Why would someone say this about me?

At this morning’s Ugly Christmas Sweater 5k, I told Bill Holmes that, when I run, I always look for (and try to appreciate) something I wouldn’t see if I were sitting in my house, on my butt. He responded along the lines of, “Well, I often see some pretty good spandex.” I told him he was channeling Ollie.

Why oh why would anyone say this about me? 🙂 Why would someone who once blogged this say that about me? 😉



December 15, 2013 Posted by | big butts, Blogroll, blogs, running, spandex | 3 Comments

The “living fossil” debate: why I love scientists!

Ever hear of the term “living fossil”? That might be a useful term for most of us; it represents an animal that hasn’t undergone many “visible” evolutionary changes over tens to hundreds of millions of years (e. g., it looks the same, has the same external features, hunts and reproduces the same way, etc.). But not all evolutionary change can be observed in this manner, as Larry Moran points out. There are biochemical changes that occur as well, which means that many evolutionary changes have little to do with natural selection.

Hence he views a certain new book on evolution with less promise than Jerry Coyne does.

Note: in the world of mathematics, we would merely formalize the definition of “living fossil”. 🙂

April 15, 2012 Posted by | biology, Blogroll, blogs, evolution, science | Leave a comment

Scams, exploitation, adaptation and delusion

Check out this NASA “photo of the day”; it is a panoramic view of the night sky over Hilo, Hawaii. Click on the thumbnail to see the full size version, complete with explanation of what you are seeing.


Do you see the caterpillar in this photo? Without the red circle, I wouldn’t have either. This is a type of animal mimicry; in this case the caterpillar decorates itself material from its surrounding, much in the same way that a soldier might use camouflage.

Surf to Jerry Coyne’s blog to see more photos and to read an explanation.

Also on the blog is a post about large feathered dinosaurs (clearly the feathers had no “flight function”; were these for temperature regulation….there is some evidence that some of the dinosaurs were warm blooded). Hopefully, this “about to be signed” law in Tennessee that would indirectly encourage the teaching of creationism and ID in public school class won’t get in the way of kids learning about topics such as this one.

This brings us back to “religion”: when it comes to “knowing” things about the universe, “faith” or “it says so in this holy book” just doesn’t count. Frequently, people are offended when religious ideas are critiqued. Peter Boghossian discusses why this “being offended” shouldn’t really matter.
Now I’d like to be clear: I’d never say that “you are a horrible, stupid person” because you hold religious belief X (unless “X” was a truly noxious belief, such as that people of a certain race are inferior, or that people should be allowed to die rather than get a blood transfusion, etc.) But I will say, IF asked or if an idea is presented in public, “that idea is illogical” or “that idea makes no sense.” People are worthy of respect, but not all ideas are.

Exploitation In the book The Kite Runner there was a character named Hassan who was raped as a young boy…and then his orphaned son ended up being a “dancing boy”: basically, he was a sex slave for adult men. I didn’t know how widespread this practice was. Unfortunately, this practice is getting stronger again….due to the Taliban growing weaker. So as horrible as the Taliban is, they did stop some terrible practices.

Racism and good intentions
Of course, it is good to stand up to injustice, but no white person (in the United States) has any business saying “I am Trayvon”. This young woman explains why:

Note: I don’t think that “the system” was designed to pick on black people per se; it is designed to reward conformity and to reward monetary success, and one is far less likely to be successful if one comes from a poor background.

Be wary of what causes you join though. There is a blogger named Crystal Cox, who lost a motion to be viewed as a “journalist” by the law. But this isn’t a “bloggers aren’t journalists” type of stand; it is THIS blogger isn’t a journalist. Basically what she did was: set up internet blogs and pages that attacked someone, and then offer the target of those attacks her “online reputation services” at a steep fee. Read the details here. I was alerted to this story by Randazza, who was the subject of one of her attacks.

April 6, 2012 Posted by | astronomy, biology, Blogroll, blogs, creationism, economy, evolution, racism, religion, social/political, superstition, world events | Leave a comment

Republican Faith Chat: RIP

Republican Faith Chat is no more:

I wonder if it will appear? My guess……yes. 🙂 If it doesn’t appear on its own…..

Update A site called Republican Faith Chat is up and running for now. This isn’t the old site.

