a negative light." In other words, only sign up if you are going to give a good review. Frankenblog decided against signing this generous agreement. Now we'll never know what was in the promotional kit.


A brief history of Waardenburg's

23 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

My genetics course is finally over. All the marks came back, (I managed a Distinction and very nearly a High Distinction, thanks for asking) and now I feel free to put online the essay I wrote about Waardenburg's Syndrome. I'm reasonably pleased with it. It isn't perfect, but then a look at the reference list will give some idea of why I had to pull the plug, stop researching the topic, and write the essay without covering all the bases. It's not like it was a PhD.

Anyway, if genetics interests you and you don't mind a moderately technical essay and you have broadband or a lot of patience, I think there's some interesting stuff in here.

Cloning the PAX-3 gene (PDF, 654 Kb)


Year in Science 2004/05

23 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

I have uploaded a summary of the Year in Science presentation I gave at Continuum 3. You can visit the web page (warning: heavy graphics load, 900 kb page), or download the PDF file (no graphics, 87 kb).


Margo Lanagan blogs

22 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

Margo Lanagan has a new blog.


A new god

09 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

We took Alex and Isobel to Museum Victoria to see the Egyptian mummies exhibition. There is nothing like seeing bits of pickled people from four thousand years ago to stimulate the young imagination. At the same time I picked up a book I've been meaning to buy for a long time: Tim Flannery and Peter Schouten's A Gap in Nature, a pictorial history of extinct animals from the last 500 years. The third animal in A Gap in Nature is Steller's Sea Cow, a remarkable 8-metre (24-foot) dugong-like aquatic mammal that was eradicated by over-hunting in 1768 CE or so, a mere 27 years after they were discovered.

Somehow these two things fused in Alex's imagination and he told me he was going to invent a new god, Egyptian style, and he drew this:

The god has the body of a Steller's Sea Cow and the head of a ram -- reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian gods with animal heads on human bodies. It is a god of the sea.

This is far from Alex's best picture, but I'm putting it up to show...well, bear with me a little.

Towards the end of last school term, Alex started to express some dissatisfaction with his Religous Education classes. He would come home and ask us to explain things that didn't make sense to him. Now I have nothing against the raising of complex subjects, but it became apparent that (i) the R.E. teacher was not presenting this as a set of beliefs but as The Truth, and (ii) Alex was getting distressed by some of the things he was being told.

We have decided to remove Alex from R.E. as of next term. This was a difficult decision to come to because we believe it is important that every child receive education about religion, but this is clearly a religious instruction course not a religious education course.

Here are a few facts:

  • Alex is attending a government primary school, which is supposed to be secular.
  • The R.E. program is openly written by Christians with a Christian agenda (not just a Christian perspective)
  • Children are taught that many Christian beliefs are fact. None of this is apparent from the website for the Council for Christian Education, which is full of sunny platitudes about teaching tolerance and respecting others' opinions, but I was shown the formal workbook (as opposed to the online summary) by the school principal, and it included as part of the syllabus teaching children that Jesus loves them and God looks over them.
  • One of the four CCES Core Values is "to teach, live and commend the Christian faith through the ministry of Christian religious education and pastoral care."
  • In response to disasters such as the Boxing Day Tsunami, the CCES advises its teachers, among other things, to "Be Calm. God is already present in the situation and will give you the strength and wisdom you need." And "Be Consistent. Prepare to teach your planned lesson, adding, perhaps, a song such as ‘God Is Listening’." And adds a suggested prayer.
  • The only religion in the course is the Christian religion. There is plenty of discussion of Christmas and Easter, but no discussion of Hannukah or Ramudan or Vesak or Diwali. Apparently the only views "respected" are different Christian viewpoints.
  • Jewish students have a separate R.E. stream. If the R.E. course was simply about religious belief, then there would be no need to have a different stream for children of a different religion.
  • R.E. teachers are not necessarily trained teachers but religious volunteers who undergo a training course.
  • Any problems or questions the pupils want to raise are not allowed to be discussed with their usual teachers at the end of the R.E. session.
  • The Victorian Government is currently reviewing the legislation under which the CCES operates. The CCES is concerned that "it is vital that the current provisions for religious education should be retained in any new legislation. The current legislation allows that where there are volunteers available, a school should allow a Christian religious education program to be taught. We are concerned that if school councils were given greater autonomy under any new legislation which did not include the current provisions for religious education, then the decision about whether or not the school has a Christian religious education program would rest with the school council. This could lead to some school councils choosing not to have a Christian religious education program." Clearly the CCES is more concerned with protecting itself from disaffected school councils than with providing a broad-minded curriculum.
  • In the CCES's government submission, it affirms its commitment to secular education, where "secular is understood as 'the obligation of a government or school to refrain from endorsing any specific religious, political, or ethnic tradition, while enabling students to study these traditions as they impact on present Australian society and the wider world...'" A noble sentiment, but clearly at odds with the CCES syllabus and its own Core Values.
  • And the CCES clearly messes with the definition of secular. In the submission, it claims that "[t]he use of the word secular in the Education Act, 1872 was in response to the issue of sectarianism rather than an attempt to discount the role in education of religion or spirituality per se." Whatever the reasoning of the authors of the Education Act, the fact remains that they legislated that education be "compulsory, free and secular" and secular means not specifically relating to religion or to a religious body.
  • When a CCES forum hears a school chaplain say "You can’t simply talk to children about religion and expect them to take anything useful away from it," then our children are in the hands of ideologues, not educators.

