Mice and Research

There’s a nice little article in the Washington Post on mice in research. It’s interesting the things you learn from a piece like this. For instance, I never realized the origin of the black 6 line was from essentially a hobby breeder in New England. I also like the little slide show of various mouse strains. I recognize most of them, in particular, the ob/ob obese mouse (he’s easy to pick out).

i-6315705b5f607d317e93ffaa1c5255f2-obese mouse.jpg

Light stuff but interesting for those who do mouse work. And I couldn’t resist making an lolmouse:

The long term threat to science

Props to Nick Anthis and PZ for addressing the animal rights vs animal welfare issue in science.

In particular this statement from PZ, “Once we’ve defeated the creationists (hah!), we’re going to have to manage the next problem: well-meaning but ill-informed animal rights activists.”

That sounds about right. If things in the United States follow the trends in Europe and Britain, the long-term and far more dangerous threat to biological science will be animal rights extremism. There is good discussion in both of these articles so check them out.

Denialist Deck Applied: PRISM

It’s that time again. Bora’s got the scoop on this new organization PRISM (Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine). They purport to be the saviors of scientific publishing, protecting us from the evil of open access. But how much do you want to bet they’re the same old industry lobbying group, disguising themselves as actors in the public interest? Well, there’s an easy way to tell. Let’s apply the deck of cards!

Continue reading “Denialist Deck Applied: PRISM”

Premise Media Loves Cranks

Anyone who has been reading Scienceblogs knows that the creationists are all in a tizzy over their new movie expelled, which plans to unite the superstar power of Ben Stein with the superscience power of creationism.

My favorite part of the whole thing, based on my appreciation for quality crankery, is the built-in persecution.

You see, it’s not enough to make a movie about the supposed persecution of people like Richard Sternberg (who clearly was not persecuted despite unethical behavior). They have to be persecuted for even coming up with the movie. They have to be persecuted for everything they do, 24 hours a day, because to be a crank, one has to be like Galileo.

Hence we have headlines like:
Hollywood Gets the Message About Suppression of Intelligent Design
New Ben Stein Flick, Expelled, Blows the Whistle on the Darwinist Inquisition. (an Inquisition!)
Can Ben Stein’s Expelled be sued by angry Darwinists?
What Happened to Freedom of Speech?

It’s really amazing the gall of people who promoted a textbook, in which they did a find-and-replace of “creationism” and “Intelligent Design”, who admitted in a federal court that ID is no more scientific than astrology, complain that they are being suppressed for “free speech”. They’re being suppressed because they don’t have any science to back up their claims – just the classic nitpicking of denialists – and because they are liars. It’s just that simple.

This new push for their movie is great stuff though. Classic crankery. Which brings me to my next point. The money behind this silliness is Walt Ruloff’s Premise Media and promotion by Paul Lauer’s Motive Entertainment. So, they’ve gone from Mel “the Jews cause all wars” Gibson, to the DI. Maybe some crank magnetism here? Or just a fondness for those with a persecution complex?

Next they should do a movie on Peter Duesberg. They can call it “Intolerance: The true story of how science can’t stand bullshit.”

Any other suggestions for future titles? Think of your favorite crank, or your favorite denialist topic, and then what Premise Media would title a movie about their crankery.

Worst Colleges in America

Jason Rosenhouse links this excellent feature from Radar entitled America’s Worst Colleges.

My favorite? The review of Liberty university.

Notable Course: Christian Womanhood IV. Because keeping your mouth shut is too rich a subject for just three levels of study.

Raw Data: Ranked in the lowest “fourth tier” by U.S. News & World Report and awarded ho-hum grades for academics, social life, and campus attractiveness by its students, Liberty proudly accepts 94 percent of applicants. Low SAT scores do not appear to be an obstacle. On the plus side, the debate team won the national championship last year.

School Pride: “The mountains and all are beautiful. It’s right near the Wal-Mart, too,” writes a student on Campus Dirt. “The College Republicans are the best!!!!” gushes another enthusiastic reviewer. A third warns prospectives to “Be ready for an AWESOME spiritual experience at the finest Christian university in America! Be prepared to follow the high standards and rules they have set forth, it will be worth it!”

Fun Fact: Kudos to Falwell for naming the fervently anti-gay university’s football team the Flames.

Ha! Reading some of the other reviews, one wonders how these places exist – and manage to get 20k a year out of people. Then one realizes that a significant number of people who are running our country today were “educated” at Liberty.

Damn. Now the article doesn’t seem nearly as funny. More sickly disturbing than funny.

