Positional information and morphogens

Oct. 22nd, 2017 01:52 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

Here we go again — I said I’d try to make a youtube video about developmental biology every week, and I’m keeping that promise. I’m thinking, though, that my last couple of efforts were too big and indigestible, weighing in at 40 minutes each, so I’m going to try instead to present brief introductions to basic biology, and see if those are more interesting to people. I aimed for 10 minutes, but hit 12 instead — sorry, I’m a college professor, wind me up and let me go and I won’t shut up.

Let me know if this format is easier to stomach, and suggestions are welcome.

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Posted by Marc Abrahams

We are please to announce the birth of a new sibling club to the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (LFHCfS), and to introduce the new club’s first member.

Jim Windgassen has joined the LFFFHCfE – The Luxuriant Flowing, Former, or Facial Hair Club for Engineers. He says:

I am a senior advisory engineer with Northrop Grumman in Maryland.  Find below my official Northrop Grumman photograph as it appears in our company directory.  I am heavily involved doing volunteer STEM outreach work with kids which is what I am going to do when I retire from Northrop Grumman..

Jim Windgassen, BSME, LFFFFHCfE
Senior Advisory Engineer
Northrop Grumman Undersea Systems
Annapolis, Maryland, USA


[syndicated profile] improbable_research_feed

Posted by Jim Eakins

Wedgies have been the staple of school-yard bullies and pranksters for years. While reportedly possible to die of asphyxiation from application of an atomic wedgie, there has not been a medical report about the possible dangers of the act. Getting a firm grip on the problem, this case report pulls up the underpinnings of damage caused from one such wedge issue.

Wedgies are popularly defined as the upward yanking of another’s underpants—at any force—to wedge them between that person’s buttocks as a prank, an adventure, or a malicious act, with or without the recipient’s foreknowledge or consent. We report here the case of a quinquagenarian who experienced deleterious consequences after receiving an unanticipated wedgie.

In 2009, the patient and his wife had been ‘playfully’ exchanging wedgies as pranks. After one particular wedgie “of moderate force,” the patient felt a severe pain in his lower back, along with numbness in his left leg and foot. While the pain eased up eventually, the numbness would be recurrent for years.

In February 2016, the patient, now 56 years old, said that his wedgie-associated radicular symptoms had disappeared. He added that his wife had been so disturbed by the index event in 2009 that she had stopped giving him wedgies.

Source: Sutherland, C. E., Dvoretzky, T., & Solomos, N. J. (2016). Wedgie-associated radiculitis in a quinquagenarian. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 29(4), 389-390.

Bonus: The article outlines the difference between a standard wedgie and the notorious atomic wedgie: “Atomic wedgies differ from standard wedgies in that the underpants are pulled up at least to the recipient’s scapulae and optimally over the head, with strong or so-called “atomic” force.”

I could take ’em

Oct. 21st, 2017 12:52 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

I watched that terrible Giant Robot Duel. They were slow, clumsy, and stupid, with nothing but ginned-up drama to add some fake excitement to cumbersome machines poking at each other in slow motion. It was like old television wrestling slowed down to a tenth of the usual speed.

At least I realized something. An old flabby guy in glasses, like me, could easily defeat these monsters. All I’d need is a pair of cable cutters to go in and hack random wires and tubes while they plod around, and victory! I’ll say this for the old FAF wrestling nonsense, I know that Rowdy Roddy Piper or Hulk Hogan or any random luchador would flatten me in a heartbeat and with a laugh. These robots were contrived and pathetic.

Also, we already have manned fighting robots. They just aren’t poorly designed to appear anthropoid and aren’t equipped with feeble weapons like paintball guns or chainsaws. Here’s one:

We’ve been working on battle bot technology for about a century now. These things aren’t pathetically awkward and inefficient and useless.

I also don’t think I could take an M1A2 with my aged nimbleness and some wire cutters.

Interesting Links for 21-10-2017

Oct. 21st, 2017 12:00 pm

The Blood is the Life for 21-10-2017

Oct. 21st, 2017 11:00 am
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Posted by Senti Sojwal

Writers and feminist activists Attiya Taylor and Ailyn Robles started Womanly Magazine in 2012 as a way to circulate women’s health information and resources through the lens of art.

Since its inception, the magazine has evolved to include 20 women working in various roles to build and expand this innovative online platform. They define their mission as “to bridge the gaps between generations, cultures, economic statuses, borders, and any barrier that society tells us should set us apart.”

The first issue is on sex ed and features an incredible array of video, visual art, memoir, and more, addressing topics from female sexuality in Cuba to vaginal health.

