Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Little laziness update

Hey everyone - I have been really bad at updating the blog BUT I have been posting on the facebook page, so if you have facebook check out the DNApes page for some recent posts. Otherwise I promise to update the blog by the end of next week :)

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scientists a step closer to cloning mammoth

from Japantimes

The thighbone of a mammoth found in August in Siberia contains well-preserved marrow, increasing the chances of cloning one of the extinct beasts, Japanese and Russian scientists confirmed recently.

The teams from the Sakha Republic's mammoth museum in eastern Russia and Kinki University's graduate school in biology-oriented science and technology will launch full-fledged joint research next year to clone the giant mammal, which is believed to have become extinct about 10,000 years ago, they said.

By transplanting nuclei taken from the marrow cells into elephant egg cells whose nuclei have been removed through a cloning technique, embryos with a mammoth gene could be produced and planted into elephant wombs, as the two species are close relatives, they said.

Securing nuclei with an undamaged gene is essential for the nucleus transplantation technique, but doing so from mammoths is extremely difficult and scientists have been trying to reproduce a mammoth since the late 1990s, they said.

In the Sakha Republic, global warming has thawed its almost permanently frozen ground, leading to numerous discoveries of frozen mammoths. But cell nuclei are usually damaged or have not been kept in a frozen state even when they have been found in a good overall condition, a Russian museum official said.

This time, however, there is a high likelihood that biologically active nuclei can be extracted as the frozen marrow found when museum scientists cut open the thighbone Nov. 13 was fresh and in excellent condition, according to the official. The bone was found near Batagay in northern Sakha.

The technique for extracting nuclei, meanwhile, has improved dramatically in the past few years and some undamaged nuclei have been successfully taken from badly preserved mammoth tissue fragments, albeit at low rates, said the Kinki University team based in Osaka Prefecture.

The museum, located in the republic's capital, Yakutsk, soon notified the Japanese side, with which it has had close ties through joint research since 1997, including professor Akira Iritani and associate professor Hiromi Kato.

Iritani confirmed that the outstanding condition of the marrow has increased the chances of cloning a mammoth, and said the Japanese team will try to obtain elephant eggs for the research project, although he added this would not be easy.

Sex by Numbers

From East Bay Express
Polyamory has gone from being a fringe scene to a veritable subculture. But can having multiple partners ever be widely accepted?


Jessica, John, and Kate (not their real names) sat together at Cafe Van Kleef recently, looking more like three long-time friends than three people involved in a love triangle — or, as they'd put it, a love polygonal. Jessica had an arm casually draped around John, who leaned against her contentedly. The two of them met on OKCupid about three years ago, started an email correspondence, and hooked up, for the first time, at a friend's Christmas party — John says they spent most of it making out in the bathroom. They started seeing each other "in a fling capacity," he says, and fell in love against their better interests. John clearly remembers the day it struck him: "We were outside a Virgin Megastore in New York," he recalled, "next to two guys who were laying asphalt. I suddenly turned to her and I was like, 'Hey, I love you.' And she started crying."

About a year into their relationship, Kate entered the picture. She and John had actually known each other for a long time, and John said they'd always had a lot of chemistry. Both were warm and loquacious, identified as 'queer,' and saw themselves as part of the Bay Area's sexual underground. They'd actually met at a drag show. One day, Kate showed up at a music event that John had produced in Oakland's Mosswood Park. (By day, he works as a freelance lighting designer for rock shows.) Kate marched straight up to Jessica. "Full disclosure," she said. "I'm only here to get in your boyfriend's pants."

Weirdly enough, it worked. It turns out Jessica is one of the few people in the world who would take kindly to someone trying to steal her man. Because she doesn't think of it as stealing; it's more like sharing. A good boyfriend shouldn't be squandered on one person, right? At this point, Kate and John have been sleeping together for a full year. They use condoms. John and Jessica are still "primary" partners. Jessica, in the meantime, started seeing three other guys. It's not about getting even, she says; it's about sharing the love. She and Kate are best friends. And Kate has a fiancé of her own.

Confused yet? Jessica explains it this way: "So here's a conventional relationship," she said. "You meet someone, you date, after six months, you use the 'L' word." She paused and glanced over at Kate, who nodded approvingly. "Then you wait for him to ask you to marry him. Then you have a baby."

That isn't what she ever wanted. In fact, since reading Dossie Easton's polyamory primer, The Ethical Slut, in college, Jessica decided that she wanted to impose a cooperative, communal model on her own romantic life, without being a total freak. Although her current relationship with John is her first real foray into polyamory, Jessica said it's something she always wanted. She's certainly not inured to jealousy — no one is, she argues — but she's found ways to sublimate it. And she feels that the returns are well worth the sacrifice, adding that she'll probably never go back to old one-on-one style partnership. "I like being a slut," she insisted.

And Jessica's not alone. Over the past decade, polyamory has gone from being a fringe trend to a bona fide scene to a relationship model that's widespread enough to almost be socially acceptable. The scene has its own canon, which includes texts like The Ethical Slut and Christopher Ryan's Sex at Dawn (co-authored with his partner, Cacilda Jetha). Plus it's got celebrities like alt-weekly sex columnist Dan Savage, who coined the word "monogamish" and turned open relationships into a cause célèbre. He's currently shooting a late-night advice show for MTV. Some would even argue that the proliferation of social networks and dating sites — namely, Facebook and OKCupid — has turned us into a more open culture. The Bay Area in particular, with its long history of free love, its vast network of Burning Man enthusiasts, and its overall progressive ethos, is a natural hotbed for the alternative sex scene. It's a place where avid polyamorists can bring just about anyone into their fold.

Sort of. It turns out that, no matter how successful they've been at negotiating relationships, many polyamorists still have one foot in the closet. And in a world where monogamy is not only well-entrenched but vital to the workings of a property-based society, their scene may always remain marginal.

That realization has caused many "ethical sluts" to treat open relationships not only as a lifestyle but as a social cause.

Christopher Ryan has spent most of the last ten years combating what he calls "the standard narrative": that man's nature is to always be concerned about paternity. He started writing Sex at Dawn about eleven years ago as a PhD dissertation. At that time, Ryan was studying psychology at Saybrook University and working at a San Francisco nonprofit called Women in Community Service. "It was all women, except for me and one other guy," Ryan said, "and they were all lesbian-feminist Berkeley types."

Ryan was in the midst of reading Robert Wright's The Moral Animal, which uses evolutionary psychology to figure out whether men are congenital cheaters. Ryan had a major hard-on for the book. He'd recap Wright's theories for anyone who would listen, including the women at his nonprofit — who mostly dismissed them. "They said, 'That sounds really Victorian and phallocentric,'" Ryan recalled. He didn't take their criticisms as insult. Rather, he decided to go back and explore some of Wright's original research.

And that led him to the bonobos. Ryan contends that if you want to challenge the standard narrative of human sexuality, you can't just start at the beginning of civilization — you have to go all the way back to our primate ancestors. He explained it thus to a crowd of roughly a dozen acolytes at San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture: "If your dog shits on your bed, and you want to know why, you're not going to study birds. You're going to look at wolves, and foxes, and coyotes." Similarly, if your girlfriend sleeps around, and you want to know why, take a look at the female bonobos at the San Diego Zoo. As Ryan's friend Carol Queen pointed out, you'll see a lot of parents at the zoo covering their children's eyes: Bonobos love to hump.

There's really no way to answer an essential question about human evolution without resorting to conjecture, so Ryan and his co-author (and wife) Jetha tried to have some humility about it. They also tried to incorporate data from as many disciplines as possible — primatology, archaeology, nutritional biology, psychology, contemporary sexuality, pornography, you name it. They drew some interesting conclusions: first and foremost, that monogamy really began with the advent of agriculture. That's when we became concerned about ownership and possession. That's when men decided that the only way to uphold a property-based society was to control women's bodies. In Ryan's estimation, it didn't take that long — evolutionarily speaking — for us to invent the phrase "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife."

