Cane Toads

It’s Friday, I’m sleepy, and I’m not getting done as much as I should.  Still, it been a while since I posted new links.  And there are cane toads.

I have a weird fascination with toads (and frogs).  They’re cute!  They have cute feet.  Slime is cool.  And all the ones I’ve ever held never bit me (you can never say the same thing with mammals).   I did try to keep some once, but buying crickets on a weekly basis is no fun, and raising your own is difficult. 

So why Cane Toads?  Well, when I was but a little science-sprog, I went to a science-themed summer camp.  I loved it, and I don’t think I would be where I am today if it weren’t for those two weeks every summer spent tromping around in the woods (though now I tromp around the lab, which isn’t half as muddy and mostly not half as fun).  Unlike other camps, we had to ‘major’ in one subject, and ‘minor’ in all the rest.  We took two or three classes every day, each of which was accompanied by a homework assignment, which you had to find sources on, and which was graded.  Of course this was *gasp* BEFORE the internet.  But I still remember the wonderful library, filled with every single issue of National Geographic, and lots of old books.  It smelled like a combination of mothballs and bug spray.  Yeah, I’m a geek, I BEGGED to go to a summer camp that had graded homework assignments.  Continue reading

The Child as a Projectile
I had to cover this review, just because I saw the title. If I ever have a child (pity that poor child) they will be guinea pigs for experiments on “children as projectiles”. I can’t help it, every time I read the phrase, I think of someone putting a baby with a little helmet into a big slingshot. “Guess what, hon? We’re going to do science today!”

Tibbs et al. “The Child as a Projectile” The Anatomical Record, 253:167-175, 1998.

But actually this paper was WAY too serious for a Weird Friday, well, except for the title.  Childhood accidents are actually the leading cause of death in children.  The paper says that childhood accidents are reaching epidemic proportions.  That is not necessaily true, childhood accidents have not increased all that much.  There was an increase with the advent of the car, of course, and a small increase recently with the rise in extreme sports for the whole family (like snowboarding).  Continue reading

Animal Rights Extremists kill at least a dozen mink

….by releasing them from a mink farm. This is what happens when you set animals free without regard to the consequences.
Now whether you think raising and killing animals for their fur is immoral or not, it takes a special kind of mind to cogitate that an appropriate solution is to spontaneously decrease the mink population by getting them killed.
Welcome to Mink Psychology 101: Remedial Minktation — mink raised on a farm don’t know anything about how the world works. When you let 6,000 of them out of their cages and 500 of them manage to escape out of the open farm gate, should anybody be shocked that a dozen of them died either because they were hit by cars, or simply from the sheer stress of a Mink Stampede?
By the way, 200 of the escapees still haven’t been caught.
Then again, maybe the animal rights nutters are the ones who don’t know how the world works. Accordingly, I feel compelled to create a new post category in their honor: “Rocket Surgery”
Hat Tip: Foundation for Biomedical Research E-Clips service

Role of serotonin in cocaine effects in mice with reduced dopamine transporter function: or, I know why they still coke up
Mateo et al. “Role of serotonin in cocaine effects in mice with reduced dopamine transporter function” PNAS 101(1), 2004.

This one is a complicated, but very cool paper. But it involves some very crazy mice. So bear with me, here. Continue reading

And thus the school year begins

With a whole bunch of posting on evolution and teaching it in the schools.  Most of them stem from this NY Times article about a teacher in Florida.  Lealaps has opened a thread on it, and Coturnix has weighed in with some good thoughts on why teaching evolution can be very tough, and Greg Laden has a special on what to do with Bible-thumping students. 

I’m not too sure how I feel about it.  I feel like much of the problem that we have in trying to teach evolution is that we look down on those who don’t believe us.  It’s often very hard not to, it seems as though they are deliberately blinding themselves to the obvious.  But then, to them, perhaps it’s the other way around, perhaps they think we are deliberately blinding ourselves to obvious evidence of God in the creation of the world.  I feel that mocking them or aggressively attacking their beliefs is only going to make them angry and defensive, and then no one learns anything and we all waste our breath. 

Thus, I really like Mr. Campbell’s take:  you don’t have to believe it, but you do have to understand it.  This means you can’t leave test questions blank because you don’t believe in them.  I happen to believe that calculus sucks (sorry math people, we just didn’t get along.  I had a bad experience in my childhood).  I really don’t like it.  But this didn’t mean I could leave test answers blank on the basis of my belief.  I can only hope that understanding is the first step toward believing.  Continue reading

I Need My Sleep!
Perhaps I grabbed on to this article with such interest because I am so COMPLETELY exhausted these days. I really think I’m beginning to suffer cognitive deficits as a result of sleep deprivation.

