Friday, March 31, 2006

Plagiarism, Part Deux

The plagiarism story (see below) is the buzz of this conference right now. I actually found one other conferee whose wife's article was similarly Shanghai'd to a Chinese journal.

I've heard back from the editor of the journal where my article was originally published. He said, "I too share your shock and outrage. If possible, could you forward a copy of the paper that appeared in the Indian Journal as well as contact information for its editor. If your allegations are verified, I will vigorously defend your intellectual property and the copyright of material published in our journal."

It's nice to have a Harvard professor on your side.

I registered at the Indian journal's website (no fee, thank goodness) and downloaded the plagiarized pdf for posterity. I figure that when the article is retracted, I'll still have it to show students as a lesson in research ethics.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a nice photo of Niagara Falls for no particular reason. I'm headed back to Seattle tomorrow and then home on Sunday....

Thursday, March 30, 2006


OK, I've got a juicy tidbit from the stem cell conference and it's more about human nature than about stem cells themselves. This morning, I received an e-mail from a scientist, completely unknown to me. He said that he had read an article of mine from 2002 and pointed me to another website that he thought would be of interest. When I visited the website, I was floored! It turns out that a scientific group in India has plagiarized my entire article of 2002. They copied it word-for-word (along with my illustrations) slapped their own names on the manuscript (in place of mine) and got it published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology! This has to be the worst case of plagiarism that I have ever seen in my professional career. Needless to say, I've contacted the editors-in-chief of both journals and will follow through to ensure that the fraudulent article is retracted.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a scene of a flowered clock from my visit to Vancouver.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

I send my greetings from the top of Whistler Mountain! In between sessions of the stem cell conference today, I made my way up to the 6,000 ft. level on a cable car. The photo above was taken this afternoon as I enjoyed the clean, mountain air. The scenery is spectacular!

And how about those stem cells? As the hour is late here, I will list a few bits of trivia that I learned in the stem cell sessions today--

1. Even under normal conditions, we all have insulin-producing cells that naturally occur outside of the pancreas. This interesting when you think that cells of other organs, such as the liver, could be re-programmed to produce insulin as a potential treatment for diabetes.

2. Some labs are now able to take a single cell and analyze all of the genes expressed in that one cell. You can imagine the precautions that they need to take to ensure that another contaminating cell does not enter into the experiment!

3. Even plants have stem cells! (Pun intended, but also true).

All-in-all, the conference is going quite well. Tomorrow, there will be a session on cancer stem cells-- my specialty! Be sure to check back again tomorrow for more highlights.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Greetings from the Mountaintop!

I think it's high time that I present a new post here from the mountains of British Columbia, where I am attending an international conference on stem cell research.. The first scientific speaker of the conference began with a slide of Bush saying "Stem cells??". It provoked audible snickers from the audience. Yes, Bush's "culture of life" stance is the laughing stock of the civilized world. Thank goodness there are some countries in the world that are allowing easier access to human embryonic stem cell research. In the UK, for example, both the House of Lords and House of Commons have approved human embryonic stem cell research.

In 2001, the United Kingdom amended the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act to permit the destruction of embryos only if the research satifies one of the following requirements:
  1. Increases knowledge about the development of embryos,
  2. Increases knowledge about serious disease, or
  3. Enables any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease
Sounds reasonable, doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On the Road....

Greetings, Coconuts! I'm on my way to a stem cell conference in the Pacific Northwest for the next ten days. I will have my trusty laptop with me and plan to check in every day. I promise to give you some of the latest updates from the conference and my overall impressions. In the meantime, I present a colorful photomicrograph of a bone marrow stem cell (shown above). If you have any questions about the world of stem cell research, I'll be happy to answer them.

Update: I just spent a wonderful day with Snerd Gronk, a friend from the Franken blog. He took me on a grand tour of Vancouver, where we saw the steam-powered clock, the waterfront, Stanley Park, University of B.C. and botanical gardens. Thanks, Snerd!!