But there's more. Ryan and Jetha also discovered some interesting and oft-maligned facets of female sexuality that was borne out in bonobo research. Namely, that women are raving perverts, that they're way more "bisexual" than men, and that they make a lot more noise during sex. Even more importantly: We're all perverts. Or, as Ryan would put it, we're "promiscuous" beings — promiscuous not in the sense of prurience, but in the sense of wanting to mix, being fiercely egalitarian, and wanting to have sex with as many different people as possible.

We've been taught to think in terms of competition and scarcity, Ryan says, meaning that we're told if we don't ensnare one partner within a certain time frame, our chance at reproduction will run out. He contends that this line of thinking is culturally imposed, and that in reality, we're not thinking about procreation every time we have sex — we're doing it for pleasure. "Think about the number of times you've had sex," Ryan said to the audience at Center for Sex and Culture. He paused, allowing us to mentally calculate. "Now divide that by the number of kids you have." A few people chortled, though some hid their faces uncomfortably. Point taken.

Ryan isn't particularly doctrinal — he purposefully left the pedagogical, thumb-sucking, "Where to go from here" chapter out of Sex at Dawn. But his book, which quickly landed on The New York Times bestseller list, has become a de facto Bible in the polyamory community. John and Jessica both invoke his theories when trying to define their relationship. "Monogamy automatically assumes all these rules," Jessica said. That's why, when you desire someone besides your one life partner, it's called "cheating."

John would venture even farther, arguing that open relationships are actually a more natural state than marriage and the nuclear family. "Okay, like 10 percent of people in this society say they're gay, right? I think about the same amount of people are naturally born monogamous." He continued: "But from day one, as a society, we're immediately routed towards monogamy. This shit starts right when you get out of the womb, man. Wrap that colored blanket around them, put the mother and father on the birth certificate. Boom."

He's rankled about that. "The whole 'It takes a village' thing? It shouldn't be a foreign concept." John added that Ryan's book merely validated feelings he's had for years. "It helped me find words to express how I function." John will readily admit that his parents were monogamous, and that he grew up without any kind of progressive, open relationship model to use as a reference point. Nonetheless, he's says he's been poly his whole life.

One of the people who attended Ryan's lecture was Polly Whittaker, a slender, freckled blond who is a veritable Johnny Appleseed of the local polyamory community. Whittaker is one of those rare people who can flaunt her sexual preferences without compunction, since she works in the alt-sex world full time. Born in the UK and raised in a fairly permissive family — her parents were both sex therapists, and her mother "turned a blind eye" to her father's multiple affairs — she started going to fetish clubs as a teenager, immersed herself in the "sex underground," and entered her first open relationship after immigrating to the US in 1999. "The first weekend I came was the Folsom Street Fair," she said. "It was amazing. I was like, 'Yay, this is my town, I've arrived.'"

Some people only recognize Whittaker by the costumes she wears at sex parties, which involve a lot of pink wigs and corsets. In person, though, she's polite and down-to-business, and exudes a surprisingly small amount of sexual energy. In fact, she looks like a grown-up version of the Swiss Miss hot chocolate logo: cute, fair-skinned, and much younger in appearance than her 36 years. She says that by day she's focused on writing; her partner, Scott Levkoff, is a puppeteer.

The couple launched their organization, Mission Control, in January 2001, after leasing a second-floor walk-up in the Mission. Whittaker already had her own fetish party, but she wanted to increase the clientele. "I was inviting some raver-Burner types, as well," she said, indicating that the idea of mixing those subcultures was still a little outré at that time. "Those communities really hadn't crossed yet. It was like the Goths were the fetish people and the ravers were the ecstasy people. There was no crossover."

Whittaker took it upon herself to bring the disparate tribes together, if only for the sake of throwing better parties. The result, she said, was fantastic: "colorful, costumed, sex-positive, Burning Man-oriented (but not Burning Man). We just created this space where people felt like they could explore."

The club now hosts seven different play parties, in addition to a monthly art salon. John said it runs the gamut: fairy nights, lady's nights, heavier play nights, lighter play nights, trans nights, fetish nights, sex club-oriented nights. Most events cost $30-$35 and entail a mandatory dress code. Some require all participants to bring a buddy. "You know," he said, "they want to keep the riff-raff out."

John explained that when sex parties aren't properly policed, they can attract a bad element — i.e., "dudes in sweatpants who like to jerk off while watching trannies fuck. I mean, not that it's bad to watch trannies fuck — that's hot," he said. "Sweat pants? Not so hot."

Mission Control's flagship party is called Kinky Salon, which is kind of an omnisexual catch-all. It's not polyamorous per se, but you have to be poly-friendly to go, given all the exchanging of partners that happens there. According to people who go, it looks nondescript from the outside — just a grate and a doortender. But the inside is all razzle-dazzle: wood paneling, a smokers' porch, tapestries, a dance floor with a stripper pole and mirrored disco ball, bartenders who hold your drinks (Kinky Salon has a BYOB policy and no liquor license), baskets full of condoms and lube, a back room full of beds and boxsprings and futons, people walking around in various stage of undress. Every iteration of the party has a theme (e.g., "woodland creatures," "superheroes," or "San Fransexual").

John has a fairly sunny view of Kinky Salon, at least in terms of its ability to attract a wide and representative swath of the polyamory subculture. Yes, more than half of the folks who attend are white, college-educated people in their thirties, he said. But they constitute the scene's demographic majority. "It's definitely a have-your-life-together-but-are-still-having-tons-of-fun kind of crowd," he said, adding that in general, the racial makeup pretty much mirrors that of San Francisco.

Jessica's read is a little more cynical. She's been to two Mission Control parties and says they definitely stand out in a scene that's become larger and more diffuse — in the last decade, so-called "pansexual" and "alternative adult" clubs have cropped up all over San Francisco, and many of them are a little less discriminating, in terms of the crowds they draw. All the same, she finds the crowd to be pretty specific, not so much in an elitist way as in an isolationist way. And generally, it's dominated by nerds. "You know, Burning Man people, Renn Faire people, people who are really costumed," she said. "They're older. They're not really people I'm interested in fucking."

She continued: "There's this back room where you go to have sex, and there's always this weird pile of people going at it in the middle of the room. But it's way less creepy than it could be."

Ned Mayhem, a PhD student in the sciences and second-generation polyamorist (his father also has an open marriage), would agree with that assessment. He and his partner, Maggie Mayhem, have a porn website based around their "sex geek" personae. They even invented something called a PSIgasm, which uses sensory devices to measure the strength of orgasms. (They're trying to get money to develop it, but haven't been able to work within normal fund-raising apparati — Kickstarter snubbed them.) Mayhem said that a lot of the people he meets in the so-called "sexual underground" are nerds in other parts of their lives — grad students, engineers, costume-party types, bookworms, live-action role players. They tend to be open-minded and well-educated, but always a little to the left of what mainstream society would consider "sexy."

Perhaps that explains why polyamory has formed such a flourishing, albeit circumscribed subculture. It's a scene where square pegs and misfits can reinvent themselves as Lotharios, where a self-described "socially well-adjusted" person like Jessica feels like an outlier.

Certainly, not all polyamorists attend sex parties or engage in kink — many who subscribe to the "open relationship" philosophy still consider themselves fairly vanilla. But the fact that San Francisco has such a vast and well-networked sexual underground benefits them, too, since it makes for a more tolerant environment. It also shows that the alt-sex scene, and by extension, the polyamory scene, isn't just a countercultural fluke.

At the end of the day, though, it remains marginal. And if you buy into Ryan's argument that an ownership-based society organizes itself around monogamous relationships, then polyamory may never really become mainstream. It's a fringe movement by its very definition, and some adherents would prefer that it stay that way.

In fact, there are two main obstacles facing the polyamory movement. One is that, like it or not, we're a morality-obsessed culture, and in many ways we're still a doctrinal culture. A 2009 Gallup poll showed that 92 percent of Americans think that having an extramarital affair is morally wrong. That's about twice as many as those who condemn gay and lesbian relationships, and three times as many as those who oppose the death penalty. Which is to say that as a culture, we're intractably wedded to the idea of a solid matrimonial bond. We're more amenable to the idea of legally killing someone than the idea of wrecking a marriage.

