No, I don’t mean the self-imagined political wag, nor those of a similarly fantastical oppressed ethnic subculture of the US. I mean the kind of (over)educated middle to upper-middle class, progressive liberal occasionally self-avowed skeptic, contrarian and/or scientific white folk.
I’ve seen the odd social justice action now and again in the US over the past decades. Whether at the local municipal level, the University level or on national TV. African-Americans are typically very well represented even when the issue at hand is not a “black issue” per se. When it comes to the incredible underrepresentative University campus population, it is particularly striking because you will find the black faces that you’d never known were on campus appearing in support of social justice causes.
There is one notable exception and that is the animal-rights campaign. The practitioners of animal rights theology would have you believe they are engaged in a social justice battle akin to many familiar ones. They never seem to look around and ask why their tiny band of followers are so unusually devoid of the black folks.
Perhaps it is because one of their favorite memes is viscerally offensive to African-Americans?

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We’ve been talking about the use of animals in research lately. One thing that always comes up is how animals share some critical capacity with humans. I try to point out in all of this that some of these questions are amenable to investigation. Some of the claims can be supported, nullified or qualified on the basis of existing data. The process of describing or interpreting the data is never simple. And it seems that many people who parrot what seem to be simple claims actually have very little understanding of the evidence on which they rest. I have at least one observation in the archive that points out where not thinking hard about the strength of the evidence can lead to unsupported conclusions being widely disseminated. This post was originally published Feb 25, 2008.

In the midst of World War I, Wolfgang Köhler conducted a famous series of experiments to investigate problem solving ability in chimpanzees. The lasting impression of these experiments, reinforced by just about every introductory Psychology text, was Köhler’s assertion that the chimps demonstrated “insightful” learning.
Did they now?

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Thank you.
In response to the blog posts of PZ, orac, MarkCC and many others, you did what you do best. You commented. At the home blogs and at the sites of the violent Animal Rights extremists who feel it is acceptable to threaten the children of a man who no longer does the work to which they object.
Some of you were in support of animal research and some were not. But even many of the latter stood up for the civil society of discourse, unfettered by the intimidation of personal threats.
You know this, of course, because you are already engaged in the blogosphere. What you may not see is the gratitude of scientists who work with animals. In the past day I have seen several expressions of gratitude from my scientific friends, peers and colleagues in other venues. They are happy, and in cases overjoyed, to see such public support. Even if many of you are pseudonymous or anonymous. Their joy is a surprised one because it is so rare in their careers to see much in the way of individual support for their research and, more importantly, personal antagonism directed toward the extremist violent fringe of the AR movement. Even as you delight in acting the skeptic, calling out asshats, FWDAOTI and other assorted blogospheric games, know that you have real beneficial impact on the scientists who are just trying to do their jobs, create knowledge and, in many cases, improve human health in ways both small and large. It helps for these individuals to see the personal and individual expressions of outrage and support that you have posted around in various places. It makes them see in a very tangible way that they are not facing the onslaught alone.
In the name of my colleagues I thank you.

On redefining "sentience"

February 24, 2010

You may have noticed a rash of posts around the ScienceBlogs decrying the ARA terrorist extremists who have vowed, again, to target the children of a UCLA neuroscientist. Dario Ringach famously gave up his nonhuman primate research in 2006 because of threats against his family. His participation in last week’s dialog held at the UCLA campus apparently induced the extremist attention seekers, angry at having the momentum and PR shift to their slightly more rational co-travelers, to renew their threats. This is utterly despicable. Utterly.
This would be a great time for people who purport to be non-extremist animal rights advocates or sympathizers to do some deep soul searching. Soul searching that does not just easily write off the terrorists as a crazy fringe but asks penetrating questions about the nature of their own beliefs.
I cannot help you with this difficult work but I noticed something a little odd and new to me popping up in comment threads following the posts linked above. It has to do with the concept of sentience.

