Monthly Archives: January 2009

Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses

ResearchBlogging.orgA paper coming out in the next issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases addresses the question of the link between vaccines and autism. This new review article examines three hypotheses linking vaccines to autism:

(1) the combination measles�mumps�rubella vaccine causes autism by damaging the intestinal lining, which allows the entrance of encephalopathic proteins;

(2) thimerosal, an ethylmercury�containing preservative in some vaccines, is toxic to the central nervous system; and

(3) the simultaneous administration of multiple vaccines overwhelms or weakens the immune system.

Continue reading Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses

The Mars Rover is Sooooo Stoned!!!!!

Does Spirit have a Boyfriend? Or may be a little drug habit? NASA is perplexed:

PASADENA, Calif. – The team operating NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit plans diagnostic tests this week after Spirit did not report some of its weekend activities, including a request to determine its orientation after an incomplete drive.

Very suspicious. I’d start keeping track of the odometer if I was NASA.

On Sunday, during the 1,800th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars, information radioed from Spirit indicated the rover had received its driving commands for the day but had not moved. That can happen for many reasons, including the rover properly sensing that it is not ready to drive. However, other behavior on Sol 1800 was even more unusual: Spirit apparently did not record the day’s main activities into the non-volatile memory, the part of its memory that persists even when power is off.

“I don’t remember.” Right. So totally teen-ager.

On Monday, Spirit’s controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chose to command the rover on Tuesday, Sol 1802, to find the sun with its camera in order to precisely determine its orientation. Not knowing its orientation could have been one possible explanation for Spirit not doing its weekend drive. Early Tuesday, Spirit reported that it had followed the commands, and in fact had located the sun, but not in its expected location.

I think I’d want to check the pupils to see if they are dilated.

“We don’t have a good explanation yet for the way Spirit has been acting for the past few days,” said JPL’s Sharon Laubach, chief of the team that writes and checks commands for the rovers. “Our next steps will be diagnostic activities.”

.. yeah, don’t count on getting an explanation any time soon. Maybe you can read her memoirs in a few years …

Among other possible causes, the team is considering a hypothesis of transitory effects from cosmic rays hitting electronics. On Tuesday, Spirit apparently used its non-volatile memory properly.

…. ffffffffffsssst. (holding holding holding) cough cough cough! ….. Oh man, those cosmic rays are gooooood……

Despite the rover’s unexplained behavior, Mars Exploration Rovers’ Project Manager John Callas of JPL said Wednesday, “Right now, Spirit is under normal sequence control, reporting good health and responsive to commands from the ground.”

… the parents are always the last to know.

The Rightful Place of Science

The rightful place of science is moving, never staying in one place, ever dancing and watching, on the always shifting sociopolitical landscape.


A team of white coated eggheads can solve any problem with enough science. We need to get rid of the Jews, and we don’t have enough bullets, so let’s get the eggheads to figure out a way to do that. We need to take the Americans out of the Pacific, but we have insufficient resources but a lot of pilots. Let’s get the engineers to come up with a one-way airplane. We need to get rid of the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese, and we hear the Eggheads have a bomb that will do just that. So let’s set them up in a project called Manhattan, which will be so amazing at solving this one problem that forever forward we will refer to similar projects as “Manhattan Projects.”

Later, we get better toasters, improved power stations, and automatic waffle irons, as a side effect of the science and engineering. When the war is over. But we look back and see that the scientists turned out to be a bit of a problem. The Industrial Revolution and its concomitant realizations of how the Universe Works have resulted in the H-bomb. Ooops.

Now the sky has turned black from the billowing smokestacks of Gary and other rusty industrial places. Lake Superior has turned red, and the Hudson River is on fire. Science is now environmentalism and regulation. And it works but it hurts, and the Right Wing begins a battle, to become a war, against the Men in the White Coats. Who are now starting, ever so slowly, to be joined by an increasing number of Women in White Coats.

So now science is political, a tool, too dangerous a thing to let the scientists just do whatever they want. The Left Wing sees science as dangerous because the physicists can destroy the world and the medicos have invaded, and now control, the temple of the body, and so on and so forth, and the Right Wing sees science as annoying and counter productive because rational thought is just not the same thing as, and often stands in the way of, Free Market Forces.

But this also means that we can’t just say “Oh, Egghead guys, what are the problems you see and how do we solve them?” So when climate change comes along it takes more than twenty years … an entire generation … to go from science understanding the basic problem, and the basic solution and no one listens, to a time when finally, science understands the basic problem and the basic solution and people listen. And this twenty years of Dark capped by the High Dark Ages of the last eight make people wake up and realize that the rightful place of science is at the table with a strong and respected voice. No one knows how long that will last.

The rightful place of science is at the bottom of your spine, as the start of that tingling sensation when you realize some “holy crap” fact of nature or for the first time understand some basic process. Everybody is walking around with strange folk concepts of how life works, and every now and then they are grabbed by a scientific theory and shaken by a scientific fact and realize that cold is not a thing or they first hear about endosymbiosis or they suddenly get what a “Black Box” is. The rightful place of science is in the middle of an emotional mental explosion of the “holy shit” moment.

But not everyone can experience these pleasures because many are made to feel guilty with such thoughts. Science is sacrilegious, anti religious, areligious. So what? People can adjust; people can hold more than one viewpoint in their tiny little brains. But the politics of religion are strong and hateful, so the rightful place of science is as a bulwark, a rampart, a big Monty Python style sledge hammer that whacks the Bishop who comes to tell us to pray instead of learn on the head so he becomes a cartoon accordion Bishop and springs away. Boing boing boing.

The rightful place of science is to sit nearby, always ready always being used, on the mahogany library table on the side of the room in every single academic discipline. Being reason.

The rightful place of science is to keep its little clay feet from being stuck in the mud or burned on the fire as it dances back and forth on the ever shifting sociopolitical landscape asking questions like “Is this my rightful place? … How about this place? … Oh, what about this place over here?” keeping the philosophers busy while waiting for the next opportunity to pull someone’s proverbial chestnuts out of the fire. Science knows it can never die, but it knows it can never be universally loved, yet it knows it can never be done without. So it spends a lot of time dancing and watching for burning chestnuts.

Tara Smith: New Staph Strain Found in U.S. Pigs

A strain of drug-resistant staph identified in pigs in the Netherlands five years ago, which accounts for nearly one third of all staph in humans there, has been found in the U.S. for the first time, according to a new study.

Seventy percent of 209 pigs and nine of 14 workers on seven linked farms in Iowa and Illinois were found to be carrying the ST398 strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The study marks the first time researchers have tested for the strain in the U.S., so there’s no way yet to tell when or how it arrived or how widespread it may be, says Tara Smith, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and lead author of the study published today in the online Public Library of Science journal, PLoS ONE.

Sciam Writeup is Here

The Paper is Here

Tara Smith is Here