Thus, open relationships have a long way to go before becoming socially acceptable, let alone part of the status quo. Bigots who still find the idea of gay marriage unsavory probably won't cotton to nonmonogamy anytime soon.

Most of the people interviewed for this article wanted to conceal their identities, either because they feared repercussions at work — Kate, for instance, is an elementary school teacher; Ned asked that the name of his university be redacted, to avoid raising the attention of administrators — or because they hadn't "come out" to their families. Jessica said her mom mildly disapproves of open relationships and tends to dodge the subject when Jessica brings it up. A woman named Jess Young, who grew up in Texas and moved to the Bay Area after college, said her parents threw her out of the house when she was in high school for being a lesbian. "I think that polyamory would be beyond the scope of their understanding," she said.

The other problem is that humans are jealous creatures, whether or not you throw the concept of ownership into the equation. Asked if we can ever overcome jealousy, Dan Savage had a pretty straightforward answer: "No," he wrote, in an email interview. "And I say that as someone who has been in a monogamish relationship for a dozen years. Jealousy is a control, I think, a natural human emotion — just like the desire for variety and other partners."

And the truth is that polyamorous relationships are hard. Those who practice them say there's no set way of doing it. Levkoff and Whittaker are loose enough and trusting enough to let each other spend entire weekends with their respective lovers. Whittaker said she usually likes to meet the people her partner dates, particularly if it's more than just a casual romance, but she's not always interested in hearing all the details.

Jessica and John have a more hands-on approach, meaning they pretty much tell each other everything. Jessica confessed that she finds herself getting jealous in unexpected ways, and not always about sex. "I'll be like, 'Hey, you made dinner with her? No fair.'" Ned describes his relationship with Maggie as "polyfuckerous" rather than polyamorous, and says that largely owes to time constraints; he's a full-time student, she has a day job, and neither of them has the energy for endless "processing."

Some polyamorists subscribe to the idea of "compersion," which is basically a way of being happy that your partner is happy, even if that means allowing your partner to see other people. Oft-described as "the inverse of jealousy," it's defined both as an enlightened, empathic state, and a tool to surmount the feelings of possessiveness and insecurity that normally crop up in romantic relationships. Some polyamory scholars argue that compersion can be learned. Easton discusses it at length in The Ethical Slut. Jessica says she's been able to implement it sometimes. "Really," she said, "nobody's immune to jealousy."

And then, well, there's the problem of some people being liars, no matter what situation you put them in — closed, open, whatever. People in monogamous relationships cheat, but so do people in polyamorous relationships. Some people "open up" relationships in order to sabotage rather than enhance them. Savage put it bluntly: "Some people convince their partners to open their relationships, and promise them that it's not because they're not attracted to 'em anymore, but they're really done and want out of the relationship, and 'openness' for them means 'I'm out there auditioning potential new partners and as soon as I find one I'm going to dump the person I'm with."

Kate agreed. "Nonmonogamous people can cheat," she said. "It's just about being a dishonest schmuck. If you do it right, it's supposed to be thoughtful. You're supposed to do a lot of 'checking in' and talking things to death."

And, granted, people in polyamorous relationships deal with their fair share of dishonest schmucks. "The first guy I dated in New York, I think he wanted to rescue me from John," Jessica said. "He was super emotionally intimate with me, listened to me talk about my relationships, sort of alluded to the fact that he wasn't really down with the program. After two months he disappeared." She sighed. "I feel like dudes think that because you already have a boyfriend, they don't have to actually break things off."

John's been jilted, too. "There was a girl I was dating for a month or two, the sex was really hot, and she was down with the fact that I had another partner," he said. "Then I went off to New York for a few weeks, and she basically started dating someone who wanted to be monogamous." So the girl just bounced, leaving John in the lurch. "It really hurts when someone starts dating you, and then they have to stop because they're not actually poly." He explained that even though most people are theoretically born nonmonogamous, few people can actually practice nonmonogamy in a healthy, fair, fully communicative way. We're so habituated to think of romance in terms of competition and scarcity that it becomes nearly impossible to break away from that model. John said one would think that his and Jessica's pool of potential partners is a lot bigger than that of the average person, but it's actually more limited.

In the end, it's hard to say which model is better, given our social circumstances. "I think monogamy has certain pressures and discontents that complicate relationships," Savage wrote. "And I think polyamory does, too. You get to pick your poison."

It's possible to make a serious mess of a polyamorous relationship, be an unthinking, uncaring jerk, and alienate the people around you. Then again, it's also possible to create the kind of romance that John and Jessica apparently have, in which everything seems beautiful and clean.

How Science really works

Thanks to Genevieve C for the link! originally from:

Monday, December 5, 2011

pack your bags: Found: Earth-Like Planet That Might Be Right For Life

From NPR

Scientists have discovered a planet not too much bigger than Earth that's circling a distant star that's much like our own Sun. What's more, this planet is in the so-called "Goldilocks zone" around that star — a region that's not too hot and not too cold. That's the kind of place that could be home to liquid water and maybe even life.

The planet, known as Kepler-22b, is the first near-Earth-sized planet to be found smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone of a twin to our Sun.

The planet is about two and a half times the size of the Earth. It orbits a little closer to its star than our planet does to our sun, and goes around once every 290 days compared to our 365. But its star is a bit cooler than our sun, says William Borucki of NASA Ames Research Center, who heads NASA's Kepler Space Telescope mission, which detected this planet.

"That means that that planet, Kepler-22b, has a rather similar temperature to that of the Earth," Borucki says. "Its surface temperature would be something like 72 Fahrenheit."

It's not yet clear what kind of surface the planet might have — researchers don't know if the planet is made mostly of rock or water or something else. And don't expect astronauts to climb on a rocket and go there any time soon.

"The star is some 600 light years away," says Borucki, "so it's not terribly far away but not terribly close either."

More 'Viable Candidates' Likely

Kepler-22b marks a significant first for NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which launched in 2009 on a mission to find other Earths outside our solar system. The telescope has been staring at over a 150,000 stars in one patch of sky, watching and waiting for a slight dimming. That telltale dimming happens when an orbiting planet passes in front of a star, partly obscuring its light.

So far, Kepler has seen signs of 2,326 planets, ranging in size from Earth-size to Jupiter-size. The vast majority of these possible planets still need to be confirmed through more observations.

At least five of those candidates appear to be small planets in the habitable zones of their stars, suggesting that Kepler-22b is just the first of more to come. "We believe that we've got some very, very viable candidates here that are Earth-sized, near-Earth-sized, and in the habitable zones," says Natalie Batalha of San Jose State University in California, who is on the Kepler team.

Over the last decade or so, scientists have confirmed the presence of hundreds of planets around distant stars, but they're mostly gas giants. Small worlds that could potentially have a rocky surface and maybe even alien life crawling around have been much harder to find.

Just being small and in the habitable zone, however, does not mean a planet is actually habitable. Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, says the habitable zone has been a useful concept for thinking about planets in the past, but it may be time to start asking more targeted questions.

"I think it may be time to discard the 'habitable zone,' " says Kuchner. "I think maybe what this discovery is telling us is that it is time to move past it and start asking the next question, which is, 'Is the planet moist and juicy, like our own planet Earth?' "

He says scientists are already working on powerful instruments that could someday detect signs of water on one of these alien worlds.

Sierra Leone shields forest from mining

thank to jessica GS for the link and congrats to everyone that works and has worked with the Gola forest project for their success!

from news24

Sierra Leone has conferred protected national park status on a remote tract of forest that has attracted attention for its iron ore mining potential.

The creation of the 71 000ha Gola Forest National Park near the border with Liberia is aimed at preserving the largest remaining fragment of the Upper Guinea rainforest in Sierra Leone. It is the second such park in the West African country.

The area is home to 300 species of bird, 600 butterfly species and 45 species of mammals, including some 300 chimpanzees.

Around 140 000 people live in the area, whose park status was confirmed in a ceremony on Saturday with President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Iron ore production was restarted in Sierra Leone in November and shipments in 2012 could start transforming the local economy. The International Monetary Fund expects gross domestic product to leap by around 50% in 2012 as a result of iron.


"The mining threat still exists; but the president has been absolutely resolute that mining will not come into the park," said Tim Stowe of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, one of the project backers.