Tomorrow, it's off to the stem cell conference!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On Top of Spaghetti

You have to love this excerpt from a Genetic Engineering News opinion piece, by Dr. Alan McHughen:

Full text
"The Flying Spaghetti Monster Argument

Advocates of intelligent design seem to think (or rather believe) that if they can successfully discredit the theory of evolution, then the remaining explanation for life on Earth is the theory of intelligent design. This is wrong on two counts.

First, even if evolutionary theory is wrong in its entirety, there may be any number of other explanations for how the Universe came to be. Certainly intelligent design is one possibility, but another possible explanation is, in the words of some pundits, an all powerful Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM).

Indeed, there is just as much testable evidence supporting the FSM as there is for the ID, so both are equally valid and equally invalid. If supporters of ID win their court cases and ID is taught in public schools as an alternative to evolution, then the supporters of the FSM will have an identical case for teaching their beliefs as well.

Second, just because they don't understand it doesn't mean everyone doesn't understand it. Invoking the I don't understand it, so it must be due to a superior being is a lazy contrivance to avoid intellectual pursuit. Pursuing truth following a scientific approach is what makes humans, well, human.

Believers in intelligent design will say flight or the eye are so complicated they could not have evolved through a series of random changes and incremental improvements. They cry, Where are the intermediates?

With an intelligent designer, wings and eyes may have been designed once, fully functional, and distributed to those species enjoying them today.
But keen observers (a.k.a scientists) note several proto-eyes, primordial sight organs in primitive species. And flight, far from being a singular event, evolved independently on at least five different occasions to diverse animals.

Without real science, we might never notice, admire, and understand these natural wonders.
In spite of the distinctions, many legitimate and capable scientists maintain a strong religious faith. This is no contradiction or paradox. Such scientists segregate their science as a means to explain the natural world and their faith to explain the supernatural world. One is objective, physical, measurable, and amenable to scientific testing. The other is subjective, ethereal, and immeasurable, not amenable to scientific prodding and probing. One is evidence-based, the other is faith-based. And never the twain shall meet, especially not in a science classroom."

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Acid Test

Johnny was a chemist
But Johnny ain't no more
What Johnny thought was water
Was H2SO4

Sunday, March 19, 2006

It's Getting Hot in Here...

Did you catch the global warming segment on "60 Minutes" tonight? It seems that James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is being muffled by the Bush administration in his attempts to report his scientific findings on global warming. His reports are now filtered through the White House, where redactions are made by non-scientists that seem to be based on political agenda rather than hard science.

The "60 Minutes" segment presented pages of Hansen's text that had been edited by a White House official, a former oil company lobbyist, to downplay the dangers of global warming. This is not surprising. In 2001, President Bush explained his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to curb greenhouse gases and help control global warming, "The (Kyoto) targets themselves were arbitrary and not based upon science. For America, complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with layoffs of workers and price increases."

For this administration, it's all about economic impact on big oil corporations.

"The only way to have real success in science ... is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what's good about it and what's bad about it equally. In science you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty." — Richard Feynman

Integrity and honesty. Even Diogenes with his lamp couldn't find them in this administration.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Nobel Cause

After my earlier post about anti-intellectual Horowitzism, I offer you this cautionary tale with a happy ending....

Rita Levi-Montalcini is a world-renowned neuroscientist, best known for her groundbreaking studies of Nerve Growth Factor and cell growth. She faced extremely adverse conditions during the early part of her career in war-torn Italy. The following excerpt is from her autobiography:

"In 1936 Mussolini issued the "Manifesto per la Difesa della Razza", signed by ten Italian 'scientists'. The manifesto was soon followed by the promulgation of laws barring academic and professional careers to non-Aryan Italian citizens. After a short period spent in Brussels as a guest of a neurological institute, I returned to Turin on the verge of the invasion of Belgium by the German army, Spring 1940, to join my family. The two alternatives left then to us were either to emigrate to the United States, or to pursue some activity that needed neither support nor connection with the outside Aryan world where we lived. My family chose this second alternative. I then decided to build a small research unit at home and installed it in my bedroom."