November 17, 2011 Posted by | Blogroll, internet issues, political humor, politics/social, religion, republicans | 8 Comments

THIS is how you counter junk “science”….and other topics

I am taking a break between segments of a pop-science video on quantum mechanics. I’ll probably write a short blurb on my mathematics blog about how the Taylor series is used in Plank’s law (which yields the Rayleigh-Jeans blackbody radation law at low frequencies).

I’ll post some stuff that I found interesting.

Remember all of the uproar about the “why black women are ugly” article that appeared in Psychology Today (online) and then was pulled? Much of the push-back against the article was lame; it was “I don’t like it” and that was about it. This is a typical reaction, though the TITLE of this counter article “says who?” actually gets to the point rather quickly.

Of course, there are many problems with the article; for one the measurement of attractiveness was basically the opinion of a small number of people. So what the data (supposedly) said was “a tiny percentage of people seem to think that black women are less attractive than other women.”…that’s it.

But it turns out that the data DIDN’T EVEN SAY THAT MUCH!!!

2. Kanazawa interprets his findings in terms of adult attractiveness yet the majority of his data were based on the ratings of attractiveness of the participants when they were teenagers. If many of us (including the authors of this post) were judged throughout our lives based on our physical attractiveness as a teenager, a lot of us would be in trouble!

Add Health currently has four “waves,” […]

Note that only Wave IV actually consists of “Adults.” In fact, the range of ages for Wave I and Wave II is 12-22, with an average age of about 16 for both waves.

Imagine the scenario. Adult researchers (unfortunately we couldn’t find out information about the actual interviewers themselves) went into the homes of these participants and rated their own subjective view of the physical attractiveness of the study participants on a scale from 1 to 5 (ranging from “very unattractive” to “very attractive”). For Waves I and II in particular, the ratings couldn’t possibly (we hope!) be referring to ratings of the sexual attractiveness of these kids. So discussions of this topic using data from the dating website OK Cupid really aren’t appropriate here.

Only in Waves 3 and 4 were the participants old enough on average (M = 22.2, SD = 1.9 and M= 29.00 SD = 1.8, respectively) to be actually called “women” and “men” instead of girls and boys. If one looks at the data from the waves (3 and 4) in which all of the interviewees reached legal adulthood, the pattern of results no longer supports Kanazawa’s main conclusion.

In Wave 3, we did find a very slight difference in attractiveness ratings in favor of European women, but this is effect is no longer significant after we take into account the random variation due to the raters.

However, only data from Wave 4 is relevant for the issue that Kanazawa wants to address simply because this is the only Wave consisting of adults (they were collected when all of the participants were adults aged 25-34). Unfortunately, Kanazawa does not include presentation of these Wave 4 results, despite the fact that he uses Add Health data in most of his studies and these data have been available for over a month.

Focusing just on Wave 4, it is obvious that among the women in the sample, there is no difference between the ethnicities in terms of ratings of physical attractiveness. Differences in the distributions for females when tested with a regular (and slightly liberal) test of independence is non-significant and hence can be attributed to chance (Pearson’s Chi-Square=15.6, DF=12, p =.210). Here’s the graph that shows the distribution of ratings (in percentages) for 1564 European Americans, 553 African Americans, 97 Native Americans, and 96 Asian American females (with arithmetic means below each group):

There is much more there, but the counter-argument is easy to sum up: it is an incompetent analysis of data which represents the opinions of a small number of people. THAT is how one critiques such shoddy “studies”.

I freely admit that this study attracted such attention because it offended so many, and I wonder how much junk is out there that hasn’t attracted such scrutiny? I also wonder what the article referee was doing when he/she reviewed this article. That this passed some sort of a “review process” does not speak well for Psychology Today.

Note: before you start screaming “oh, you are just being PC”; it is possible to, say, do a competent survey of American heterosexual males on what they find sexually attractive, and it is possible that one group of women (say, Asian or Mexican) be found more or less attractive than some other group of women. My honest guess is that the results would be all over the map, especially if one took into account things like health, wealth, obesity, etc. But who knows?

