Saturday, January 31, 2009

The bigger the car, the more the tickets?

No, not really. But apparently people who drive hummers get a lot more tickets than everyone else. Wired reports the story

Hummer Drivers Get More Tickets. A Lot More.

People who drive Hummers receive almost five times as many traffic tickets as the average driver, according to a new study.

Quality Planning Corp., which helps insurance companies identify risk, surveyed data from 1.7 million drivers and found the Hummer H2 and H3 are the most frequently ticketed vehicles on the road, surpassing even the 565-horsepower Mercedes CLK 63 AMG.

The press release from Quality Planning Corp includes a couple of quotes, both of which are included in the Wired article, which pretty much speculated that the cause was the mentality of people driving hummers, who tend to "feel like kings of the road because of their elevated driving positions".

Don't know if that's the reason, but it does sound plausible. Another one could be the simple fact that it's a more visible vehicle than most.

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How distressed are people by racism?

While surfing the internet, I came across this reporting on some recent studies on how much racism affects us.

We Are Less Disturbed By Racism Than We Predict

Psychologists in Canada and the US suggest that people predict they will feel worse than they actually do after witnessing racial abuse and that while they think or say they would take action, they actually respond with indifference when faced with an act of racism. This is despite the fact that being labelled as a racist has become a powerful stigma in our society today.

Researchers from Departments of Psychology at York University in Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, performed the study, which is published on 9 January in Science.

So, while people might believe that they will feel bad about racism, and react to it, the truth is that they do neither.

The study was published in science, and an abstract can be found here which links to the full article behind the paywall.

Fortunately, it's also possible to find the article here (.pdf)

The authors of the study raised the paradox that while racism and racists are being viewed more and more negatively, while blacks still face racism regularly.

A recent survey (5) found that 67% of blacks indicated that they often face discrimination and prejudice when applying for a job, and 50% reported that they experienced racism when engaging in such common activities as shopping or dining out. For many blacks, derogatory racial comments are a common occurrence, and almost one-third of whites report encountering anti-black slurs in the workplace (6)

Obviously, the social stigma facing racism holds little deterring effect, and one must ask why that's the case. The authors suggest that the "social deterrents to racism may be weaker than public rhetoric implies", which means that while people think that they will stigmatize racists, they don't really do so in reality.

They set out to test this hypothesis by putting people in a situation where they experienced either no, mild, or strong racism, and later asked people how they would react in a "hypothetical" situation where they experienced the same behavior. Unsurprisingly people said that they would react negatively, but in reality, their behavior didn't reflect this, nor was it reflected later when they had to choose to partner up with either the person uttering the remark, or the subject of the remark.

All in all, it shows that people know intellectually how they are supposed to behave, but that there is a long way left before people actually behaves that way, or as they authors of the study write

In particular, despite current egalitarian cultural norms and apparent good intentions, one reason why racism and discrimination remain so prevalent in society may be that people do not respond to overt acts of racism in the way that they anticipate: They fail to censure others who transgress these egalitarian norms. These findings provide important information on actual responses to racism that can help create personal awareness and inform interventions, thereby helping people to be as egalitarian as they think they will be.

Keep this in mind next time you experience racism. If you don't react, who will?

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Updating my blogroll - A through C

I am working on updating my blogroll, but it might take a while. So until I get around to putting the new one up, I thought I'd post it as I progress my way through it.

Today I bring the letters A, B, and C.

If I have overlooked a blog that you think I would enjoy, feel free to post it in the comments.

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That must be the worst kept secret in the world

One of my readers was unhappy about my pro-vaccination post and sent me a couple of emails about vaccinations. Included in these emails was a link to a site Think Twice, which has some "information" about vaccinations.

I started to take a look at the site, but I only got as far as the first page on it, called "Secret Government Database of Vaccine-Damaged Children", and the stupidity started to burn so much that I had to write a post about it.

Let's start with the very title, shall we? The title refers to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database, which runs in the US. Hardly a secret database, as anyone can report to it, and certain people are required to do so (I'll get into this later). What's more, it's hardly just a database about children with adverse effects from vaccination, but again, this is something I'll get more into.

