What are Science Blogs good for, anyway?

There have been several posts on this over the past weekend (while I was off the planet, I don’t generally do a lot of blogging over the weekend), on what exactly science blogs are good for.  Science after Sunclipse started it (and Swans on Tea agreed), with a post about how you cannot get a science education from reading science blogs.  And he’s right, you can’t get a full education.  Laelaps continues the argument, noting that most science bloggers (myself excluded, I suppose), really don’t like posting “basic” posts for people with less science education.  I actually do like posting basics posts, though he’s very right, they are long and difficult to make, and sometimes I feel like ya’ll would get a better education out of wikipedia.  And for most sicence bloggers, basics articles are a waste of time, they are far more excited about covering the latest in their field, the latest opinions on the great controversies, etc.  I understand where they’re coming from, I write basic articles, but at the same time it’s much easier for me to get excited about the latest stuff coming out (or the classic science, I admit I’m a sucker for those articles from the 1880’s). 

That said, I like the response over at Uncertain Principles.  Science blogs in general (and I hope mine does this, too), give readers a sense of excitement about science, and share what it is that keeps us coming to work every day.  Also, Prof Orzel points out that science blogs show the human side of scientists, the side outside the labcoats, glasses, and pipetmen.  I don’t know how well my blog personally does that one, but I hope I can at least share the excitement of science. 

Finally, I hope that science blogs can show that what we do is not quite so freakin’ hard as everyone outside of science seems to think.  It’s frustrating, it’s plenty challenging, and sure, in some cases, it IS rocket science (or in my case, yes, it IS brain surgery), but it’s not impossible.  Scientists are not brainy gods (though sometimes I wish I was) doing things beyond the comprehension of anyone else.  I think that the idea that science is over people’s heads is one of the problems that modern science is facing today.  People fear what they don’t understand, and they worry that they can’t understand science. 

I hope that science blogs will help people understand that we are people, too, and that we have jobs that, though they are full of excitement and discovery and cool stuff, are also full of politics, anxiety, and all the job problems that everyone else is plagued with.   And maybe learning that we are real people with real jobs will get people a little more enthusiastic about what we’re doing every day. 

Diabetes Insipidus as a Sequel to a Gunshot Wound of the Head

Weird Science AND Classic Science!  The Fridays continue! (unfortunately, I am working without Picasa right now due to the tragic death of my hard drive, so this post will be sadly without pictures.)

Classic Science this definitely is, as well as a truly textbook case.  Even better, it reminds me of Phineas Gage!  What can I say, I’ve got a thing for blows to the head (which might be why I like Mo’s blog so much, it is not only cool enough to hit you like a brick, he’s got articles on trepanation, people driving nails into their skulls, and other awesome stuff).  And it’s great, diabetes (which I would love to study if I could start my life over) AND traumatic brain injury!  *sings* These are a few of my favorite things… Continue reading


I have returned from out of the country.  Unfortunately, while I was gone, my hard drive chose to die.  The one I work on.  With all my data.  Which was not backed up fully because people bitch that my data files take up too much space.  I have lost the past year or so of data.  My advisor is unwilling to pay the fee required to get the data off the dead hard drive.  While I scream at fate and attempt to reconstruct everything, postings may be sporadic.  If I believed in anything at all, that thing is having a damn good belly laugh at my expense right now.  End message.

Weird Science Friday REDUX

This was supposed to be Weird Science and Classic Science Friday.  Now it is still weird science and classic science Friday, it’s just redux.  This is because I lost the whole post due to problems switching between computers, and now I have to rewrite the whole thing.  Furthermore, the other computer that I’m currently stuck on cannot run Picasa, so we’re stuck without pictures as well.  It’s ghetto-fabulous. 

Also, as a note, and as some of you may be able to tell due to my sharp decrease in technology, I am headed out of the country to the great Beyond (as in, beyond my computer, who knows if I will make it back alive!!) for the next ten days.  We all need a science vacation, yes? 

And so here it goes:  Weird Science: REDUX Continue reading

Depression Part 1 and Intro

I’ve been wanting to put together very long-researched post on how and whether antidepressants work, their mechanisms of action, and theories of clinical depression.  However, this post is going to be LONG, and unreadably so, so instead I’m going to start with little background tidbits: depression etiology, symptoms, etc (post 1).   Types of antidepressants, and what differentiates them from each other (post 2), how scientists study depression (post 3) the serotonin hypothesis of depression (post 4), the BDNF hypothesis of depression (post 5), and how the two interact in the most recent hypothesis of depression and how antidepressants function (post 6).  Obviously this is a pretty significant writing up of information, and there will probably be some other posts (such as weird science and classic science) interspersed with them.  But people are interested, depression is big right now, and here it goes: Continue reading

Tangled Bank Is Up!

I got a post into the 107th edition of Tangled Bank, which is up at Syaffolee!  Check it out!  Lots of cool science, including studies on how big raindrops are, historical contigency in evolution (a new REALLY big finding in E. coli), and my own post on Angiotensin-(1-7)! 

Posts of the Day

Due to the fact that a lot of my own deeper posts require some extensive background reading, and that I have to fit that in along with the fifty million things I also have to do, I here present legwork that other people have already done. 🙂 

First of all, I wanted to let people know (though I’m sure most people who care know already), that Encephalon went up yesterday at channel N, and it’s videoed!  This is an example of a carnival, which gathers together notable posts from the past month in a particular field.  Unfortunately I was too late to submit to Encephalon this month, but I’m really hoping to get in next month!

