Tag archive for scary

Maybe you should rethink that all-nighter?

A new study published in Science hints at a connection between sleep (or lack thereof) and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  In both mice and humans, amyloid-beta peptide levels rose during waking hours, but then fell again upon sleep.  Amyloid-beta plaques (like those found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) formed more readily in sleep-deprived mice.  Although certainly not a smoking gun, this research may indicate poor sleep patterns are a risk factor for development of Alzheimer’s disease.

…I think I’ll turn in early tonight…

[via Science/AAAS]

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Global warming on trial?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put well established scientific evidence on trial:

Global WarmingEnvironmentalists say the chamber’s strategy is an attempt to sow political discord by challenging settled science — and note that in the famed 1925 Scopes trial, which pitted lawyers Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan in a courtroom battle over a Tennessee science teacher accused of teaching evolution illegally, the scientists won in the end.

The chamber proposal “brings to mind for me the Salem witch trials, based on myth,” said Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist for the environmental group Union of Concerned Scientists. “In this case, it would be ignoring decades of publicly accessible evidence.” [latimes.com via slashdot]

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World meet Adam

Robot Scientist 'Adam' at Aberystwyth University Adam is a robot designed to carry out scientific experiments from beginning to end… and everything in between – literally. The whole process is run by Adam from

formulating hypotheses, designing and running experiments, analyzing data, and deciding which experiments to run next.

Adam conducted an experiment on yeast enzymes.

Adam sought out gaps in the metabolism model, specifically orphan enzymes, which scientists think exist, but which haven’t been linked to any parent genes. After selecting a desirable orphan, Adam scoured the database for similar enzymes in other organisms, along with the corresponding genes. Using this information, it hypothesized that similar genes in the yeast genome may code for the orphan enzyme.

The project is being led by Ross King at Aberystwyth University in Wales. It seems pretty cool, but should we start worrying about robots taking over scientists’ jobs now, too? [wired.com]

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Hi! My name is Barry, and I kill coral


This isn’t my new pet, rather it is a giant sea worm that was recently ‘found’ in a living reef exhibit at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium in the UK. Seems the curator could not figure out why their prize reef exhibit was being destroyed. On dismantling the exhibit, this sweet guy was found and named Barry. Barry is over 4 feet long and is no longer allowed near the coral. [via zooillogix]

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Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution

Want another reason why science literacy is not just important but as essential as being able to read and write?

The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation. [wsj via slashdot]

Why is this problematic and very scary? Because publishing textbooks costs a lot of money and having multiple versions for different states would cost more… and since Texas has such a large share of the market, they are likely to get what they want. Why do research when you can just make it up as you go and legislate it! How about we vote on whether or not lead can be changed to gold?

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Long Hours at Work May Lead to Dementia

Time to go home… [Neatorama]

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Text in class… go directly to jail…

Pretty ridiculous. I’d have a couple in cuffs this semester…

A 14-year-old Wisconsin girl was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after she refused to stop texting during a high school math class. [slashdot]

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Melamine In Infant Formula

A recent article by Britt E. Erickson in C&EN news, discusses the issue of having Melamine in infant formula. Melamine is an organic compound created in the 1930’s and has various uses such as making plastics, laminates, and even fertilizer. It is also one of the main chemicals used to make dishwasher safe materials. Uunfortunately, the chemical is used by many food companies as a cheap and abundant filler substance for things such as livestock feed, pet food, and now, baby formula. In various tests used to determine the nutritional value of food, Melamine shows up as a protein due to its chemical makeup, so many food manufacturers utilize it as a way to make their products seem more nutritious. When inside the body, Melamine can result in kidney stones and renal failure.

In September, there was a controversy in China regarding Melamine in baby formula. Over 1,000 babies were found to have kidney stones after consuming infant formula containing Melamine. In late November, after the Melamine scare in China, the US FDA declared that it could not establish a safe level of Melamine for infant formula. However, recently, the FDA had a policy reversal, where it stated that levels of Melamine below 1ppm do not pose a threat to infants. The FDA says that these levels are so low that “they do not pose a risk to infants.” After testing infant formula samples in the US, the FDA found formulas manufactured by Nestle Nutrition, and Mead Johnson to contain Melamine.

After reading the article, I was simply appalled by what I learned. Letting the FDA allow trace amounts of Melamine to be used in baby formula is simply absurd. I was especially concerned because the issue arose in China in September, yet the FDA approved small amounts of Melamine only after doing a few months of research. It seems that the risks are too high, especially after what happened in China. I think our FDA should take more caution and do more testing before taking such a risk with infants.

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CNN cuts science team…

CNN cut its science and technology news staff last week and The Weather Channel canceled their climate change program Forecast Earth during NBC’s ‘Green Week.’ (NBC purchased TWC this summer.) I honestly don’t know what to think, but the cynic in me isn’t surprised.

