The new buzz-word: Telomere

I seem to be hearing a lot about this little bit of genetic material in popular culture these days;

The New York Times goes into a pretty indepth article for a media that is scientifically illiterate.

In a report on CNN about Yushchenko’s appearance there was an explanation by a doctor that extreme stress could have induced it, which included a lesson on telomeres.

On the Science Fiction show Enterprise they even used telomeres to determine that an embassy bomber was not T’Pol’s mom T’Pau by the fact that the telomeres on the genetic material found on the bomb had not undergone ‘ageing’.

I expect to hear more and more of this once obscure biology term used in daily life.

I also expect to see in the next few years internet ads and infomercials promising a youthful appearance by using a telomerase based product (with extremely questionable effectiveness)

Update I’ve been informed that T’Pau was not T’Pol’s mother, T’Les is. T’Pau is some sort of legendary Vulcan leader who was in the original series, guess I lose my Trekkie membership card, oh well.

Posted by scottm at 01:03 AM

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Uber-geekdom (or I can cast 8th level spells!!!)

(Related, read “The gaming mind and intuition” at my blog)

Recently I had lunch with a friend from my community college days (ten years back). We originally met in a psychology class and our conversation turned to that. In that class the teacher set aside a time for students to voluntarily take the Stanford-Binet IQ test administered by an outside expert (he brought it up, I had completely forgotten it until he mentioned it). He remembers me being upset when I got my score (he always had a better memory than me, I have a horrible memory) as I thought it was too low. So we exchanged the score sheets, and were both stunned. He scored a 128 which I thought was mediocre, and I scored a 142, which he thought was amazing. He asked me why I was so upset, and this is where my story enters into geekdom so for our non-geek readers I will put the rest below.

My answer to his question was “well, 142 is high but it isn’t above 170, what I was hoping for”

Him ” Man that’s high I think you’re being unrealistic. Why did you pick that number?”

Me “Because Mages in AD&D are only mediocre until they have INT score of 16, 17, 18 and I figured that IQ was comparable to INT times 10”

He laughed it off thinking I was putting too much faith in a game we both enjoyed, and that I was a little nutty.

When I finished lunch and went back to work, I started to think about whether the two scores (IQ and INT) are translatable. Both are more-or-less Gaussian, both center around a number that is easily convertable (100 for IQ and 10.5 for INT, just times INT by 9.52 to get 100). I dug up the data on the probability distribution for a 3d6 die roll, and what I found was something that at first glance was not very encouraging to my thought experiment.

The “bell-curve” for 3d6 die roll was “squashed” in the middle due to insufficient data-points, so obiously a forumula of 9.52INT=IQ would not work (among other reasons), so I focused on percentile. Looking at my score, 142, which is within the to 0.25%, and comparing it to my distribution breakdown of INT rolled scores gives a INT score for me of 18.

Whoot! I can cast 8th level spells!

Now, I know this is an exercise in futility and means nothing, and there are always problems comparing two bell-curves, and the INT curve drop-off completely at exactly 18, but it just made me feel good.

Now I can go about finishing creating myself as a AD&D character. Let’s see strength 12, Con 10, Dex 11, Wis 12, CHA 11, 4th level wizard (closest to a chemist IMO), NG….

Addendum I think it’s interesting to note that my friend is a mid-level manager on the way up in a technology firm in town (he got a business major), while I have a Chemistry degree and four years of Basic research experience. And one note of unfairness, he makes twice as much now as my highest salary, there is no justice!

Also I have recently taken another IQ test and scored at 139, I’m getting dumber! 😉

Posted by scottm at 04:53 PM

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WTF! seems to have hijacked my browser. I keep getting links inserted on my own blog that I did not insert. I would not care much but it insists on highlighting as a link the first four letters of the word ‘analogy’.

Does anyone know how to take it back from them? I’ve tried everything I know. Has anyone else experienced this? In all my years of surfing I have not.

Posted by scottm at 05:13 AM

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SURVECTOR: The Orgasm Drug

I’m no fan of the corrupt bureaucrats at the FDA. In particular, I think drugs widely tested & prescribed in Europe but not vetted by the FDA should be available in the US with that caveat. Let the public decide for themselves.