Local people also search for diamonds and gold in the Gola Forest. Koroma said illegal miners would face consequences - a prospect which dismays some of the area's inhabitants.

"This is the place we used to go to get our money to carry on our lives," said Musa Taimeh, a 40-year-old from Tunkia chiefdom. "We cannot go to farm there, we cannot go to log; we cannot go to mine diamonds."

Sierra Leone receives very few tourists, with many foreigners still put off by associations with a bloody civil war that ended nine years ago.

Supporters of the park admit they expect few visitors initially, but hope soon to cover running costs by using the value of the forest's ability to cleanse the atmosphere of carbon dioxide as an off offset for emissions of greenhouse gases elsewhere.

The opening of the park coincides with a major scandal over allegations of corruption in the use of local natural resources.

A documentary film alleged two men in the office of Sierra Leone's Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana accepted bribes from undercover reporters in return for a promise that the vice president would back an illegal logging project.

The government has said it is investigating the allegations, which have been denied by Sam Sumana's office.

attempted murder


Cigarette smoking: an underused tool in high-performance endurance training

thanks alberto a for the link!

From the Canadian Medical Association Journal
Cigarette smoking: an underused tool in high-performance endurance training
Kenneth A. Myers, BSc

The review paper is a staple of medical literature and, when well executed by an expert in the field, can provide a summary of literature that generates useful recommendations and new conceptualizations of a topic. However, if research results are selectively chosen, a review has the potential to create a convincing argument for a faulty hypothesis. Improper correlation or extrapolation of data can result in dangerously flawed conclusions. The following paper seeks to illustrate this point, using existing research to argue the hypothesis that cigarette smoking enhances endurance performance and should be incorporated into high-level training programs.

To read it all go HERE

More Military Dogs Show Signs of Combat Stress

thanks to Zoran A for the link!
From the
After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers

The call came into the behavior specialists here from a doctor in Afghanistan. His patient had just been through a firefight and now was cowering under a cot, refusing to come out.

Apparently even the chew toys hadn’t worked.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, thought Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine at the Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base. Specifically, canine PTSD.

If anyone needed evidence of the frontline role played by dogs in war these days, here is the latest: the four-legged, wet-nosed troops used to sniff out mines, track down enemy fighters and clear buildings are struggling with the mental strains of combat nearly as much as their human counterparts.

By some estimates, more than 5 percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed by American combat forces are developing canine PTSD. Of those, about half are likely to be retired from service, Dr. Burghardt said.

Though veterinarians have long diagnosed behavioral problems in animals, the concept of canine PTSD is only about 18 months old, and still being debated. But it has gained vogue among military veterinarians, who have been seeing patterns of troubling behavior among dogs exposed to explosions, gunfire and other combat-related violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like humans with the analogous disorder, different dogs show different symptoms. Some become hyper-vigilant. Others avoid buildings or work areas that they had previously been comfortable in. Some undergo sharp changes in temperament, becoming unusually aggressive with their handlers, or clingy and timid. Most crucially, many stop doing the tasks they were trained to perform.

“If the dog is trained to find improvised explosives and it looks like it’s working, but isn’t, it’s not just the dog that’s at risk,” Dr. Burghardt said. “This is a human health issue as well.”

That the military is taking a serious interest in canine PTSD underscores the importance of working dogs in the current wars. Once used primarily as furry sentries, military dogs — most are German shepherds, followed by Belgian Malinois and Labrador retrievers — have branched out into an array of specialized tasks.

They are widely considered the most effective tools for detecting the improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, frequently used in Afghanistan. Typically made from fertilizer and chemicals, and containing little or no metal, those buried bombs can be nearly impossible to find with standard mine-sweeping instruments. In the past three years, I.E.D.’s have become the major cause of casualties in Afghanistan.

The Marine Corps also has begun using specially trained dogs to track Taliban fighters and bomb-makers. And Special Operations commandos train their own dogs to accompany elite teams on secret missions like the Navy SEAL raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Across all the forces, more than 50 military dogs have been killed since 2005.

The number of working dogs on active duty has risen to 2,700, from 1,800 in 2001, and the training school headquartered here at Lackland has gotten busy, preparing about 500 dogs a year. So has the Holland hospital, the Pentagon’s canine version of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Dr. Burghardt, a lanky 59-year-old who retired last year from the Air Force as a colonel, rarely sees his PTSD patients in the flesh. Consultations with veterinarians in the field are generally done by phone, e-mail or Skype, and often involve video documentation.

In a series of videos that Dr. Burghardt uses to train veterinarians to spot canine PTSD, one shepherd barks wildly at the sound of gunfire that it had once tolerated in silence. Another can be seen confidently inspecting the interior of cars but then refusing to go inside a bus or a building. Another sits listlessly on a barrier wall, then after finally responding to its handler’s summons, runs away from a group of Afghan soldiers.

In each case, Dr. Burghardt theorizes, the dogs were using an object, vehicle or person as a “cue” for some violence they had witnessed. “If you want to put doggy thoughts into their heads,” he said, “the dog is thinking: when I see this kind of individual, things go boom, and I’m distressed.”

Treatment can be tricky. Since the patient cannot explain what is wrong, veterinarians and handlers must make educated guesses about the traumatizing events. Care can be as simple as taking a dog off patrol and giving it lots of exercise, playtime and gentle obedience training.

More serious cases will receive what Dr. Burghardt calls “desensitization counterconditioning,” which entails exposing the dog at a safe distance to a sight or sound that might set off a reaction — a gunshot, a loud bang or a vehicle, for instance. If the dog does not react, it is rewarded, and the trigger — “the spider in a glass box,” Dr. Burghardt calls it — is moved progressively closer.

Gina, a shepherd with PTSD who was the subject of news articles last year, was successfully treated with desensitization and has been cleared to deploy again, said Tech. Sgt. Amanda Callahan, a spokeswoman at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.

Some dogs are also treated with the same medications used to fight panic attacks in humans. Dr. Burghardt asserts that medications seem particularly effective when administered soon after traumatizing events. The Labrador retriever that cowered under a cot after a firefight, for instance, was given Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, and within days was working well again.

Dogs that do not recover quickly are returned to their home bases for longer-term treatment. But if they continue to show symptoms after three months, they are usually retired or transferred to different duties, Dr. Burghardt said.

As with humans, there is much debate about treatment, with little research yet to guide veterinarians. Lee Charles Kelley, a dog trainer who writes a blog for Psychology Today called “My Puppy, My Self,” says medications should be used only as a stopgap. “We don’t even know how they work in people,” he said.

In the civilian dog world, a growing number of animal behaviorists seem to be endorsing the concept of canine PTSD, saying it also affects household pets who experience car accidents and even less traumatic events.

Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said he had written about and treated dogs with PTSD-like symptoms for years — but did not call it PTSD until recently. Asked if the disorder could be cured, Dr. Dodman said probably not.

“It is more management,” he said. “Dogs never forget.”

Study Finds Turtle Embryos Communicate To Synchronize Hatching

By Eyder Peralta

We were pretty impressed by this piece of news reported by Wired about Australian turtles:

"Murray River turtles communicate with their siblings while they are still in their shells, buried under the soil, in order to coordinate when they hatch."

The findings were reported in the Nov. 30 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and it's even more fascinating than that sentence lets on, because synchronizing hatchings is complicated. When turtles bury their eggs, some end up near the top, closer to the warm sun, and others near the bottom, closer to the cool soil.

So some embryos develop faster and some slower. But as the time to hatch gets closer, the embryos regulate their development to emerge as a bunch.

How did scientists figure out what was going on? Discover Magazine reports:

"In 2003, [Ricky-John Spencer from the University of Western Sydney] collected clutches of wild eggs, split them into two groups, and incubated them at either 25 or 30°C. He reunited the eggs, and found that they still hatched together. Despite the developmental boost that the hotter half received, the colder ones still emerged in time with them. They either accelerated their development, or they hatched prematurely.