Despite all this we were reluctant to take Alex out of R.E. because we didn't want him to feel excluded and because we thought we could talk him through the issues ourselves, but when the CCES and their evangelista started upsetting him -- he's all of six years old, by the way -- then we decided it was time to tell them to keep the hell away.



06 JUL 2005

Forgot to put Saturday's Year in Science presentation on the timetable below. It has been added.


Continuum 3

05 JUL 2005 | source Continuum 3 | permalink

Continuum 3 is nearly here. The guests this year are Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite, Richard Harland, and Robin Hobb. The program looks great. If anyone wants to catch up, I'll be there most of the time, and I'll definitely be there for a bunch of sessions on Sunday afternoon. Here's my timetable:

Saturday 11 am: The Year in Science

Sunday 4 pm: Readings (with Tony Shillitoe and Russell Kirkpatrick)

Sunday 5 pm: The Mysterious Cordwainer Smith (with Bruce Gillespie, Andrew Macrae, and Gillian Pollack)

Sunday 6 pm: The Worst Ever Panel (with Neil Gaiman, Danny Oz, Kirstyn McDermott, and Lucy Sussex).

Sunday 7 pm: Sit down and breathe.


Cosmos launch

04 JUL 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

Australia has a brand new popular science magazine. It's called COSMOS, partly in honour of Carl Sagan.

I met the editor, Wilson da Silva, publisher, Kylie Ahern, and marketing guru, Rachel Fitzgerald last night at a dinner meeting held by COSMOS for the national science teachers' convention (CONASTA, neat name).

Alongside Professor Tony Linnane and Russell Blackford, I was asked to share a panel called "A Beginner's Guide to Immortality" on the science and philosophy of anti-ageing technology. The topic tied in with COSMOS's inaugural cover story.

It was somewhat intimidating to have to hold my own against the co-panellists. Russell Blackford, as I hope you all know, is a highly regarded SF writer with a very strong academic background, and is one of the few people I know who has an understanding of both the technical and the legal and ethical implications of technology. Professor Linnane is a power-house of knowledge, and at seventy-five (and belligerently refusing to consider retirement), a walking example of a long active life. When Wilson da Silva introduced us as "leading thinkers", I felt rather a sham. Perhaps I could lead the thinkers to the bar afterwards.

Anyway, the session was a hoot. Tony Linnane was a ball of skeptical energy. Russell Blackford was his usual thought-provoking self. The teachers seemed to have a lot of fun. Once I mellowed, I even managed to squeeze out a punchline I was proud of.

But back to COSMOS. The magazine is wonderful. It has the production values of a top-class journal, and the content is fantastic. The magazine has managed to chart a course between the Scylla of technical rigour and the Charybdis of popular interest with a nuance that is second only to New Scientist. And unlike New Scientist, COSMOS is prepared to print lengthy articles (the cover story runs to ten pages). It even publishes short fiction (this issue has a reprint of Ray Bradbury's beautiful, sad "There Will Come Soft Rains").

