Friday, August 8, 2008

An open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt

Secretary Leavitt,

First and foremost, let me state that you are an economist. You have no medical or scientific expertise; in fact, you only have a bachelor's degree in a completely unrelated field. You are unfit to take the helm of a position that requires you have comprehensive knowledge of American health. I am appalled that Bush appointed you, and I am appalled that you accepted his appointment (although the last Democratic appointee, Donna Shalala, a former chancellor of my university, was about as qualified as you were, and I'm not too happy that the last three HHS secretaries were political scientists).

Secondly, the text of the memo clearly states that you will redefine abortion as "Any of the various procedures -- including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.". That is unequivocally a statement that tries to redefine contraception as abortion. "No comment" is NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER, MR. SECRETARY. You have a duty to the nation, and you cannot shirk it. You owe us the truth.

Thirdly, you are clearly not listening to your scientific advisors here; you would do well to solicit the opinion of Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the director of the NIH. Pregnancies are not viable until they implant in the uterine wall amid the endometrium. If a fertilized egg is not implanted, it remains a fertilized egg and does not grow. Two medical dictionaries, a Zogby poll, and a bunch of conservatives' religious beliefs do not change scientific fact, besides the fact that the Zogby poll and a bunch of conservatives' religious beliefs are unscientific and probably come from a bunch of people who don't know squat about human reproduction. We who are in the scientific community and who are in the know about human reproduction think, bluntly, that your pandering to unscientific individuals is about the most disingenuous thing you can do in your position. As I said on your blog, by your logic, I have an abortion every month when I menstruate, and by your logic, every man who masturbates has fifteen million abortions every time he has a wank.

Fourth, you would do well to listen to some of the stories of women who have had to deal with birth control, and consider not only the numerous non-contraceptive reasons why people use contraception, but also the contraceptive reasons, and ESPECIALLY listen to women's reasons for having abortions. There are women who are glad they had them; every child should be wanted. Seeing as you are a man, you have never had to be in this position. Listen to those who have had to be in this position.

You are the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary Leavitt, not a Bush toady. Do your job.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Genetic diversity and intelligence

From a paper in Animal Cognition, we find out that mules are smarter than horses and donkeys.

This raises interesting questions about hybrid vigor and, especially, in humans, if multiracial individuals or people with more diverse genetic ancestry have a higher IQ on average than people from a more uniform ethnic background.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Caffeine (or why Dr. Drew is full of shit)

LOL at a comment from Dr. Drew:

Is there a culture of restriction at treatment facilities? For example, what is the tolerance for lesser vices like caffeine, or sex?
Sex is a no; relationships are what take people out. Caffeine is not actually a stimulant. It removes a nervous system depressant so the brain can feel stimulated. Addicts will always put things in their mouth. They always try to alter [their perception] automatically — that's their orientation. Of course we want that behavior to stop. However, there's no evidence that caffeine alters their course [of recovery]. We used to say the same thing about nicotine. Now there is evidence that we should be focusing on stopping nicotine early.
Caffeine is a stimulant. You can find a better post explaining why this is so at Chris's website. Refer to this article too.

'Stimulant' by definition means at least removing a nervous system depressant; in addition, the effects of caffeine on the body are well-documented.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

PZ finally does what many of us have been dying to do

Reading this post felt great .

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In which I expound on my frustration

Warning: Rant. If you do not want to read this, page down.

Sometimes I come across things which are supremely stupefying in their simplemindedness and their illogic; the long list of things that are wrong with them is so long and interwoven that I don't even know where to begin describing them. I comprehend the problem, but it is difficult to translate it into words and organize the points sometimes.

Mostly, I am not sure how much to explain some things sometimes. I come from an upper-middle-class family, for example, the progeny of two parents who have masters' degrees, and am planning to get a PhD in neuroscience (as you all know, I am currently in college studying neuroscience), which is actually fairly easy for me, compared with how hard it seems to be, from the reactions I've gotten from many whom I've told about my studies, for many others. Sometimes, when for example I have to communicate with someone who has less than a high school education, I wrack my brain trying to tell them about various intricate concepts in simple terms. Even people in other fields, who may be as educated or more educated than me, make me wrack my brain in telling them things in ways they can understand. I really only have a certain amount of ease communicating with people who study what I study; I don't have to do a whole lot of explaining.

(As an aside, though I have a distaste for Mooney, Nisbet, Olson and their ilk, the sentiment that we could do a little better in communicating science to people is true, though I disagree with them on how.)

As for social criticism, I have some of the same problems - I cannot muster the words, no matter how much grandiloquence I can wedge into my posts, to express how utterly disastrous the world is right now. I make no move to hide my misanthropy. I mean, yes, it is informed, to some extent, by a past that I mostly vigorously shove to the back of my mind where I am seldom reminded of it, though it is also informed by what I read in the news and my understanding from my point of view. Sometimes the explanations I muster are long enough that I do not have the patience to say everything I want to say, that the other person probably doesn't have the time to listen to me, and sometimes they're also filled enough with harsh and well-deserved criticism, which is usually fairly angry even if somewhat eloquent, that emotionally it makes me feel like retreating into a room for a while and either beating the shit out of an inanimate object or crying. Anger is tiring. I make no move to hide the fact that I have much of it, and it tires me daily.

Sometimes my blog posts sound a little clipped; honestly, I don't get enough feedback in my comments to know what the apparent several hundred people who've read this blog think of what I write. Those are usually because sometimes, on some topics, it's hard to know where to start - some are so wonderfully or nastily complex that no one angle seems quite adequate to explore what I'm writing about.

I tried to make this post somewhat organized, and I think I didn't organize it much; I was already reluctant to post this anyway, because of what a reader might think, and because I've been shit on enough for just bringing up some of my own problems - I mean, seriously, there's a shortage of people who seem to really care when their friend has problems instead of pushing them away for temporarily being a sad sack, even though everyone has problems at some point (man, if this loses me any friends at Wisconsin - I know some of you read this blog from time to time - I'm not gonna be happy), but I got tired of being quiet about this.

I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rotating objects

Via Cognitive Daily, older people are worse at some visuospatial tests than younger people.

Mélanie Joanisse, Sylvain Gagnon, Joshua Kreller, Marie-Claude Charbonneau (2008). Age-related differences in viewer-rotation tasks: Is mental manipulation the key factor? Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 63B (3), 193-200

This is very interesting - not only for the whole neuroscientific aspect, but because I have also tested as having much higher visuospatial abilities than other people my age. The study looked at three different methods of presenting an object to a viewer - updating, ignoring, and imagining. See the Cognitive Daily post for the study methods.

What is cool about this is the fact that some aspects of mentally rotating objects decline in older people but not other methods, which makes me wonder whether these aspects are controlled by different areas of the brain - different parts of the visual cortex or the intraparietal cortices? Do older people lose particular synapses? Does this vary by original visuospatial ability?

Put an fMRI in there - I want to see the activity of the parietal lobe in this study.

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Exercise slows down Alzheimer's syndrome

An article in the journal Neurology says that exercise may prevent your brain from shrinking if you have Alzheimer's.


Well, exercise has some neuroprotective effects. It increases the flow of blood to the brain and promotes growth factors and neurochemical protectivity. It's not going to hurt your brain.

There is no idea what causes this, but there was four times less brain shrinkage in Alzheimer patients with moderate physical activity than in Alzheimer patients with slight physical activity.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Meta stuff .

It may take a few days for me to put up another post. Things are hard right now.

Emotional support is welcomed.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008


Congratulations to Karl and Ariela, who are now no longer Mogel and Haro but Haros von Mogel.

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