Moneyball Takes the Field: Gold Gloves, Team Positioning, and the Pittsburgh Pirates

A friend sent me a nice post by a fellow named Pat Lackey, at the wonderfully named Pirates site “Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke”. Lackey lightly laments baseball’s failure to award any Pirates a Gold Glove award. Then he says why he thinks the award is silly and the Pirates’ defense great: Because team positioning matters more than individual extra-excellence.

It seems to me that the more that we learn about defense, the more that it seems clear that defense is very much about positioning and about defense as a whole rather than defense as an individual effort. I’d be willing to bet that having Starling Marte beside him for most of the season is part of the reason that Andrew McCutchen scored better in the advanced fielding metrics in 2013. The Pirates’ infield featured no real standout defenders besides Clint Barmes, who more or less lost his job at mid-season, and yet they were incredibly efficient at turning ground balls into outs because the Pirates were as good or better at putting their players in the right places than any other team.

So how are the Pirates doing this? The team went from low in the league D ratings to 5th over the last few years. TribLIVE, another Pirates site, says it was part of a deliberate and radical reworking of the D — which itself came out of a determination to improve despite having little ability to upgrade the roster. In other words, forget getting better players; let’s help these players simply play better. Let’s find a ways to put them in front of the balls that come off the bats.

The key event was a meeting a week after the end of the (bad) 2012 season:

The meeting led to … an agreement to adopt perhaps the most aggressive, systematic approach to run prevention — from alignment to pitching strategy — in baseball history….

The Pirates experimented with a comprehensive defensive philosophy the past several seasons, but this was different.

  • Position players had to change. They had to shift from areas of the field where they had been stationed their entire careers and trust the pitching staff’s ability to locate pitches.
  • Pitchers had to change. The staff had to rely on a new primary pitch and trust the radical defensive alignments behind them.
  • Old-school coaches had to change. Coaches trained in 20th century baseball orthodoxy had to trust 21st century concepts.

The club’s improvement would not come through adding Gold Glove-caliber fielders or pricey free agent pitchers but rather improving the sum of its defensive parts.

It’s something like Moneyball, except instead of reworking how you value players, you rework how you coordinate the actions of the players on field. One more reason to watch the Pirates. It’ll be interesting to see if and how other teams try to adjust.


No Gold Gloves for the Pirates (and a minor rant about defense) | October 2013 | Pittsburgh Pirates.

Aggressive defensive plan has led to Pirates’ turnaround | TribLIVE

Hat-tip to my old friend David Lasday.

How A Meteorologist Saved Neil Armstrong’s Life

Earth, courtesy of NASA

So many amazing stories in the world. Here’s a beaut from astrophysicist Katie Mack (aka @AstroKatie on Twitter):

As a meteorologist, my grandfather’s job for Apollo 11 was to check for weather problems around the capsule’s splashdown site at the conclusion of the return trip. When the time came, he consulted all the data NASA had available and it looked okay. But he wanted to be sure. His previous assignment, in the Navy, had given him access to data from secret spy satellites, a product of the Cold War, and a project no one at NASA had clearance to know about. With just 72 hours to splashdown, he went to a nearby read-out station.

As soon as my grandfather arrived, Air Force Major Hank Brandli dragged him into his office and told him he’d seen “screaming eagle” thunderclouds forming in the satellite images. Brandli knew about NASA’s intended splashdown site, but was forbidden to let on that the satellites existed, much less share any information with other agencies. And now my grandfather was in the same position. The capsule had to be rerouted or Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins would die, but no one could be told the reason for the change.

It was then up to my grandfather, alone, to convince NASA that there was a storm building at the splashdown site, without providing any proof or corroborating data.

I also love this story because this bit about how gonzo the whole operation was reminds me of my own dad’s story about how Michael Debakey made the first really successful aortic stent out of women’s underwear:

The more I learn about the Apollo program, the more I appreciate how much of it was a seat-of-the-pants effort, built on untested technology, driven by human ingenuity and tinged with more than a little hubris. As Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell said, “We just decided to go.” The Moon landings weren’t miraculous, or fated. They weren’t convenient. They were incredibly dangerous and by no means guaranteed to end in success. But we did it.