Dr. Montalcini conducted experiments in her home until the end of the war. She then moved to Washington University at St. Louis, where she enjoyed a long and illustrious career. In 1986, Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize for Medicine. At age 95, she remains an emeritus professor, active in Fondazione Levi-Montalcini and efforts to provide educational opportunities for women in Africa.

Friday, March 17, 2006

CORN-ucopia: It's all in the genes

Genetically-modified foods (though in their salad days) are the subject of much debate. On the one hand, proponents assert that the technology is safe, and is necessary to maintain adequate food production and efficiency to keep pace with continued world population growth, especially in developing nations. Genetically-modified foods (ranging from corn to papayas) can be engineered to resist specific pests and thrive in previously inhospitable climates. Opponents of genetically-modified foods fear for the safety of this technology, a decrease in biodiversity, and potentially negative effects on the environment due to crop overgrowth and the advent of "super weeds".

Do you feel comfortable with this technology? What sort of safeguards would you like to see?

Thanks to Red Tory for suggesting this topic for discussion.
(See? I do read your suggestions!)

No CORNY jokes!!


At the airport today, a high school mathematics teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a compass, a protractor and a graphical calculator. According to law enforcement officials, he is believed to have ties to the Al-Gebra network. He will be charged with carrying weapons of math instruction. It was later discovered that he taught the students to solve their problem with the help of radicals!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Paracelsus: A Smarty Pants

Paracelsus (1493-1541), the father of pharmacology has said "All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dosage differentiates a poison and a remedy."

From his biography at

In 1530 he angered the city council of N├╝rnberg by writing the best clinical description of syphilis up to that time, maintaining that it could be successfully treated by carefully measured doses of mercury compounds taken internally, thus foreshadowing the Salvarsan treatment of 1909.

He stated that the "miners' disease" (silicosis) resulted from inhaling metal vapours and was not a punishment for sin administered by mountain spirits.

He was the first to declare that, if given in small doses, "what makes a man ill also cures him," an anticipation of the modern practice of homeopathy.

Yeah, but what were his GRE scores?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Send in the Clones

Snuppy (pictured above with Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk) is the first cloned dog created at Seoul National University (SNU) in South Korea. The name "Snuppy" is combination of "SNU" and "puppy."

In late 2005, Hwang Woo-Suk was found to have falsified evidence in some of his stem cell research publications. This caused some to question the authenticity of his other experiments, including Snuppy. Upon further investigation, it was confirmed that Snuppy was a true clone of a DNA donor dog named Tei.

Cumulina (a mouse, pictured above at her first birthday party with Dr. Yanagimachi) was the first animal cloned from adult cells that survived to adulthood (Dec. 1997--May 2003). She was cloned by the Yanagimachi research group, 'Team Yana', at the University of Hawaii. Cumulina was named after the cumulus cells that surround the developing ovarian follicle in mice. Clones are produced by introducing nuclei from these cumulus cells into egg cells devoid of their original nuclei.

Animal clones-- scientific curiousities? Proof of principle for future human clones? What are your thoughts?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Are You A Real Scientist?

The Real Scientist Quiz

(hat tip to Lloyd Fricker of Biomednet)

  1. At Christmastime, you:
    1. take a couple of days off to spend time with your family.
    2. leave early on Christmas eve so you can pick up a few presents for the family.
    3. only work half a day, spending the rest of the day at home working on your grant application.

  2. Your spouse wants to discuss plans for the family vacation with your kids. You:
    1. propose to go camping so you can explain the wonders of nature to your kids
    2. propose to go to another city so you can spend the day in your friend's lab while your spouse takes the kids sightseeing.
    3. ask your spouse, "We have kids?"

