Sunday, June 29, 2008

Why isn't it legalized for medical treatment?

ScienceDaily brings the news about how marijuana has been show to be effective against neuropathic pain.

Researchers at University of California Davis examined whether marijuana produces analgesia for patients with neuropathic pain. Thirty-eight patients were examined. They were given either high-dose (7%), low-dose (3.5%) or placebo cannabis.

The authors reported that identical levels of analgesia were produced at each cumulative dose level by both concentrations of the agent. As with opioids, cannabis does not rely on a relaxing or tranquilizing effect, but reduces the core component of nociception and the emotional aspect of the pain experience to an equal degree. There were undesirable consequences observed from cannabis smoking, such as feeing high or impaired, but they did not inhibit tolerability or cause anyone to withdraw from the study. In general, side effects and mood changes were inconsequential.

I am not a great fan of people smoking weed, and especially not of those who claims that it has no ill effect, or even worse, that it's not addictive. Have gone to school with kids who were hooked on the stuff (and I don't care if it was a mental or physical addiction, addiction is addiction), I don't have any romantic notions about it.

However, the same can be said of alcohol, which is legal to consume in most of the world.

So, why can't marijuana be legalized for medical use (or in general)? Yes, there are ill effects of it, but less so than there is of legal things like cigarettes and alcohol. And when we talk about people with the sort of pain treated in this experiment, I think the benefits clearly out weights the costs.

I can't seem to find the study in the current issue of >The Journal of Pain1, but I'm sure it will show up within the next few days. It will appear under the title A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial of Cannibis Cigarettes in Neuropathic Pain by Barth Wilsey et al.

1Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like the trade magazine for torturers?

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The viking heritage

Given the fact that I live in a country that glorifies its viking past, I can't help be surprised that I had totally overlooked this paper published in PLoS One in May.

Evidence of Authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age Skeletons Untouched by Humans for 1,000 Years by Linea Melchior et al

I'm sure it has been reported somewhere in the Danish press, but I'm also sure that the focus of such coverage has been entirely wrong.

What's interesting about the PLoS One paper is not that it's viking DNA that they retrieved, that's just an artifact of the fact that the research happened in Denmark, but rather the fact that the DNA was retrieved from a 1000 year old skeleton.

Of course, to get the correct DNA, the sampling required quite a bit of care, to avoid contamination. As the abstract clearly describes.


Given the relative abundance of modern human DNA and the inherent impossibility for incontestable proof of authenticity, results obtained on ancient human DNA have often been questioned. The widely accepted rules regarding ancient DNA work mainly affect laboratory procedures, however, pre-laboratory contamination occurring during excavation and archaeological-/anthropological handling of human remains as well as rapid degradation of authentic DNA after excavation are major obstacles.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We avoided some of these obstacles by analyzing DNA from ten Viking Age subjects that at the time of sampling were untouched by humans for 1,000 years. We removed teeth from the subjects prior to handling by archaeologists and anthropologists using protective equipment. An additional tooth was removed after standard archaeological and anthropological handling. All pre-PCR work was carried out in a “clean- laboratory” dedicated solely to ancient DNA work. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted and overlapping fragments spanning the HVR-1 region as well as diagnostic sites in the coding region were PCR amplified, cloned and sequenced. Consistent results were obtained with the “unhandled” teeth and there was no indication of contamination, while the latter was the case with half of the “handled” teeth. The results allowed the unequivocal assignment of a specific haplotype to each of the subjects, all haplotypes being compatible in their character states with a phylogenetic tree drawn from present day European populations. Several of the haplotypes are either infrequent or have not been observed in modern Scandinavians. The observation of haplogroup I in the present study (<2% in modern Scandinavians) supports our previous findings of a pronounced frequency of this haplogroup in Viking and Iron Age Danes.


The present work provides further evidence that retrieval of ancient human DNA is a possible task provided adequate precautions are taken and well-considered sampling is applied.