The page begins

The general public is essentially unaware of the true number of people -- mostly children -- who have been permanently damaged or killed by vaccines.

This is something I actually agree with. A number of people think that huge numbers of people, mostly children, have had serious adverse effects to vaccinations, while in truth the numbers have been very small.

In fact, most parents would be surprised to learn that the government has a secret computer database filled with several thousand names of disabled and dead babies, children who were healthy and alive just prior to receiving the vaccines.

VAERS is a database of possible adverse effects, to which anyone can report any possible adverse effects of vaccinations they have observed. On top of that, doctors and other medical people are required to do so by law. This allows the CDC and FDA to see if there are any patterns emerging, which requires attention. If such patterns were to show up, they would result in a scientific study of the possibility that the adverse effect was caused by the vaccination, unless such a connection was already shown to not exist.

Since reporting can be done by anyone, and not just medical trained people, the inclusion of an adverse reaction in the VAERS database, does not mean that the reaction was as a matter of fact caused by the vaccination, something clearly stated in at the VAERS website (yes, the secret database has its own website).

Of course, the medical establishment and federal government don't readily disclose this information because they know it's likely to frighten parents into seeking other ways to protect their children. In other words, parents just might think this issue through on their own and decide to reject the shots.

The data in the VAERS database is not meant for the public, but rather to serve as an warning for the relevant governmental agencies (CDC, FDA) allowing them to take action, if such is required. The reason why the data from VAERS is not meant for the public is very simple, the data is not verified, and a cause and effect relationship between the vaccination and the effect has not be established. For more on the problems on VAERS data, see this page on the VAERS website.

One thing that the VAERS website doesn't say, is that some people might try to stuff the database with data for political or monetary ends.

Federal Admission of Vaccine Risks:

In 1986, Congress officially acknowledged the reality of vaccine-caused injuries and death by creating and passing The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (Public Law 99-660). The safety reform portion of this law requires doctors to provide parents with information about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccines prior to vaccination, and to report vaccine reactions to federal health officials. Doctors are required by law to report suspected cases of vaccine damage. To simplify and centralize this legal requisite, federal health officials established the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) -- operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Actually, among the things The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act did was to create the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which "is a no-fault alternative to the tort system designed to compensate individuals injured by childhood vaccines, whether administered in the private or public sector." (source). The reason for that was to protect the manufacturers of vaccinations from being sued out of business, ensuring a reliable source of vaccinations for the US. Vaccination manufactures had been sued by a number of people for possible adverse effects, and while those suits held little merit, the simple fact that they happened might be enough for the vaccination manufacturers to decide to stop making vaccinations, instead sticking to more profitable sorts of medicine.

Note that even if there is no merit to a lawsuit, it still takes resources from the company, and if there is enough such lawsuits, it might cause the company to go bankrupt, from the sheer expenses of defending themselves in court.

Ideally, doctors would abide by this federal law and report adverse events following the administration of a vaccine. However, the FDA recently acknowledged that 90 percent of doctors do not report vaccine reactions.

I've tried to find the source for this claim, and while I have found many anti-science sites report it, none have linked to the source where the FDA actually said it.

It's well known that there are a number of problems with passive reporting systems like the VAERS, such as under-reporting, which actual adverse effects don't get reported, over-reporting, where the same incident is reported several times, and bad reporting, where the effects are obviously non-related or the data is too sparse to be useful in any way.

They are choosing to subvert this law by claiming the adverse event was, in their opinion, not related to the shot.

If they actually believe that it's not related to the shot, it's not subverting the law to not report it. Since we cannot read the mind of the people involved, we have to take their words for it. If the site have any evidence of anyone subverting the law by not reporting any adverse effect they believe is cause by vaccinations, they should report it to the proper authorities.

In fact, every year between 12,000 and 14,000 reports of adverse reactions to vaccines are made to the FDA (data initially accessible only through the Freedom of Information Act). These figures include hospitalizations, irreversible brain damage, and hundreds of deaths. Considering that these numbers may represent just 10 percent, the true figures could be as high as 140,000 adverse events annually.

The more serious types of adverse effects are the more likely to be reported, as more medical people are involved in the process. The less adverse effects, which includes fever, is probably the stuff that will get under-reported the most.