For this week’s Feministing Five, I had the pleasure of catching up with Attiya and Ailyn about the creation of the magazine, their own journeys in health awareness, why it’s so important for women of color to educate ourselves about our bodies, and more! Check out the magazine and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @WomanlyMag!


Senti Sojwal: What inspired you to marry the worlds of art and women’s health in Womanly Magazine? What is your hope for how exploring these two issue areas in an intersectional way can empower readers?

Attia Taylor: I have been working in the nonprofit world for over 10 years, and my work has been primarily focused on the empowerment of girls and women. I also have a degree in communication, and love researching the ways that people consume information and connect with each other through modern media. When I moved to New York in 2012, I landed an internship with PAPER magazine, and quickly learned during that time that there were many facets of that career track that didn’t work for me, and my passion to serve. However, I still considered print media to be this classic and historic vehicle for the consumption of information. So, after working at Planned Parenthood, I thought about how to take the accurate and valuable preventative health information provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood, and put it before the eyes of women with limited education and access to that information. The end result of that thought process is Womanly Mag. Our goal is to make learning about health and our bodies fun, and digestible for adults. We are currently seeking out ways to make sure women not only learn this information for themselves, but share it with future generations.

Ailyn Robles: I grew up the daughter of an immigrant single mother who very rarely talked about her own health issues, and who was not exposed to the sorts of conversations we aim to create with the content in Womanly. Conversations revolving around sexuality, mental health, and reproductive health were very taboo in my home, despite how much my mother believed she was doing a better job at it than her own mother. Having had to pull words out of her for most of my life, I quickly realized how necessary it was to create intergenerational opportunities where we could learn from each other. Our hope is to continue creating and highlighting captivating artwork that will spark enough attention to make someone say “Hey, Mom,” or ”Hey, Tia, can I show you something?” Being both a visual artist and visual learner taught me the importance of digesting information in different ways. One of our goals is to make the magazine as accessible as possible as we grow, including translating content, as well as adding more visual and audio components.

Senti Sojwal: Issue 1 deals with Sex Ed and features visual art, memoir, video, and more. Can you each discuss one of the pieces featured in this issue and how/why it spoke to you in particular on this issue area?

Attia Taylor: The piece that affirms this work and the magazine for me is, Birth Announcement For Those Who Will And Will Never Be by a close friend and artist, Emily Carris. When we started discussing and researching sex education, we had a discussion around how limited past and present education is in relation to gender, sex, and sexuality. Emily’s piece brought a history of sexual education that is much less acknowledged in these conversations. She challenges us to think of slavery and sex through the lens of Black women, and their choices in history. I love that I can represent a magazine that changes narratives, and tells the stories that never get told.

Ailyn Robles: The Things They Carried drawn by one our art residents, Singha Hon, is one of the most representative pieces of the magazine for me. It’s impactful, inclusive, and insightful, yet simple. Singha’s piece brought to life what women look like to me – being both women with penises, as well as women who carry the weight of the world.

Senti Sojwal: What were your own early experiences in learning about your health and bodies, and how has that inspired you to women’s health activism?

Attia Taylor: I grew up with little to no discussion on sex education, or my body and my growth. In seventh grade, I had my mom order a book for me called Deal With It: A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life because I was naturally curious as to what was happening to my body. In school, we had very limited to no education on our bodies and health. It was the gym teacher teaching us about STDs in one or two classes. I believe that my lack of education kept my curiosity very fresh. I went on to take college courses on these issues, and spent a lot of my personal time learning about these new developments. I was a very shy and anxious kid, so I didn’t know how to ask questions about sex or women’s health at a very young age. I think my curiosity and knowledge and the disparity of education on these topics have married to create my love for women’s health activism.

Ailyn Robles: My mom would probably enjoy telling you about all the times I made her feel uncomfortable with all the questions I had growing up. I couldn’t understand why these questions were considered inappropriate, and why no one wanted to answer them clearly. I was a very curious and sexual teenager, but at the age of sixteen, our family began attending a church where I was guilted and shamed for having lost my virginity. There, I was told that women were responsible for the sins of men, and that I should not hug people because I was not aware of the sexual influence I could have over them. I had already bore witness to similar mentalities in families where young girls were blamed for the abuse by the men in their lives and so, at the age of 18 I left church, and promised myself to advocate for women in any way I could for the rest of my life.

Senti Sojwal: What are your hopes for the future of Womanly Magazine? How would you love to see it grow and evolve?