Cirelli, Tononi. “Is Sleep Essential?” PLoS Biology Essays, 6(8) 2008.

HELL YES SLEEP IS ESSENTIAL. I say that right now because I have had two pots of coffee already today. I am still sleepy, but now also jittery. So anytime anyone makes a loud noise I jump and my heart races, and then I fall back into a half sleep. Sleep is good for you, folks.

But apparently there is somewhat of a controversy in science as to whether or not sleep is essential. Or rather, not whether sleep is essential, but whether it evolved because it serves a function in itself. There are two sides to the debate. One side says that sleep probably serves a special function in itself. The other side says that sleep is something that mostly happened to keep you from moving around and wasting energy when you don’t need to (think hibernation), and that THEN other functions came to go with sleep, and now sleep, though it doesn’t have a function in itself, is important because of the other things that happen during it. Continue reading

Send in the Clowns?
Today is Curious Science Friday.  It’s not crazy, though it is weird, and it is also curiously relevant.  I found a study on clowns!

Vagnoli et al. “Clown doctors as a treatment for preoperative anxiety in children: a randomized, prospective study” Pediatrics, 116(4), 2005.

I’ll have to begin this by stating that I’ve never really liked traditional clowns.  You know, big red nose, whirling bowtie, huge shoes.  I don’t have coulrophobia or anything, I’ve just never really thought they were funny.  But then, I’ve got a very dry sense of humor, so perhaps I just don’t appreciate them. 

However, we all probably know by now that humor has a positive effect on your health.  In day to day life, humor can have a positive effect on your immune system, and in the hospital, humor can be used to help alleviate anxiety and depression in patients.  This study wanted to see if the presence of clowns in the anesthesia induction room helped anxiety in children.  Kids undergoing surgery often suffer anxiety due to fear of separation from their parents, anticipation of pain, and the fear of the hospital surroundings.  The researchers wanted to see whether the presence of clowns helped with the children feeling anxiety.  Continue reading


HatTip: the dirty-minded neurotopia.

It is interesting to note this use of a “tool” by a chimpanzee. My hope is that he at least wined and dined the poor toad.
NSFW. AT ALL. You’ve been warned.

First real day of class

I signed up to teach 3 courses at the community college this fall; Human Biology and 2 sections of a Basic Concepts in Biology course. The latter is “remedial” biology, designed to catch up people with little or no biology experience so that when they take Intro biology, they’re all on the same level. We give them a basic smattering of cell biology, molecular and genetics. Apparently the program has had decent luck with this course, and the students who take it often do well compared to those that don’t. I think it is a fabulous opportunity to teach motivated but basically naive individuals. The experience will be even more challenging for me because at least 4 or 5 of my 25 students in one section have learning disorders or need special accomodations, so I’ve really got to figure out how teach well.
By contrast, my Human Bio section is full of nonmajors who spaced out in the first 5 minutes. Seriuosly, none of them gave a fuck because they’re all there for a Gen Ed. Blah. Of course that would happen with the material I’m more qualified to cover.
And since I’m such a dumbass, I drove from where I work full time in one town to teach my afternoon sections in another, but I left my teaching materials at work. Great job, genius. At least I was able to gank a powerpoint from a similar course and wing it. What fun! Teaching really is easier after the first time around….

Maybe it’s because I’m so tired…

…but there are some HILARIOUS things on the blogs today.

First I should mention that a couple of other people covered the new paper out on face processing, and they did it far better than I.  I recommend Not Exactly Rocket Science (hell, I recommend that guy no matter WHAT he posts, always an excellent read). 

In the realm of things that are funny: A penguin has been knighted!  I think this may possibly have been the cutest ceremony in history (unless there was a ceremony in which particularly adorable orphans were presented with large stuffed polar bears and a year’s supply of candy).  I want a penguin knight for my very own, and he’ll swim around, saving penguin damsels in distress.  I can just see those little penguin damsels wearing pointy little pink distressed damsel hats.

Also, a Nature editor is going to get named after a plant as retribution for rejecting a manuscript.  I think it is hilariously male that be picked the enormous, turgidly tumescent plant, even though it smells like rotting meat. 

There’s a new hand-held thermocycler!  I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the go, and I just HAVE to carry my thermocycler around the lab with me, I can’t stand to do PCR in one place.  I can’t wait to see what the commercial for this one is like.

And there’s been a bunch of stuff about the personality of bloggers going around.  I took the test, also, but I’ll leave it to you all to guess what I got, if you really care ALL that much.  Personally, I’m a little more interested in a study that determines the personality of people who are most likely to go to grad school and suffer through 5-7 years of pain.  Then they can put us in therapy early in life.