And, as I said, there is no source for the 10% claim.

However, even this figure could be conservative. According to Dr. David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, "Only about 1 percent of serious events [adverse drug reactions] are reported to the FDA." Thus, it is entirely possible that millions of people are adversely affected by mandatory vaccines every year.

David Kessler wrote that in 1993 ("Introducing MEDWatch," JAMA, vol. 269, no. 21, 6/2/93, pp. 2765-2768), so his remarks should not be taken as any kind of evidence for the current situation. Also, he was talking about all drugs, and not just vaccinations.

Maybe it doesn't matter that doctors won't report vaccine reactions, because the federal government won't investigate them. Government officials claim VAERS was designed to "document" suspected cases of vaccine damage. No attempt is being made to confirm or deny the reports. Parents are not being interviewed, and the vaccines that preceded the severe reactions are not being recalled. Instead, new waves of unsuspecting parents and innocent children are being subjected to the damaging shots.

Again, this demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the nature of VAERS. It's supposed to give the CDC and FDA information on which it can base further studies - proper scientific studies. The incidents reported in the VAERS database, cannot be used as a basis to make decisions on, since the miss the fundamental safe-guards required in proper studies (double-blind testing, control groups etc.).

In other words, there is work going on the confirm or deny the reports, but not on an individual level. That would be a waste of everybody's time.

The page continues to talk about who pays compensations for adverse effects, and how vaccinations are made - all as wrong as the stuff I've quoted above. I think, however, that I'll stop now, where the focus has been primarily on the VAERS. As I've tried to show, the database is neither secret, nor reliable, but can be instead be considered a warning system, which can indicate that there are problems with a given vaccination. It's not a tool for research, but rather a tool to indicate where research should be done.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Living in a bubble of stupidity

Rebecca Watson made a good post about living in a bubble. Coming across a post/article at the Evangelical Examiner, I couldn't help thinking about it again. Where Rebecca's bubble is one of rationality, the author of the EE piece live in a bubble of ignorance and stupidity.

But don't take my word for it. Let's go through it together.

The accidential atheist by Jake Jones

Every week I see articles from various sources about Atheism, and in general non-believers. Merriam Webster OnLine describes the word “atheist” as “one who believes that there is no deity”. Christians on the other hand believe in a deity who has created the Universe including the Earth, all of the life forms on planet earth including man himself. Christians believe that God (the Christian deity) is in control of the Universe and our lives and we should be obedient to Him.

The dictionary definition is a bit imprecise. An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in a deity. In other words, it's a lack of belief rather than a belief, something which the dictionary make it sound like.

Most Christians would say that they believe they have what is commonly called “free will”. In other words, Christians can make choices that even Atheists can make and visa versa. However, some of those “free will” choices can be, or lead to sin for the Christian, but, Atheists don’t have to worry about a darn thing because they don’t believe in any kind, form or type of deity! Nothing for them to worry about at all because everything is ACCIDENTAL!

Atheists also believe in something which commonly can be called "free will", and unlike religious people, they actually mean it. We don't believe that any deity controls or directs us, thus invalidating the whole concept of "free will". What we do believe, however, is that there are certain actions which are unacceptable in a modern society, which results in laws against these things. Think of it as "sin", just with consequences.

And everything is not accidental. The existing of our lives is cause by a number of random chances and responses to outside simulation (e.g. evolution).

Atheists say that they do not worship a deity or have to answer to a higher authority But do atheists worship a deity? Hmmmm.... they seem to worship the ACLU! I guess not, but the atheist organizations look to the ACLU to save their tails when things don't go their way. Na! The ACLU is not a deity. Just a thought.

"Society" could be considered a higher authority, and as members of the society, we all have to answer to it. If we don't we face direct consequences (legal or social).

The ACLU is an organization focusing on defending core parts of the US constitution, including the separation of church and state, and is as such, much appreciated by the US atheists. For us atheists living outside of the US, it sounds like a good organization, but it has little relevance to us.

So if there is no God, what is the rhyme or reason for Atheists making a big stink about prayer almost anywhere and any time?