Science coverage is already nonexistent in mainstream media; do these moves give other media outlets the precedence they need to drop science coverage altogether? Maybe the “important” assignments will go to the celebreporters when they aren’t trying to figure out what Speidi* is doing. In a society so deeply rooted and dependent on science and technology, concerned and responsible science reporting should be a priority rather than being summarily flushed.

It is clear that if ‘news’ cannot be sensationalized, politicized, or monetized, it must not have worth so why report it. It’s also clear that the mainstream media is not going to take responsibility for accurately reporting on science and technology issues that affect our lives every day. What hope is there for mom and dad, the grade school teacher, or the local government official to make informed and responsible decisions rather than instinctually reacting to an overhyped media blitz?

(*Spencer & Heidi – thanks to the Soup!)

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£1,000,000 for 100% chemical free material

Have at it!

If, as the ASA says, the public believes materials can be “100% chemical free,” the RSC will soon be inundated with examples from people wishing to claim the £1 million pound bounty announced today by the RSC. [RSC]

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Are you sure you don’t want to supersize your order?

C&EN had an interesting article yesterday about research that was conducted to determine the amount of corn found in fast food products, specifically french fries, chicken, and beef. The research covered McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s and approximately 500 servings of chicken, burgers, and french fries were analyzed. A. Hope Jahren examined the foods’ compositions by looking for different isotopes of corn. At the same time, she also tested for nitrogen content which is linked to the use (and consumption) of fertilizers.

They found that 100% of the chicken and 93% of the beef had been fed exclusively a corn-based diet. And the nitrogen analyses indicate that the livestock had been dining on heavily fertilized feed.

I suppose this probably won’t come as much of a surprise to many people, but I found this article particularly interesting because this research is the first to show scientifically that our nation is becoming heavily dependent on corn.

Corn agriculture in the U.S. has been criticized as being environmentally unsustainable, requiring disproportionate amounts of fertilizer and fossil fuels.

I can’t stand the fast food industry. It’s causing serious health problems in our country. I understand that from an economic standpoint this industry is fantastic for us, raking in about $100 billion a year, but really it’s just disgusting and I don’t understand how anyone can eat this food (especially after seeing Fast Food Nation). Cows and chickens are not supposed to eat corn – they’re supposed to graze and eat grass. We’re changing their diets, causing them to get sick, and in turn we’re eating their illness stricken muscles. I’m appalled by the fact that people continue to eat fast food not knowing what exactly is in it, and that the companies are allowed to continue selling these products without ever having to reveal what they’re actually serving.It’s also important to recognize the fact that these cows and chickens in the fast food industry are also coming from the same source that supplies our grocery stores.

If any of you are fast food fans, please enlighten me.

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Everything you always wanted to know about the LHC, from the ‘Hills’ braintrust

[via gizmodo]

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The GOP’s war against science

I’ve been hesitant to post anything political here, but I couldn’t resist in this case as it does reflect the anti-intellectualism displayed during the current ‘regime’ and what we can most likely expect if they win the election next week.

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity. [Slate via Cosmic Variance]

And if you want to see what it would be like with Palin as President

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Environmental (and Human Health) Protection vs. Industry Interests – Who Will Prevail?

Last Thursday the EPA strengthened its standards on lead pollution, updating the law that was 30 years old. “The new standards set the limits for exposure at 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 1.5 micrograms, and well within the outer limit of 0.2 micrograms recommended by the advisers.” For me this was great news, as I am concerned about particulate pollution and industry standards for what they are allowed to dump, how much, and where. However, two days after this article was published, the NY Times printed another article stating that the Interior Department wants to relax the laws on mine waste dumping. Two government positions that are in complete conflict with each other, not a surprise.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states that in an average year, a coal plant burns 114 pounds of lead and other toxic heavy metals. If all of that goes into the air when the coal is burned, who knows how much drifts into nearby streams and valleys near the mountains where the coal is actually mined? The liquid waste generated by mountain top removal is dumped into a nearby valley, where the current law is that it must be at least 100 feet away from any stream (the new law states that this requirement can be skirted if “compliance is determined to be impossible” — how is that determined?). The solid waste is carted away into nearby valleys, usually in unlined and unmonitored landfills. How can the industries ask for a relaxation that would impede them from following the new, stricter lead concentration allowed in air? The qualification may be that the sources of pollution are different (water vs. air particulates), but once the waste has been dumped, some of it will be buried and some of the mine tailings can be kicked up into the air.

From this another problem arises – how far ahead are the companies required to plan to keep the dumping sites safe from leaching? This article states that mining pollution and the waste at the dumping sites stick around for quite awhile, affecting wildlife in the are. This means once the companies have stripped all the mountains, they have no long-term abandonment plan and instead leave the mess for the communities to clean up. If we are at all concerned about the quality of our streams or our air, the government cannot have double standards and pander to industries like surface mining.

