Welcome! This is the 2nd edition of "Winds of Discovery", a bi-monthly report by Glenn Halpern of HipperCritical that will take you on a wild ride across the spectrum of science and discovery.
Topics this week include: Alzheimer's effects not all memory; Human brains work like robots; Voles and the science of love; Fifty new embryonic stem cell lines; Double-click patent; The energy debate; Bioterror research - defense or offense?; Diabetes breathalyzer; Self-replicating robots; Discovering Atlantis; Wild 2 comet is strange; The youngest black hole; Water on Mars; Science and religion; New clues on climate change; Drunken worms; Safe fugu; Beetle love
If YOU have a link suggestion send it to discovery, here @windsofchange.net. Regular topics include:
- Former President Ronald Reagan finally succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease following a ten-year long battle. He may have become a shell of his former self during that time, but in some ways, his melody lingered on. In fact, a recent study at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute validates this point by finding that Alzheimer's patients do manage to keep some forms of memory intact.
- We are learning new things about the complexity of the human brain practically every day. We humans may process information in a manner more similar to robots than has ever been imagined, and the brain finds ways to reshuffle while the rest of the body is in sleep-mode (which is where I am when I watch most TV sitcoms).
- Researchers have resorted to experimentation on voles to understand the science of love, and Kevin Drum highlights the latest discovery. If the ladies have it their way, there may be more monogamy on the way.
- A recent study has concluded that males with lowered testesterone levels may benefit from a few high doses of estrogen. Men in advanced stages of prostate cancer (who had undergone testesterone deprivation therapy) demonstrated an improved long-term memory and decreased feelings of confusion following the estrogen treatment. A follow-up study may be conducted to determine whether the side effects of such treatment include periodic increases in personal attacks on other men.
- Nerve cells may be more malleable than previously thought. The general consensus had been that nerve cells are hard-wired for specific functions, but scientists at the University of California-San Diego now believe that certain patterns of electrical activity in the nerve cell can alter the program.
- Fifty new embryonic stem cell lines have been created at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago. As the lines were not around prior to August 2001, federal funding for scientific research will not be available (unless there's a change in Bush administration policy, or a change at the White House).
- Wesley J. Smith makes some valid points about the overhype surrounding embryonic stem cell research, such as when advocacy groups claim that a cure for Alzheimer's Disease is right around the corner. Stem cells will never provide an easy fix for this disease in particular, as Alzheimer's attacks many different types of cells in the brain. But the outlook for embryonic stem cell research could be much brighter when it comes to treatments for a whole host of diseases and ailments. Intellectual honesty is so very important when real information is in the hands of a select few, and those in the know should look for moral guidance when treading these waters. I just hope that Mr. Smith holds himself to the same standards that he holds for others. And that goes for the editors of The Weekly Standard too.
- In what is just another sign of the continuing deterioration of America's intellectual property system, Microsoft has been awarded a patent for double-clicks on limited resource computing devices (aka PDA's and cellphones). No word yet from the patent office on how it determined that this function is novel or non-obvious.
- The United States government has funneled large sums of money in the direction of bioterror research over the last few years. We all hope that this will make us safer in the long run, but it now appears that this research is stretching from defense to offense. Good intentions gone bad? We'll see... (Hat Tip: MetaFilter)
- In The New Atlantis, Stephanie Cohen takes a critical look at both sides of the energy debate.
- Researchers at Mississippi State University have invented a breath analyzer to detect the early stages of diabetes. Miniscule amounts of acetone in one's breath is an indicator for the disease, and this new device is sensitive enough to measure in parts-per-billion.
- Some people may be spooked by the future potential of self-replicating robots, but this is even spookier. Even Einstein thought so.
- Has the lost city of Atlantis been discovered through satellite imagery off the coast of Spain? This isn't the first time that such a claim has been made, so we'll just have to wait and see about this one.
- If you can build a robot, then you certainly know about the next robot race. But did you know that the race is also on for innovations in marine robotics? These competitions open up new ideas and new talent, and their value for the future of scientific progress should not be overlooked (or under-reported).
- Astronomers are mystified over the recent sighting of Wild 2, a comet unlike any ever seen before. Check out this wild image.
- Astronomers may have witnessed the birth of the youngest black hole. They say it was messy, but I would imagine that the birth of a human being is a bit messier.
- Was there ever water on Mars? Some scientists are still skeptical, but new observations from NASA's Opportunity rover are pointing to yes. All this new data about Mars may matter very much, as the debate over terraforming the red planet rages on.
- On the ever-apparent clash between science and religion, from the perspective of an astrophysicist: "We can't ever rule a divine being out using science, because the divine being, of course, could have set it up so that we could discover what we have but see no direct imprint of the work of that divine being". Read more wisdom dropped by Brian Greene in his interview with The Atlantic.
- Some scientists believe that the extraction of the longest ice core ever recorded may uncover some clues about the history of climate change on this planet, and may also allow for more precise predictions of future temperature variations.
- We are always gaining new information about the origins of life on this planet, and its no surprise that tiny little microbes are offering new clues.
- Cornell University, my old alma mater, installed a new eco-friendly "Lake Source Cooling System" a few years ago which cools down buildings during the (somewhat) hot Ithaca summers. It's a magnificent plan, though the school may benefit from its unique geographical circumstances.
- Drunken worms may help to reveal who is the drunken master! Seriously though, scientists may be learning more about a genetic basis for variable degrees of alcohol tolerance through this research with worms (and The Legend of Drunken Master is the best kung-fu movie ever).
- For the sushi lovers out there, researchers have planned a special diet for the pufferfish (or fugu for those who are more familiar) so that its deadly poison is completely removed. Will true fugu fans be drawn to the non-toxic variety, or is it the danger that excites them?
- It may make sense to talk to your dog after all. Apparently, man's best friend can understand a good chunk of what is being said to them, at least in a similar sense as a young child. Just don't wait around for your dog to talk back any time soon, unless his name is Brian.
- And finally, some beetles will try to "make love" to just about anything. The Australian jewel beetle, in this case, takes a genuine liking towards empty (and available) stubbies in its neck of the woods. Betsy Devine observes: "More proof, if we needed it, that beer-drinking leads to unwise romantic choices". Or maybe it's just love that makes one dumb.
Please check back in two weeks for another exciting edition of Winds of Discovery!