I had someone ask me about epilepsy.  While I put together that post (and it may indeed be a good while in the making), there’s a post up at Neurodisorder on acquired epilepsy, which is a special variety of epilepsy acquired following brain injury.  It’s a bit high on the science jargon, but very informative.

I’ve also recently discovered a blog on psycedelic drugs!  This is awesomely interesting to me, but it is also pretty heavy science reading, so be warned. 

And…that’s about it for today.  There’s WAY too much stuff that has to get done right now…

Weird Science: It’s Friday!

This is the first time I’m using the citations from researchblogging.org, and also the first time I’m trying to embed my own photos. We’ll see how it goes, and if there’s no success, I’ll be editing it until it’s right.

A friend of mine sent me this article about a week ago, and I just loved it. 
Concealed Weapons: erectile claws in African frogs
(Blackburn et al, 2008)

So claws and hooves and nails in terrestrial vertebrates are very common (look at the hands sitting on your keyboard), and they’re especially common in amniotes.  Amniotes are under the superclass tetrapoda and include mammals, reptiles, and birds.  They are called amniotes because they have fetuses that develop with a series of membranes, including the amnion, chorion, and allantois that you probably learned about studying chicken eggs in middle school.  Amniote claws are usually made as a keratinous layer (you’ll probably remember that keratin is the protein making up your hair and nails) covering the end of the phalanges, as in the case of horse hooves, chicken claws, or your fingernails.
However, amphibians are not classified as amniotes, and rarely have claws.  The major amphibian that we can think of as having claws would be the African clawed frog, Xenopus Laevis, which is a very common laboratory model.  They do grow keratinized claws, but the growth is very different, and many people believe that claw growth arose independently (Maddin 2007). 

In frogs, claws are used as the last line of defense.  When they are caught and can no longer swim or jump away, they wriggle like mad, using their claws to scratch up whatever it is that caught them.  Apparently this is pretty effective, people who hunt the frogs used in this study for food use long spears to kill them, so that they don’t get scratched, and apparently the claws can cause “deep bleeding wounds” to people holding them.  This study answers the question of why these frogs have claws and where they come from.


The scientists studied a genus of frog found in Cameroon, Trichobatrachus robustus, also known as the Hairy Frog.  Apparently the frogs have bones inside the tip of their phalanges, and these bones are sharp, covered by another bony nodule, and suspended inside the skin of the frog’s toe with a suspendatory sheath, and padded on the bottom of the toe with lots of tissue.  The bone is connected to an extensor muscle.  When the frog is stressed or caught (they don’t know what triggers it yet), the extensor muscle contracts, and the sharp bone BREAKS away from the nodule covering it, and then tears open the tissue of the frog’s toe to come out.  The bony claw remains anchored via strong collagen fibers, and might be able to retract once the extensor muscle relaxes.  This is the only species found so far with claws that do not have a keratinous sheath covering them.

Lemme repeat that last bit:  the frog BREAKS ITS OWN BONES AND SHOVES THEM THROUGH THE SKIN AS CLAWS.  Not only that, this particular frog is known as the “hairy frog”, due to the growth of hair-like skin strands that the males grow during breeding season.  It has sideburns!  This is the freakin’ Wolverine of the frog world!  I hereby declare that this frog be renamed “The Wolverine Frog”, or perhaps “the wolver-frog” for short, in honor of our favorite hirsute self-multilating X-Man.

Now we just need to put the frog in blue and yellow spandex.

Blackburn, D.C., Hanken, J., Jenkins, F.A. (2008). Concealed weapons: erectile claws in African frogs. Biology Letters, -1(-1), -1–1. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0219
All frog photos courtesy of Newscientists.com, and the Wolverine is from semanticdrift.

HPV and Gardasil

HPV, and the vaccine Gardasil, have been in the news a lot lately.  A few weeks ago (yeah, I’m bad about getting to these), I received the following question:
Disclaimer:  I’m not asking you to practice medicine.  
What are your thoughts about Gardasil?  In your opinion, has it been thoroughly tested?  Are there side effects besides making you an incurable slut, according to the 700 club or whoever?  I’m going in for a GYN appointment soonish (a few months) and I plan to ask about it then too but I want a second (zeroth?) opinion too.  And I trust you and I know you and all that jazz.  🙂

You know, it’s good that you are not asking me to practice medicine, because I am not a doctor and I’d probably screw you up more than otherwise.  All I can pretty much tell you is what I know about HPV and Gardasil.  From there, you gotta make your own decision.

Continue reading

Cool Post Alert!

There’s a great post up at Neurophilosophy on a stage II clinical trial for antidepressants.  The drug, BCI-540, stimulate neuronal growth.  Right now it’s hypothesized that antidepressants work, not via direct serotonin increases in the brain (in the case of SSRIs), but my promoting growth of neurons in the brain over a long period of time.  This new drug could circumvent all the side effects of SSRIs by causing neuronal growth directly.  I was going to do a post in the nearish future (one I get through all the other stuff I have to do) on SSRIs and BDNF, but for right now I definitely recommend heading over the read Neurophilosophy!