BUT…I doubt if there would be any “evolutionary” reason aside from people having some tendency to select for the signs of good child bearing potential in women and perhaps being more attracted to one’s own “race” (on the average….MAYBE). Remember that some homo sapiens carry Neanderthal genes….so evidently sexual attraction is quite varied!!!! 🙂

What I know for sure is that the Psychology Today article was pathetic and it sure appears to me as if the author has some sort of racial ax to grind, but I can’t be sure of that. It could be that the author of the Psychology Today is driven by some desire to be anti-PC and iconoclastic for its own sake.

Progress in the United States
I have to beware of passing along things that are “what I want to hear”:

I want to hear this message. BUT…becoming right wing might well be a sign of wealth; that is, as more racial minorities become more affluent, they too might turn into right wingers.

And remember that people who are discriminated against often have no problem discriminating against others; though this comes from a satire blog, it sure hammers home the point:

(cut and paste if you want to read the post; I don’t want the track-back)

Warning: the language is not what I’d use on the blog:

I am so proud of the West Coast blacks! I didn’t think they had it in them. They disproved the liberal concept of “prejudice.” So-called “enlightened” people often claim those of us who recognize that different people have different places in society — and not everyone is “equal” — are prejudiced. They criticize our claims that colored people are destined to serve rather than lead as evidence of “prejudice.” Well, the California coloreds proved them wrong. Even though these people support their own “rights,” they voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 8, which prohibits homosexuals from having the same kind of relationships the rest of us have (i.e., marriage). Exit polls show that the majority of normal people (Caucasians) voted against the proposition. It was the blacks who ensured it passed.

This, of course, just shows that claims of “prejudice” involve nothing more than self-interest. Blacks pushed hard for the right to be viewed the same as whites, and actually got one of their own kind elected President. But when it came to homos seeking the same so-called “rights,” they voted to recognize that not everyone is equal. They single-handedly defeated homo equality in California. Thank you, California coloreds, not just for putting homos in their place, but for showing that claims of “injustice” and “prejudice” really just involve self-interest. After all, as soon as you got what you wanted, you abandoned all pretense of supporting equality. Clever. LOL!

Yes, I know; one can correct for education, religiosity and age.

Bottom line: I don’t see racial minorities as being more altruistic than anyone else; remember that my ancestors (Aztecs if you go back far enough) ruthlessly dealt with the people that they conquered. They weren’t really any more moral than my Spanish ancestors; they were merely less efficient at killing and enslaving.

Ok, I’ll look at it this way: conservatism is more about keeping order than anything else:

And if minorities become the new majority, we’ll probably see “conservative” minorities trying to preserve the new order at the expense of others.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | 2010 election, Blogroll, blogs, evolution, human sexuality, racism, science, statistics | Leave a comment

Unusual Conversation Starter…..

Workout notes: 1200 yards of swimming:
12 x (25 drill, 25 swim) drills were kicking (front, side, side)
8 x (25 drill, 25 swim) drills were 2 sfs, 2 were 3-g (three strokes then glide), 4 were “fist” 25s.
4 x 50 on the 1:10; I actually got the feeling that I was swimming on the last one.


I admit that I sometimes do things just to start a conversation. Example: I’ll sometimes wear a race or an event t-shirt just to see if there are any others who have either ran (or walked) the race or participated in the event. It is fun!

I’ve done that too with my Obama t-shirt, but there was one occasion in which some old tea party type tried to get in an argument with me; I merely told him that he was wrong and blew him off.

There are conversation starters on the internet too; I’ve found the biggest ones have been on facebook and other websites.

But here is one conversation starter that I did not expect:

(in each case, click the thumbnail to see the full sized version)

What do these people have in common?

I’ve had back channel conversations with every one of them; topics have ranged from athletics, yoga, psychology, science, social issues, travel and humor. All of them have seen photos of me and my family and knows at least a little about me and my life, and I know at least a bit about theirs

And….I met every one of them because they posted a spandex butt-shot of themselves!

Who would have guessed that a spandex wrapped butt would be a conversation starter? 🙂

Oh well…back to my math paper.

Update I found one of my references online; it saved me a trip to the library! 🙂

May 27, 2011 Posted by | big butts, blog humor, Blogroll, blogs, Friends, spandex, swimming, training | Leave a comment

24 May 2011 noon

Workout notes Lynn and I went to a yoga class; Jill lead.
Noon: 1200 yard swim followed by an easy 4 mile walk; the day was too pretty to not get out there.