Maybe because they are frequently forced to participate? Or because they respect the Constitution? Do note that it's not only atheists who dislike public prayers. People belonging to other religions are also not too fond of them.

They try to tell us that the Constitution prohibits prayer in school when it doesn’t, it was the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court does not, in itself, have the power to prohibit something. The only thing they can do, is to look at the evidence, and to rule if something is legal or not. It happens that the Supreme Court looked at the evidence, and found that public prayer is illegal.

They are offended when anyone prays, or prays in Jesus name or uses the word God in the public square.

Atheists might not like any prayer, but they are not able to do anything against other people praying. What they can do, and have done, is to stop publicly endorsed praying, like school praying, as it's against the US Constitution.

If people want to pray on their own, they are welcome to do so. But that's not what they want, is it? They want to force their religion down everybody else throat.

What gives? Why sould they care if Christians pray, worship in public, talk about Jesus, God or the Bible. There is no rhyme or reason to their complaints.

Of course Christians can do all that. They just can't force everybody else to participate.

Sure Christians look like fools in the eyes of the Atheists, but if the Atheists ever figured it out they would allow Christians to go on looking like fools. The Atheists would be on the winning side without having to "call on the deity of the ACLU" to save the day for them.

If Christians are allowed to force everyone else into participating in their rituals, it's not like the atheists can just ignore them, is it? I'm pretty sure that Christians wouldn't like to have to participate in Hindu or Islamic prayers, yet they feel no qualms in trying to make everyone else participate in theirs.

That leads me to the title of this article. Atheists believe that the whole universe was an ACCIDENTAL formation of millions of Galaxies, solar systems, suns, planets, moons and smaller objects simply obeying “no one” but ACCIDENTALLY remaining in the necessary locations so that there is no major chaos in the Universe.

No. The universe is a random occurrence, following the laws of the universe. There is nothing accidental about it - when the process is first started, it's going to result in something. The fact that it ended up like it did, is to some degree pure chance, but while the possible results were countless, they were not unlimited.

The positions of the astronomic bodies are a result of the expansion of the universe, combined with the natural forces, such as gravity. Nothing magic, or accidental, about that.

The word "chaos", as it's used in this case, is imprecise, but it could be argued that the collisions of planets, stars, indeed entire galaxies, would be considered chaotic.

In just our Galaxy alone the odds of that happening would be hundreds of trillions to one.

If I play a game of cards with my friends, the odds of us getting the cards in the exact order is astronomically small, yet no one would claim that it's impossible for us to have gotten those cards in that order.

That would mean that every mamal, insect, fish, amphibian and man himself was strictly an ACCIDENT!

Only if you're a moron.

It's obvious to me that the formation of the Universe was a calculated and precisely timed event at the hand of God.

That's nice. Of course, it doesn't make sense, but that hasn't really stopped you before, have it?

There is more proof that God is real than there is proof that there is no God.

It's generally not possible to prove a negative, so lack of proof of the negative is not impressive, and does not mean that we should take it as evidence of the positive. And there isn't really any evidence of there being a deity.

The proof is the Bible and the archeological discoveries that prove the Bible as an accurate and divine manifestation of God’s Holy Word.

Given the fact that the bible is historically wrong on many accounts, and that there is no (credible) sources for the authentication of the stories in the New Testament, this is a pretty credulous claim. Wouldn't the mere fact that the bible contradicts itself be a pretty good indication that it's hardly divine?

Which one makes sense to you? Atheism or Christianity?

Let's see, one side is based on the present evidence, while the other is based on a self-contradicting book without any real evidence on its side. You know what, I think I'll go for atheism.

I believe that this whole “ACCIDENT” of creation that the atheists believe is just plain silly. I choose to stand on the ‘solid Rock’, because all other ground is sinking sand.

This is what I mean about the bubble of stupidity. The author is so protected from evidence that he doesn't understand the subject he is writing about, and seem to think that just saying something makes it so.

