Archive for February, 2009

Feb 26 2009

An Upside to ADHD

Published by under psychology,science

Is there any advantage to the traits associated with ADHD? We tend to classify a cluster of them as a disorder today, particularly when they occur in classrooms and classroom-like settings. But are there times/places when the traits could be an advantage?

Maybe. In research into Nomadic Tribesmen in Kenya it was discovered that -

an ADHD-associated version of the gene DRD4 is associated with better health in nomadic tribesmen, and yet may cause malnourishment in their settled cousins….

Eisenberg explains, “The DRD4/7R allele has been linked to greater food and drug cravings, novelty-seeking, and ADHD symptoms. It is possible that in the nomadic setting, a boy with this allele might be able to more effectively defend livestock against raiders or locate food and water sources, but that the same tendencies might not be as beneficial in settled pursuits such as focusing in school, farming or selling goods”.


Hey you, shepherd boy, quit being so hyperactive! Have a seat and focus on one sheep at a time, like us city folk!

Were the shepherd boy put on Adderall, it would be wise to prescribe Xanax for the sheep and arsenic for the coyotes.

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Feb 25 2009

Longing to Slide Across a Breaking Ocean Pulse

Published by under nature photos


I miss surfing season. I’ve been too busy to go and the water has been much too cold for my tastes. Soon? One can dream.

The above is a pretty, little wave, isn’t it? I can feel myself falling down the face after paddling my board. I jump to my feet and angle onto the shoulder of the wave, out-pacing the breaking face. Will it close-out in front or even on me? Or will the breaking water generate a nice, long spray of froth chasing the tail of my board?

Another view -


Is the above photo a lie? No such wave existed. I flipped the image and filtered it. Is it a fictionalized truth? The image still moves me, perhaps more than the real thing, thanks to its dream-like quality.

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Feb 25 2009

Body Language and Evolutionary Psychology

Researchers have found that Observers Of First Dates Can Predict Outcome. Shown video snippets of speed-daters interacting — as brief as ten seconds! — subjects were able to predict the interest level . . . of the men. Not so much the women. So the “predicting the outcome” claim comes with quite an asterisk after it.

In a sense, the research provided a test of a couple hypotheses generated by evolutionary psychology. Consider this:

Researchers expected women to have a leg up in judging romantic interest, because theoretically they have more to lose from a bad relationship, but no such edge was found.

Why? Were a female to mate with a man not-really-interested, it is more likely he would abandon her post-copulation. Or so the reasoning goes. And yet the results show that men and women were equally good at judging the interest another man had in a woman. Hmm. One could say that an evolutionary explanation suffered a set back on that one. But there may be more to it than females being able to innately perceive honest interest in men. Perhaps males have an eye out for potential competitors. Of course, these are just speculations — ideas in need of testing before we can take them seriously.

Another finding of this bit of research was that male and female observers were equally bad at judging the real interest of women in men. Are women thus truly the coy (deceptive) sex? An explanation provided by evolutionary psychology might assert that it is in a woman’s interest to keep men guessing via genuine flirting and pseudo flirting. Why? To keep their options open? To keep males more interested in them than competing females? To keep a number of males interested, so if needed, one can be called upon for gifts/protection/sex? Who knows.


Evolutionary theory, said Place, predicts a certain level of coyness or even deceptiveness in women because if a relationship is abandoned they may face greater costs, including pregnancy and child rearing. When choosing a mate, it is in a woman’s best interest to get men to open up and talk honestly to give her a better idea of whether they would be good long-term partners.

Is that really the case? It might be, it might not. That an assertion seems to make sense is not enough. We’ll know better when more data comes in.

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Feb 25 2009

Skeptical of Mind Reading

When I hear claims that it is possible for a “psychically gifted” individual (oh, they’re special alright) to read the minds of others, alive or dead, I am skeptical. I see no plausible mechanism and there is a void of credible evidence. The most stringent tests have generated null results.

Likewise, when I read a claim scientists can now read the minds of individuals thanks to advanced technology, I am skeptical. And so I investigate the matter.

In, Scientists Read Minds With Infrared Scan: Optical Brain Imaging Decodes Preference With 80 Percent Accuracy, I read -

In a study published this month in The Journal of Neural Engineering, Bloorview scientists demonstrate the ability to decode a person’s preference for one of two drinks with 80 per cent accuracy by measuring the intensity of near-infrared light absorbed in brain tissue.

Um, does, “decoding a preference for drinks,” really qualify as reading a mind?

Here’s what the researchers did (to their subjects) -

Wearing a headband fitted with fibre-optics that emit light into the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, they were shown two drinks on a computer monitor, one after the other, and asked to make a mental decision about which they liked more. “When your brain is active, the oxygen in your blood increases and depending on the concentration, it absorbs more or less light,” Luu says. “In some people, their brains are more active when they don’t like something, and in some people they’re more active when they do like something.”