Swim: 4 x (25 drill, 25 free) to warm up. Then 1000 in 18:25: 9:18, 9:07.
Oh well, you have to start somewhere. In the days of old, I’d restart swimming at 17:45 or so; but I’ve been out of the water for so long. It will get better. I hope. 🙂 The good news is that I wasn’t aerobically taxed; then again I shouldn’t have been.

Blogs and science: Jerry Coyne is having too much fun with mathematics and how incomprehensible it is to outsiders…even to non-specialists. The bottom line: for most mathematical disciplines, you have to be well versed to even understand why a question might be interesting to begin with. It is a strange and often frustrating discipline.

Political and social satire
I don’t want a track-back so if you want to read some satire, surf here:

You’ve heard about gay people being “made straight” by prayer? Well now, you can “pay your way” to not be gay! Yes, the blog is satire; the character who wrote this post plays a lower middle class con-artist (claims to be a “prophetess”.. 🙂 )

Economics The Ryan plan is a joke, even though the polyester pants set attempted to play it as some sort of serious, noble attempt. Paul Krugman reminds his readers to not fall for the BS:

I suspect that there’s a legend in the making — one that will come to dominate the conventional wisdom if the GOP does badly next year — which goes like this: Republicans were too noble. They committed themselves to a serious, well-crafted policy plan, but were oblivious to the political realities.

What I hope regular readers of this blog understand by now is that the Ryan plan is, in fact, a self-serving piece of junk. It doesn’t add up — in fact, it would probably make the deficit bigger not smaller. And far from representing some kind of sacrifice of political interests in the service of the greater good, it’s a right-wing wish-list on steroids: sharp tax cuts for corporations and the rich, savage cuts in aid to the poor, and a gratuitous privatization of Medicare. And again, it’s technically incompetent along the way.

So nobility and seriousness had nothing to do with it.

But living in an alternative universe is nothing new for the Republicans(via Jacob Weisberg):

At a press conference last week, someone asked Chris Christie for his views on evolution vs. creationism. “That’s none of your business,” the New Jersey governor barked in response.

This minor incident, which barely rated as news for a few political blogs, offers a glimpse of Christie’s personality, which seems increasingly grumpy and snappish. But it says even more about the current state of the national Republican Party, where magical thinking trumps rationality, and even to acknowledge basic realities about the world we live in runs the risk of damaging one’s political future.

Christie is not part of the natural constituency for Darwin-denial. He’s an intelligent man, a lawyer, a fiscal rather than a social conservative. But Christie is also someone who might want to run for president someday, or be selected as someone’s running mate. For those purposes, he must constantly ask himself the question: Am I about to say something to which a white, evangelical, socially conservative, gun-owning, Obama-despising, pro-Tea Party, GOP primary voter in rural South Carolina might object? By this standard, simple acceptance of the theory of evolution becomes a risky stance. To lie or to duck? Christie chose the option of ducking while signaling his annoyance at being put in this ridiculous predicament.

Moments like this point to a growing asymmetry in our politics. One party, the Democrats, suffers from the usual range of institutional blind spots, historical foibles, and constituency-driven evasions. The other, the Republicans, has moved to a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems (climate change, the need to pay the costs of running the government) can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact (Obama might just be Kenyan-born or a Muslim), expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot.

Barack Obama
Yes, race constantly comes up. Yes, the right wing makes an issue of it….all of the time (via Colbert King):

Diane Fedele, a California local Republican leader, displayed her own meanness in 2008 when she included in her party’s newsletter a picture that showed the face of Obama surrounded by watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken. The photo, which was shaped as a currency note, had the inscription “Obama Bucks” under his picture.

Associating black people with poverty programs is a shopworn tactic of bigots. The same year Fedele produced her pictorial, a joke circulated on the Internet that listed American presidents and the currency denominations that bore their faces. It read: “Washington, $1 dollar bill,” “Jefferson, $2 dollar bill,” “Lincoln, $5 dollar bill,” “Hamilton, $10 dollar bill,” “Jackson, $20 dollar bill.” Then it said, “Obama, Food Stamps.”

So it should have come as no surprise when Newt Gingrich, well known for his slurs, took to the podium before a Republican crowd in Georgia last week and described President Obama as “the food stamp president.” Gingrich was trumpeting an old, bigoted line.

