Home / Culture and Society / Science and Technology / Tues Aug 9 Science Roundup

Tues Aug 9 Science Roundup

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on Tumblr0Share on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Autism blamed on manliness:

What does all this have to do with autism? According to what I have called the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism, people with autism simply match an extreme of the male profile, with a particularly intense drive to systemize and an unusually low drive to empathize. When adults with Asperger’s syndrome (a subgroup on the autistic spectrum) took the same questionnaires we gave to non-autistic adults, they exhibited extreme Type S brains. Psychological tests reveal a similar pattern.

And this analysis makes sense. It helps explain the social disability in autism, because empathy difficulties make it harder to make and maintain relationships with others. It also explains the ‘islets of ability’ that people with autism display in subjects like math or music or drawing – all skills that benefit from systemizing.

That’s exactly what I suspected all along: people who are good at math really are antisocial. So now what women really have to do is marry some guy who can’t calculate a tip or else they are in danger of having their kid have a horrible disease.

I don’t know if I buy it. Attempts to explain psychiatric illnesses using what I will call “gender gradient” hypotheses — where stereotypically female traits are put on one end and stereotypically male traits are put on the other and deviating from the average is called a disease — have not had the best track record. Hormone studies and the relationship of an extra Y chromosome to violence have had similar poor outcomes. I would also say that schizophrenogenic mothering would fall into this category.

On the other hand there is evidence of a sort of opposite to autism in behavior called Williams syndrome. Children with Williams syndrome are hypersocial but show poor math abilities and limited ability to form spatial relations. Presumably under this hypothesis Williams syndrome would be a disease of “extreme female brain”.

The problem with these hypotheses is that they tend to confuse social traits — and sometimes very complex ones — with genetic traits. It is like trying to construct a little inheritance tree for whether someone in the family likes macaroni and cheese or not. The behavior may be genetically inherited but it unlikely to be single gene inheritance and will definitely show environmental effects.

Psychiatric illnesses are notorious prone to multigenetic linkage, and I find this hypothesis very difficult to believe without evidence of say a “systematizing” or “empathizing” gene.

Read the whole thing.

New breakthrough in physician time wasting:

Six California hospitals in the study developed standardized forms for use upon admission and discharge of stroke patients. The forms included the list of recommended treatments.

The forms included boxes to check for acceptable reasons for not using any treatments, such as not using cholesterol-lowering drugs for a patient who already had low cholesterol.

After the forms were implemented, 63 percent of patients received optimal treatment. In the year before implementation, 44 percent of patients received optimal treatment, reported Johnston.

Bureaucrats: solving complex health issues with paperwork since time immemorial.

Discovery a success, absolutely no one dies:

With Discovery safely back on the ground, the mission was hailed as a success even though a chunk of foam insulation broke off from the external fuel tank after launch, leading NASA to suspend future shuttle flights, and even though two protruding bits of filler material had to be plucked off Discovery’s belly during a spacewalk. In both cases, the problems resulted in no harm to the shuttle or its crew.

Listen, I am as happy as the next guy to see our astronauts home safely, but is the shuttle not burning up on reentry now the benchmark of a successful mission? Come on people. You sent a mission to the moon. Let’s aim a little higher.

Scientists attend cushiest conference ever:

The true story of how your wife’s stalker rang her to discuss killing you isn’t supposed to provoke mirth. But when John Morreall, of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, related the events last week to a group of scholars in Tuebingen in Germany, they were in stitches as he divulged the details of how his wife tried to dissuade the confused young man by pleading that her mortgage was too large to pay without her husband’s help.

So why did they laugh? Dr Morreall’s thesis is that laughter, incapacitating as it can be, is a convincing signal that the danger has passed. The reaction of the psychologists, linguists, philosophers and professional clowns attending the Fifth International Summer School on Humour and Laughter illustrates his point. Dr Morreall survived to tell the tale and so had an easy time making it sound funny.

I am not even making this up. Next there really will be a Ministry of Funny Walks.

Scientists show conclusively that Sun melts Ice, make plans to blot out:

“If you go back in history, there have been very large temperature changes,” Mr. Minor said. “And now we are having a temperature change most likely influenced by man, and that accelerates the shrinkage. It’s definitely the case that human action has an influence.”

Standing at the bottom of the tram and looking across the valley, a visitor can see a sort of divide, perhaps 150 yards above the valley floor, marking the highest point of the glacier’s bed. A line demarcates the moss-covered rocky mountain above from a steeply slanted, crumbled moraine below. The swift, stone-colored stream emanating from the glacier’s edge flows past.

The glacier records show that Pasterze reached its greatest extent in the middle of the 19th century and has been retreating ever since. At the moment it is 1.5 miles shorter than it was 150 or so years ago. A bit over four decades ago, when the tram was built to bring visitors to the glacier, it was almost 500 feet higher than it is now, which is why the people scrambling around on top of it look so small from the tram bottom now.

Other scientists blame the progressive loss of snow and ice on yearly “warming cycles” caused by the Earth’s “orbit.” These “seasons” cause rapid changes in weather that could explain the melting ice. “You know we do pretty well building the ice back up in the winter, but every July global warming comes around and just melts it all away,” one scientist opined. “Damn you Sun and your burning rays!”

Scientists discover fish lucky, fish open and close mouths in response:

Fish are luckier: They can regrow the axons in their central nervous system, but curiously this regeneration stops if their nerve endings come into contact with mammalian myelin.

You don’t really need to say that it is curious that the nerve endings stop when they come in contact with mammalian myelin. It is not in fact all that curious. Mammalian myelin falls into the rather large category of substances that would have this effect such as forks, Gwen Stefani records, and basically anything else. From here on out why don’t we just list the things that do cause regeneration not the things that don’t.

The paper’s careful study of fish phylogeny supports an existing notion that Nogo-A may be a recent evolutionary development that correlates with more complex nervous systems and more complex functions, says Stephen Strittmatter, a neurologist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “It’s an important addition to our growing understanding of the role these inhibitors play,” he says.

Yeah, I always thought that whole complex nervous system thing was a bad move on our part.

Italian scientists perform collective drug test, collective cavity search to follow:

A study of drug chemicals in sewage water suggests that the level of cocaine use could be many times the figure suggested by questionnaires.

Ettore Zuccato of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan and his colleagues took river and sewage samples from four medium-sized Italian cities. They analysed these samples for cocaine and its main metabolite, called bezoylecgonine, which is found in urine.

They then scaled this up to estimate the total amount of drugs travelling through the water system in a day, using figures of overall water flow.

This approach revealed that the 5 million people living around the Po, Italy’s largest river, consume four kilograms of cocaine each day. This translates into at least 40,000 daily doses of this drug, or about 200,000 lines of cocaine, the team reports in Environmental Health.

All right let me break this down for you. First of all, the Italians want your pee. Simple as that. And they are going into the rivers to find it. Second, this study came to the shocking conclusion that people do not report their coke habits on questionaires. Shocking. Third, 40,000 daily doses! I am living in the wrong country.

Probably no Science Roundup for Friday of this week. See you guys next Tuesday.

Powered by

About The Pedant