Katie Mack’s splendid post about her grandpa and the beauty of crazy-ass gonzo science: Losing Neil Armstrong

See also:

They Blew Up A Building Where DeBakey Made Surgical History and I Was Almost Born

Restless Genes (at National Geographic) How genes, culture, and time made us explorers.

Genetics, Roundly Humbled and Wildly Ambitious


I’ve a story at Slate today about how genetics

stands in a bizarre but lovely state of confusion—taken aback, but eager to advance; balanced tenuously between wild ambition and a deep but troubling humility.

It includes some discomfiting tweets from last week’s big human genetics conference in Boston; a walk around the campus of Cambridge University with a brilliant young geneticist named Daniel MacArthur, now at Harvard; a couple pints at The Eagle, the pub where Watson and Crick first announced they’d discovered the structure of DNA; and a cameo by Michelangelo’s David. Plus the speed gene that sorta wasn’t.

Genetics’ Rite of Passage, at Slate.


Photo: David, by jay8085, some rights reserved.

Bad Gladwell, Dead Bodies Beautiful and Sad, and Other Juicy Links

Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway notebook
The first page of “Mrs. Dalloway,’ in Virginia Woolf’s original manuscript book.


Best of the lot

Two devastating dissections of Malcolm Gladwell from psychologist Christopher Chabris (of hidden gorilla fame): ‘

David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell – and — just when you thought Chabris couldn’t have been more thorough —  Why Malcolm Gladwell Matters (And Why That’s Unfortunate)

I’ll likely write on this more later, as writing both vividly and truly about the tricky realms of behavioral science has been much on my mind. But for now I’ll just note my biggest problem with Gladwell’s defenses lately. As Chabris notes, Gladwell says he uses academic studies to ‘augment’ his storytelling. If that was the case — if he merely ornamented his storytelling with science — things might not be so bad. But he uses studies as foundations for his storytelling. And if you do that, you need to be far more careful and honest about the science you write about than Gladwell often is.

Apologia T Corgahessen Boyle on writing. My favorite two gems: 1. “The professorial dictum has always been to write what you know, but I say write what you don’t know and find something out. And it works.” Which goes for nonfiction as well.  P2. “a story is a seduction of the reader and such a seduction can so immerse him or her that everything becomes plausible. ” Which, if you read it, as I did, right after reading the Chabris pieces on Gladwell, hits hard indeed. 

Why would I donate my body to science? – Brooke Borel – Aeon  Riveting and deftly played, with some dogs making contributions you won’t soon forget.

Breast cancer is (still) not a Facebook game | Lisa Bonchek Adams  A justified rant.

PROOF – Photography that bears witness Great new photoblog at NatGeo.

How the Shutdown Is Devastating Biomedical Scientists  Brandon Keim interviews a federal scientist who’s watching both his experiments and his animals die.

Purest of the Purists: The Puzzling Case of Grigori Perelman, by Jennifer Ouellette, at Nautilus



“As the Prozac nation fades, the empire of the circuit-based human will rise.”  by @vaughanbell ‘

Science is not finished until it’s communicated’ – UK chief scientist. I argued likewise a while back in the Guardian: Publishing your science paper is only half the job | David Dobbs …

Inkfish: Coloring In Birds’ Bellies with Magic Marker Makes Them Healthier

Graham Davey’s Blog: Discovering Facts in Psychology: 10 ways to create “False Knowledge” in Psychology

PLOS ONE: Weather Forecasting by Insects: Modified Sexual Behaviour in Response to Atmospheric Pressure. I didn’t read this, but the title is irresistible.