Yes, I know, Mr. Gingrich could claim “hey, I was merely saying that Obama was hurting the economy…this is a bit like the term “Hoovervilles” for the shanty towns that the homeless lived in before President Roosevelt was elected”. But why the specific term “food stamps”?

On the other hand, liberals attempt to make something out of President Obama being black:

[Cornell] West, on the other hand, finds Obama’s blackness wanting. He charged that Obama is “most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart . . . and very effective in getting what they want.” Not stopping there, West looked inside the president’s head and declared that Obama “has a certain fear of free black men.” Continuing his analysis, West opined that Obama grew up in “a white context” and “he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white.”

Au contraire, say those on the other side. They look at that caramel-colored president and see the incarnation of all that they fear and loathe.

Bottom line: too much attention is paid to the President’s skin color and not enough to his policies and the policies of those who merely say “no” to everything.

May 24, 2011 Posted by | 2012 election, Barack Obama, Blogroll, Democrats, economics, economy, mathematics, political/social, politics, politics/social, racism, republicans, republicans political/social, republicans politics, science, swimming, time trial/ race, training, walking | 1 Comment

7 February 2011: pm

Blog It has taken me 1499 days (first post was on 10 December 2006) but now I’ve finally reached half a million hits. Sure, that is perhaps one day for, say, Daily Kos. I started by averaging 20 hits per day or so; right now 500-600 is typical; that is tiny compared to many.

So, if you are reading this, thank you. 🙂

Football: in the NFL, going to the ground in celebration after a touchdown is illegal, unless:

When I wrote about this issue a couple years ago, the National Football League’s Vice President of Officiating, Mike Pereira, had this to say:

The whole issue is, you can’t go to the ground on your knees or with your hand or anything. There’s only one time that you’re going to be allowed to go on your knee after you score like this, and that’s when you want to praise the Lord. If you do that, then I’m going to allow that, because I do not want to be struck by lightning, I promise you that. We will allow that.

The NFL is a private organization, of course. They can issue (or not issue) fines however they would like. But some consistency in the rules would be nice. If they want to allow Christian prayers after a touchdown, why not just come out and say it?

I admit that this is a good business decision; my guess is that many fans are ok with people giving gratitude to their invisible friend. 🙂

I found this 3quarks daily post to be interesting:

Our book Reasonable Atheism does not publish until April, yet we have already been charged with
accommodationism, the cardinal sin amongst so-called New Atheists. The charge derives mainly from the subtitle of our book, “a moral case for respectful disbelief.” Our offense consists in embracing idea that atheists owe to religious believers anything like respect. The accusation runs roughly as follows: “Respect” is merely a euphemism for soft-pedaling one’s criticisms of religion; but religion is a force of great evil, and thus must be fought with unmitigated vigor. Atheist calls for respect in dealing with religion simply reflect a failure of nerve, and must be called out. Anything less than an intellectual total war on religion is capitulation to, and thus complicity with, irrationality.

In our case, the charge of accommodationism as a failure of critical nerve is misplaced; anyone who actually reads our book will find that we pull no punches. But we also think that, as it is commonly employed in atheist circles, the idea of accommodationism involves a conflation between two kinds of evaluation which should be kept distinct. Some clarification is in order. […]

You can read the rest of the post. But, accommodationism is more about making the claim that religion, as understood by most western believers anyway, is compatible with current science. Sorry, but it isn’t; after all current mainstream religious thought has humans being the intentional outcome of a creative process and science has shown that evolution is an undirected process.

Jerry Coyne talks more about this:

There are two points to be made here. First, even the “tolerant” official views of religion can be anti-science. While the Catholic church officially accepts evolution, it accepts theistic evolution, in which God guided the process and casually slipped an immortal soul into the hominin lineage. And theistic evolution, in which God has a role in the process, is not acceptance of evolution as we biologists understand it. So yes, the true biological view of evolution as a materialistic, unguided process is indeed at odds with most religions. Organizations that promote evolution, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), prefer to avoid this critical point: all they care about is that evolution get taught in the schools, not whether believers wind up accepting the concept of evolution as it’s understood by scientists. (If all they want is evolution to be taught, that, I suppose is fine. But it’s not fine if they want public understanding of evolution.)