"To work out which, Spencer's student Jessica McGlashan captured pregnant Murray River turtles and allowed them to lay their eggs in a lab. Just as Spencer did previously, she split the clutches into two groups. In some cases, she incubated both groups at 26°C; in others, she incubated one group at 26°C and the other at 30°C. She reunited the eggs a week later and monitored the metabolism of each embryo by measuring how fast its heart was beating, and the amount of carbon dioxide it gave off.

"McGlashan found that the embryos sped up their development if they were incubated with advanced peers, who had enjoyed a week at 30°C. In the weeks before hatching, their heart rates went up and they exhaled 67 per cent more carbon dioxide than turtles whose siblings had all stayed at 26°C."

Spencer told UPI that he was "pretty sure" the turtles weren't chatting with one another. His theory is that they might be listening to each other's heartbeats.

"They are all touching each other within the nests so there might be vibrations there," Spencer told UPI. "A nest environment is pretty much an enclosed cavity where gas exchange might be a cue as well. They breathe, so if you get increases in carbon dioxide within a nest they might be cuing on in that."

Facebook History of the World

thanks to Jim F for the link!
To see the WHOLE THING go to
by Susanna Wolf

Dlisted's Hot Slut Of The Day! The world's biggest living insect

From Dlisted
by Michael K:

"The world's biggest living insect (that we know of)! With a body like Xtina's shoved in a bandage dress, arms like Posh Beckham's and seductively dead eyes like Courtney Stodden's, a giant weta hypnotized former American park ranger Mark Moffett when he caught her crawling around Little Barrier Island in New Zealand. Don't even bother taking out the RAID, because this bitch can grab it from you and hit you in the face with it.

Mark tells The Telegraph that he lured the lady weta to his hand by waving a carrot at her. He fed her a few bites and then let her go. Mark seems to think that he's found the biggest weta on the planet.

"Three of us walked the trails of this small island for two nights scanning the vegetation for a giant weta. We spent many hours with no luck finding any at all, before we saw her up in a tree.

The giant weta is the largest insect in the world, and this is the biggest one ever found, she weighs the equivalent to three mice. She enjoyed the carrot so much she seemed to ignore the fact she was resting on our hands and carried on munching away. She would have finished the carrot very quickly, but this is an extremely endangered species and we didn't want to risk indigestion. After she had chewed a little I took this picture and we put her right back where we found her."

There's no reason to beg Khloe Kardashian to save us all by battling that weta in a fight to the death, because she looks harmless. That weta is sort of cute. Don't you just want to dress her up in a tutu, throw her in your purse and take her shopping? Just look her at her nom-ing on that carrot. If she can eat a carrot......that means she can eat a finger..... And while you're screaming at your chomped off finger, she can jump down your open mouth, shove herself down into your stomach and eat you from the inside/out. No, she would never do that."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Former Lab Beagles See the Sun for the First Time

Beagle Freedom Project - Second Rescue - June 8, 2011 from João Allex on Vimeo.

from Time

Dog videos never fail to conjure up some sort of emotion. And this one really brings the waterworks. The above footage shows male beagles that were rescued from a California university animal testing lab seeing sunlight and stepping on grass for the first time.

The rescue mission, which happened in June, was recently followed by a much larger one from a lab in Spain. The group that undertook the cause, Animal Rescue Media Education (ARME), rescued a total of 72 dogs in the most recent effort, 32 of them having already been adopted in Europe, according to NBC Los Angeles.

ARME’s Beagle Freedom Project spokesman Gary Smith told the station that the beagles, all between ages 4 and 7, had lived in cages their entire lives.

Unfortunately, beagles’ notoriously obedient dispositions makes them ideal for experimentation. According to the Beagle Freedom Project’s website, they are the breed of choice for lab testing of pharmaceutical, household, and cosmetic products due to their ability to adapt to life in a cage and the fact that they are relatively inexpensive to feed.

When the beagles are no longer needed for research, some labs contact organizations such as ARME, who then work to find good homes for the dogs.

This heartbreaking video was filmed back in June, when the organization brought nine beagles to Los Angeles to get a second chance at life. We dare you not to be moved by that first beagle’s initial tentative steps and soulful eyes.

ARME is a non-profit advocacy group and 501(c)(3) organization funded by tax-deductible contributions. Information on how to make a donation or adopt a beagle is available on the organization’s website.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chimpanzees self-medicate with food

Congrats to former MPI-er Shelly Masi :) and thanks to Caro D for the link!

from msnbc
By Jennifer Viegas
Many of the plants they eat aren't for nutrition, but for medicinal purpose

An extensive look at what chimpanzees consume each day reveals that many of the plants they consume aren't for nutrition but are likely ingested for medicinal purpose.

The findings, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, indicate that the origins of medicine go way back, beyond the human species.

"We conclude that self-medication may have appeared in our ancestors in association with high social tolerance and lack of herbivorous gut specialization," lead author Shelly Masi and her colleagues write.

Masi, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and her team recorded the items consumed by a community of over 40 wild chimpanzees at Kibale National Park, Uganda. They also documented the availability of the foods, as well as the social interactions between the chimps.

They also documented the same information for about a dozen wild western gorillas in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic.
Unusual food consumption in chimpanzees, meaning foods not normally associated with nutritional needs, was twice as high as it was for gorillas. Gorillas turn out to have more specialized guts that are better capable of detoxyifying harmful compounds, making them have have less of a need to self-medicate than chimps and humans may need to.

Chimpanzees and people are extremely social and both learn from each other, including what to eat.

"Older and more successful individuals (such as those that are high ranking) are expected to be the best model to copy, and are mainly responsible for generating and transmitting food traditions," according to the authors.

Analysis of the mostly non-nutritional and sometimes slightly toxic foods consumed determined that most had medicinal properties. Based on the study, the chimpanzee medicine chest appears to include the following: Antiaris toxicaria leaves (anti-tumor), Cordia abyssinica pith (anti-malarial and anti-bacterial), Ficus capensis (anti-bacterial), Ficus natalensis bark (anti-diarrheal), Ficus urceolaris leaves (de-worming agent), and many more.

The primates seemed to strategically go for the medicinal parts of these plants, and would consume them even when other more nutritious and palatable foods were available.

While chimps and humans appear to be the world's most self-medicating animals, another new study, accepted for publication in the journal Small Ruminant Research, documents how both wild and domesticated herbivores also consume plants for medical reasons.
Juan Villalba of Utah State University's Department of Wildland Resources, and co-author Serge Landau of Israel’s Volcani Center explain how goats sometimes nibble on the anti-parasitic plant Albizia anthelmintica. This was "followed by expulsion of worms in the feces and alleviation" of the worm problem.

Stacy Lindshield, an Iowa State University researcher, also identified a medicated body scratcher invented by wild spider monkeys.

"Spider monkeys have been observed rubbing crushed and chewed leaves on their bodies," Lindshield told Discovery News, explaining that "some primates select plants or invertebrates with chemical properties." In addition to medicinal purposes, she said the resulting smelly ointment might also facilitate olfactory communication.
Julio Mercader, a University of Calgary archaeologist, told Discovery News that he believes such medicinal and otherwise useful plant “tools” merit study via a new interdisciplinary field of primate archaeology.

He said, "We used to think that culture and, above anything else, technology was the exclusive domain of humans, but this is not the case."

Short Skirts Magically Turn Women Into Bitches

from Jezebel
After nearly twenty years of teaching gender studies at a community college, I've got a little saying that elicits knowing smiles whenever I share it around campus: "sisterhood is easier in winter." I'm referring to the reality that when the weather is cold (or as cold as it gets in Southern California) and my students are in sweaters and jeans, there's considerably less intra-female hostility in my classrooms than when the weather turns warm.

I've seen it happen a hundred times. On a hot day, a young woman arrives late to class. She's wearing short shorts or a miniskirt, perhaps with a sleeveless, low-cut top. Students turn to stare as she walks in, and on more than one occasion, I've heard low murmurs of feminine disapproval from the back of the classroom. Sometimes you can catch the sotto voce whispers: "Who does she think she is?" "What a slut." Or my favorite, "This is school, not a nightclub." A few of the male students seem on the verge of drooling. Some students watch me carefully, to see if I'm checking out their scantily-clad classmate. Meanwhile, the object of all the judgment sits stiffly, trying to pretend she's impervious to all the animus coming her way.