Severe impact of the US government shutdown on biomedical research, health and welfare 

The Science of Choice in Addiction – Sally Satel – The Atlantic

Want to Read Minds? Read Good Books | Science



Les’s Blog: I cannot volunteer my time to work on NASA business during the furlougho-disclose-data.html?…


Adventures in Journalism and Writing

These Journalists Spent Two Years and $750,000 Covering One Story – Peter Osnos – The Atlantic

What Publishers Today Can Learn from Allen Lane: Fearlessness. And other lessons from the Penguincubator.

Love City : The Last Word On Nothing A reporting trip that turns into a very awkward unwanted date.

Patrick Leahy At NSA Hearing: ‘We Get More In The Newspapers Than In Classified Briefings’

The Idiocy of the Shutdown, in 3 Acts: Map, Thought Experiment, Speech – James Fallows

Failure Is Not an Option | Texas Monthly  Mimi Schwartz goes long. Catch this thing.

Juicy Links 10-3-13

I keep stashing links to publish link roundups I never have time to publish. So, here’s the speed version, mostly without annotation. Unifying theme: Either I liked these or they’re high on my to-read list.

Funnest thing I’ve read this week. David Quigg asks the FBI if he can see those Hemingway files with less blocked out. The FBI actually does it. David Quigg finds out how a meeting between an astronomer and Robert Frost led to Robert Frost’s famous “Fire and Ice.” Plus how the world ends.

Eyvind Kang and Jessika Kenney by Jen Graves Good review of what sounds like (heh) some damned interesting musicians.

USPS Documents Expose How Local Police and the Federal Government Spy on Your Mail  Forget privacy. We’ve surrendered our constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

Taboo genetics  What’s too tetchy to find genes for? Good look at the question from Erika Check at Nature.

Longform Podcast #62: Malcolm Gladwell, which is fascinating, and A devastating review of Gladwell’s new book, which is. If that last doesn’t get you the review, you can download the PDF here.

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media

The barbarism of reason: John Gray on the Notebooks of Leopardi

Lloyd’s List, the world’s oldest newspaper, to give up on print

Daniel Radcliffe’s Next Trick Is to Make Harry Potter Disappear  Profile by Susan Dominius draws raves.

There are no significant facts about human beings

The good catch  Of fish.

Why Whooping Cough Vaccines Are Wearing Off, by ace scary-disease woman Maryn McKenna.

Kareem: Stop Calling Every Woman ‘Strong.’ It’s Offensive. Kareem shoots from half court. Nothing but net.


Maker’s Schedule versus Manager’s Schedules

Clive Thompson, who’s now trying to juggle his book tour with presumably actually doing newer work, steered me toward this gem from programmer Paul Graham. Feel free to substitute “writer” for maker throughout. I feel the maker’s pain.

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting.

This is why I try to schedule nothing before 2 pm. Sad part: if I schedule something for 2 and am going well at 1.45, I’m in a world of regret and misery.

via Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

Marc Hauser’s Evilicious Rebound From Fraud Draws Generous Puffs


Having written quite a bit about the ruckus raised when Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser was caught fabricating data and committing other acts of scientific misconduct, forcing his resignation, I was intrigued to hear he was self-publishing a book titled Evilicious. (Not making this up.) Today, Ivan Oransky at Retraction watch looks at an odd and awkward aspect of this publication: The book, which according to one Hauser mailing is titled “Evilicious: Cruelty = Desire + Denial”, is apparently blurbed by several leading science writers and scientists. (One version of the press release is below in full.)

When I saw this a few weeks ago, I was rather amazed. I’ve since learned I’m not the only one who wondered whether Hauser was using blurbs (aka ‘puffs’) written before or after he was found guilty of fraud and dropped by his publisher. Oransky has made a couple calls and found that in at least a couple cases, the blurbers offered their endorsements after Hauser’s fall and resignation. They wanted to give Hauser a second chance.

I think generosity is a good default position. But in a case this serious, as with similar cases I’ve written about, I’m with Oransky in wanting to see real signs of reckoning before entertaining requests for forgiveness:

We agree that everyone deserves a second chance. But we do prefer when those given a second chance acknowledge that they did something wrong. That might start with noting a retraction, instead of continuing to list the retracted paper among your publications.