COSMOS has an amazing editorial advisory board, with Robyn Williams, Buzz Aldrin, and Damien Broderick and others. It is the brainchild of Wilson da Silva, one of Australia's most experienced science journalists, and it's clear he loves what he's doing and thinks it's terribly important to the future of the country. I happen to agree with him. I hope COSMOS takes off and I was honoured to play my small part in its launch.

If you read Frankenstein Journal, you will undoubtably enjoy the stories by Richard Dawkins, Bruce Sterling, Buzz Aldrin, and others, and you will be supporting a venture much needed in this country. Please consider subscribing to COSMOS.


2005 Ditmars

16 JUN 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The Ditmar Awards (the Australian local Hugo) have just been handed out in Tasmania. Here is the list of nominees with the winners highlighted. I'm especially pleased for Margo Lanagan and Jonathan Strahan (who deserves to win an award every year).


Richard Harland: The Black Crusade
Maxine McArthur: Less than Human
Sean Williams:- The Crooked Letter

Collected works

Agog! Smashing Stories: ed Cat Sparks
Black Juice: Margo Lanagan.
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine: ed Lyn Triffitt, Edwina Harvey, Andrew Finch, Baxter, Robbie Matthews & Tehani Croft Orb 6: ed Sarah Endacott Encounters: ed Donna Hanson and Maxine McArthur

Novella or Novelette

Simon Brown: "Water Babies", Agog! Smashing Stories, April
Stephen Dedman: "The Whole of the Law", ASIM 13
Paul Haines: - "The Last Days of Kali Yuga", NFG Magazine, Volume 2 Issue 4, August 2004
Richard Harland: "Catabolic Magic", Aurealis #32
Cat Sparks: "Home by the Sea", Orb #6, July

Short Stories

Deborah Biancotti: "Number 3 Raw Place", Agog! Smashing Stories, April
Rjurik Davidson: "The Interminable Suffering of Mysterious Mr Wu", Aurealis #33
Margo Lanagan: - "Singing My Sister Down", Black Juice.
Ben Peek: "R", Agog! Smashing Stories, ed by Cat Sparks

Pro Artwork

Les Petersen: cover of ASIM 12
Kerri Valkova: - Cover of The Black Crusade, Chimaera Publications
Cat Sparks: Agog! Smashing Stories cover
Les Petersen: Encounters Book Cover
Les Petersen: cover and internal ASIM 16

Pro Achievement

The Clarion South Team (Fantastic Qld - Convenors - Robert Hoge, Kate Eltham, Robert Dobson & Heather Gent): negotiating with the US Clarion people, then promoting and establishing Clarion South which gives emerging writer the chance to work with the best in the business.
Cat Sparks: editing and writing including winning third place in the Writers of the Ffuture award
Margo Lanagan: for Black Juice
Geoff Maloney: for Tales of the Crypto-System, his short story publications
Sean Williams for The Crooked Letter and efforts in teaching
Jonathan Strahan for work over the year in internationally published reviews and in editing anthologies

Fan achievement

Super Happy Robot Hour
Conflux convention committee
Continuum 2 convention committee

Fan Art

Sarah Xu.

Fan webite/zine

Antipodean SF: ed Ion Newcomb.
Bullsheet: - ed Edwina Harvey & Ted Scribner.
Gynaezine: ed Emma Hawkes and Gina Goddard.

Fan writer.

Edwina Harvey.
Gillespie, Bruce.

New Talent.

Chris Barnes.
Stuart Barrow.
Grace Duggan.
Paul Haines.
Barbara Robson.
Brian Smith.

William Atheling Jnr Award for Criticism or Review (Tie)

Robert Hood: - review of Weight of Water at HoodReviews, asking "is this film a ghost story?"
Jason Nahrung: - Why are publishers afraid of horror, BEM, Courier Mail, 20 March 2004
Ben Peek: review of Haruki Murakami's work in the Urban Sprawl Project.

The Peter McNamara Achievement Award (presented by Mariann MacNamara)

Jonathan Strahan


The dying art of proofreading

16 JUN 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

The contributor copies of Realms of Fantasy arrived in the mail today with my story "Countless Screaming Argonauts" within. It's nice to see it in print, especially accompanied by Allen Douglas's wonderful rendition of the kyklops (that's the cyclops for you Greek ignorami). I've always thought Polyphemos the Kyklops from the Odyssey one of the most intriguing characters in mythology, but previous attempts to capture him on canvas have been less than impressive. Even great artists have managed to make him look like a mildly irritated park ranger who has lost his uniform.