  3. At a scientific meeting on an island in the South Pacific, no talks are scheduled in the afternoon. During this free time, you:
    1. follow the local custom and sunbathe on the beach in the nude.
    2. sit on the beach fully clothed, unaware of the nude sunbathers, and discuss science with your colleagues.
    3. sit in your hotel room with the drapes closed, and work on your manuscript.

  4. The nurse at school calls to tell you that your second-grade child has chicken pox. You:
    1. immediately drop what you're doing and rush to school to pick up your sick kid.
    2. immediately drop what you're doing and begin trying to find a cure for chicken pox.
    3. ask the nurse for directions to the school, and the names of your kids.

  5. Beings from outer space visit Earth, and you are the first human they meet. To show their friendship, they present you with a highly advanced device that is capable of prolonging life, ending human suffering, and curing disease. You:
    1. present it to the United Nations.
    2. apply for a patent.
    3. break it open to see how it works.

  6. What is the longest amount of time that you have worked without a vacation (excluding scientific meetings)?
    1. Six months.
    2. Two years.
    3. I took a weekend off about 10 years ago.

  7. What are your hobbies?
    1. Sports, music, and dance, because they allow the analytical parts of my brain to relax.
    2. Cooking, because it's quite a lot like science.
    3. Reading back issues of scientific journals cover to cover.

  8. Your best friend is:
    1. a member of your college fraternity.
    2. a member of your immediate family.
    3. a member of a gene family.


Give yourself one point for every question you answered with an "a," 5 points for every "b," and 50 points for every "c." If you took the test three times and averaged your score, give yourself 100 extra points. If you calculated the standard error of the mean, give yourself 500 points. If you scored less than 10, you are normal. Scores of 11-50 indicate an obsessed scientist. If you scored more than 50, you are in need of help and should consider joining Scientists Anonymous; if you scored greater than 500, you should forget Scientists Anonymous and get back to work since you are beyond help, and may actually succeed as a scientist.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

This Ain't No Pyramid Scheme

This is the fascinating story of Djedmaatesankh, an Egyptian woman who lived 2800 years ago in Thebes with her husband Paankhntof. She was a musician at the great Temple of Amun-Re at nearby Karnak where her husband was a temple doorkeeper. They were a childless couple, in their early thirties, when Djedmaatesankh died and was mummified according to ancient Egyptian custom. Thousands of years later, her mummy can be seen on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. Several years ago, the mummy of Djedmaatesankh underwent a CT scan that revealed some amazing tidbits about her life and the likely cause of her death. The findings of Drs. Melcher, Millet, Lewin and radiation technologist Holowka from Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children are described in "Rotunda", a publication of the Royal Ontario Museum:

"When Holowka electronically peeled away the linen and skin on the torso, she found that Djedmaatesankh had probably never had children. “When a woman bears a child, the pubic bone is separated from the pelvis from the force of the infant coming through,” Lewin explains. “But we found that her pubic bone was perfectly intact.” Most married Egyptian women of her age-- judging by the fusion of her bones and the wear on her
teeth, she was 30 to 35 years old--would have had several children. “So perhaps she was infertile,” Lewin says.

Lewin was in for a bigger surprise when he looked at her face. “The first thing we noticed when we peeled away the skin was a swelling of her left upper jaw,” Lewin says. A 3-D image inside her skull revealed more. “She had this horrendous, painful-looking dental abscess, caused by a diseased upper left incisor.”

The abscess was an inch in diameter and had probably been there for at least several weeks before she died. The bone on the surface of the upper left jaw was pitted with small holes, indicating that it was also infected. “So not only was there a lot of pus, and bone being eaten away, but she was also getting a reaction on the front of her jaw,” Lewin says. “She probably had pus underneath the skin of her cheek.”

