Greg Laden has an absolutely fantastic post up on “The Falsehoods” in which he observes:

Biology is harder to learn than quantum physics. Why? Because most people think they totally get biology, but everyone knows nobody gets quantum physics. Therefore, any effort to explore quantum physics will result in new learning, but people rarely learn new biology. The bottom line is that our brains are full of biology, which would be good if most of it did not consist of falsehoods.

This is great stuff.

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Many of you been following the weekend’s discussion on how to properly argue a point. Ethan Siegel originated the discussion and Isis provided an alternate perspective (Janet wondered about graphical interpretation).
I wrote a bit on the intrapersonal Overton window and how difficult it can be with staid logic and ration to move people’s opinions, even those who claim to be subject to logical discussion. In this discussion I argued that frequently people seek to claim they have been called a nasty name, when they have not, as a cognitive defensive strategy to avoid being swayed by the aforementioned logic and rational argument.
Given this, we must seek at all times not to give even the whiff of name-calling so as to defuse this tendency in others, right?
Hell, no.

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A comment to a prior post on the NIH RFA requesting study of factors which may be hindering or assisting efforts to enhance diversity was trapped in the spam filter. It has a number of interesting links so I thought I’d better elevate it to a full post.

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Sometimes, things happen. Such as:

  • Someone is wrong on the Internet
  • Someone is being a dumbass on the Internet
  • Something is wrong with the world
  • I’m bored

…and that’s when it is time to argue. Sometimes (sigh), there’s simply no way around it and I am forced (forced, I tell you) to put myself out there and make the best argument that I can to make what I want to happen actually happen.
Let me start with this lighthearted conciliatory air

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Derek Lowe of In the Pipeline has a post up on the use of animals in research within the drug company milieu. It is worth a read.

We watch with all the tools of our trade – remote-control physiological radio transmitters, motion-sensing software hooked up to video cameras, sensitive mass spectrometry analysis of blood, of urine, and whatever else, painstaking microscopic inspection of tissue samples, whatever we can bring to bear. But in the end, it all comes down to dosing animals and waiting to see what happens. That principle hasn’t changed in decades, just the technology we use to do it.

Now, if you don’t read Lowe that regularly you might want to skim through a few recent posts and you are almost inevitably going to run up against his formulation of the “90%” problem. His most recent musings on this topic concern convincing the (health-care reform engaged and politicizing) public that making effective medications is really hard stuff and the evul BigPharma companies work their tails off on the development side to get to drugs which can be marketed. All joking aside, I think his point is that 90% of drugs fail…at multiple levels of the development process!
This consideration I find critical for some aspects of the animals-in-research discussion.

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Hot on the heels of our discussions of enhancing diversity in white institutions, Comrade PhysioProf brought a fascinating RFA notice to my attention. RFA-GM-10-008 Research to Understand and Inform Interventions that Promote the Research Careers of Students in Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences (R01) seeks research projects which will be:

designed to test assumptions and hypotheses regarding social and behavioral factors with the aim of advising and guiding the design of potential interventions intended to increase interest, motivation and preparedness for careers in biomedical and behavioral research.


NIGMS is particularly interested in those interventions that are specifically designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering careers in these disciplines.

Our whutaboutehpoorwhites? anti-affirmative action commenters need not be too alarmed.

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Ass Shakin’ Jam, just for Isis.

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BikeMonkey Guest Post
The San Diego CityBeat has a fascinating article posted about one of the early supporters of California’s Prop 8 which was passed by the voters last November to prevent gays from marrying in California.

In July 2008, hotelier and developer Doug Manchester donated $125,000 to help gather signatures for a proposition that would ban same-sex marriage in California. The early money was crucial to getting the initiative–which ultimately passed–on the ballot. At the time, he told The New York Times that he made the donation because of “my Catholic faith and longtime affiliation with the Catholic Church,” which preferred that marriage remain between a man and a woman.

Those familiar with the immutable laws of being a loud, braying social conservative will anticipate the latest news.

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The best description of the effect of the ARRA/stimulus on the NIH that I’ve seen so far was provided by our good blog friend Odyssey of Pondering Blather blog. Over at Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship Odyssey observed:

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A recent post in Uncertain Chad’s series on alternative careers caught the eyes of your hardworking blogstaff over here at DrugMonkey. One Julie Myers-Irvin describes her job as:

I work at the University of Pittsburgh as a “Scientist Administrator” (a terribly nondescript title that I will expand upon). My office offers services to PIs to enhance and assist researchers with their research programs. My main task is to read and critique grant applications before they are submitted to funding agencies (mostly NIH but also some foundations). Basically, I act like a reviewer. I review grants for scientific content as well as do general copy editing of applications for PIs (especially those for whom English is not their native language). I also provide tips on general grantsmanship advice and try to help PIs craft the most competitive grant application possible. I help PIs find funding opportunities and resources they need to do their research.