An interesting case is the drug Survector, a novel tricyclic antidepressant which was marketed by Servier in France & widely prescribed in Europe. Unlike serotonin reuptake blockers like Prozac, Survector is a dopamine reuptake blocker & mild psychomotor stimulant. Among its effects: Clinical trials tested favorably against imipramine, Ludiomil, Elavil, & Prozac Its psychomotor stimulant effect resulted in a rapid onset of treatment, critical in severe depression, & a drawback of SSRIs & older tricyclics which can take 6 to 8 weeks for onset Of particular use in depression of the elderly Did not cause sexual dysfunction endemic to SSRIs (which can exacerbate depression), enhanced orgasms, & reported to cause spontaneous orgasms (!)

Because of the latter as well as its mild psychomotor stimulant effect, Survector was deemed to have abuse potential (hardly the case with side-effect rich drugs like Prozac). Pressured by the FDA, Survector’s EC license was withdrawn in 1999. Yet studies of dependence (here & here) showed that those most at risk were people with serious psychiatric disorders & histories of substance abuse (duh).

There were also cases of hepatotoxicity (perhaps due to genetic predisposition). Alcohol, of course, has abuse potential & causes liver damage, but don’t look for it to be withdrawn from the market. As it shouldn’t be: why should a minority of substance abusers set public policy?

The orgasm effect also engages America’s Puritanical pleasure phobia. MDMA is a valuable drug that’s been useful in PTSD & psychotherapy, but due its being scheduled is now almost impossible for scientists to study. Its misuse by kids doesn’t change its potential usefulness.

FOOTNOTE: Survector’s manufacturer Servier is now offering a related drug called Tianeptine, which shows promise, altho there are no plans to market it in America. It’s also self-evident that manufacturers of the multibillion dollar SSRI industry have a vested interest in keeping substances like Survector & Tianeptine off the US market.

(Survector’s not, however, completely unavailable.)

Posted by jeff at 01:51 PM

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English only Lawsuits

Michael Blowhard points me to the 612% rise since 1996 in EEOC lawsuits against employers mandating English Only workplaces.

Claims against workplace English-only rules have increased 612 percent, from 32 cases in 1996 to 228 in 2002, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But they’re still only a fraction of the EEOC’s 9,000 annual claims of national-origin discrimination.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:53 PM

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The Way of Truth

Cross-posted to Dean Nation.

The person you agree with 100% of the time is yourself. And sometimes, even that isn’t so! Running a weblog focused on diverse topics I stumble on to many areas where I disagree with person X and agree with person Y, and many areas where the converse happens. The person with whom I will disagree will sometimes attempt to call me back to Reason, or suggest that I Really Can’t Believe That. It’s like my mental faculties just escape me now & then! To paraphrase H. L. Mencken there are individuals who live in terror that someone, somewhere, out there can conceive of a rational opinion at variance with their own!

I exaggerate for effect. We all succumb to this tendency now & then. As a species we seem intent on focusing on individual battles rather than tracking the progress of the war, perhaps this is what makes strategic thinkers “geniuses,” they are not modal personalities. This shouldn’t be too surprising when you realize that though we are shaped by ultimate considerations they work through variations in proximate traits. If you don’t survive the battles, you won’t live to enjoy the fruits of victory in war.

Human beings have confirmation biases. That is, we are more likely to accept evidence that confirms our hypotheses. We also have coalitional biases, that is, we are more likely to give credence to individuals who we know share our other biases, and this can even work to counteract confirmation bias on occassion (that is, you accept weak evidence for hypothesis A but individual 1, who you share multiple other biases with, offers evidence for B, and so the evidence for A looks far weaker to you now).

In terms of specifics, you see these coalitional and confirmation biases show up in various manners. For example, my admiration for Paul Gross is grounded in the reality that he shares two particular biases of mine: he fights creationism where ever it rises to battle science, and also keeps an open mind on topics relating to human nature (from evolutionary psychology to human biodiversity). Now, I happen to disagree with some of Dr. Gross’ opinions on foreign policy, but I don’t particular care about that topic much so it doesn’t really diminish my admiration for him.