I’m quite curious as to whether Hauser has had the book independently fact-checked. (Most books are not.)

For the fuller story, see Marc Hauser’s second chance: Leading science writers endorse his upcoming book | Retraction Watch.

Image  by oandresilva. Some rights reserved 


Press release emailed out by Marc Hauser recently:


It is a fact that humans destroy the lives of other humans — strangers, friends, lovers, and kin — and have been doing so for a long time.  These cases are unsurprising and easily explained:  We harm others when it benefits us directly, fighting to win resources or wipe out the competition.  In this sense we are no different from any other social animal.  The mystery is why seemingly normal people torture, mutilate, and kill others for the fun of it — or for no apparent benefit at all.  Why did we, alone among the social animals, develop an appetite for gratuitous cruelty?  This is the core problem of evil.  It is a problem that has engaged scholars for centuries and is the central topic of this book.

     Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries, Hauser provides a novel and elegant explanation for why some individuals engage in evil and why we uniquely evolved this capacity:  Evildoers emerge when unsatisfied desires combine with the denial of reality, enabling individuals to engage in gratuitous cruelty toward innocent victims. This simple recipe is part of human nature, and part of our brain’s uniquely evolved capacity to combine different thoughts and emotions.  The implications of Hauser’s theory of evil are unsettling: due to individual differences that begin with our biology, and can be enhanced by certain environments, seemingly normal people are capable of causing horrific harms, feeling rewarded and justified or nothing at all. 


Praise for Evilicious

In this original and uniquely informative book, Marc Hauser shows us how the “addiction to evil” – the persistent subjection of innocents to gratuitous cruelty — emerged as a by-product of the human brain’s unique evolutionary design. The ability to creatively combine all manner of thought and emotion enabled our species to produce great works of art and science, as well as to freely choose to kill and torture with a level of maliciousness unprecedented in the history of life on earth. Here we find that the most dangerous and effective evildoers are not sadists or serial killers with disordered minds, but mostly normal people who could have chosen not to kill and torture. When driven by unsatisfied desires — especially if channeled into dreams of glory for a cause — and in denying the reality and the humanity of others, even nice guys can become massively bloodthirsty.

– Scott Atran, Director of Research in Anthropology at France’s National Center for Scientific Research and author of  “Talking to the Enemy”


“Evilicious is an incisive and engaging analysis of why people have the capacity to inflict great evil.

Marc Hauser cogently draws from psychology, neuroscience and evolution to explore potential explanations for this darkest side of human nature. His fascinating book is lively from start to finish, and helps bring science to bear on an issue of great importance.”

– Kent Berridge, Professor of Neurosciences, University of Michigan


“The problem of evil is as old as recorded thought, and one might have guessed that there would be nothing fresh and original to say.  But Marc Hauser’s Evilicious is an entertaining and compassionate essay refutes that expectation, offering new perspectives and intriguing suggestions on traditional problems from a remarkably wide range of comparative and experimental evidence and evolutionary considerations, often fascinating in themselves.  A thought-provoking inquiry.”

– Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics, MIT


“The urge to explain evil is as compelling and as daunting as the wish to explain love, a task that for all of human history has befuddled poets, philosophers, psychologists, biologists and, most recently, neuroscientists. Marc Hauser draws on all those disciplines and more to examine the worst of human behavior. It is always fascinating to read what he is thinking, all the more so when he’s thinking differently from me. He challenges my assumptions and makes my world bigger. Who could ask for more? Even when you disagree with him, you’ll do so with pleasure.”

– Randy Cohen, Original writer of “The Ethicist”, New York Times Magazine


“Evilicious is a gripping investigation into our appetite for cruelty and destructiveness. Highly informative, and written in a lively style that is accessible to the general reader while also having much to offer the specialist, it is a book that is difficult to put down. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the puzzle of human violence, and every serious student of human nature.”

– David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy and author of “Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.”