This is rather existing news, since it means it's possible to get decent DNA samples from even millennium old human remains, if they are just handled correctly before and during sampling. This will help us gain better insight of our ancestors, and recent human evolution.

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World of Sciencecraft

Okay, cheesy title, but as you all know, making post titles is not my most impressive skill.

So, what is the title referring to? It's referring to what I believe is the first science conference held in a game universe.

The story is from Science, which apparently have a journalist, John Bohannon, writing gonzo style articles for them. This time it was about a science conference he helped set up in Azeroth.

The article is titled Slaying Monsters for Science

What can I say? It sounds like a fun event, and like there was some good debate going on. However, I frankly think it isn't a very productive way of holding conferences. Yes, there are some advantages of doing it this way, especially when the fields you are dealing with can relate to gaming universes, but it easily turn into too much play (as this conference also did).

That said, I found the part of the article that dealt with the conference rather fascinating. There were some very interesting points mentioned. A few that I found particular interesting were:

1) The fact that online gaming guilds can be used for studying social networks. I'm not sure that I totally agree, unless you only focus on online networks, as real human interaction tends to color behavior. We all know how trolls can be the nicest people possible when they are not busy flaming on the internet (yes, I have met trolls in real life).

2) It's often interesting to use gaming universes as labs, precisely because they are different from the real world, allowing scientists (and other researchers) to test assumptions. The example mentioned was economics, but I am sure that there are other social sciences where this could equally apply.

3) People act differently online, since they can be anonymous. In my eyes, this is both interesting to research, and a challenge to some types of research. In any case, it's something that should be taken into account when setting up the experiment.

I certainly find it relevant to use gaming universes as science labs for certain types of experiments. It's just necessary to always remember that it's an artificial lab, and it's under somewhat uncontrolled conditions in some aspects, and in overcontrolled/limited conditions in other aspects.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin (1937-2008)

The world has lost a great comedy talent. George Carlin has died, 71 years old. He is of course most known for his seven words sketch that caused a SCOTUS ruling on whether it was obscene.

News at CNN
News at Washington Post

I would recommend going to YouTube and look at the Carlin videos there.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lazy linking

Busy as usual these days, so light blogging ahead for the foreseeable future. Or at least until I take a two weeks break next month.

Still, I've come across a few things on the 'net that I thought I'd share.

Page 3.14 has an interview with Alice Pawley of Sciencewoman

Via Feministe: U.N. categorizes rape as a war tactic. This is good news, though I agree with Cara over at Feministe, that it's disgraceful that it took so long for this to happen.

Running the Numbers - visualizing numbers by forming pictures.

New Barack Obama ad that is going to run in 18 states. It doesn't do much for me, but it's nice to see Obama be on the offensive from the start. Also related to this, is an article at Times Online about Republican and Libertarian backers of Obama: Dismayed Republicans emerge as Barack Obama supporters.

Richard A. Epstein writes on the recent US Supreme Court decision How to Complicate Habeas Corpus (via the Volokh Conspiracy).

Abstinence-only funding is like an evil Energizer Bunny

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

89th Skeptics' Circle is up

Michael Meadon over at Ionian Enchantment braved psychic lions to get up the 89th Skeptics' Circle

The best posts from the Skeptic blogsphere from the last two weeks.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why hasn't this gotten more attention?

I have been busy lately, and therefore have mostly been surfing science blogs. Still I'm surprised that this piece of news haven't gotten more coverage.

Supreme Court restores habeas corpus, strikes down key part of Military Commissions Act by Glenn Greenwald.

The US Supreme court struck down Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which allowed detainees to be kept at Guantanamo without appearing before a court. This is a very important step, and is one of the necessary steps for the US to rejoin the civilized world.

Glenn makes a very good point about the judges involved in this decision.

Three of the five Justices in the majority -- John Paul Stevens (age 88), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 75) and David Souter (age 68) -- are widely expected by court observers to retire or otherwise leave the Court in the first term of the next President. By contrast, the four judges who dissented -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- are expected to stay right where they are for many years to come.