There are many religious people who are keenly aware that their faith is not based on fact (hence, it being faith). These people understand that the existence of life, the universe, and all that, can be explained without a deity. They just have faith in something more.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A good start

When Obama first appeared on the national scene, I thought he was a great speaker, but I didn't think much of the content of his speeches. As time went, I became more and more impressed by him, and I found the content of his speeches to be much more to my liking. As a result, I was quite happy to see him first win the nomination, and then later the election. Still, words are easy - it's actions that matter, and we didn't see those until he first appointed his administration, and later took office. In other words, it's now the real Obama will show himself.

Speaking for myself, I am very happy with what I've seen so far.

Let's start with the cabinet positions. Before the names became public, there were some pretty bad names floating around, but it turned out that Obama's picks were much better than I could have hoped for. Obama demonstrated his ability to win over former opponents when he picked Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. He also demonstrated his backing of science with his selection of Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy. His candidate for the position as AG, Eric Holder, says that waterboarding is torture and his candidate as head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, vows to put science first.

That's some major changes from the last administration.

And then comes his policies. He has barely begun, but he has already done two very important things:

He has signed the order to close the Guantanomo Bay prison. That facility is a continuing monument of the Bush administration's disregard towards international law, human rights, and justice, so the faster it can be closed the better, and Obame showed that he has his priorities right by making the closing of it one of his first three executive orders. The others were a formal ban of torture and the establishment of an "interagency task force to lead a systematic review of detention policies and procedures and a review of all individual cases", as the article explains it.

The fact that Obama choose to make such executive orders his first ones tells a lot about his priorities. Much like George W. Bush's first two "Agency Responsibilities with Respect to Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" and "Executive Order: Establishment of White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" (both issues January 29th, 2001) tells us a lot about his priorities.

Another great thing Obama has done, since he started, was to overturn the gag rule. For a good explanation of why this is important, see this description by Planned Parenthood.

What can I say? So far, I am very, very happy with the Obama presidency.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An end to racism?

No, I am not talking about the election of Obama, but about some new research that Wired reports on.

Researchers Try to Cure Racism

After being trained to distinguish between similar black male faces, Caucasian test subjects showed greater racial tolerance on a test designed to to measure unconscious bias.

The results are still preliminary, have yet to be replicated, and the real-world effects of reducing bias in a controlled laboratory setting are not clear. But for all those caveats, the findings add to a growing body of research suggesting that science can battle racism.

"Any time you can get people to treat people as individuals, you reduce the effect of stereotypes," said Brown University cognitive scientist Michael Tarr. "It won't solve racism, but it could have profound real-world effects."

I doubt it really surprises my readers that familiarity makes people less like to stereotype. It's the hurdle to get people to familiarize themselves with the people they stereotype that's hard to cross.

Sadly, no matter what the research shows, there is still a very long way to go before we see an end to racism. If there was any doubt of that, a quick look at the comments to the Wired article should make that clear.

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Another russian murder

It's dangerous to fight against those in power in Russia, as we've seen demonstrated again and again. Unfortunately, we've seen another example of this last Monday.

Russian human rights lawyer assassinated near Kremlin

Stanislav Markelov had fought the release of a colonel who killed a Chechnya woman. His shooting by a masked gunman means 'anybody can be killed . . . in broad daylight,' his supporters say.

Murder is just one of the tools they use; others include forced exiles, or trials of questionable fairness.

It's hard to see how this can changes in the current Russian climate.

Steve LeVine has more: Murder in Russia

Edit: Natalia Antonova at GlobalComment writes more: In Memory of Anastasia Baburova and Stanislav Markelov

The two later links via Matttbastard on Twitter

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Skeptics' Circle is up

Bug Girl hosts the first Skeptics' Circle of 2009. As always there is some really great stuff there.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Error-driven software development

When developing software systems, there are a number of systems development types out there, e.g. test-driven development (focuses on making tests before implementing), and what might be called requirements-driven development (focus on finding all the requirements before implementing). Unfortunately, there is a type of development that I all too frequently come across, which I've come to call error-driven development.

Error-driven development is systems development, where everything is done in reaction to errors. In other words, the development is reactive, rather than proactive, and everybody is working hard, just to keep the project afloat, without any real progress being made.

I should probably clarify, that I am not speaking about the bug fixing phases, which occurs in every project, but rather the cases where the project seems to be nothing but bug-fixing (or change-requests, which is to my eyes is a different sort of bug reports), without any real progress being made.