Also, one wonders, no mention of George Mason? It’s a commuter-school extraordinaire – home of the Mercatus Center and source of anti-science policy cranks for your Republican of choice. Whenever you need some problem to be labeled “no problem”, just call George Mason.

Who Needs Denialism When You Have Censorship & Sycophants to Enforce It?

Peter Baker of the Post reports on a White House policy manual (PDF) detailing how President Bush’s advance team should prevent anyone from saying or doing anything that might not be in total agreement with our President’s policies:

The manual offers advance staffers and volunteers who help set up presidential events guidelines for assembling crowds. Those invited into a VIP section on or near the stage, for instance, must be ” extremely supportive of the Administration,” it says. While the Secret Service screens audiences only for possible threats, the manual says, volunteers should examine people before they reach security checkpoints and look out for signs. Make sure to look for “folded cloth signs,” it advises.

To counter any demonstrators who do get in, advance teams are told to create “rally squads” of volunteers with large hand-held signs, placards or banners with “favorable messages.” Squads should be placed in strategic locations and “at least one squad should be ‘roaming’ throughout the perimeter of the event to look for potential problems,” the manual says.

“These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators,” it says. “The rally squad’s task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protestors (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site.”

Dying Sucks (so I’m told)

I’ve been fortunate enough to have excellent health, despite poor diet and lack of exercise. I’ve never really been confronted by my own mortality. In my business, however, I am surrounded by others’ tragedies.

I did my training in a large city that attracts lots of young people from my home town. They tend to form an informal network there, and people keep loosely in touch.

So, I wasn’t surprised when a doctor I knew called me.

“Do you remember K.?” he asked.

“Sure, why?” I responded cautiously.

“She’s in the hospital with a big liver tumor. You might want to go see her.”


K. was always a vivacious girl (now a woman of 30). She was known for her smile. I was happy to be able to see her again after so many years, but not under these circumstances.

I walked into her hospital room. Her parents were there, and she was lying in her bed, recovering from a massive surgery. We chatted a bit, caught up on mutual friends, but she was pretty doped up and I let her rest. I spoke with her folks, let them know that I pretty much lived in the hospital, so if there was anything they needed, etc.

The prognosis for a tumor like hers is horrible, and she knew it. But, given her age and her attitude, she was not going to let her story end there.

She researched the latest treatments, went to specialty centers, enrolled in experimental protocols. But the tumor came back.

We spoke occasionally. We had never been close, but I thought maybe I could provide a unique ear for her–someone who wasn’t afraid to talk about illness and pain; someone who cared, but wasn’t a close friend or family member. Someone who was less likely to cry or pull away out of pain or emotional discomfort.

As the disease progressed, she moved back home. We spoke on the phone from time to time. She had a falling out with a close friend–she was dying, her friend was getting married and moving on with her life, and they couldn’t seem to communicate across that divide.

When I was home for the holidays I stopped by to visit her. She was thin. Very thin. But that smile still lit up the small room. She had given up futile treatments by then, and she knew she was dying. Abdominal pain and nausea we constant companions, but she found significant relief with marijuana.
We sat on the couch and talked about it…about pain, about pot, about friends. Then she looked at me and said, “You’ve seen people die of liver cancer?”


“What’s it like? To die of liver cancer? What happens?”

She didn’t need my tears, she needed my knowledge. I took a sip of water and a deep breath.

“Well, most of the people I’ve seen slip into a coma. We give them whatever pain medicine they need. As the liver fails, it can’t process toxins. Eventually, you’ll probably fall asleep and not wake up.”

We talked like that for a while. I realized that despite our not being close friends, I was in a unique position. It is a kind of intimacy that isn’t quite a doctor-patient relationship and isn’t quite a regular friendship. It’s a relationship built on a horrible reality, that both people understand, but from very different perspectives.

I hugged her goodbye, and the next morning headed home.

She did OK for a while. A local massage therapist donated her time to help bring her physical comfort. Her family was wonderful. But some things are inevitable.

A few months later, I heard she died.

Death was inevitable, but she found a way to make it less horrible for her than it could have been. It’s a lesson I can’t forget.

Welcome Zooillogix

Go say high to Zooillogix, another two-brother team science blogging away here under the auspices of Seed. I will enjoy their blog, as long as they stay away from too many pictures of creatures with more than 4 legs (tentacles don’t count). The African Booze tree should be your first stop there.

And that makes me think of another plug. Everybody should be reading Seed magazine. I got my first copy as a super-special scienceblogger last month and I love it. It’s a great magazine, with beautiful graphical design, and some of the best-written general interest science articles I’ve read.