Attia Taylor: We have big plans for Womanly! There is a significant need and desire for women who look like me and my friends (and our mothers and grandmothers) to take control, learn, and educate themselves and their children on all aspects of women’s health. We will hopefully be able to reach a global audience through travel, research, and localization, and are joining an already growing community of wonderful people and organizations working to give women the opportunity to thrive and succeed in this world. Personally, I would love to have a large summit in the near future, to help forge this community, develop ideas, and come together to further our reach to those who need it most.

Ailyn Robles: We’re an ambitious bunch and know the importance of representation. Because we grew up without being able to see ourselves represented, our goal is to continue making the magazine as inclusive as possible. We also understand the strength that lies in community, and want to create more opportunities to broaden what this looks like. We want to hold workshops that are accessible to people of all backgrounds and incomes. We want to hold events where we celebrate different definitions of womanhood. And we want to continue handing over the pen to people who have historically been silenced, so that we can share the stories that so many women and people can relate to.

Senti Sojwal: Can you each share a feminist artist that you love and why?

Attia Taylor: We’ve had three Womanly Instagram “takeovers” so far, and because I curate the page, I was able to select the artists for each takeover. One of these artists was Sara Gulamali. She is a mixed media visual artist from London, whose work centers around being Muslim, Asian, and British in today’s society. I was so blown away by her takeover, and her work all-together, because she is only 19 years old, and is fearlessly making some of the most groundbreaking and thought provoking art.

Ailyn Robles: Yesika Salgado. The way she expresses not only the experience of being a first generation Latinx navigating two cultures, but also the experience of a self-made creative, I find so relatable. To be brave enough to follow what is in our hearts, and what speaks to us from a higher place is so challenging, and so admirable. She inspires me to continue inspiring myself.


Photo courtesy of Jorge Salinas

The Bog that Ate Brainerd

Oct. 20th, 2017 05:14 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Just wait until it gains a primitive sentience and ambulatory appendages. A giant bog has come adrift and is wandering about demolishing docks in a Minnesota lake. It’s so big it has trees growing on it.

We could also wait for The Blob solution: winter will be here soon and will lock it down in a cage of ice. Except that might be the final incentive it needs to break free of its aquatic limitations and rampage across the prairie. We’ll keep you alerted, but in case Pharyngula suddenly goes silent, it may be because I’m imbedded in a slimy matrix of muck and cattail roots and algae.

Racism enshrined in higher ed

Oct. 20th, 2017 04:30 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Is this what nurses are being taught?

It’s also revealing how white people aren’t even mentioned. We are the standard by which all are measured; our responses are assumed and we just have to mention the differences, like that blacks are inured to pain and Jews complain a lot and Indians are stoic.

I’m not too surprised to see this kind of garbage in a nursing textbook. It’s no criticism of most nurses, but there’s a heck of a lot of bad woo in nursing programs — my university’s bogus Center for Spirituality and Healing is affiliated with the nursing school, to their eternal shame.

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Posted by PZ Myers

Alternative medicines: they claim to cure all kinds of ailments, or at best they promise that they’re harmless supplements. Now here comes the data that says some herbal remedies are correlated with increased cancer risk.

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain.

Because of their toxicity, some (but not all) of the herbs and plants known to contain AAs have been banned in Taiwan and other places. These flora tend to come from the genera Aristolochia (e.g., birthwort, pipevine) and Asarum (wild gingers). The Food and Drug Administration has also issued several warnings and advisories over AA-containing remedies.

Also relevant: patients who replace tested medicines with alternative crap have a 5x higher death rate within 5 years.

There’s a reason there are tested guidelines in place for careful, controlled studies of medicines, and why side-effects and long-term consequences are scrutinized thoroughly. What’s the point of a treatment for gout that works, hypothetically, if it increases your risk of liver cancer?

There are also reasons for ethical guidelines. Take, for example, this experimental vaccine for herpes that was designed by William Halford and backed by Peter Thiel. They bypassed IRB review; they ignored FDA guidelines; they carried out the tests on an island in the Caribbean, St Kitts, to bypass US oversight requirements. They injected 20 patients who really were suffering with serious, chronic herpes infections with a weakened virus, and got mixed results — for some it changed how subsequent expressed themselves, for others, it made the symptoms worse. The researchers failed to demonstrate either safety or efficacy.

And then, to make it even worse, Halford died, leaving the patients and the study in the hands of…who? No one. By abandoning responsible oversight, he’d left the legitimate biomedical authorities free of any obligation.

Maybe Peter Thiel will step forward and take responsibility for this botched and poorly designed experiment.

I can laugh at that idea, at least. But not at the desperate people who take bizarre alternative medicines or leap at terrible forlorn hope therapies.

