Scientific excuse for favorite snail jokes



A press release about Snails on methamphetamines works for me.  The story is about memory. The jokes are about snails:


Snail Joke #1

A turtle gets mugged by a gang of snails. Cop is interviewing the turtle afterwards, still at the scene. Turtle still flustered. Cop asks, “Just start at the beginning.”

“I don’t know,” says the turtle. “It all happened so fast.”


Snail Joke #2

Guy opens his front door and grabs the paper off the porch. There’s a snail on it. He gives a flick of the wrist, and the snail sails off the porch into the garden.

Three weeks later there’s a knock at the door. Guy answers. It’s the snail.

Snail says, “What was that all about?”

The Divided House of Psychiatry

Danny Carlat reports a stimulating time at the recent American Psychiatric Association meeting in New Orleans:

She took a look at my name tag, and said, “Oh, I’ve heard about you.”
Since her expression was somewhere between stern and outright hostile, I queried, “In a good way or a bad way?”
“In a bad way, to tell you the truth.” And then she was off on a high volume rant that went something (if memory serves) like this:
“How DARE you write an article in the New York Times saying that your therapy training at Mass General was terrible, and then later having this GREAT AWAKENING that”–she made a religious hand waving gesture–“‘Oh, it’s important to understand my patients,’ and then you write an article in order to sell your new book and your newsletter. How are you any different from the drug companies? I was outraged by your article and showed it to my colleagues. What a disservice you have done to psychiatry.” And it went on from there.
Her argument was not new to me, certainly has its merits, and I am generally happy to engage in constructive debate. But this was not debate, it was simply a very angry person yelling at a colleague with dozens of other psychiatrists looking on in jaw-dropped amazement. I decided not to prolong this awkward encounter (to the relief, I’m sure, of the leaders of American Psychiatric Press who were nearby), and slunk out of the booth, passing along the way a psychiatrist who smiled at me and whispered, “I subscribe to your newsletter and love it!”
Psychiatry–truly, a House Divided.

The ride continues rough on the psych bus.

Biophemera on civility and tensions among blogospheria



When Jessica Palmer gave a talk at the “Unruly Democracy” conference last month, she gave what appears, from her after-the-fact blog post excerpted here, to have been a semi-contrarian take on blogospheric civiility:

What I did endeavor to convey in my brief talk was the difficulty of blogging on interdisciplinary borders, where science meets art and the humanities. My big concern? While individual blogs often have communities who are internally civil and share norms and history, when you move from blog to blog, those norms and history break down. There are no universal norms in the science blogosphere, much less the blogosphere as a whole – and that leads to a lot of misunderstandings, partisan assumptions, and conflict. Things can get “us vs. them” really fast. . . and once they do, you lost the potential to have calm conversations between communities.

Continue reading →

Gleaned: Suspicious women, sneaky cops, fair-minded children. Plus flu.

Here’s what I distracted myself with this morning. Don’t mix these at home.

Wired Sci examines how Testosterone Makes People Suspicious of One Another. And that’s a hell of a photo.

New Flu Vaccines Could Protect Against All Strains If all goes well, of course. Not to count on at this point, but an interesting look at one direction in vaccine development. I covered another approach in an Technology Review article last year, when I also looked at the weird history of adjuvants. (If you want, check out my complete vaccine coverage. You can find also some other good ones at the Technology Review vaccine tag)

Zephoria (aka Danah Boyd) gets rightly worked up about a cop who broke Facebook policy and lied … in order to show that kids on Facebook could be embarrassed.

Ed Yong takes a fairer look at human nature: egalitarian children grow into meritocratic teens

That and some grant writing, morning’s all done.

Gleaned: Mechanical brides, lying about lying, traumatic growth, and bubba v bubba


At Biophemera, Jessica Palmer takes a look at Mechanical Brides of the Uncanny. Actually a couple look to me a bit like cans. 

Like most junk science that just won’t die, the polygraph stays with us. Even Aldrich Ames could see the polygraph was junk. NB, those who don’t shy from no-lie fMRI. From the wonderful Letters of Note.

Ben Carey Notes that Enemies Can Be Good for a Child’s Growth. This should not surprise.

And in one of those science stories that’s so fun I almost don’t care whether it’s true, the Times examines A Pattern of Sibling Risk-Taking in the Major Leagues. I should note that my brother was always a much bigger risk-taker than I was. Though he’s now a doctor working for the government, and I’m a freelance writer, so maybe these things change.