“In Evilicious, renowned neuroscientist Marc Hauser provides a provocative and insightful account of evil as the consequence of ancient neural systems put to new uses as evolution shaped the uniquely human, combinatorial brain.  While making his case, Hauser offers lively and accessible explanations of many cutting-edge findings in social neuroscience that are a fascinating read for the general public and scientists in the field alike. The book is an impressive demonstration of the important role science plays in thinking about the most pressing social and ethical issues of today.”

– Andreas Meyer-Lindberg, Director, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Professor, University of Heidelberg


“What Steven Pinker has done for violence, Marc Hauser has achieved with evil – this book brings the light of science to illumine the heart of darkness.”

-Nicholas Wade, former Science Editor, New York Times


“Evilicious offers an analysis of the human capacity for evil, and a plausible account of how it emerged, that is immediately engaging and deeply satisfying. Saturated with eye-catching examples, bristling with punchy observations, and marvelously comprehensive in its coverage, this is a book to savor and to treasure.”

– Philip Pettit, University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton University, and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University.


“Marc Hauser’s cogent and concise study on the psychological nature of evil could not come at a more propitious time after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre changed the national debate on violence. Much discussion has been focused on mental health issues, but as Hauser reveals through his thorough summary of the scientific study of violence, the problem is not a handful of crazy people; it is that we all have the capacity to commit acts of violence due to the nature of our psychology and how our brains are wired. Every Congressman, Senator, and journalist voting or writing on what to do about violence should read this book first.”

– Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, and author of “The Believing Brain.”


“Evilicious is a serious attempt to understand gratuitous cruelty. Evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser argues that even though the capacity for evil evolved by chance, and despite the strong roles of individuals’ genes and experiences, the abuse of power makes grisly sense. Unflinching, thought-provoking and richly informed, this examination of the darkest of human desires is an important original contribution to the science of human moral failings.”

-Richard W. Wrangham, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, author of “Catching Fire” & “Demonic Males.”

Selected sources for “The Social Life of Genes”

Finally made time to create a list of selected reading/sources for my Pacific Standard article “The Social Life of Genes.” (A few of you had asked.)

The list is below, and also at

Alaux, C, S Sinha, and L Hasadsri. 2009. “Honey Bee Aggression Supports a Link Between Gene Regulation and Behavioral Evolution.” In PNAS, Aug 21, 2009. doi:10.1073/pnas.0907043106  How social experience changes honeybees.

Alaux, C, Y Le Conte, H A Adams, S Rodriguez-Zas, C M Grozinger, S Sinha, and G E Robinson. 2009a. “Regulation of Brain Gene Expression in Honey Bees by Brood Pheromone.” Genes, Brain, and Behavior 8 (3) (April): 309–319. doi:10.1111/j.1601-183X.2009.00480.x.  More on how social experience changes honeybees.

Ball, G F. 1998. “They’re Playing Our Song: Minireview Gene Expression and Birdsong Perception.” Neuron (January 1).  On gene expression in bird brains.

Bell, A M, and G E Robinson. 2011. “Behavior and the Dynamic Genome.” Science (New York, N.Y.) 332 (6034) (June 2): 1161–1162. doi:10.1126/science.1203295.   Overview of the field.

Burmeister, Sabrina S, Erich D Jarvis, and Russell D Fernald. 2005. “Rapid Behavioral and Genomic Responses to Social Opportunity.” PLoS Biology 3 (11): e363. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030363.  The macho cichlid study.

Capitanio, John P, Sally P Mendoza, and Steve W Cole. 2011. “Nervous Temperament in Infant Monkeys Is Associated with Reduced Sensitivity of Leukocytes to Cortisol’s Influence on Trafficking.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 25 (1) (January): 151–159. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.09.008.  Gene expression distinctions in nervous young monkeys.

Chen, E, G E Miller, H A Walker, J M Arevalo, C Y Sung, and S W Cole. 2008. “Genome-Wide Transcriptional Profiling Linked to Social Class in Asthma.” Thorax 64 (1) (October 3): 38–43. doi:10.1136/thx.2007.095091.  The asthma study discussed late in the article: Healthy cognitive framing seems a key casualty in families in poverty.