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A recent review paper covers animal models of adolescent drug taking, which is in and of itself an interesting read. Human adolescence tends to be a time when people first encounter psychoactive substances taken for recreational purposes. Unsurprisingly, problematic drug taking which emerges later in life often has antecedent roots in adolescent drug taking. The epidemiology goes further in identifying age-graded risk such that the earlier one starts using some drugs, the greater the chances of problematic drug use later in life.
Given the inescapable limitations human epidemiology (lack of random assignment means you cannot eliminate risk-associated variables from the genetic to the environmental) animal models are required to determine if there are neurobiological sensitivities in the adolescent brain which confer increased risk of developing dependence on a given recreational drug. This paper reviews much of the animal studies to date.

Are adolescents more vulnerable to drug addiction than adults? Evidence from animal models. Schramm-Sapyta NL, Walker QD, Caster JM, Levin ED, Kuhn CM. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009 Sep;206(1):1-21.

In providing the background context, Schramm-Sapyta et alia did something dear to my heart, as my readers will quickly appreciate. They created an interesting graphical depiction of the conditional probability of dependence on several drugs from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, 2007).

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Mendel's Pink Sheets

February 22, 2010

One of our readers managed to unearth an unbelievable bit of scientific history and we are able to provide it to you thanks to his generosity. With no further delay we present….

click image

All credit, and my gratitude for the LOLz goes to Donn Young who describes the source of his re-creation as follows:

Long ago and far away [like the 1970’s], I read an article in the old Journal of Irreproducible Results [JIR] that had a copy of Gregor Mendel’s pink sheets. I have no idea who the author(s) was and I can no longer find the issue [or much else], but have this rewrite I put together using the 90’s review criteria. I’d hand it out [on pink paper] to junior faculty as encouragement in the face of an unscored application – but hey, Mendel didn’t have to worry about tenure.
Donn Young
Research Scientist and Director of Biostatistics [retired]
Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center

Did you read this fascinating bit of….whatever…from Nature? I picked this up from writedit’s thread. The title and subtitles are, I kid you not, this.
Nature‘s choices: Exploding the myths surrounding how and why we select our research papers.
You might almost think they had read my recent post on the business of spin. Apparently they think they are taking some unfair knocks about their process for publishing papers and want to spin the story back around to their liking. Fair enough.
I don’t buy their argument so I’ll take my hand at spinning it back my way.
Now, what are these evil myths you might ask? They have a list.

One myth that never seems to die is that Nature’s editors seek to inflate the journal’s impact factor by sifting through submitted papers (some 16,000 last year) in search of those that promise a high citation rate. We don’t.

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One contentious part of graduate student training in the US system is the mechanism by which we evaluate student potential for continuing on to the dissertation about halfway along.
Oral or written “qualification” exams. Closed book, open book or take home. Research or grant proposals. Review articles. On specific subfield topics or designed to cover the breath of the fields defined by the Department itself.
It is almost always a constant argument within the faculty, within the student body and between students and faculty about the “best” way to construct the process. I recall that over the course of my doctoral stint, my training department had three distinct qualification processes in place!
As a student I was a big fan of the breadth exam, either written as closed-book or as oral exam. My rationale was basically what I saw as the continued “value” of me getting a doctorate from the department in question. It was a matter of the reputation gained by other grads from the program conversing with scientists across the field. I wanted them to come across as informed as possible, to as many discussants as possible.
Maturing through the career arc, I care less for this. Mostly because I’ve come to realize nobody that is judging me now gives a rat’s patootie what University or Department of -ology appears on my doctorate. They care about the papers I have published. Period. Full freaking stop.
So if I were dictating a graduate program, I’d be looking to enhance the ability of the students to publish papers. This would pretty much rule out the examination approach.
My younger self would be absolutely appalled.

I had a little petulant post SuperBowl rant but man, Anonymoustache absolutely rockets this one straight down the fairway.