“A nerve ending in a cotton sundress”

Selling a work fiction is difficult; publishing in Nature is a long-shot; yet somehow writer and genomeboy Misha Angrist managed to publish fiction in Nature.

The only way I was ever going to get a first-author publication in Nature [Angrist explains] was if I just made it all up. So that’s what I did. Hat tip to David Dobbs for providing the scientific inspiration.

The short story/fantasy Angrist publishes actually pulls little, it seems to me, from my story about the orchid/plasticity/differential susceptibility hypothesis, though it does work ground seeded by both genetics and botany, and orchids are important, so perhaps he’s right and I’m wrong.

It’s behind a paywall, and I’m not about to get both myself and Angrist in trouble with Nature. (It’s not nice to …) But I can offer fair-use helpings of my favorite passages.

The lure:

Celeste flashed me wistful black eyes and a rueful smile, the lioness still a force to be reckoned with, even at the end of a long and bitter winter.

The background:

Celeste was the product of emogenics, the breeding programme to optimizes genes and environments for those with heightened sensitivities to external stimuli. She was about as close as anyone had come to the ideal: she was a human nerve-ending in a cotton sundress.

For a time things were good in the shade of the Orchids.

And later, near the story’s, um, climax:

When she leaned into me and spoke about wearing black, I turned around and folded her into my arms. I closed my eyes; the smell of fresh-baked bread was in my nose and a field of poppies appeared before me.


It ends with dancing.

David Sloan Wilson, pissing off the angry atheists


David Sloan Wilson, an atheist himself, has a few things to relate to ‘angry atheists’ like Richard Dawkins.

I piss off atheists more than any other category, and I am an atheist. One of the things that infuriates me about the newest crop of angry atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, is their denial of the beneficial aspects of religion. Their beef is not just that there is no evidence for God. They also insist that religion “poisons everything”, as Christopher Hitchens subtitled his book. They are ignoring the scientific theory and evidence for the “secular utility” of religion, as Émile Durkheim put it, even though they wrap themselves in the mantle of science and rationality. Someone needs to call them out on that, and that person is me.

While I understand the anger that drive Hitchens and Dawkins, I have trouble understanding talk of eliminating religion because it would make the world a more rational place. Eliminate religion? Good luck. It’s odd to hear people sworn to empircal reasoning indulge in hopes so wildly unrealistic.

The bit above is taken from a short Sloan interview in Nature. Easily worth the short read.

Lights, genes, action



Two or three years ago, Emory neurologist Helen Mayberg, whose experiments using deep-brain stimulation for depression I check in on now and then, told me that Karl Deisseroth’s work using light to fiddle with brain circuits had huge potential both as a replacement for DBS and for much else. As Lizzie Buchen ably reports in Nature, that potential is now being realized.

This is a very slick tool that seems almost too far out to actually work. It lets you use light to turn brain circuits on and off at will, and with great precision. It’s not simple to construct. But once constructed, it works simply. And because it can isolate tightly defined circuits and turn them on and off, it has huge potential both as a research tool (Hm; what does this circuit do?) and as what amounts to a reversible ablation tool. DBS is reversible — a huge asset if things go awry, and a great way to test for placebo effect — but you can’t target it as precisely as you can optogenetics and it inflicts a greater intrusion into skull and brain.

Using a hybrid of genetics, virology and optics, the techniques involved enable researchers to instantaneously activate or silence specific groups of neurons within circuits with a precision that electrophysiology and other standard methods do not allow. Systems neuroscientists have longed for such an advance, which allows them their first real opportunity to pick apart the labyrinthine jumble of cell types in a circuit and test what each one does. “It has revolutionized my approach to science,” says Antonello Bonci, a neurophysiologist at the UCSF Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center in Emeryville who began using the technique in 2007. “It can clarify unequivocally the role of specific classes of cells, and solve controversies that have been going on for many, many years.” Among the clarifications sought is the precise function of ‘place’ cells, hippocampal neurons that fire only when an animal finds itself in a specific location; another is the function of complex activity patterns observed when an animal is paying attention or executing a movement.

“God’s gift to neurophysiologists,” MIT’s Robert Desimone calls it. You can get the rest at Nature, where they’ve recently made all news items, and news features like this one, open access.