Back when I was a “hardcore” libertarian and a freethought activist, I was heartened to find out that non-theist philosopher Antony Flew was also a committed Thatcherite (Flew has expressed a recent openness to Deism FYI, so I haven’t labelled him a negative or implicit atheist as I would have 1 year ago). This tendency for humans to exhibit correlation on numerous variables is not surprising, that libertarians are generally secular & self-perceive their views as “rational” would be no great surprise to anyone (or that they are mostly male). The most common explanation for this tendency is that there are underlying axioms or experiences that commonly shape one’s opinion on alternate hypotheses. For example, if one adheres to a new found respect for “traditional wisdom,” a turn torward the dominant religion and simultaneous acceptance of conventional social mores might be expected. On the other hand, I think people often dismiss the more unpredictable sociological angle: one may switch from Democrat to Republican if one joins a church where everyone is a Republican not because of a genuine heart-felt change in personal values, but because everyone else is a Republican (the values then change in a Pascalian fashion as the constant refrain of the new truth seeps into your brain).

But enough theory, I would like to address a specific. On occasion, some regular readers of my opinions express dismay that I take an elitist attitude toward the evolution/creation “controversy.” That is, I tend to discount the creationist opinions of the American public for two reasons, first, I don’t think they are deeply felt, and second, they are wrong. Now, the truth is that I may believe that it is wrong for schools to serve only kosher meals or only vegan meals (in deference to the dietary restrictions of some students), but, it is not an opinion that I would not be particularly concerned about this even if “my side” lost the battle at a school board meeting. The latter political dispute is of a different kind that the former scientific dispute.

I am not one who is going to deny that science is totally innocent of norms, values and “unproven” assumptions, but, I will assert that convential political “debates” occur primarily because humans are often unable to eloborate and clarify for each other their deep-seated instincts and values which could render their opinion rational, at least in light of their axioms, to other disputants. The axioms of science are more naked and transparent (methodological naturalism, a reliance on evidence, inference and reason), and the means take priority over the ends! This last part is crucial: I don’t believe that teaching creationism in the public schools is a disaster for the negative effect it will have on evolutionary theory per se, rather, I worry about the corrosive effect it will have on those children who might later be influenced by the scientific method, with all its checks & balances and its reliance on good faith (rather than plain faith).

Am I being paranoid? Perhaps, but civilization does hang in the balance, because the modern world is contingent upon the open society, and especially science (republicanism and institutions of civil society are necessary for genuinely innovative science in my opinion, but the affluent middle class society which feeds these values would be untenable without the scientific revolution).1 I am of the mind that the world has produced only one true scientific society, that of Europe in the 17th century (which later expanded to become coterminus with the world). Evolutionary psychologists have addressed our cognitive difficulties with the scientific mode of thought, and only a small minority of individuals in our ostensibly scientific culture will be involved with science or technology in their daily lives, but these individuals are a necessary condition for the perpetuation of middle class affluence. To flourish and grow young scientists and engineers need a culture that will enable them. The creeping in of creation science and other assorted qwackeries will not result in the death of our civilization in one fell swoop, but this is another battle that needs to be viewed in the context of the war against human nature, the war against confirmation bias, groupishness and all the assorted drives and tendencies shaped by our environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA).

But, I must admit that there is a reason that some people sympathize with the public will to insert their norms and values into the realm of science, and that is because those norms and values have been driven out of other domains of knowledge which are more amenable to manipulation. The rise of multiculturalist political correctness in the United States seems to have resulted in the flight from the classrooms of a positive discussion of the preconditions of the shaping of the republic. The seminal importance of religion in both the cultures of New England and Pennsylvania might be deemphasized so as not to seem biased toward Christian faith. The fact that modern civilization as we know it was created by white Europeans seems to be something that must be addressed with discomfort. The reality that this fact has the implication that much of modern art, with its profuse plentitude derived from middle class affluence, is generated by white European men is also another source of discomfort
for the cultural elite. The War Against Science accusation against religion has become part of the zeitgeist, engendering a greater hostility toward “godless science” than there need be.