But most of all, they hated the fact that while Tiger had all the physical gifts to excel at golf, his dominance sprung from his mental superiority. The white male privilege establishment would grudgingly concede that people of color could be good athletes, but they’d never concede that they could be mentally superior to the point of dominance. They subscribed to the old ‘blacks cannot play quarterback’ mentality and Tiger destroyed that world like no one before.

This is but a tip of the iceberg of excellent analysis.

Grantwriter's Agony

February 18, 2010

The worst possible score to receive on your NIH grant application is:
Triage: Grrrrr, wasn’t even discussed so your fate rested on the three assigned reviewers only. No chance whatsoever of Program picking it up as a funding exception. Gaaaah, the AGONY!!!!
Above published or assumed payline, well into the grey zone: Arrrgh. I know it isn’t going to fund but…..but…..Program might pick it up! The might ask for a rebuttal! Please, oh, please an R56 Bridge? Call the PO just so I can hear the Program Zombie Mantra? AIIIIEEEEE!!!!
Pick your poison.

When I first read Abel Pharmboy’s post introducing the notion of recreational use of a synthetic cannabinoid adulterated burnable product, my first thought was the US Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement of 1986, aka the Federal Analog Act (Wikipedia). From the justice department page about analogues:

They are structurally or pharmacologically similar to Schedule I or II controlled substances and have no legitimate medical use. A substance which meets the definition of a controlled substance analogue and is intended for human consumption is treated under the CSA as if it were a controlled substance in Schedule I.

As Abel pointed out, these so called synthetic marijuana products are some variety of dried vegetable matter adulterated with one or more compounds that convey similar pharmacological properties as does Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana. Compounds which appear to be highly popular are the ones known as CP-47,497 and JWH-018.

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My readers are no doubt becoming a little bored with this but I assure you I do not bother to blog every one that pops up. Yes, another tragedy. A life cut short at 19 years of age because of the recreational drug MDMA, aka Ecstasy.

Friend Darren Anscombe said: ‘Me and him took some.
‘We were having a laugh at that time. I went into the kitchen and heard Danny’s girlfriend scream.
‘I went into the front room and he was lying on the floor, lifeless.’
Mr Anscombe dialled 999 and under instruction from the operator, carried out chest compressions until paramedics arrived.
Mr Anscombe said Daryl had been ‘happy’ that night but starting ‘acting strangely’.

Here is what I like about the reporting on this. They head off much speculation this way:

Dr Barbara Borek, forensic pathologist, said: ‘Toxicological analysis has detected the presence of a potentially fatal concentration of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy.’
Tests showed there was 4,491mg of the drug per litre in his blood.

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PhysioProf's faaaaaavorite…

February 17, 2010

…Link Vomitus!
Prof-like Substance and Professor in Training fire up the DisgruntledPostdocTM
Odyssey notes that four bloggers will be officially covering the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society.
Privilege 306 (via 49 percent)
All About Addiction, one of the Psychology Today blog efforts.
Do you treat your academic trainees identically, or customize based on the individual? Is the latter bias or good mentoring?
PalMD is kinda cute when he gets crabby.
MsPHD is going to put together a book, woot! (I’m one of those that enjoys blog entries organized into a print volume if that is what she is planning. Think she’ll ask PP and I for jacket blurbs????)

I find that it is not uncommon for me to run across a paper that is nominally a “review” article but yet contains data that have not been published anywhere else.
Have you ever seen such a thing? How common is it in your reading?
The next question is how you view the ethics of such a practice.
Well, the first issue is whether the data have been truly peer reviewed; because you may assume it is the intent of the authors that the data be cited. As if they were peer reviewed data like any other.

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What a tragedy. Absolutely horrible that someone concluded that the best response to being denied tenure was to shoot the other members of the department.
update: Prior thoughts on the tenure process:
Tenure Criteria During a Downturn in the NIH Budget
PiT on The tenure track and the economic downturn
A Post-Tenure World
Denial of Tenure is not the End of the World