A routine course of antibiotics would have stopped the abscess in its tracks. But in Djedmaatesankh’s day a patient could only turn to rudimentary dentistry. High-resolution scans show tracks on the jawbone that may indicate an unsuccessful attempt to drain the abscess. “I am quite convinced that the infection was a major cause of her death,” Lewin says. “This was a very active infection, basically a boil within a bone.” Eventually, Lewin guesses, it burst, spreading infection throughout Djedmaatesankh’s body. “She probably got blood poisoning and died.”

Djedmaatesankh had no dental plan, no access to modern pain meds nor antibiotics. Yet, you have to marvel at the intersection of Egyptian antiquity and modern medical technology. If you have a chance, take a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and pay her a visit. Goodness knows, she's been waiting 2800 years.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Horowitzism = The New McCarthyism

As a card-carrying member of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and United University Professions (UUP), I often get their mailings on the state of our college campuses. The latest issue of "On Campus" has a disturbing article on a McCarthy-like witch hunt for "liberal bias in higher education" being conducted by David Horowitz. He has recently published a book entitled "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" in which he accused university professors of Marxist views based on "evidence", such as quoting Paul Robeson in a history class or being raised by Communist parents. He never spoke directly with his targets, instead relying upon web sites and hearsay evidence. Here is an excerpt from the On Campus article:

University of Illinois communications professor Robert McChesney, whose students have recognized him for his work, comes under attack by Horowitz for raising questions about the news media, its corporate ownership and what effect that has on news coverage. “Universities are one of the last institutions not entirely under their [conservatives’] thumb. They want to intimidate professors, want to shrink places where people can do independent work.

“I consciously avoid penalizing students for their political views,” he adds. “I’d be surprised if most of my colleagues aren’t the same way.”

“Horowitz’s screed is essentially a series of lies and misrepresentations,” says Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan whose fields are Middle Eastern and South Asian history and religion. “I never have alleged a ‘Jewish’ ‘conspiracy’ ‘controlling’ the U.S. government, and Horowitz could never find any such quote. I have never, for instance, characterized Israel as a fascist state.”

What is more, Cole adds, “The allegation that humanities scholarship is politicized is a bald-faced lie. And the allegation itself is made as a Trojan horse for the purpose of sneaking in a politicization of the humanities!”

Larry Estrada, associate professor of ethnic studies at Western Washington University, is accused of favoring the creation of an independent Hispanic state in America’s Southwest to be called “Atzlan.” Said Estrada, “I think this attack is libelous. They never contacted me or talked to me about my viewpoints. I’ve never advocated secession.

“I feel he’s trying to discredit anyone who is attempting to bring in fresh viewpoints in academia,” he adds. “It’s the new McCarthyism.”

Horowitz has drafted legislation, an "Academic Bill of Rights" to impose restrictions on universities in their hiring practices, invitations to outside speakers, course design and grading systems. As the On Campus article calls it, this is the "Fox News fair and balanced approach to the academic business of higher education". This legislation has been spreading across the country. In the map below, the orange states have considered this legislation. PA and GA have passed this resolution.

The full text of the article is here:

A Tale of Toxicity

One of these days (most likely in my retirement) I intend to write a book on ethics in medical research. I've definitely seen my share of bad examples! Here's one tale that will leave you at a loss for words (that's my way of explaining "0 comments" beneath this thread):

About five years ago, I was coordinating a study in which a group of patients had been scheduled to come to the Ophthalmology clinic to have photographs taken of their eyes. They were children who all suffered from the same neurological disease that caused them to be blind, or nearly blind. Their parents were all members of a family support group and were very enthusiastic about joining our study, as our results might lead to earlier diagnosis of this particular disease.