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Seriously…let’s talk about creationism.

I know Dr. Kassel brought this up before, but I just heard it again on the news and I had to see what the story was.  Republican nominee John McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin advocate teaching intelligent design (or creationism in disguise) right along with the theory of evolution. Now regardless of how you feel about it personally, the idea of throwing a religious theory in the science textbooks next to evolution has to be scary to scientists. A PA federal court ruled in 2005 that creationism could not be included in a public school science curriculum because it:

“singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource and instructs students to forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”

I think there are serious implications to teaching young students, who are newly encountering the subjects, that creationism and evolution are on equal footing as scientific findings. Now separation of church and state is not a Constitutional right, but I wonder who has more to lose here: science or religion? On the one hand, if theories of science have the ability to reach for supernatural explanations the scientific method falls apart. On the other hand, if religion asserts itself as a science where does that leave faith?

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Almost 50% of top software sales are antivirus or antispyware – Yikes!

Is it a problem that 9 of the top 20 software titles for September (in terms of total sales) for PC’s are antivirus/antispyware? Or am I just being a smug, uh, non-windows user? And is that an Apple product at #19?

1. Spore
2. MS Office 2007 Home & Student
3. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
4. Trend Micro AntiVirus 2008 Plus Anti-Spyware
5. Spy Sweeper
6. Norton 360 2.0 3User

7. The Sims 2 Apartment Life
8. Norton Antivirus 2008
9. Trend Micro Internet Security 2008 3User
10. Spy Sweeper w/Antivirus
11. Norton Internet Security 2008

12. MS Office 2007
13. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning Collector’s Edition
14. Spore Galactic Edition
15. World Of Warcraft: Battle Chest
16. Windows Live OneCare 2.0
17. Crysis Warhead
18. VirusScan Plus 2008
19. MobileMe
20. The Sims 2 Double Deluxe

[kotaku via gizmodo]

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Bottled “Water”?

A recent article on Yahoo!’s Green page caught my attention when it claimed that another study found that bottled water also contains contaminants. Bottled water has been a hot topic of conversation lately – whether it be about recycling the bottles or the actual product behind the plastic. Although I’m pretty sick of this topic and have resorted to filtering water myself (via Brita/Pur products) I continually find myself interested in any new “findings” in the bottled water world. Perhaps it is the little analytical chemist inside me waiting for an opportunity jump on this never ending bandwagon.

The research included 10 different brands that were tested for purity and two came up with unsatisfactory contamination levels (which were never defined)- Wal*Mart’s brand and Giant Food’s brand.

The study’s lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said.

This statement includes the results of all 10 brands of bottled water, however the rest of the article only focuses on the findings in Wal*Mart and Giant Food claiming that the levels in the other brands were not high enough to warrant further testing- and the article all together fails to mention what the other 8 brands studied were! Frankly, if all of these things are showing up in my water – which is supposed to be pure – I think even 1 ppb warrants more tests. And although they say these levels are comparable to the water we’re getting out of our taps, shouldn’t this be saying something about our filtration systems?  Perhaps we shouldn’t just be focusing on bottled water. (Germaphobe – I know) I suppose its the little analytical chemist in me again screaming out for numbers and quantities – this article is lacking in pertinent information! In the end, Wal*Mart basically claimed they were shocked because none of their tests revealed this same information. It made me think of Instrumental Lab – do I see a possible scenario in the works?

So what do you guys think… stay away from bottled water or consider the possibility that the quantities of contaminants are too small to kill anyone?

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How does a ‘toxic cloud’ warrant a radiation warning symbol?


I’m not sure what concerns me more, the actual reporting or the image of a nuclear power plant with radiation symbol being used for a story about a plume of fuming sulfuric acid released from a chemical plant. Don’t get me wrong, this was a serious event that could have resulted in serious injuries; however, I would have appreciated more responsible reporting e.g., what is fuming sulfuric acid, how long might it persist, what are the exposure risks, etc. I especially like the quote from a former employee of the plant (last line below). How would you have reported the incident?

Authorities surveyed the neighborhood in Petrolia and determined that no traces of the toxic chemical remained, said Freda Tarbell, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

A leak at the Indspec Chemical Corp. plant in Petrolia on Saturday formed a cloud affecting at least 2,000 residents — some of whom fled their homes. Others huddled indoors with their windows shut, authorities said.

Ed Schrecengost, a former Indspec employee, said firefighters showed up at his son’s wedding reception, urging the guests to leave.

“It’s about as dangerous as you can get,” Schrecengost told CNN affiliate WPXI. “It’s a very fuming acid. A quart bottle of this material could fill a household in two seconds.”

[via cnn and googlenews]

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