As our more astute PI readers know, the most excellent Medical Writing Editing & Grantsmanship blog is authored by someone in a very similar job category.
My institution has nothing that approaches this type of support and, I can tell you, we would benefit from having it.
How about you, DearReader? What is the institutional support for grant writing, opportunity finding, etc like in your neck of the science woods?

“What we need are one-handed scientists!” – Sen Edmund Muskie

The title is a question that is most frequently asked by a parent or close relative of an individual (typically male) who is in the early adult years. Said parent is clearly distressed by the career choices made/not made by their son, grandson or nephew who (they have finally acknowledged to themselves) smokes a lot of dope. Has for years and shows no signs of quitting.
The pot smoker has, of course, turned out to be a disappointment to their relatives in one way or another, typically vocationally. And they ask me, almost pleadingly, frequently with a tinge of self-flagellation, to confirm their suspicion that the pot smoking is at the root of junior’s lack of gumption.
I have to tell them that nobody can satisfactorily answer this question for them. Not me, not science. Not with any confidence of certainty, anyway.

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The official Facebook page* for the Society for Neuroscience has an interesting update/wall entry.

Interested in blogging at Neuroscience 2009? Give it some thought. SfN will post application instructions on the Neuroscience 2009 Web site later this month.

Interesting until you remember that the wifi coverage at your typical SfN meeting is poor in the presentation rooms and completely absent on the poster floors. Some of the vendors manage to have internet and even the odd wifi spot so clearly the capability is there.
I will note that this is maddening to those of us who do some of our poster browsing ad hoc, instead of making up comprehensive itineraries in advance. Also, to those of us who want to be able to quickly check PubMed or an abstract from a previous day, or…. Dammit, we need wifi at scientific meetings, yo!
I have it on reasonably good authority that as recently as the past couple of weeks SfN was insisting that no internet would be made available on the poster floor (this person was requesting it for a poster presentation).
So what’s it going to be SfN? Do you want blogging of the meeting? Good wifi is the price of doing business.
*if you are on Facebook and a SfN member do me a favor would you? Go over to that wall update and tell ’em to get wifi working for the meeting?

Maxwell’s Equations notational blogwar!!!!111!!1!!

BikeMonkey Guest Post
PalMD, Isis the Scientist and Dr. Charles have been talking a little bit about restarting fitness and dieting regimens, a topic in which I have a small interest. The cover of the August 17, 2009 issue of TIME magazine insists that “Of course it’s good for you, but it won’t make you lose weight. Why it’s what you eat that really counts.” Turning to the feature article on Health penned by John Cloud, all I can note is that the stupid not only burns, but it incinerates all logic and sense for a five block radius. I had trouble getting past the second paragraph:

As I write this, tomorrow is Tuesday, which is a cardio day. I’ll spend five minutes warming up on the VersaClimber, a towering machine that requires you to move your arms and legs simultaneously. Then I’ll do 30 minutes on a stair mill. On Wednesday a personal trainer will work me like a farm animal for an hour, sometimes to the point that I am dizzy — an abuse for which I pay as much as I spend on groceries in a week. Thursday is “body wedge” class, which involves another exercise contraption, this one a large foam wedge from which I will push myself up in various hateful ways for an hour. Friday will bring a 5.5-mile run, the extra half-mile my grueling expiation of any gastronomical indulgences during the week.

30 minutes? Maybe “an hour”? Four workouts per week for which the only one potentially useful for acute weight regulation purposes is the single 5.5 mile run? And from this the article claims that “exercise” is not useful for weight management?

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HAHAHAHAHAHHAHHA! Okay dope fans….go beat up on the new doc in town for awhile….

CB1 receptors affect the function of the presynaptic terminal. When CB1 receptors are activated, they signal through G proteins to close calcium channels, preventing entry of calcium into the terminal. Calcium is needed for vesicles to fuse with the membrane and release inhibitory neurotransmitters into the synapse. So CB1 signaling stops inhibitory neurotransmitters from being released to the postsynaptic neuron. CB1 receptor activation also results in opening of potassium channels. In a resting neuron, these channels are closed. Outflow of positively charged potassium ions leads to increases in the net negative charge across the membrane. This is called hyperpolarization, the opposite of depolarization. As you might imagine, since depolarization causes neurons to fire, hyperpolarization keeps a neuron from firing. This further decreases the chances that neurotransmitter will be released from the presynaptic terminal. There are some other effects too, which I won’t detail here.

Now let us see, do you think this closing bit is a tad optimistic?

I hope that this helps to make the effects of marijuana make more sense. For the record, I am not interested in discussing policy or the legal status of the drug. I am just here writing about how it works.