Chen, E, G E Miller, M S Kobor, and S W Cole. 2010. “Maternal Warmth Buffers the Effects of Low Early-Life Socioeconomic Status on Pro-Inflammatory Signaling in Adulthood.” Molecular Psychiatry 16 (7) (May 18): 729–737. doi:10.1038/mp.2010.53.  Some good news.

Cole, S W. 2009. “Social Regulation of Human Gene Expression.” Current Directions in Psychological Science (January 1).  Broad overview from Cole.

Cole, S W, M E Kemeny, and S E Taylor. 2005. “Accelerated Course of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection in Gay Men Who Conceal Their Homosexual Identity.” Psychosomatic … (January 13): 1–13.  HIV and the social isolation of being closeted.

Cole, Steve W. 2010. “Elevating the Perspective on Human Stress Genomics.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 35 (7) (August): 955–962. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.06.008.  Another overview from Cole.

Cole, Steve W, Margaret E Kemeny, Shelley E Taylor, and Barbara R Visscher. 1996. “Elevated Physical Health Risk Among Gay Men Who Conceal Their Homosexual Identity..” Health Psychology 15 (4): 243–251. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.15.4.243.  An early study of higher health risk in closeted gay men.

Irwin, Michael R, and Steven W Cole. 2011. “Reciprocal Regulation of the Neural and Innate Immune Systems.” Nature Reviews Immunology 11 (9) (August 5): 625–632. doi:10.1038/nri3042.  Overview of links between neural and immune systems (and blood and brain systems).

Lutgendorf, Susan K, Koen DeGeest, Caroline Y Sung, Jesusa M Arevalo, Frank Penedo, Joseph Lucci III, Michael Goodheart, et al. 2009. “Depression, Social Support, and Beta-Adrenergic Transcription Control in Human Ovarian Cancer.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 23 (2) (February): 176–183. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2008.04.155.  How gene expression varies by social support in people with cancer.

Miller, G E, N Rohleder, and S W Cole. 2009. “Chronic Interpersonal Stress Predicts Activation of Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Signaling Pathways 6 Months Later.” Psychosomatic Medicine 71 (1) (January 5): 57–62. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e318190d7de.  Social stress levels, and perceived isolation, predict gene-expression patterns 6 months later.

Miller, Gregory E, Edith Chen, Jasmen Sze, Teresa Marin, Jesusa M G Arevalo, Richard Doll, Roy Ma, and Steve W Cole. 2008. “A Functional Genomic Fingerprint of Chronic Stress in Humans: Blunted Glucocorticoid and Increased NF-κB Signaling.” Biological Psychiatry 64 (4) (August): 266–272. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.03.017. Gene expression fingerprints of chronic stress.

Miller, Gregory, Edith Chen, and Steve W Cole. 2009. “Health Psychology: Developing Biologically Plausible Models Linking the Social World and Physical Health.” Annual Review of Psychology 60 (1) (January): 501–524. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163551.  A broad overview from frequent collaborators Greg Miller, Edith Chen, and Steve Cole.

Slavich, G M, and S W Cole. 2013. “The Emerging Field of Human Social Genomics.” Clinical Psychological Science (January 1).  Another recent review.

Sloan, Erica K, John P Capitanio, and Steve W Cole. 2008. “Stress-Induced Remodeling of Lymphoid Innervation.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 22 (1) (January): 15–21. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.06.011.

Sloan, Erica K, John P Capitanio, Ross P Tarara, and Steve W Cole. 2008. “Social Temperament and Lymph Node Innervation.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 22 (5) (July): 717–726. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.10.010.  The Sloan paper in which social temperament seems to affect lymph node pathways.

If you have trouble finding these, drop me a note at david.a.dobbs at gmail, and I can send you a pdf. Mail load is heavy, so it might take a day or two.