A new Canadian study finds that it's not just my students: many young women really are more likely to become judgmental about and hostile towards their female peers when those peers are wearing "sexier" clothing. As reported in the current edition of research journal Aggressive Behavior, researchers — using dozens of Toronto-area female college students as subjects — essentially replicated the experience I see so often in my classroom. When the subjects were exposed to a young conservatively dressed woman, they barely noticed her. But when the researchers' confederate entered the room wearing revealing clothing, she drew intense hostility. The researchers rated the responses on a "bitchiness" scale.

One woman implied that the [woman] was dressed to have sex with one of her professors and another said that the confederate's ‘‘boobs were about to pop out''. Importantly, all comments about the confederate were made after she left the room with one exception. One woman said ‘‘What the fuck is that?'' directly to the [revealingly-dressed woman] after blatantly looking her up and down while showing disgust.

Presumably that last response topped the "bitchy" chart. Of course, a little of the investigators' own "bitchiness" seems to slip through. Writing about the risks of having the subjects figure out that they were taking part in a study, the authors assure us that while other women often "dress provocatively in a university context," serious "research assistants would likely not be dressed in such a sexy manner." In other words: our deception worked because everyone knows only airheads wear miniskirts.

The findings aren't astonishing. What is disturbing (besides the unconscious prejudices of the authors) is the degree to which the researchers minimize men's role in driving "bitchiness" and judgmentalism among young women. They note, for example, that the subjects reported that they were less likely to consider befriending the "sexy" confederate. The reason?

We suspect that women who appear sexually available are not perceived as ‘‘safe'' friends — they are expected to be mate poachers and they likely devalue a person's mate value (guilty by association).

That may accurately describe a perception, but the researchers completely miss the root cause of this intra-female competitiveness: the widespread belief that men lack sexual self-control. Several times in the discussion section of the study, the investigators cite research or repeat their own hypotheses that "women are threatened by, disapprove of, and punish women who appear and/or act promiscuous." But that "threat" only exists because of the nearly-universal acceptance of the idea that men are hardwired for infidelity and will inevitably cheat on their mates if given a chance.

As this study makes clear, women still police other women's sexuality. It reminds us too of what we already know: that policing does tangible damage to women's relationships with other women. Few things do more to fray the already tenuous bonds of sisterhood. But what this study (and so many others before it) miss is the obvious point that this competitive "bitchiness" towards other women rests on the assumption that men are so unreliable that there's no point in trying to "police" their behavior. If women believed that men had the power to resist sexual temptation, if they believed that male infidelity was the result of a choice rather than a biological inevitability, then women wouldn't feel nearly as threatened by cleavage.

This "myth of male weakness" outsources men's sexual self-control to women. For decades now, junk science has foisted the "caveman mystique" onto us, insisting that testosterone, Y chromosomes, and evolution trump the willpower and empathy of even the most well-intentioned dude. We're hardwired to be promiscuous, hardwired to stare at nubile young women, and hardwired to cheat if given half a chance. Ignoring the reality that women have their own libidos (and their own demonstrable propensity to stray), the male myth advises women to accept men for the perpetual adolescents we are. So women need to control those whom the myth promises are within their power to influence: other women. Women learn to slut-shame and ostracize the miniskirt-wearers whom they see as sexual rivals; men get let off the proverbial hook.

Bitchiness (at least as defined by this study) is rooted in the same set of beliefs as the requirement in other parts of the world where women wear burqas. We demand that women cover up to protect men from temptation because we don't believe that men are capable of self-control. We also pressure women to cover up as a sign of solidarity with other women; modesty is, as this research reminds us, promoted as currency for buying female friendship. By that calculus, revealing clothing gets interpreted as a sign of hostility towards other women. The "slut" is hated not just because she attracts male attention, but because she refuses to play by the "rules" that are supposed to keep women safe.

It's not news that women are socialized to be competitive with each other. It's not news that, as my students remind me, sisterhood is easier in winter. And it will continue to be the same old news until we name the real root of the problem: our collective refusal to believe that men are capable of being strong, responsible, reliable adults.

Top 10 quirky science tricks for parties

holy shit: Engineered Avian Flu Could Kill Half the World’s Humans

Thanks to Zoran A for the link!Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies
by Martin Enserink

Locked up in the bowels of the medical faculty building here and accessible to only a handful of scientists lies a man-made flu virus that could change world history if it were ever set free.

The virus is an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Scientists believe it's likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths.

In a 17th floor office in the same building, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center calmly explains why his team created what he says is "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make"—and why he wants to publish a paper describing how they did it. Fouchier is also bracing for a media storm. After he talked to ScienceInsider yesterday, he had an appointment with an institutional press officer to chart a communication strategy.

Fouchier's paper is one of two studies that have triggered an intense debate about the limits of scientific freedom and that could portend changes in the way U.S. researchers handle so-called dual-use research: studies that have a potential public health benefit but could also be useful for nefarious purposes like biowarfare or bioterrorism.

The other study—also on H5N1, and with comparable results—was done by a team led by virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Tokyo, several scientists told ScienceInsider. (Kawaoka did not respond to interview requests.) Both studies have been submitted for publication, and both are currently under review by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which on a few previous occasions has been asked by scientists or journals to review papers that caused worries.

NSABB chair Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist, says he cannot discuss specific studies but confirms that the board has "worked very hard and very intensely for several weeks on studies about H5N1 transmissibility in mammals." The group plans to issue a public statement soon, says Keim, and is likely to issue additional recommendations about this type of research. "We'll have a lot to say," he says.

"I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one," adds Keim, who has worked on anthrax for many years. "I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."

Some scientists say that's reason enough not to do such research. The virus could escape from the lab, or bioterrorists or rogue nations could use the published results to fashion a bioweapon with the potential for mass destruction, they say. "This work should never have been done," says Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute who has a strong interest in biosecurity issues.

The research by the Kawaoka and Fouchier teams set out to answer a question that has long puzzled scientists: Does H5N1, which rarely causes human disease, have the potential to trigger a pandemic? The virus has decimated poultry flocks on three continents but has caused fewer than 600 known cases of flu in humans since it emerged in Asia in 1997, although those rare human cases are often fatal. Because the virus spreads very inefficiently between humans it has been unable to set off a chain reaction and circle the globe.

Some scientists think the virus is probably unable to trigger a pandemic, because adapting to a human host would likely make it unable to reproduce. Some also believe the virus would need to reshuffle its genes with a human strain, a process called reassortment, that some believe is most likely to occur in pigs, which host both human and avian strains. Based on past experience, some scientists have also argued that flu pandemics can only be caused by H1, H2, and H3 viruses, which have been replaced by each other in the human population every so many decades—but not by H5.

Fouchier says his study shows all of that to be wrong.

Although he declined to discuss details of the research because the paper is still under review, Fouchier confirmed the details given in news stories in New Scientist and Scientific American about a September meeting in Malta where he first presented the study. Those stories describe how Fouchier initially tried to make the virus more transmissible by making specific changes to its genome, using a process called reverse genetics; when that failed, he passed the virus from one ferret to another multiple times, a low-tech and time-honored method of making a pathogen adapt to a new host.

After 10 generations, the virus had become "airborne": Healthy ferrets became infected simply by being housed in a cage next to a sick one. The airborne strain had five mutations in two genes, each of which have already been found in nature, Fouchier says; just never all at once in the same strain.

Ferrets aren't humans, but in studies to date, any influenza strain that has been able to pass among ferrets has also been transmissible among humans, and vice versa, says Fouchier: "That could be different this time, but I wouldn't bet any money on it."

The specter of an H5N1 pandemic keeps flu scientists up at night because of the virus's power to kill. Of the known cases so far, more than half were fatal. The real case-fatality rate is probably lower because an unknown number of milder cases are never diagnosed and reported, but scientists agree that the virus is vicious. Based on Fouchier's talk in Malta, New Scientist reported that the strain created by the Rotterdam team is just as lethal to ferrets as the original one.