Second, if you construe “religion” as “what religious people believe,” then there certainly is opposition to evolution among members of all religions. For example, despite the position of their church, many Catholics adhere to the form of young-earth creationism accepted by 40% of Americans. That 40% does not comprise only Bible-waving fundamentalist Protestants.

When we’re totting up resistance to evolution, then, we have to do more than look at official church positions: we have to see what religious people actually think. And we should stop claiming that theistic evolutionists are fully on the side of science, because they aren’t. They’re on the side of the angels (whose existence, by the way, is accepted by 75% of Americans). These theists see evolution as involving miracles at one point or another.

Only about 20% of Americans agree both that humans evolved and that this process wasn’t guided by God. If you’re a naturalist, those are our real allies. The rest are what Anthony Grayling calls “supernaturalists.”

Of course people should be respected and of course, there are intelligent believers. But accepting that doesn’t make one an accommodationist. Accommodationism is pretending that there is no logical incompatibility between science and mainstream religion.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | atheism, Blogroll, evolution, football, NFL, religion | Leave a comment

25 November 2010 post meal

We went to the Thanksgiving day brunch at Wildlife Prairie Park; my wife, her nephew, her daughter and grandson were also there.

The bartender was wearing very tight hip-huggers…I wonder if her tip jar was full. 🙂

Sandwalk talks more about the “science is cool” campaign:

This poster is from Rock Stars of Science. There are six people in the photo: one of them is a rock star (I’m told) and five of them are famous scientists (I’m told).

Is this a good way to promote science? Martin Robbins doesn’t think so: ‘Rockstars of Science’ should be ‘Scientists of Rock’.

I could be wrong. Maybe this is a good way of reaching out to people. Maybe GQ’s readers are getting out their dictionaries and picking through those descriptions, stopping occasionally to stare at the blurry, bearded interloper in the background of Bob’s photograph. And maybe those readers are now more inspired by science as a result. If so, I’d like to see some evidence of it – maybe a poll of readers?

But I still can’t help but feel that if you have to resort to rockstars make science cool, you’re really not very good at communicating science. Because science is way cooler than rock stars.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Chris Mooney likes this campaign and ERV doesn’t. Jerry Coyne doesn’t like it either. Does anyone notice a pattern here? … The one person who isn’t a scientist is the one who thinks he knows how to promote science.

I love it. But Larry Moran does have a sense of humor; check out his post about “how to protect yourself from wi-fi radiation”. It isn’t everyday that you see a middle aged biochemist in a tinfoil hat (thumbnail links to Dr. Moran’s post):

More Science
Thanksgiving: here is some thanks that physics problems in the large (macroscopic) can be solved without know much (or at all?) about the small (microscopic). Example: you can solve a motion problem using Newtonian mechanics without knowing what is going on at the quantum level…or one can do fluid mechanics without knowing about the Brownian motion of the molecules.

Is Schizophrenia caused by a retrovirus that most of us have immunity to? There is a mainstream conjecture that this is the case:

chizophrenia is usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25, but the person who becomes schizophrenic is sometimes recalled to have been different as a child or a toddler—more forgetful or shy or clumsy. Studies of family videos confirm this. Even more puzzling is the so-called birth-month effect: People born in winter or early spring are more likely than others to become schizophrenic later in life. It is a small increase, just 5 to 8 percent, but it is remarkably consistent, showing up in 250 studies. That same pattern is seen in people with bipolar disorder or multiple sclerosis.

“The birth-month effect is one of the most clearly established facts about schizophrenia,” says Fuller Torrey, director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland. “It’s difficult to explain by genes, and it’s certainly difficult to explain by bad mothers.”

The facts of schizophrenia are so peculiar, in fact, that they have led Torrey and a growing number of other scientists to abandon the traditional explanations of the disease and embrace a startling alternative. Schizophrenia, they say, does not begin as a psychological disease. Schizophrenia begins with an infection.

The idea has sparked skepticism, but after decades of hunting, Torrey and his colleagues think they have finally found the infectious agent. You might call it an insanity virus. If Torrey is right, the culprit that triggers a lifetime of hallucinations—that tore apart the lives of writer Jack Kerouac, mathematician John Nash, and millions of others—is a virus that all of us carry in our bodies. “Some people laugh about the infection hypothesis,” says Urs Meyer, a neuroimmunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “But the impact that it has on researchers is much, much, much more than it was five years ago. And my prediction would be that it will gain even more impact in the future.” […]

Perron learned from their failures. “I decided that I should not have an a priori idea of what I would find,” he says. Rather than looking for one virus, as others had done, he tried to detect any retrovirus, whether or not it was known to science. He extracted fluids from the spinal columns of MS patients and tested for an enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, that is carried by all retroviruses. Sure enough, Perron saw faint traces of retroviral activity. Soon he obtained fuzzy electron microscope images of the retrovirus itself.