An erosion of Western cultural values in the classrooms should not be compensated for by the insertion of a system-of-thought that simply no longer exists within the purview of modern science, itself one of the crowning jewels of Western civilization! Rather, we must return to a fideltiy toward Truth, no matter the consequences, no matter how politically unpleasant they might be in the modern age, because for every unpleasant Truth, there are pleasant ones, depending on where you stand. Yes, the founders of the original colonies might be considered distasteful religious fundamentalists or evangelicals, but many of the founding fathers were Deists or liberal Christians. Yes, racism was endemic to early American society, but nevertheless there were exceptions like the Quakers who would refuse to have anything to do with those owned slaves and argued for a universal freedom. Yes, the native peoples of this continent were decimated, but in the end they were not exterminated and today still exist as autonomous nations with their communal freedoms intact.

We are the ones, irrational humans, who impute to Truth a positive or negative light. Prior to the rise of Western civilization truth was more subjective, it has proximate utility as a frame to model the world so that our existence could be safeguarded and genes perpetuated. But with the efflourescence of the Greek spirit in Western civilization we began to move past proximate considerations and look toward the ultimate goals, toward a culture of rational Truth and openness. We gave up our proximate fixations, at least in rhetoric if not always practice, in the interests of ultimate methods which tunneled themselves undernearth the high gradient generated by human bias and prejudice. We should always remember that Western civilization has grown by leaps & bounds by a particular constraint of means which felicitously gives rise to glorious ends.

1 – I offer a conundrum that modern science is partially dependent on the existence of the society that it created. I think one can resolve this by remembering that the methods of science have evolved over the past few centuries, the elite and gentlemenly orientation of science is not the science of today. And in any case, sometimes good ideas can fruit in salty earth by a capricious toss of the dice by God or Nature.

Posted by razib at 12:01 PM

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The Fallujah Report

This entry is totally unrelated to the primary subject of the blog, but I felt that I had a responsibility to post this (kudos to Noah Shachtman at Defense Tech).

This is a PowerPoint presentation apparently created by U.S. Central Command about the battle of Fallujah in Iraq. For an HTML version of this PowerPoint, click here; for those of you with PowerPoint, here is the PPT version (big kudos to Soldiers for the Truth for posting this, even though I disagree with them on many issues).

In the presentation there are a slew of pictures of IEDs, some of the torture rooms, lots of weapons captured, and many interesting statistics. Here are some of them:

– 3 out of every 5 Mosques had fighting positions – 60 total

– 653 total IEDs were found and detonated in Fallujah. The average number of IEDs found and/or detonated across Iraq per month from July to October was 772.

– 11 IED Factories were found. 3 slaughter houses were found.

– 1 out of every 5 blocks had a weapons cache – 203 total.

Check it out! Also, keep a watch on this blog, because I’ll be posting an essay by an international relations theorist who is working to apply sociobiology into making “classical realist” theories more explanatory. It’s a very good essay and it’s always nice other polisci freaks other than myself delving into this, but wait until you see the responses from his critics. They don’t go two paragraphs before they start citing Gould and Lewontin!

And send those links to that PowerPoint to your buddies, if you wouldn’t mind.

Posted by Arcane at 12:48 AM

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The Pentagon's "Cambrian program"

Andrew Parker, who has been discussed on this blog before, has been recruited, along with “all manner of political and military figureheads, as well as defence analysts, computer programmers, tacticians and statisticians,” by the British Ministry of Defense to develop a piece of software that will use “evolutionary theory to predict possible threats and outcomes,” and has been dubbed the “Cambrian program.” He also reports that Tony Tether at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, lots of neat stuff on their site, btw) here in the U.S. is working on a similar program.