"These studies are very important," says biodefense and flu expert Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The researchers "have the full support of the influenza community," Osterholm says, because there are potential benefits for public health. For instance, the results show that those downplaying the risks of an H5N1 pandemic should think again, he says.

Knowing the exact mutations that make the virus transmissible also enables scientists to look for them in the field and take more aggressive control measures when one or more show up, adds Fouchier. The study also enables researchers to test whether H5N1 vaccines and antiviral drugs would work against the new strain.

Fouchier says he consulted widely within the Netherlands before submitting his manuscript for publication. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the work, has agreed to the publication, says Fouchier, including officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (NIH declined to answer questions for this story.) Now, Fouchier is eagerly waiting for NSABB's judgment.

Osterholm says he can't discuss details of the papers because he's an NSABB member. But he says it should be possible to omit certain key details from controversial papers and make them available to people who really need to know. "We don't want to give bad guys a road map on how to make bad bugs really bad," he says.

But some scientists say the board's debate comes far too late, because the studies have been done and the papers are written. "This is a good example of the need for a robust and independent system of PRIOR review and approval of potentially dangerous experiments," retired arms control researcher Mark Wheelis of the University of California, Davis, wrote to ScienceInsider in an e-mail. "Blocking publication may provide some small increment of safety, but it will be very modest compared to the benefits of not doing the work in the first place."

Scientists have long discussed whether to have mandatory reviews of dual-use studies before they begin, and given the global risks, some have even argued for some international risk assessment system for pandemic viruses. For instance, a proposal by four researchers from the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland would have classified Fouchier's work as an "activity of extreme concern" that would have required international pre-approval.

But NSABB advised against such mandatory systems in 2007, and most countries don't have formal mechanisms in place to review studies before they start. (In the United States, it's "recommended" that researchers ask an institutional review board for advice if they think a study raises concerns.) Fouchier's study was greenlighted in advance by the Dutch Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM), but that only means the panel is satisfied with safety procedures at Fouchier's lab, explains chair Bastiaan Zoeteman; it's not COGEM's job to decide whether a study is desirable. NIH didn't give the funding proposal a special review either, says Fouchier.

"The creation of a pandemic virus has been the classical example of dual-use research of concern the past decade," says Ebright. "It's remarkable that the NSABB is discussing it in 2011."

Keim agrees about the need for reviews up front. "The process of identifying dual use of concern is something that should start at the very first glimmer of an experiment," he says. "You shouldn't wait until you have submitted a paper before you decide it's dangerous. Scientists and institutions and funding agencies should be looking at this. The journals and the journals' reviewers should be the last resort."

NSABB does not have the power to prevent the publication of papers, but it could ask journals not to publish. Even Ebright, however, says he's against efforts to ban the publication of the studies now that they have been done. "You cannot post hoc suppress work that was done and completed in a nonclassified context," he says. "The scientific community would not stand for that."

Congo is walk in the park for area gorilla researcher

Thanks to Cleve H for the link!
from my suburban
By Joe Sinopoli

Michael Stucker’s journey into the heart of the Congo jungle actually started as a wide-eyed boy, jockeying to get a better view of the animals at Brookfield Zoo.

“It was that gaze, the gaze of the gorillas,” he said. “And that struck a chord and made me want to learn more about them and protect these animals.”

Now 34, Stucker finds himself quietly stalking Western Lowland gorillas on their own ground — not as a hunter, but as a conservationist of the largest of the primates.

Stucker soon will head from Brookfield back to the Republic of Congo and Nouabale-Ndoki National Park as a volunteer researcher for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. Founded in 1885, the society manages about 500 conservation projects in more than 60 countries across the globe.

The Riverside Brookfield High School graduate — who also holds two bachelor’s degrees in psychology and primate behavior and ecology from Central Washington University in Washington state — became enamored with the great apes as a college student.

He was an intern caretaker there with the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, home of Washoe, the first chimp to learn sign language. During Stucker’s final semester, he was asked to prepare a lengthy presentation on gorillas.
And that, as they say, was all it took.

Stucker fired off a resume to the WCS’s Mondika Research Center at Nouabale-Ndoki National Park three months after he graduated college in August 2009 and arrived in the Congo on Jan. 1, 2010, as a volunteer research assistant. He stayed there for 16 months and is now counting the days until he returns May 26 as a paid staff member and site manager/project coordinator.

“I’ve been enjoying the luxuries of life and appreciating running water, telephone and Internet access and eating when and whatever I like,” he said.

A day in the jungle

Michael Stucker’s day starts early in the jungle.

At 4:30 a.m., he’s up and about checking the camp, making sure the cooks are preparing food and the rest of the staff has rolled out of their cots and shaken the scorpions from their shoes.

He then puts on his nurse’s cap and tends to the medical needs of the camp staff, including 10 pygmies from the Ba’Aka tribe, two Congolese assistants and one armed guard. Cuts and scrapes are cleaned, medicated and dressed. After all, this is Africa, and something that starts as small as a scratch can quickly get infected.

By 6:30 a.m., the contingent breaks into teams, each with three trackers and one of the assistants. One team begins the job of tracking the gorillas, which takes anywhere from60 to 90 minutes.

At that point, one of the trackers is sent back to camp for Team 2, which then sets out to relieve Team 1. The relief team then heads back to camp at 5 p.m. after quietly following the gorilla group for the day.

During that time, the teams collect data on behavior, diet, copulation and interactions between the primates. Stucker analyzes and enters the data, which is then relayed back to a conservation biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society for review.

Tourism helps fund primate research
Ecotourism plays a substantial role in the sustainability of the park. Run by the Congolese Ministry of Forestry Economy and the Environment and WCS, the ecotourism program provides revenue essential to the animals’ welfare and running of the camp, as well as anti-poaching efforts.

Groups are formed that allow two to four tourists to view gorillas for one hour per day, so as not to stress the animals, Stucker said. The group keeps a minimum of 70 meters from gorillas, and everyone is required to wear a surgical mask to minimize infecting animals with airborne diseases. Gorillas are particularly susceptible to human respiratory diseases.

In camp, rations for humans are limited. Breakfast is bread and water, lunch and dinner are usually rice and beans, spaghetti or canned corned beef. In fact, everything is canned.

Family and friends are missed

Stucker, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1996-99, said his military training laid the foundation for how he endures the hardships of living in the bush, such as the heat and poor sleeping conditions.

“Mainly, it helps with the separation from family and friends,” he said of his training.

His mother, Mary Stucker, said her son has always had an adventurous spirit, along with a love of animals. But mothers are required to worry about their children, even Marines.

“At one point, we thought he had malaria and we were very frightened,” she said. “But that wasn’t the worst of it. He also had an infection in his arm from his wrist to his elbow. People from several different churches were praying for him. God answered our prayers.”

RBHS science teacher Dave Monti inspired Stucker to go for his dream while he was a sophomore. The two recently reconnected for the first time since Stucker’s high school graduation.

“I didn’t hear from him until last year when he was in Africa,” Monti said. “I always encouraged him to follow your passion, and if you’re lucky, you can make it your career. It was very exciting to hear the things he was doing.”

Fongoli chimps exhibit sharing behavior like humans

from Iowa State news
Study by ISU's Pruetz finds savanna chimps exhibit sharing behavior like humans

Sharing food has widely been considered by scholars as a defining characteristic of human behavior. But a new study by Iowa State University anthropology professor Jill Pruetz now reports that chimpanzees from her Fongoli research site in Senegal also frequently share food and hunting tools with other chimps.
Co-authored by ISU anthropology graduate student Stacy Lindshield, their study is posted online in Primates and will be published in a future issue of the journal.
The researchers witnessed 41 cases of Fongoli chimpanzees willingly transferring either wild plant foods or hunting tools to other chimpanzees. While previous research by primatologists had documented chimps transferring meat among other non-relatives, this is the first study to document non-meat sharing behavior.

"They're [the Fongoli chimps] not the only chimps that share, but in terms of the resources that we cover here, that is unique," said Pruetz (left), who was named a 2008 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for her world-renowned research on savanna chimpanzees in Senegal. "I guess all chimps share meat, but they don't share plants or tools. Yet they do here, in addition to meat. It was intriguing when we first started seeing these events."