They Blew Up A Building Where DeBakey Made Surgical History and I Was Almost Born


Do all buildings hold secrets like this? Likely so. I just happen to know these two.

Above you can see the planned implosion, carried out yesterday, of the decades-old Macy’s department store (formerly Foley’s’ department store) in downtown Houston. When Samuel Arbesman alerted me to a notice of this at The Atlantic Cities site, I quickly jumped there to watch, for this particular building holds two bits of history I hold dear.

The first is that I was almost born in the parking garage. Okay, I exaggerate: My mom’s labor quickened there, and she easily enough cut her shopping trip short and drove a couple miles to the Methodist Hospital, where I emerged a few hours later. Seventeen years later, my dad took me there to buy me my first suit.

The more interesting bit of history, which my father first told me over beers about ten years ago, and which I later found corroborated elsewhere, is that back in the 1950s, cardiac surgeon Michael DeBakey made here, in the Foley’s women’s lingerie department, a key discovery in cardiac surgery — an event my dad knew of because he did his surgical training under DeBakey at about the same time.

DeBakey and his team at the time were in a race with French cardiac surgeons to solve all sorts of cardiac surgery problems. This race sped the development of tools and techniques that would, a decade later, allow the first open-heart surgeries. One puzzle they faced was how to successfully treat aortic aneurysms — the ballooning and thinning, and then bursting, of that main, biggest vessel carrying blood away from the heart.

That particular race started with stents — tubes that could be wrapped around or slipped within burgeoning or burst blood vessels to reinforce them — applied in aneurysms in the upper thigh, where the vessels weren’t’ too big and failure was more survivable. From there, DeBakey’s team and the French team worked their ways up toward the heart (and on bigger and bigger arteries) with better and better solutions. DeBakey was first, for instance, in 1952, to repair a dissected (splitting) aortic aneurysm with a cadaver stent. But those, like stents made of pig arteries, but would grow fragile. Synthetics held promise, and for a while, nylon looked like it might do — until the nylon stents started wearing out.

DeBakey liked the nylon otherwise though. So one afternoon he drove down to Foley’s and looked for something better. Maybe they’d have a thicker nylon or something. A saleswoman, offering to help, said, No, they didn’t have anything thicker than the stockings DeBakey was already fondling, but, as my father relayed the diction and accent some 50 years later, “They do have this new thang, now, they’re callin the New Nylon. It’s Dacron.” And she handed him a stocking.

DeBakey saw it, stretched it, liked it. Then — don’t tell the Institutional Review Boards, folks — he took that stocking home; used his wife’s sewing scissors and sewing machine to fashion it into a sort of reinforced tube;  took it to the hospital next morning, sterilized it, and used it to repair an aortic aneurysm. It worked.

Michael DeBakey sewing up some aortic stents.

Thus was born the DeBakey stent, which turned out to last years, and provided for the first time aortic stents that weren’t certain to require risky surgery later for repair. For several decades, until something fancier replaced it a while back, the Debakey stent was a staple in every OR. It saved many a life.

And yesterday the blew up the building where he found it. There should be a plaque. Or maybe not: Cardiologists hate plaque.

Talking Social Life of Genes & other topics today at 6pm EDT


Today at 6pm Eastern time, I”ll be on the program Virtually Speaking Science, where MIT science-writing professor Tom Levenson and I will discuss my recent Pacific Standard cover story, “The Social Life of Genes“; my book-in-progress, The Orchid and the Dandelion;  the states of flux that genetics, neuroscience, and science writing find themselves in these days; and anything halfway reasonable that listeners or callers care to ask. 

Please listen in here

It’s a call-in, tweet-in, and even a Second Life-in program, so bring your questions along with your ears. To ask a question by phone, call 602-753-1739; to tweet a question, simply compose a tweet (during that hour) with either @TomLevenson or @DavidDobbs in it. And if and only if you’re already at home in Second Life, you can take a seat at the virtual version here. (That link will do nothing for those without a Second Life life.)

Excitement starts at 6 pm EDT! See you then.