The program will work along the same lines as computer programs already used to recreate the evolutionary paths of different species. The programs take data from thousands of different fossils and use artificial neural networks and so-called genetic algorithms to piece together how different species evolved. The Cambrian program will follow suit, only instead of processing fossil data, it will eventually be fed information on the state of our society. Data on the way we travel, the way we use energy and water, our postal services and internet traffic, will be processed alongside information on the availability of weapons, chemicals, radioactive material, and so on. It will then attempt to use the data to piece together possible threats that could emerge in the future.

This is basically the only thing out there on it that I can find and DARPA hasn’t posted anything on their program yet… but it sounds sweet to me! The rest of the article is quite good, as well, so check it out!

Posted by Arcane at 03:37 PM

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NAACP President steps down

Reports about President Kweisi Mfume will be stepping down from his position, and that the organization will be looking for a new for a new candidate. Callers at C-SPAN have offered their views; Jesse Jackson, Barak Obama, Julianne Malveau, Colin Powell etc. Save for the last one I think each of them would be horrible, and Colin would not work since his close relationship to the Bush administration. In the Extended Entry I give my choice.

First, Bill would not give the paranoid set of the left all the theories for failure in the black community they thrive off of (HIV-AIDS is a biological weapons created by whites, crack cocaine was sold in the black communities by the CIA, etc.). Second, he would take the focus of the black voice off of hand-outs and set asides, and recenter it on making the community itself emphasize education, discipline, and responsiblity.

But I have little doubt it won’t happen. The black “leadership” have made a lot of money and garnered a lot of power running on the victim myth.

Posted by scottm at 05:58 AM

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Zimbabwe's New Strategy

We’ve all read about how well Zimbabwe is being governed these days, so this brainstorm shouldn’t come as a surprise:

ZIMBABWE has come up with a bizarre proposal to solve the food crisis threatening half its population with starvation. It wants to bring in obese tourists from overseas so that they can shed pounds doing manual labour on land seized from white farmers.

The so-called Obesity Tourism Strategy was reported last week in The Herald, a government organ whose contents are approved by President Robert Mugabe’s powerful information minister, Jonathan Moyo.

Pointing out that more than 1.2 billion people worldwide are officially deemed to be overweight, the article exhorted Zimbabweans to “tap this potential”.

“Tourists can provide labour for farms in the hope of shedding weight while enjoying the tourism experience,” it said, adding that Americans spent $6 billion a year on “useless” dieting aids.

“Tour organisers may promote this programme internationally and bring in tourists, while agriculturalists can employ the tourists as free farm labour.

“The tourists can then top it all by flaunting their slim bodies on a sun-downer cruise on the Zambezi or surveying the majestic Great Zimbabwe ruins.”

Read further in the article for details on the reality of life in Zimbabwe:

This is a government that boasts of bumper harvests when 5.5m of its people need food aid; that negotiates to buy Russian MiG fighter jets when the country is bankrupt; that shows constantly smiling dancing Zimbabweans on state television (known locally as the “Bums and Drums” channel) when two-thirds of the working population has fled. . . .

It did not take long to see what was going on. Mazowe Valley is less than an hour from the capital and a drive through the area revealed the shocking destruction that Mugabe has wreaked on this sad but beautiful country.

It used to be described as the bread basket of southern Africa, with neat fields of maize and soya growing in rich red soil and farmers notching up world records for yields. Rows of giant greenhouses sheltered roses that earned important foreign exchange, as did fields of miniature vegetables to sell in British supermarkets.

In 10 years of visiting Zimbabwe, I have often been through Mazowe and its model farmland. Today it is a series of fallow fields, overgrown with grass, weeds and thorny scrub, as if some deadly scourge had swept through the valley. There are orchards of dead citrus trees, greenhouse frames stripped of their plastic roofs and the broken, twisted poles of what were once floodlights and irrigation systems.

Security fences have gone. Trees have been chopped for firewood. Even the telephone wires have been looted.

Gone, too, are the panga- waving “war veterans” who manned almost every entrance two years ago. Most of the war vets and settlers who were bussed in to take over the farms have been moved out so that party bigwigs can move into the houses.

Posted by TangoMan at 05:41 PM

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