I had everything in place for the study and left town for a couple of days to present a seminar in New York City. While I was there, I received a call from the director of the support group. He was panic-stricken. It seems that a jealous colleague had told the support group that if they participated in our study, they would go blind! I was dumbfounded. I had offered this colleague a chance to join us in this study and he had refused. What was the meaning of this sabotage? I paced the hotel room, gently trying to calm the director of the support group. I assured him that our study had been approved by the scientific review panel at the University, that the photographs would taken with a standard piece of equipment, and that there was no concern about potential eye damage from having these photographs taken. After I got off the phone, and for the next few days, I worried about who might show up for our study that week-end. In preparation, I cautioned my research team to be on alert for this jealous colleague and to call the security office if they saw him approach our clinic. Fortunately, all scheduled participants showed up for the study and the jealous colleague did not cause further interference. When later confronted, the jealous colleague denied any involvement in this matter. Yet, I have no other rational explanation for my conversation with the director of the support group.

This episode (among others) led me to the conclusion that I was working in a toxic environment and that I needed to seek employment elsewhere. I continue with this study from my new and much safer location. As you can imagine, this was not the only run-in I had with this jealous colleague. More examples of scientific skullduggery will follow in future posts....

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Brief Guide to the Scientific Literature


It is believed......................... I think

It is generally believed.........My colleagues and I think

There has been some discussion...Nobody agrees with me

It can be shown......................Take my word for it

It is proven.....................It agrees with something mathematical

Of great theoretical importance.....I find it interesting

Of great practical importance....... This justifies my employment

Of great historical importance........This ought to make me famous

Some samples were chosen for study.....The others didn't make sense

Typical results are shown............The best results are shown

Correct within order of magnitude...... Wrong

Values were obtained empirically...The values were obtained by accident

Results are inconclusive....The results seem to disprove my hypothesis

Additional work is required.....Someone else can work out the details

It might be argued that.........I have a good answer to this objection

The investigations proved rewarding..... My grant has been renewed

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

March of the Penguinones

Yes, even chemists have a sense of humor. There's an entire website devoted to silly chemicals--

One example:

Penguinone (3,4,4,5-tetramethylcyclohexa-2,5-dienone)
This gets its name from the similarity of its chemical structure to a penguin.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Check Is In The Mail

Some of you have been wondering how federal funds are used for scientific research. As soon as I figure it out, I'll let you know....

But seriously, the federal system is flawed. I can tell you about it first-hand. Basically, a scientist at an academic institution spends an inordinate amount of time writing grant proposals that are reviewed by a panel of one's peers and given a score/percentile ranking. In the second tier of review, a council meets to decide which proposals will be funded based on score and priority ranking. If you're lucky, the entire review process at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) takes approximately nine months from submission to start date. If you're unlucky, you're given an excellent score and told to wait indefinitely due to federal funding issues. In my own recent case, I was put on hold for over a year with a top-ranked grant. At the end of the fiscal year, the grant was administratively withdrawn due to lack of federal funds.

The delay period was a living nightmare.
I was unable to resubmit the same proposal to NIH because it would have replaced the original proposal entirely (there are NIH rules about not having two of the same proposal under review at the same time). I was also in the unenviable position of trying to find funds to pay for my technician and keep the research project going without losing momentum. In an even worse case that occurred a few years ago, the NIH grant that was supposed to pay my own salary was delayed by four months. I worked those four months without pay and eventually received retroactive pay. During that time, a colleague remarked, "So, do you eat retroactively, as well?"

So, where do things stand now? I eventually resubmitted that NIH grant proposal that had been kept on hold. A couple of weeks ago, I found out that this same proposal that had gotten such high praise earlier, had been torpedoed to the bottom of the list and would not be funded. It's a waiting game now. The next resubmission date for NIH is July 1st. Thank goodness there are private foundations that have kept things going. Life in academia is not a bowl of cherries (see fruit plate below). But I can't imagine doing anything else. The rewards are not monetary, for sure. Yet, there is a great reward in discovering new things every day and working toward new medical treatments that may help alleviate suffering in the world. That alone would be compensation enough for me. But, darn it, I do have a mortgage to pay.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ill-Conceived Science

