Biology is Awesome

The more science uncovers about our biology the more amazed I am. Take for example new research that demonstrates how hard a fetus will fight to keep its host alive:

Now, a new study in mice shows such that nature has arrived at just such a solution, too: When a pregnant mouse has a heart attack, her fetus donates some of its stem cells to help rebuild the damaged heart tissue.

A fetus will inject stem cells into the mother in an attempt to repair heart damage? That’s downright cool.

Fear of Vaccinations My Ass

No this post isn’t me not jumping on the anti-vaccination bandwagon; I just found a “study” with such an absurd conclusion that I had to call it out. A recent study released by a Mayo Clinic physician claims that the recent fear of the measles vaccine being linked to autism is having devastating effects:

More than 150 cases of measles have been reported in the United States already this year and there have been similar outbreaks in Europe, a sign the disease is making an alarming comeback. The reappearance of the potentially deadly virus is the result of unfounded fears about a link between the measles shot and autism that have turned some parents against childhood vaccination, says Gregory Poland, M.D. (, of Mayo Clinic. In the September issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings (, Dr. Poland urges doctors to review extensive scientific research that has found no connection between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

Somewhere around 150 cases of measles in the United States is devastating? Really? Because according to numbers put out by the National Institute of Health 150 cases in one year is absolutely unworthy of noting if you look at the number of measles cases reported in the United States since the release of the vaccine:

Measles—Incidence (Historic)
During this century, there has been a dramatic decrease in measles epidemics. Prior to the development of the measles vaccine, 5.7 million people died each year from measles. (Some historians have suggested that measles might have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.)

In 1920, the United States had 469,924 measles cases and 7,575 deaths due to measles. From 1958 to 1962, the United States had an average of 503,282 cases and 432 deaths each year. (Measles reporting began in 1912; prior to this time, no statistics are available.) In large cities, epidemics often occurred every two to five years.

When the measles vaccine came on the market in 1963, measles began a steady decline worldwide. By 1995, measles deaths had fallen 95 percent worldwide and 99 percent in Latin America. In the United States, the incidence of measles hit an all-time low in 1998, with 89 cases and no deaths reported.

There have been several epidemics in the United States since 1963: from 1970 to 1972, 1976 to 1978, and 1989 to 1991. The epidemic of 1989-1991 claimed 120 deaths out of a total of 55,000 cases reported. Over half of the deaths occurred in young children.

You’ll notice that since the introduction of the measles vaccine the number of reported cases dropped dramatically but have never hit zero. Likewise since the introduction of the vaccine there have been three epidemics of measles with a lower number of reported cases between each epidemic. These epidemics occurred before anybody noted a potential link between the measles vaccine and autism which means there must have been a different factor.

Instead of trying to blame the anti-vaccination movement (which isn’t even that big of a movement from what I’ve seen) for the sudden upsurge in measles infections maybe researchers should look into the cause of previous epidemics and use that data to determine likely reasons for the current upsurge in cases.

Males Believe Talking About Their Problems is a Waste of Time, News at 11

Some research has come out of the University of Missouri which states the absolute obvious, men don’t like discussing their problems because they feel it’s a waste of their time:

“For years, popular psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak,” said Amanda J. Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. “However, when we asked young people how talking about their problems would make them feel, boys didn’t express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls. Instead, boys’ responses suggest that they just don’t see talking about problems to be a particularly useful activity.”

Well now that that problem has been solved it’s time to move on to other great mysteries of the world such as discovering whether or not water is wet. In all seriousness a lot of time and effort could have been saved if the researchers would have simply asked men whey they don’t like discussing their problems. It’s not that we need to feel secure in order to discuss our problems less we feel weak, it’s because we don’t believe talking about a problem will solve it and thus it is a pointless waste of time. Granted this attitude can be counter-productive in some cases, especially with issues involving relationships, but nine times out of ten talk isn’t going to fix whatever is wrong so any effort put into discussion is going to accomplish nothing but a delay in the action required to fix whatever is wrong.

Don’t Ask the State if Something is Legal, They’ll Just Arrest You

A Swedish citizen decided he wanted to build a personal nuclear reactor. Kudos for having true ambition but alas he made a mistake, he asked the Swedish Radiation Authority if it was legal so they had him arrested:

Despite the man’s frank and full disclosure of his experiment, his activities only came to the attention of the authorities a couple of weeks ago when he contacted the Swedish Radiation Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten) to inquire if it was legal to construct a nuclear reactor at home.

The man was told that somebody would be sent to measure the levels of radiation in his flat.

“When they came they had the police with them. I have had a Geiger counter and have not detected a problem with radiation,” the 31-year-old told the local Helsingborgs Dagblad (HD).

The man was arrested by the police and taken in for questioning. He admitted to his plans and was later released.