John McCain has identified Roberts and Alito as ideal justices of the type he would nominate, while Barack Obama has identified Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ginsberg (all in the majority today). It's not hyperbole to say that, from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.

Another reason why people should vote for Obama.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Atheist Thirteen

I found nullifidian's new blog meme rather good, so I thought I'd steal it.

If you’d like to take part, copy these questions, and answer them in your own words on your own blog.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

Lack of belief in any deity.

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

No, my parents were not religious. However, I live in a country with a state church, and had Christianity as a subject in school. Denmark is Lutheran Protestant.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

None and all. I find it fascinating how scientists keep expanding our knowledge.

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

I would like us to be more open towards agnostics. And I would like everyone to stand up and be counted.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

Who are you?

If I was aware that I had a child, I would say something like:
Yes my dear, the last few years you spent on studying theology kinda gave it away (you have to have a theology degree to become a priest here).

Q7. What’s your favorite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

I can't say that I have a favorite theistic argument. But I hate Pascal's Wager with a passion, since it's simplistic and stupid, yet the people who put it forth seems to believe it's clever.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

I think race is a social construct. Quite a few other agrees with this stance, but many don't.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Dawkins is probably my favorite, due to his overall views. Dennett I haven't yet read. Hitchens I disagree somewhat with politically, and Harris' implicit defense of torture means that I have no respect for him.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?


Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet:

I won't name anyone, but I hope some of my readers might pick it up on their own.

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Tim Russert, 1950-2008

Tim Russert died yesterday of a heart attack in the newsroom at NBC.

Salon has the story

NY Times has an obit

Russert might have gone a little to soft on the Republicans, but there is no doubt that his expertise will be missed during the coming election. I'm sorry for his family and friends.

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High levels of lead found in Herbalife products

There is an institute called the Fraud Discovery Institute which has been investigating Herbalife for a number of issues.

In May they released a report on the findings of dangerously high lead levels in six common Herbalife products - it can be found here (.pdf) While earlier studies in to Herbalife products haven't focused on lead, they have found indications of serious dangers, when people took those products. This was reported in an article in Journal of Hepatology issue 47 (2007) page 521–526, which is also available from the Fraud Discovery Institute website (.pdf)

Herbalife reacted to the report about lead levels by stating that two independent labs had vindicated their products from these accusations. Not surprisingly, the Discovery Fraud Institute doesn't agree with this.

Now it seems like there is going to be further investigation into it.

I find Herbalife problematic for a number of reasons, not least because they are basically a pyramid scheme. However, this is much more serious accusations than anything I've previously heard, and I hope that there is some serious investigation into this.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Evolution - it works!

One of my friends was kind enough to send me a link to the following article, thinking it would be of interest to me. He was quite right.

Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab

A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events.

Simply put, 20 years ago, a scientist started an experiment, where he created 12 populations of Escherichia coli, all cultivated from a single bacterium. After more than 30 thousand generations, they have evolved some new and interesting traits.

I could write more about it, but instead I would suggest that you go read PZ's post about it.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Normally I don't tell people in other countries how they should vote, since I find it somewhat unfitting that people that lives outside the borders presume to lectures people inside on how they should choose. This is the same reason why I don't vote in the Australian election, even though I am entitled to - I don't live there, so I don't think it's reasonable that I try to get a say in how the country is run.

There is one election that does affect us all though, as the last eight years have shown us. The US presidential election. This is why I and many other non-US people take a very active interest in it, since the result will have an effect on us.

I haven't commented more than briefly on the preliminaries, except to note my dislike of the Republican candidates, and my general approval of the Democratic candidates. Now, when they are over, and the two parties' candidates have been more or less chosen, I thought I should share my thoughts.

