Daily Archives: January 26, 2009

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

Franken-Coleman Senate Race Recount: Restart

At 1:00 PM Central Time court procedings being in the Franken-Coleman senate race. A three judge state court will ultimately hear and rule on a lawsuit essentially filed by Coleman’s team. The suit, an “election contest,” alleges a number of problems with the current nearly-certified recount which gives Franken a small lead over Coleman.

All of these issues have been previously aired, and some but not all addressed by the State Canvassing Board. Most analysts currently believe that none of these alleged problems are real, or material in relation to the outcome of this election. Coleman may well agree with this as he has already accepted a position as a lobbyist for a Republican Jewish interest group. Which is kinda funny, but might make sense in a Minnesota context. But not really.

I’ll keep you posted.

Example of Bad Science News Deployment: Caffeine – Leukemia Link

In an astonishing demonstration of the evils of Marketing in a Research University Context, the University of Leicester today announced that an upcoming research project would find a link between coffee consumption by pregnant women and leukemia to develop later in their offspring.

This is a statement made by scientists involved in the Research That Has Not Yet Been Done:

Although there’s no evidence at all of a link between caffeine and cancer, we’re putting two and two together and saying: caffeine can induce these changes and it has been shown that these changes are elevated in leukaemia patients… I wonder if caffeine can somehow sensitise cells or increase the risk of leukaemia? The idea seems plausible.

I’m glad scientists have thee thoughts. Taking a shower, sitting on the water closet, on the tube heading for work, thoughts like this should be rolling around in the heads of researchers, who then take them, critically evaluate them, and turn some of them into hypotheses, operationalize the hypotheses, test them, and move us incrementally (or more) in the direction of greater knowledge and deeper understanding. Of stuff.

Or, alternatively, you can take the random sciency thoughts floating around in the head and turn them into press releases which produce media statements like this:

Women should avoid drinking coffee while pregnant as it may increase their unborn child’s risk of leukaemia

Which, in this particular case, is positioned under a photo of a woman drinking from a Starbuck’s cup, RUINING HER CHILD’S HEALTH!!!!!

Now, to be fair, there is something to this. Caffeine can be shown to mess up DNA in some situations. The exact reason a child develops leukemia is not fully understood. There have been previous links made between caffeine and cancer, but as far as I know these links have all failed to pan out. It does not seem entirely unreasonable to conduct the study that is proposed here.

But it is utterly unreasonable, misleading, exploitative, and dishonest and probably highly unethical to convert a grant proposal into a press event that literally tells people that there is a link between a particular behavior and substance and a horrific childhood cancer, when there is no known link.

Shame on the Leicester press office.


Press release

Altered brain activity in schizophrenia may cause exaggerated focus on self

I thought we already knew this, but here goes:

Schizophrenia may blur the boundary between internal and external realities by over-activating a brain system that is involved in self-reflection, and thus causing an exaggerated focus on self, a new MIT and Harvard brain imaging study has found.

The traditional view of schizophrenia is that the disturbed thoughts, perceptions and emotions that characterize the disease are caused by disconnections among the brain regions that control these different functions.

Continue reading Altered brain activity in schizophrenia may cause exaggerated focus on self