Breaking new ground on chimp sharing
The researchers document a frequency of sharing previously unreported for chimpanzees. The chimps commonly transferred meat and wild plant foods, but they also transferred tools, honey and soil. Most of the transfer behavior was classified as recovery or passive sharing, with females commonly taking food from males -- with much of that taking place from dominant to subordinate recipients.
Of the 41 witnessed events, Fongoli male chimps transferred wild foods or tools to females 27 times. While Christina Gomes and Christopher Boesch from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology authored a 2009 study proposing that males and females exchange meat for sex -- resulting in males increasing their mating success and females increasing their caloric intake to overcome the energy costs and potential injury from hunting -- Pruetz contends that's not all that's going on in the cases she's witnessed.

"It's a different set of relationships within the social group [at the Fongoli site], and I tend to think again that it ties back to the environment and the fact that the resources are distributed differently," said Pruetz, who is also ISU's Walvoord Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "They have a big home range -- about 10 times bigger than Jane Goodall's range in Gombe at 86 square kilometers -- and that forces them to stay together. If they split up like chimps normally do, it could be days or weeks or months before they may see someone again -- and chimps are more social than that. So I think they stay together like monkeys and they move around their home range together."

Pruetz sees some of the sharing behavior between males and females as a product of the "food for sex" theory. The ISU researchers found that both adult females in estrus [the period of maximum sexual receptivity of the female] and adolescent females cycling to estrus were more likely to receive food from adult male chimps. Pruetz says that the male chimps may use food transfer as a future mating strategy with the adolescent females, particularly since there are a relatively small number of females in the Fongoli community.

"It may be used as a strategy [by the male chimps], anticipating a long-term gain on their behavior," she said. "We see that in baboons who have special friends."
The environmental impact on sharing

As the only habituated community of chimpanzees living in a savanna environment, the researchers conclude that Fongoli provides detailed information on the effect of an open, dry and hot environment on social behavior and organization. Pruetz theorizes that it may also shed some light on how the earliest humans first came to share.
"There are aspects of human behavior, and I think that's interesting because it's not exactly the same, but it may give you an idea of how it [sharing among early humans] started," Pruetz said. "It's at least one scenario and how it could have come about in our own lineage. To me, it just reinforces how important environment was."

"Teddy Bear," the porcupine, doesn't like to share...

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) vs Ordinary Least Squares (OLS): A Visual Explanation

From R-bloggers

I haven't read something so clear in a while, so eventhough its very specific, I am re-posting. Thanks Naim M for the link!

check out the entry HERE

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sloths only poop once a week

Potty training at the sloth orphanage from Lucy Cooke on Vimeo.

from vimeo:

filmed at the Aviarios del Caribe sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica which rescues orphaned baby and injured adult sloths, rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild. It's a teaser for the documentary which follows the drama of life at the sanctuary over the course of a year.

Sloths have a number of biological anomalies and one of these is the fact that as adults they descend from the trees once a week to go to the loo. Orphaned baby sloths have to learn this behaviour if they are to be released into the wild and so the sanctuary staff have created their own potty training routine for the sloths.

For more sloth photos and videos follow the blog or twitter

Organic Chemistry is difficult


The Bicycle Animation

from youtube
This is a piece created to question whether it was possible to film animation in realtime. Part of my CSM 3rd year disseration project I was looking at proto animation (really early basic animation) in contemporary design. I've taken a lot of influence from other contemporary designers who are using these techniques to explore the way we look at animation and how its made. As stated on my channel I have interviewed animators such as Jim le Fevre and in my research referenced other people using this technique such as David Wilson and Tim Wheatley who did this before me. I developed this project based on what is being done in animation right now as well as a lot of primary research into the history of animation techniques.

Big Thanks to my friend Stefan Neidermeyer who did the sound. The soundtrack is made up of various bike noies recorded during the filming process which Stef then remixed to make the amazing soundtrack.

60-Second Adventures in Thought

The internet


thanks to alex C for the link!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why doesn’t America like science?

From the Financial Times
By Gillian Tett
Thanks to Zoran A for the link

Just three Republican candidates have declared that they believe in the scientific basis for evolution

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York, does not often hide his views. When he recently addressed an international economic forum at Columbia University, on the seemingly “dull” topic of science and politicians, however, his words were incendiary, even by his standards.
“We have presidential candidates who don’t believe in science!” he lamented, referring to the current field of people jostling to become Republican candidate for the 2012 elections. “I mean, just think about it, can you imagine a company of any size in the world where the CEO said, ‘oh I don’t believe in science’ and that person surviving to the end of that day? Are you kidding me? It’s mind-boggling!”

It is a comment that many observers might echo, particularly among the ranks of American scientists. For while Bloomberg did not specify whom he considers to be “mind-boggling”, the list of targets is long. Thus far, just three of the eight potential Republican candidates have positively declared that they believe in the scientific basis for evolution. The rest have either hedged, or – like Rick Perry – claimed that evolution is just “a theory that is out there... [but] it’s got some gaps in it”. Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann, another contender, has actively called for creationism to be taught too, since she has similar doubts about the evolutionary science.
Newt Gingrich has cast doubt on the virtues of stem cell research, Herman Cain has questioned whether there is any scientific evidence behind homosexuality, and most of the candidates have queried climate change. Indeed, whenever any candidate has defended evidence-based science, they have suffered a backlash: witness the travails of Mitt Romney.

In some senses, this is not surprising. A recent survey by the National Science Foundation found that 45 per cent of Americans support evolution (barely more than those who actively reject it). There is similar scepticism about climate change.

The views that Bloomberg considers “mind-boggling” are not outliers, or not outside the coastal areas such as New York, where he resides.

But common or not, the spread of this sentiment is leaving many American scientists alarmed. Last month, New Scientist magazine warned in an editorial that science is now under unprecedented intellectual attack in America. “When candidates for the highest office in the land appear to spurn reason, embrace anecdote over scientific evidence, and even portray scientists as the perpetrators of a massive hoax, there is reason to worry,” it thundered. Some 40,000 scientists have now joined a lobby group called Science Debate, which was founded four years ago with the aim of getting more scientific voices into the political arena. “There is an entire generation of students today who have been taught that there is no objective truth – who think that science is just another opinion,” says Shawn Lawrence Otto, co-founder of Science Debate, who told me that the “situation today is much worse than in 2008”.

This is paradoxical. Historically, science has commanded respect in America. It was Abraham Lincoln, after all, who founded the National Academy of Sciences, and during the cold war, there was heavy investment in science, as America reeled from its “Sputnik moment” (or fears that it was being outflanked by the USSR). Innovation continues to be worshipped, particularly when it produces entrepreneurial companies and clever gadgets (think Apple’s iPad).

Nothing causes more fear among American politicians than the idea that America is “falling behind” countries such as China in science. And another recent survey by the National Science Foundation shows that more than half of Americans consider scientists to have a “prestigious” profession, a higher rating than bankers, doctors, politicians and priests. Only firefighters command more respect.

Why? Some observers might be tempted to blame this paradox on the rise of the religious right: while the craft of science might be respected, its conclusions are not. Others point to powerful commercial concerns (such as oil companies), who have a vested interest in twisting debate, and attacking science they dislike. Another line of thinking blames the polarisation of the media and political class: when there is an emphasis on partisan shrieking, there is less room for reasoned debate.

But Otto of Science Debate likes to blame another factor: the impact of social sciences. Since the 1960s, he argues, society has been marked by a growing sense of cultural relativism, epitomised by anthropology. And as post-modernist ideas spread, this has undermined the demand for scientific evidence. Today, any idea can be promoted as worthy, irrespective of facts – and tolerated in the name of “fairness”.

I suspect that this overstates anthropology: the discipline has been somewhat introverted and has little political power. But leaving aside that quibble, it is hard to disagree with Otto’s basic point – that in today’s political climate there is far too little evidence-based, reasoned debate. In that spirit it is worth noting that Otto himself is now urging scientists not to shun the Republican Party. On the contrary, “I am encouraging them to join”, to influence the debate, he says. It would be nice to think – or hope – it could make a difference. Maybe Bloomberg could donate some cash.