It would probably have been less hassle had the man just attempted to build a reactor and seen whether or not it worked. Let this be a lesson, don’t ask the government is something is legal or not; if what you’re asking about is illegal it’s illegal to ask about it.

A Possible Link Between TSA Body Scanners and Cancer Found

From the no-fucking-shit-sherlock department we have learned that all the claims made by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about the safety of their naked body scanners are dubious at best. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain documents from the Department of Motherland Homeland Security (DHS) dealing with the safety of those scanners. What they found wasn’t at all surprising:

In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA’s airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”

The documents they speak of make for interesting reading. Needless to say nobody has tested these scanners and given them their seal of approval. Hell John Hopkins University flat out said there are hot zones around the scanners that are likely unsafe.

I still have a dream of obtaining a decimeter watch and using it to detect how high the radiation levels of those scanners is. Unfortunately those watches are expensive and I’m unwilling to go through those scanners simply because I don’t believe the government needs to have more biometric data related to me.

New Dinosaur is a Missing Link

Paleontology is awesome. There is one Hell of a challenge in digging up the fossils of animals that have been dead for millions of years and trying to piece together their world and how they fit in the wonderful chain of events that we call life.

There has been a gap in the evolution of predatory dinosaurs that was until now unfilled. The remains of a new species were discovered in the famous (for paleontology nears) Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. The species has been labeled Daemonosaurus:

“Various features of the skull and neck in Daemonosaurus indicate that it was intermediate between the earliest known predatory dinosaurs from South America and more advanced theropod dinosaurs,” said Hans Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the team’s findings. “One such feature is the presence of cavities on some of the neck vertebrae related to the structure of the respiratory system.”

How cool is that? Let me rephrase, how cool is that if you’re a paleontology nerd?

Global Warming will Kill Us All

Or not. It seems Dutch and United States scientists have come out and said the rate of ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica should be halved:

In the last two years, several teams have estimated Greenland is shedding roughly 230 gigatonnes of ice, or 230 billion tonnes, per year and West Antarctica around 132 gigatonnes annually.

Together, that would account for more than half of the annual three-millimetre (0.2 inch) yearly rise in sea levels, a pace that compares dramatically with 1.8mm (0.07 inches) annually in the early 1960s.

But, according to the new study, published in the September issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the ice estimates fail to correct for a phenomenon known as glacial isostatic adjustment.

This is the term for the rebounding of Earth’s crust following the last Ice Age.


As if Standard Raptors Weren’t Dangerous Enough

I’m sure everybody who’s reading right now has seen Jurassic Park. If you haven’t go watch it right now because it is this best damned move ever made. The main protagonists were the velociraptors whom many complain were completely misrepresented. In truth the velociraptor was roughly 3 feet tall and covered in feathers. Of course when the book Jurassic Park was written the portrayed dinosaurs were actually deinonychus but at the time some paleontologists were trying to reclassify the deinonychus as velociraptor. This is actually mentioned by the character Alan Grant in the novel but alas the reclassification was dropped but the movie never correct for this.

So why the long side track? Because I wanted to show off my stupid amount of knowledge involving Jurassic Park. It’s for geek creds, any nerd will understand.

Well it seems Romanian scientists have discovered something more terrifying than Jurassic Parks [movie] portrayal of velociraptors. I present for your pants shitting fear the balaur bondoc. This bastard was a larger version of the velociraptor. Well it’s not that much larger really but it has an interesting feature. Remember those large killing claws the velociraptors had on their feet? This bad boy has two on each feet. That’s like taking it to 11 in the dinosaur world.

Birds Evolved From Dinosaurs, No Dinosaurs Evolved From Birds

Paleontology has always been one of my hobbies and nothing quite as cool as dinosaurs has existed on this planet since their extinction. Needless to say I spend a lot of time reading up on these extinct creatures and one of the debates that’s gone on for a while is whether or not dinosaurs evolved into birds. Well new research is suggesting that dinosaurs and birds evolved from a common ancestor and existed in a state of parallel evolution instead:

Almost 20 years of research at OSU on the morphology of birds and dinosaurs, along with other studies and the newest PNAS research, Ruben said, are actually much more consistent with a different premise — that birds may have had an ancient common ancestor with dinosaurs, but they evolved separately on their own path, and after millions of years of separate evolution birds also gave rise to the raptors. Small animals such as velociraptor that have generally been thought to be dinosaurs are more likely flightless birds, he said.

“Raptors look quite a bit like dinosaurs but they have much more in common with birds than they do with other theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus,” Ruben said. “We think the evidence is finally showing that these animals which are usually considered dinosaurs were actually descended from birds, not the other way around.”

This is bloody cool and certainly sheds some light on my arch-nemesis the velociraptor (Clever girls). Seriously though it’s amazing how the science of extinct creatures is constantly changing and we are always finding out new things about these old buggers.