My only quibble with the printed story is that nobody proofed the text. One of the characters, a salt nymph, is called Skoe. That's two syllables. Because I was trying to use Greek words transliterated as accurately as possible (hence Kyklops rather than Cyclops), I wrote it as Skoe with the last letter having a bar over it. Like this: . This is not a standard accent mark (although it is in New Times Roman's symbol list), so I can understand it not being easy to typeset. Skoë would have been OK, or even Skoe without any accent at all. What we ended up with is Sko?. Which makes for interesting reading.

Still, I'm chuffed.


Acid tongue

22 MAY 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

OK. I've submitted my genetics essay. My brain is too fried to do any real thinking. So I'm watching the Eurovision Song Contest and wondering why. I really don't get it. At least it makes for a suitably unintrusive background to websurfing about glam rock. All because Rob Hood said glam was back in relation to Eurovision. So I did some looking into glam and found this site called The Superficial. Be warned. It's vicious celebrity gossip. It's cruel. It's puerile. It's smutty. I mean, really smutty. Not recommended for people who believe in old-fashioned etiquette. But it's also damn funny. Here are a few choice items.

  • Japanese people must be terrified of little kids with wet hair, cause that’s what all their horror movies are about these days.
  • Katie Holmes used to be adorable. That was like ten minutes ago. I don’t know what the hell happened since then, but she's falling apart faster than a Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • According to the New York Daily Times, Richard Gere "was snippy" when he was asked to pose for a picture with two children suffering from muscular dystrophy. At one point, he apparently even told the wheelchair-ridden kids that "I'm hard of hearing and I have a bad hip. We all have problems." Most celebrities would probably be a pansy and pose with the little buggers, but not Richard. Richard is a man of conviction and when he doesn't want to pose with handicapped children, then dammit he's not going to pose with any handicapped children.
  • I know we already covered this. There are about 2000 ways to tell how much I love this story, but I’ll narrow it down to her [Lindsay Lohan] questioning why the doctor would ask about anorexia. The IMDB report says, “She complains, ‘Even the doctor today – he was like, 'Are you anorexic? Are you making yourself throw up? Are drugs involved?' And I was like, 'Are you saying this because you've read it in magazines? Because I don't!' She really does believe that doctors, scientists and Supreme Court justices sit around all day flipping through Teen People sorting through Lindsay eating rumors and trying to get to the bottom of why Chad Michael Murray is so dreamy. The doctor couldn’t possibly be basing it on any observed conditions. Oh no, God no, that’s crazy talk.
  • Pamela Anderson has refused to allow a chimp to appear on her show Stacked because of her position as a spokeswoman for PETA. To resolve the problem, the show's producers have replaced the chimp with a robot. I'm going out on a limb here, but any show where a monkey and a robot are interchangeable probably doesn't have the strongest storyline going for it.
  • The New York Daily News is reporting that “Sony Music … hired acclaimed movie-maker D.A. Pennebaker to film a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Jennifer Lopez's CD ‘Rebirth.’ Sources say Sony execs were thrilled with his film, but that J.Lo hated the sound of her voice and ‘scenes showing her abusing her employees.’ Thus, the project was scrapped…” I don’t know what madman thought this up. Of course the footage was gonna be of her singing badly and yelling at her underpaid staff. It’s J.Lo. This is like wearing meat-pants into a tiger cage and then wondering what that lip-smacking sound is.
  • [On Avril Lavigne:] My extensive study of drunk suburban white girls has taught me that they’re unlikely to morph into a bionic fighting tiger and extremely likely to curl up on the curb and vomit.
  • When I was 5, my dad - who is a pilot for Delta Airlines - came home from a trip late one Christmas Eve and told me and my brother that there wasn’t gonna be a Christmas this year because he hit Santa with his plane and he was dead. I mention this because Lindsay Lohan is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend and I’ll be forced to watch it and I was trying to think of something as tragically unfunny as SNL these days. NBC could probably save a lot of money and just show a live feed of a little kid with cancer in bed while he cries and hugs his puppy, who also has cancer. I bet no one would notice for at least an hour. Not because it would be any less funny than SNL, but because they normally have a band.


