Friday, June 27, 2008

A rendition of 'Boom De Yada'

In honor of the Discovery Channel's awesome new commercial, I bring you my folksy song dedicated to my field. Because we neuroscience people have a sense of humor.

I love my neurons
And all their dend-r-ites
I love my foramen
I love my astrocytes
I love my whole brain
It's such an awesome organ
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom de yada

I love my dopamine
I love adrenaline
I love my GABA
And seroton-in
I love my whole brain
It helps me think and shit
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom de yada

I love my spinal cord
I love my frontal lobe
I love my thalamus
And my temporal lobe
I love the human brain
It is my favorite thing
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom de yada
Boom da yada

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Monday, June 23, 2008


Today's post is about nicotine.

Before I launch into a rather calm treatment of the neuropharmacology of this, let me say that smoking is bad and your nervous system is not to be messed with, because it can have irreversible issues.

Nicotine is a stimulant of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, specifically two kinds of receptor: the ganglion type nicotinic receptor and the CNS type nicotinic receptor. Nicotine interferes with the reception of acetylcholine by nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and can be blocked by curare and hexamethonium. Since it blocks acetylcholine, it produces a high. In the ganglion type nicotinic receptor, it stimulates production of adrenaline, and in the CNS type nicotinic receptor, it stimulates production of dopamine. Therefore, it makes you feel awake and good. This is why people often smoke when stressed - nicotine gives them a jump.

The most little-known side effect of nicotine is the fact that it raises the heart rate (duh - it releases adrenaline into the body) and releases the body's stores of fat into the blood. Nicotine by itself can cause strokes.

Therefore, reducing addiction to nicotine would require simply inhibiting nicotine's ability to attach to the receptors, right? Varenicline (Chantix) is a drug that has been tried, but it causes suicidal thoughts in drug users, probably due to the fact that it prevents acetylcholine from bonding to the receptors. Acetylcholine is important for cognitive function and mood, and inhibiting it would cause symptoms similar to depression. The only way to safely stop nicotine is to quit cigarettes cold turkey.

And nicotine is only one of many drugs that make you feel good when you take them, but do some really stupid shit to your body when you take them - so don't use drugs.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Architeuthis peezeemyers

...has been discovered lurking somewhere in Lake Superior. It is the first species of squid known to reside in the Midwest.

Catch footage of it here, along with one of its three offspring:

Spore may not be strictly an evolution game, but it features it as a theme. Spore is about the biological pressures on a species. Check out the Creature Creator.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bullshit from the Associated Press

From A Blog Around the Clock and BoingBoing, we get a shining example of stupidity from the Associated Press:

The Associated Press wants people to pay how much for QUOTING their articles? As several people have said already, this violates Fair Use. From the U.S. Government copyright website:

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”
One day, if this crap keeps up, we will no longer be able to criticize anything.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Uppity delicate religious idiots on MY campus?

Most frightening things I've read all week.

Via The Friendly Atheist and the NYT courtesy of Chris.

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Gender differences and sexual orientation in the brain

From the Beeb and several other sources comes an article about which I already kind of knew the answer:

Homosexual brains are similar to heterosexual brains of the opposite sex.

The survey was different, though, in that it measured hemisphere volume. Lesbians and heterosexual men had asymmetric hemispheres, while gay men and heterosexual women had symmetric hemispheres.

What this says about people who are bisexual or pansexual or who are transgender or who are intersex, I don't know. Nature, however, is not quite as cut-and-dry as to make a clear-cut dichotomy for sexual orientation and sex, even though individuals on neither end of the dichotomy don't appear often, so this study has some flaws, but that's another post.

Most studies I've seen about this have been mostly about hormones, in which lesbian women have elevated levels of testosterone and gay men have elevated levels of estrogen or where lesbian women have more or less activation in a certain area of their brain or where gay men have more or less activation in a certain area of their brain than heterosexual people of their sex. What we do know is that sexual orientation is biological.

There are also differences in symmetry of synaptic junctions in the amygdala.

What I'd like to see is a study on people who fit neither end of one or both of the continua to see how similar a brain in, say, a bisexual or pansexual person is to heterosexual or homosexual people.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

On gay marriage

A comic that briefly summarizes my sentiments about the homophobic troglodytes who want to ban it.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Of birthdays and booze

I have to keep up with my friends' birthdays a little bit better.

, my friend and proprietor of The Uncredible Hallq, is now 21. Send him alcohol.

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

A short history of human civilization

Contains some gore and genitals. May not want to maximize this if at work.

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Blogging is one of many steps we need to take to spread atheism

Two more months and a week or so until I make a 16-hour long drive with my stuff, which my folks are looking after right now while I'm visiting them this summer, back to Madison. I'm visiting my folks right now, and it is nothing short of a pain in the ass (mostly because of where they live).

It occurs to me that much of my sentiments about atheism and about the stupidity of religion have been expressed elsewhere. I am not sure that repeating the same true things - which are true; at the same time, repeating them does not contribute much to the conversation or the movement - will make much of an impact in helping us atheists to at least be recognized as a group which deserves as much equality as anyone else and helping people to realize that religious conservatives are killing the world. In the end, it will be about writing letters to Congressmen, staging protests, educating people, and donating money to those who will help us.

Blogging certainly helps, but we cannot keep saying the same things - we have to keep explaining them further and make sure people are aware of where we have said these things, and we have to show by our actions that we are a group that needs to be listened to.

Ultimately, we will make religion meet its demise if we do it in a way that destroys it by bringing people to atheism. Religion was originally designed as a way to fill gaps in the human knowledge of the day before we figured out the scientific method - and it is important to make the point to people that atheism is a characteristic of we educated and we knowledgeable masses and has been for millennia. We are atheist because we know better. I am an atheist because I see no evidence for any deities; any evidence anyone has posited has incontrovertibly and always eventually been shown to be explained by purely scientific processes. Atheism is logical.

Karl Marx was astute when he said:

Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man—state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Let me explain the quote: Marx makes the inference, quite correctly, that the vast majority of people - the unwashed, idiotic, poor, resourceless, uneducated masses - do not have the ability to understand and/or access the resources we have. What are they to assume, until they learn what a thunderstorm really is, what a thunderstorm is? Do they think it is the physically-manifested anger of, perhaps, an entity swinging a big invisible hammer or an angry sky god, which we know is nonexistent and completely impossible, but which they think is real? The part where he says 'Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification' is an indication of the times which he lived in, a time where, quite frankly, many people were idiotic and/or uneducated.

Establishing rationality, reason, and ultimately atheism in society may be dependent on establishing an environment where every single person on the earth has access to all information and lives under a government where they are free, justly-protected citizens with all the rights and responsibilities inherent therein and has both an adequate support system to support them when they fall and the discipline to pull themselves up and get to wherever they want to be in society.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My friend Mr. Plush Neuron is happy

Because Obama has won the primary and he is way more electable than Hillary. He is very pro-science, mostly (except for his apparent non-opposition to the mercury militia).

This bodes well.

(As an aside, if anyone wants to get me a plush neuron from, I will be quite happy about your gifting of such plush object)

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Monday, June 2, 2008


Via A Blog Around the Clock, the LOLPLoS submissionfest.

Science is awesome. Science humor is nearly as awesome.

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