His discovery was intriguing but far from conclusive. After confirming his find was not a fluke, Perron needed to sequence its genes. He moved to the National Center for Scientific Research in Lyon, France, where he labored days, nights, and weekends. He cultured countless cells from people with MS to grow enough of his mystery virus for sequencing. MS is an incurable disease, so Perron had to do his research in a Level 3 biohazard lab. Working in this airtight catacomb, he lived his life in masks, gloves, and disposable scrubs.

After eight years of research, Perron finally completed his retrovirus’s gene sequence. What he found on that day in 1997 no one could have predicted; it instantly explained why so many others had failed before him. We imagine viruses as mariners, sailing from person to person across oceans of saliva, snot, or semen—but Perron’s bug was a homebody. It lives permanently in the human body at the very deepest level: inside our DNA. After years slaving away in a biohazard lab, Perron realized that everyone already carried the virus that causes multiple sclerosis.

Other scientists had previously glimpsed Perron’s retrovirus without fully grasping its significance. In the 1970s biologists studying pregnant baboons were shocked as they looked at electron microscope images of the placenta. They saw spherical retroviruses oozing from the cells of seemingly healthy animals. They soon found the virus in healthy humans, too. So began a strange chapter in evolutionary biology. […]

Viruses like influenza or measles kill cells when they infect them. But when retroviruses like HIV infect a cell, they often let the cell live and splice their genes into its DNA. When the cell divides, both of its progeny carry the retrovirus’s genetic code in their DNA.

In the past few years, geneticists have pieced together an account of how Perron’s retrovirus entered our DNA. Sixty million years ago, a lemurlike animal—an early ancestor of humans and monkeys—contracted an infection. It may not have made the lemur ill, but the retrovirus spread into the animal’s testes (or perhaps its ovaries), and once there, it struck the jackpot: It slipped inside one of the rare germ line cells that produce sperm and eggs. When the lemur reproduced, that retrovirus rode into the next generation aboard the lucky sperm and then moved on from generation to generation, nestled in the DNA. “It’s a rare, random event,” says Robert Belshaw, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford in England. “Over the last 100 million years, there have been only maybe 50 times when a retrovirus has gotten into our genome and proliferated.”

Read the whole article; it is fascinating.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | Barack Obama, biology, Blogroll, blogs, brain, evolution, humor, mind, physics, science, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Commentary: how I act around smart people on the internet

I’ll be honest: I like smart people.

This would explain my blog roll selections (Mano Singham’s, Larry Moran’s, Jerry Coyne’s, Richard Dawkins’, Paul Krugman’s, Robert Reich’s)

But at times, I get a little too much like Chester in the beginning of this clip (the little yellow terrier):

Picture Spike as one of the intellectual big guns. 🙂

But I sometimes lurk where the intellectual level is much lower; a good example is the Alan Colmes facebook page. Mr. Colmes is bright, but he attracts some Fox News conservatives to his board…and most of them are mind-numbingly stupid.

Witness this exchange between Paul Kruman (who is a world class intellectual and a Nobel Laureate in economics) and Bill O’Reilly who is, by comparison, dim-witted:

O’Reilly is too intellectually lost to even know that he doesn’t know what he is talking about; all he has is loudness and belligerence.
This is a nice example of what it is like to attempt to engage a Fox News watcher in discussion; they are no badly informed and unskilled in logic that a discussion with them is all but impossible.

In short: I like smart, well informed people. I don’t like stupid, poorly informed people. And I have a white-hot hatred for stupid people who THINK that they are smart and well informed, hence my distaste for Sarah Palin and people who back her.

I do NOT have such an intense dislike for Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, David Brooks, John McCain, etc.

September 29, 2010 Posted by | Blogroll, blogs, Personal Issues, political/social, politics, politics/social, Republican, republicans, republicans politics, sarah palin, social/political | Leave a comment