Politically, I am somewhat to the right of the progressive spectrum - pretty much what could be called a (Bill) Clinton Democrat. This means that politically, I am quite happy with the current Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, though I find his overt religious stance, and anti-free trade rhetorics, off-putting. The most positive I can say about his Republican counterpart, is that of the potential candidates, McCain was the least bat-shit insane and outright corrupt of the lot. Given the fact that McCain is prone to fits of rage, an panders to the worst sort of people for votes, that says something.

The Democratic preliminaries were tough, and there were many regrettable episodes of sexism and racism, which might still leave people enraged with one or the other of the Democrats. Some of this, might lead people to decide not to vote for Obama. If that's the case, I hope people will reconsider this. Obama, and his campaign, might have flaws, but looking at the voting records (and statements), there is to my mind no doubt that Obama would be a much better president than McCain. Not only for the current US citizens, but also for the future US citizens, and the world as a whole.

One of the recurrent themes of Obama's campaign, was change. And while the rhetorics were a bit empty on actual content, I think it's true. Obama does represent change, in many different ways.

While I might think he is too overtly religious for my taste, Obama has made clear that he thinks that religion should not drive politics, something which the current White House administration has allowed it to do. Some of the areas where this is relevant are the HIV/AIDS funding outside the US, abstinence-only sex-ed inside the US, the endorsement of Intelligent Design, and the attack on the right to choose. In all of these areas, Obama has explained how he thinks there should be a change.

Then there is the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While I am unsure it would be a good idea to pull out the troops straight away, there is no doubt there are serious issues there. In both countries, the religious fanatics have been allowed to gain power, in effect giving the Taliban a recruitment base for future actions. In Afghanistan it's even worse in some ways, since the Taliban actually have the power of some of the country, and to some degree causes trouble for neighboring Pakistan. It's clear that the current situation cannot continue, and something has to change. In Afghanistan this can be done through the help of the US' NATO allies, who still have quite a number of troops there. This will take multi-national cooperation though, something which is unlikely to happen under the current administration, since it has made itself rather unpopular among many of those allies.

And there is of course, international law, which the US has been ignoring the last eight years, by, among other things, creating the entirely bogus term "unlawful enemy combatant", claiming that they are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, even though they plainly are. There is also the detainment of people at Guantanamo for years without any trials, sometimes while they are juvenile, often under torture. This flies in the face of everything the civilized world stands for, yet it still continues to happen. It's doubtful that it's ever going to happen, but rightfully, the current Bush administration should be tried for war crimes for that, as should the military leadership.
Obama has forcefully spoken out against torture, and has stated that this goes against what the US stands for. McCain used to do the same (a point of respect for many of us), but has now backed down on that stance.

McCain has made it clear that he will continue Bush's politics. Frankly, I doubt that the US, or the world for that matter, can afford four more years of the same.

The US debt is growing rapidly, even though it's already record high. Fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan continues with no clear goal in sight, continuing to allow religious fanatics to gain power. The so-called "war on drugs" keeps an increasingly large percentage of the US population in jail, and even more disfranchised. There is no accountability, either for bad work (e.g. Katrina), carelessness (e.g. loss of millions of dollars in Iraq), or even accusations of outright fraud (e.g. Cheney). Torture and imprisonment continues at Guantanamo, without any ending in sight. Christian fundamentalists are increasingly gaining influence, not only in politics, but even in the US military.

I could continue, but I expect that you get the point. There is a huge difference between a Democratic presidency and a Republican presidency after the next election.

We need change, and given the US political system, the only way to get that is to vote, and to vote for Obama. Even if you dislike him after what he did during the preliminaries, or even if you think he is too far to the right, too religious, or whatever other reason you might dislike him, then vote for him.

Too much depends upon this.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

New Skeptics' Circle is up

The 88th Skeptics' Circle is up over at Jyunri Kankei.

There is a lot of good stuff in it (as usual), so go read it.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Blog feed

I don't really use RSS feeds myself, but I know that others do that, so I've added a feed to my blog to feedreader. If you're reading this blog from a feed, then I suggest that you redirect the feed to:

This makes it easier if I ever decide to move my blog.

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