A survey of the realm

05 MAY 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

05/05/05 -- couldn't resist posting a blog today despite being quiet recently. I've been busy with a genetics course, tutoring, and now (unexpectedly) marking, not to mention the usual hurdy-gurdy of everyday life. But apart from the date, I was also prompted to write by a post from Robin Pen alerting me to, among other things, spiked's Einstein's E=mc2 centenary survey of 250+ prominent scientists, science writers, and science communicators, all of whom were asked to describe "what they would teach the world about science and why, if they could pick just one thing."

The results are fascinating. Most respondents have chosen to address the scientific method itself, or some critical aspect of it. I think this is a very good response because, in principle, learning the scientific method is the key to unlocking all the knowledge that science has provided. A large minority of respondents have chosen specific scientific theories, such as atomic theory or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. What I find most interesting is how many respondents specifically chose evolutionary theory, or some aspect of it, as the single most important thing they could teach someone. Here is how it breaks down:

Total respondents: 270

Number who chose evolutionary theorya: 25

Number who chose a specific aspect of evolutionary theoryb: 8

Number who chose Intelligent Design: 0

a: Dr Scott Atran, Prof James Binney, Dr Susan Blackmore, Prof Sir Walter F Bodmer, Emeritus Prof Anthony D Bradshaw, Prof Geoffrey Burnstock, Rita Carter, Dr Vinton G Cerf, Prof Brian Charlesworth, Dr Bruce G Charlton, Prof Mark W Chase, Prof Richard Dawkins, Prof Keith J Devlin, Prof Adam Finn, Prof Mel F Greaves, Dr Caspar J M Hewett, Professor Sir John R Krebs, Prof Conrad P Lichtenstein, Assoc Prof Gary F Marcus, Prof Peter H Raven, Prof Sir Martin J Rees, Prof Jeffrey O Shallit, Sir John E Sulston, Dr Adrian Woolfson, Emeritus Prof Amotz Zahavi.

b: Prof Klaus Amman, Jesse M. Bering, Emeritus Prof Geoffrey Eglinton, Prof Dean Falk, Nigel Henbest, Prof Sir Christopher Llewellyn-Smith, Prof Leonard Susskind, Prof Michael Wilson.


Taking a beating for science

11 APR 2005 | source Frankenblog | permalink

Science has a long tradition of self-experimentation. But this takes the cake. Let me give some background...I have to appear in court later this week as a medical witness in a case of alleged assault. One of the elements of my testimony will be on the ageing of bruises. When I was an undergraduate, I remember being taught how to age bruises, but more recent reading convinced me that there was little scientific basis to the method. I wanted to brush up on my facts. In the course of my research, I came to the conclusion that in fact there was no basis to the accuracy of ageing bruises, and almost every scientific attempt to evaluate the age of bruises has shown that there are few reliable indicators based on coloration or other visual descriptors. A comprehensive review paper in this year's Archives of Disease in Childhood found that:

Of 167 studies reviewed, three were included: two studies described colour assessment in vivo and one from photographs. Although the Bariciak et al study showed a significant association between red/blue/purple colour and recent bruising and yellow/brown and green with older bruising, both this study and Stephenson and Bialas reported that any colour could be present in fresh, intermediate, and old bruises. Results on yellow colouration were conflicting. Stephenson and Bialas showed yellow colour in 10 bruises only after 24 hours, Carpenter after 48 hours, and Bariciak et al noted yellow/green/brown within 48 hours. Stephenson and Bialas reported that red was only seen in those of one week or less. The accuracy with which clinicians correctly aged a bruise to within 24 hours of its occurrence was less than 40%. The accuracy with which they could identify fresh, intermediate, or old bruises was 55–63%. Intra- and inter-observer reliability was poor.

The conclusion? "At this point in time the practice of estimating the age of a bruise from its colour has no scientific basis and should be avoided in child protection proceedings."

So it was with some delight that I discovered a jazz-playing Swiss forensic scientist who has worked in Bosnia and Malaysia who documented the ageing of bruises with a rather unusual method: he arranged to have himself beaten up.

I went into Charly Bühlers Boxing club and told him to give me the most brute boxer. After a few seconds I was standing in the ring with the three time Algerian championship winning boxer...

Then he photographed the results.

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