As a follow-up to the post about separation of church and science, I bring you a cautionary tale of church, science and politics. Perhaps some of you are familiar with Dr. W. David Hager, a former Bush appointee to the FDA who left his position in June 2005. During his three year tenure there, he managed to take a sledgehammer to women's health initiatives. Here is some info about him from Snopes, written during the time that he served on the FDA Advisory Committee. Read it and weep.:

Dr. Hager is a practicing OB/GYN who describes himself as "pro-life" and refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women. Hager is the author of "As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now." The book blends biblical accounts of Christ healing women with case studies from Hager's practice. In the book Dr. Hager wrote with his wife, entitled "Stress and the Woman's Body," he suggests that women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome should seek help from reading the bible and praying. As an editor and contributing author of "The Reproduction Revolution: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality, Reproductive Technologies and the Family," Dr. Hager appears to have endorsed the medically inaccurate assertion that the common birth control pill is an abortifacient.

Hagar's mission is religiously motivated. He has an ardent interest in revoking approval for mifepristone (formerly known as
RU-486) as a safe and early form of medical abortion. Hagar recently assisted the Christian Medical Association in a "citizen's petition" which calls upon the FDA to revoke its approval of mifepristone in the name of women's health.

Hager's desire to overturn mifepristone's approval on religious grounds rather than scientific merit would halt the development of mifepristone as a treatment for numerous medical conditions disproportionately affecting women, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, uterine fibroid tumors, psychotic depression, bipolar depression and Cushing's syndrome. Women rely on the FDA to ensure their access to safe and effective drugs for reproductive health care including products that prevent pregnancy.

For some women, such as those with certain types of diabetes and those undergoing treatment for cancer, pregnancy can be a life-threatening condition. We are concerned that
Dr. Hager's strong religious beliefs may color his assessment of technologies that are necessary to protect women's lives or to preserve and promote women's health. Hager's track record of using religious beliefs to guide his medical decision-making makes him a dangerous and inappropriate candidate to serve as chair of this committee. Critical drug public policy and research must not be held hostage by antiabortion politics. Members of this important panel should be appointed on the basis of science and medicine, rather than politics and religion. American women deserve no less.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

One Week Anniversary!

The Raging Coconuts blog is one week old! In honor of this auspicious occasion, I am hosting a virtual party. Help yourself to some fruit. Have a grape time! There's no need to be melon-choly.

As for small talk, please leave comments/suggestions about science topics that you'd like to see discussed on this blog in future posts.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Separation of Church and Science

Is there any place in our public school classrooms for "faith-based science"? The very definition of science is "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment". There's no mention of a deity. Science is based on facts; Religion is based on faith. Granted, they are not mutually exclusive as scholarly endeavors. However, so-called "Intelligent Design" appears to be a not-so-intelligent design meant to incorporate divine intervention into a program of pseudo-scientific study. We need to be vigilant and maintain the distance between religion and science, just as surely as the distance between church and state.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fun Science Fact

An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

If you can't Curium, Barium.

A humorous tune by the immortal Tom Lehrer:

The Elements

Now, if I may digress momentarily from the mainstream of this evening's symposium, I'd like to sing a song which is completely pointless, but is something which I picked up during my career as a scientist. This may prove useful to some of you some day, perhaps, in a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances. It's simply the names of the chemical elements set to a possibly recognizable tune.

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium, (gasp)
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.

There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium, and barium.

Isn't that interesting?
I knew you would.
I hope you're all taking notes, because there's going to be a short quiz next period...

There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium.
And lead, praseodymium and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium, (gasp)
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.

There's sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium,
And chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.

These are the only ones of which the news has come to Hahvard,
And there may be many others but they haven't been discahvered.

And now, may I have the next slide please? ...carried away there.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Theorem

The Constant Consonant Theorem

The number of consonants in the English language is constant. If omitted in one location, they are displaced to another. When a Bostonian "pahks" his "cah," the lost r's migrate southwest, causing a Texan to "warsh" his car and invest in "erl wells."