Commentary on Slob

Oct. 20th, 2017 02:29 pm
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Posted by Marc Abrahams

Wane Grennan’s “Commentary on Slob” is among the preeminent commentaries on Slob that have been presented at an academic setting. The paper is:

Commentary on Slob,” Wayne Grennan, OSSA Conference Archive, University of Windsor, paper 113, May 15, 1999. Grennan explains:

“I could say much more about this very ‘meaty’ paper, but I will end by raising a misgiving about how Professor Slob conceives the relationship between truth and acceptability.”

Slob is Wouter H. Slob, best known to some for his paper “How to distinguish good and bad arguments: dialogico-rhetorical normativity,” Wouter H. Slob,  Argumentation, vol. 16, no. 2, 2002, pp. 179-196.

Slob [pictured here] is now at the University of Groningen, where he is a professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies.

Stats make me so tired

Oct. 20th, 2017 01:20 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Just so you know, Jason Thibeault (The Lousy Canuck) is going to do the cunning work of transferring all of my files from the dying Scienceblogs site to the thriving Freethoughtblogs site. At some point in the near future there will a sudden surge of old content, so I thought I’d mention a few stats before they get bumped upward. Pharyngula on Freethoughtblogs has 986,224 comments on 11,009 articles; if all goes well, Jason will be hauling in 831,367 comments (that number is low; Seed Media butchered the comments in their last major update) and 14,387 posts to add to that, so we’ll kind of double in size.

Do you realize that the commenters here have written so much more than I have? And here I thought I’d blocked and censored everyone.

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Posted by Phil Plait

It’s very easy for some groups of humans to slip into a lazy way of thinking about our planet. They look around and think it was made for us, in some cases literally so. Air, water, land, resources to exploit … the Earth is ours for the taking.

Not everyone feels this way, of course, but enough do — and have enough power — to influence a great many other people.

Others know better. As a group, one of the more convincing viewpoints counter to this comes from scientists. When we look at the Earth carefully, understand it through the filter of trying to learn from what it’s showing us rather than simply taking from it what we want, we find out something very, very important: The Earth is under no obligation whatsoever to nurture us.

Quite the opposite, in fact. If you look at the planet another way, it seems like it’s constantly trying to kill us. An animation put out by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center makes that very, very obvious: It shows every recorded earthquake from Jan. 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2015.

Yeah. The rate of the video is 30 days of earthquakes displayed per second. Each flash is an earthquake, with the magnitude of the quake displayed as a scaled circle (after a moment each quake fades and shrinks in size so it doesn’t obscure subsequent activity).

Watching the video, it almost seems like the Earth is alive. Of course, that’s another illusion, an anthropomorphistic filter our brains like to employ.

But it isn’t alive, and neither was it created for us, nor is it trying to kill us. It just exists as the laws of nature define. In fact, it is we who have over millions of generations of life adapted to it. And by no means has that been an easy task; the multiple mass extinctions life has undergone over the past several billion years are testament to that.

But this animation shows one thing very clearly: We take the Earth for granted at our peril. Small earthquakes can do heavy damage if we are not prepared, and large ones can spread that devastation over huge distances.

And we tamper with our planet at our own risk, as well. Run the video again (at 2X speed if that helps) and keep your eyes on Oklahoma, in the United States. You’ll see virtually no earthquakes there until 2008 or so. Then, suddenly, they bloom, dozens of them. Why? Because of wastewater from oil extraction injected into wells.

I won’t make any Frankensteinian parallels here, but it’s worth noting that when we tamper with the Earth, it sometimes tampers back. The environment is in a dynamic equilibrium, ever-changing but balanced. That balance can be upset, though, even by creatures as small as we. Off the top of my head, the fact that we dump 40 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year means the Earth will respond in some way. Many ways, in fact, none of them good.

Perhaps Isaac Newton wasn’t thinking of this when he crafted his Third Law of Motion, but as we have seen over and again, our actions sometimes produce equal and opposite reactions. Sometimes unequal, with the effects far outstripping the causes, like climate change. But that does seem to be a lesson here; we do something because it seems helpful or useful, then find out what we’re doing is making things worse for ourselves.

Science has no moral for us; it is a tool, like a shovel or a hammer. Any tool can be used for good or for ill, and it’s up to us to decide which. But the beauty of science is that it can be used to help us make that decision a wise one.

Ignoring it, well, that would be foolish. But many fools love power, don’t they?

Of course, that power is in many cases given to them by us. That’s a decision we need to make more wisely as well.

Tip o’ the strike-slip fault to Kris McCall.


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All the recorded earthquakes from Jan. 1, 2001 - Dec. 31, 2015 are shown on this global map. Credit: Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

The Blood is the Life for 20-10-2017

Oct. 20th, 2017 12:00 pm
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