While that is definitely interesting stuff, I wouldn’t call it mind reading. It is almost akin to an alleged psychic decoding a person’s body language to “read their mind” about topics raised.

Still the science is intriguing and may lead to future advances that might more realistically be called “mind reading.” Just keep those advances away from my mind.

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Feb 24 2009

Looking Closer (26) – A Backwards Pac-Man

Published by under Looking Closer


What is this? Magnification = x60. Answer below the fold (hint in the title).

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Feb 24 2009

Alternative or Medicine

Published by under science

Skeptics like myself tend to be critical of “alternative medicine.” How is it alternative? Mostly due to the fact that it has yet to be tested and shown to be effective.  Despite that, enthusiastic claims are made about it.

Once a treatment is shown to work — via the reliable, yet to some coldly objective methods of science — most doctors tend to embrace the therapy. Okay, they might put a science-y sounding name on it and speak of it in their sometimes unenthusiastic drone. As they speak of everything. If you want a sales pitch with your treatment, alternative medicine is definitely the way to go. With the alternative health-practitioners what you tend to get is all bells and whistles — hugs and forest sounds coming over the office speakers and the smell of sage patchouli.  And untested treatments.

In the article, New Lab Evidence Suggests Preventive Effect Of Herbal Supplement In Prostate Cancer, the folks over at the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), are starting to act like conventional, research-based healers.  Oh my.

Okay, they are testing clover, an herb. But how many other drug treatments began as “natural supplements,” were tested, found effective, and then refined to higher strength, standardized-dose pills? A freakin’ lot, that’s how many.

What is going on over at the NCCAM laboratory?

[T]he NCCAM laboratory is studying signaling between human prostate cancer cells and their supporting stromal cells as they grow together in laboratory culture. “DHEA effects in the prostate tissues may depend on how these two cells types ‘talk to each other’ and further, it may be potentially harmful in tissues containing inflammation or with early cancer lesions because the cells can induce DHEA to become more androgenic,” said Arnold.

It sure seems to me that at the center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine they are doing real science — which is the cornerstone of conventional medicine. Maybe if they tie-dye their smocks they won’t be criticized by the consumers of CAM if the results come back negative.

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Feb 24 2009

On the Origin of Cocktail Hour

Published by under culture,evolution

Cool. Those party animals. In an article about the evolution of yeasts (particularly those that have been used to ferment beverages), I came across this -

The association between man and yeast stretches back thousands of years. Recent findings from the Malaysian rainforest of chronic intake of alcoholic nectar by wild treeshrews suggest that the association between fermented beverages and primates is ancient and not exclusive to humans.

Bartender – I’d like a shot of naturally fermented nectar please. And buy a round for my distant relatives, the shrews.

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Feb 23 2009

A Thought-Provoking Hodge-Podge of Heretical Writings


Do you swim with a school of believers? If not, or even if so, you may want to check this collection of freethought blog posts: Carnival of the Godless #111.

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Feb 23 2009

The Natural Selection of What?

Published by under evolution

Last night I listened to a podcast featuring a snippet of a debate/conversation between Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Although I tend to favor Dawkin’s overall perspective on both evolution and religion, that fella’ Gould could really write and orate!

The topic of the talks was basically about on what level natural selection operates: genes or individual organisms and perhaps even groups.

While Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, focused on genes as the units of selection, Gould went to bat for individual organisms. If you are “selected” you live and reproduce. Others have speculated that evolutionary selection may even operate on the group level. Those groups that better fit their environments will survive and reproduce, those groups less fit will not (as much).

Consider a trait such as risk-taking. Animal studies have found that within many social species there are individuals with varying amounts of tolerance for risk. This is adaptive. Imagine these two scenarios:

1. A group is being chased by predators. They approach a trench/canyon. The high-risk-tolerant (HRT) individuals leap, and die. Some members of low-risk-tolerance (LRT) group manage to survive.

2. The same group approaches a trench/canyon. The HRT individuals leap and make it. The LRT group stays behind and suffer many losses.

A person could say that the group benefits from having both types of temperaments among its individuals. And hence a group high in a diversity of characteristics is better capable of adapting to changing circumstances.

Yet isn’t also possible that part of the environment to which an individual adapts is its social environment? So individuals with differing genes may better fit a group by providing something different. And thus it is their genes that have been selected for.

It has also been pointed out that many characteristics “chosen” by natural selection are the result of a number of genes working in concert. So how could the gene be the ultimate unit of selection?

While attempting to understand that question, my mind wandered to thoughts of symbiotic species. They rely upon each other to survive, and yet any unit of selection tears them apart. The same may be true for combinations of genes. Could their relationships be considered something akin to symbiosis?

So many questions.

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Feb 23 2009

Looking Farther (8) – Erosion on Another Planet


While this photo could certainly be of areas on Earth, it is of another planet. You should be able to guess which one. Answer below the fold.

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