Unsurprisingly, this is not very satisfactory for any of the people involved. What's more, it's often caused by deep, underlying problems, where the errors are just symptoms. Until these underlying problems are found, the project will never get on the right track, and will end up becoming a death march.

The type of underlying problems, which can cause error-driven development, could be things like:

  • Different understanding of the requirements for the software among the people involved. Some times the people who make the requirements have an entirely different understanding of what the end system should be like than the end users.

  • Internal politics. Some departments or employees might have different agendas, which might lead to less than optimal working conditions.

  • Lack of domain knowledge among the people involved. If you're building e.g. a financial system, it helps if at least some of the people involved in the development have a basic idea of the domain you're working within.

  • Bad design. Some times early design decisions will haunt you for the rest of the project.

  • Unrealistic time constraints. If people don't have time to finish their things properly, they will need to spend more time on error fixing later.

There are of course many other candidates, and several of them can be in play at the same time, causing problems.

No matter what the underlying problems are, the fact is, that just focusing on fixing bugs and implementing change requests, won't help. Instead it's important to take a long hard look at the project, and see if the underlying problems can be found and addressed.

This seems trivial, but when you're in the middle of an error-driven development project, it's hard to step out and take an objective look at it. What's more, you might not be able to look objectively at the process. Often, it requires someone who hasn't been involved from the start, to come and look at things with fresh eyes.

As a consultant who often works on a time-material basis, I often get hired to work on error-driven development projects. The reason for this is simple: often it appears to the people involved, that the project just need a little more resources, so they can get over the hurdle of errors, and then it will be on the right track. When hired for such projects, I always try to see if there are some underlying problems which needs to be addressed, instead of just going ahead and fixing errors/implementing changes. Unsurprisingly there often are such problems.

Frequently these problems can be fixed fairly simply (reversing some old design decisions, expanding peoples' domain knowledge, get people to communicate better, implement a test strategy, use agile methods etc.), while at other times, they can't be fixed, only taken into consideration, allowing you to avoid the worst pitfalls.

So, my suggestion is, if you find yourself in a project which over time has turned into an error-driven development type project, try to take a long hard look at what has caused this, instead of just going ahead and try to fix all the errors/implement the changes. Error reports and change requests are just noisy symptoms in most cases, and will continue to appear as long as the real problems aren't addressed in one way or another.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Mysterious cable in Greenland

Via the Danish version of Computerworld, I became aware of this weird little story.

A company, Greenland Connect, is currently using the ship Ile de Sein to put down cables in the fjord outside Qaqortoq, and while doing this, they found the remains of an old telegraph cable, which appears to be from the thirties.

The interesting part is, that no one knows what the telegraph cable connected, and who used it. Now, they are asking the public to share any knowledge they might have on the matter.

The story is covered here (Danish article) with an email address in case you have some information which might shine some light on this mystery.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Social anxiety among macaques (and humans?) explained

ScienceDaily reports this interesting story

Genetic Variation Cues Social Anxiety In Monkeys And Humans

A genetic variation involving the brain chemical serotonin has been found to shape the social behavior of rhesus macaque monkeys, which could provide researchers with a new model for studying autism, social anxiety and schizophrenia. Humans and macaques are the only members of the primate family to have this particular genetic trait.

The original study was published in PLoS One

Serotonin Transporter Genotype Modulates Social Reward and Punishment in Rhesus Macaques


Serotonin signaling influences social behavior in both human and nonhuman primates. In humans, variation upstream of the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) has recently been shown to influence both behavioral measures of social anxiety and amygdala response to social threats. Here we show that length polymorphisms in 5-HTTLPR predict social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, a species in which 5-HTTLPR variation is analogous to that of humans.

Methodology/Principal Findings

In contrast to monkeys with two copies of the long allele (L/L), monkeys with one copy of the short allele of this gene (S/L) spent less time gazing at face than non-face images, less time looking in the eye region of faces, and had larger pupil diameters when gazing at photos of a high versus low status male macaques. Moreover, in a novel primed gambling task, presentation of photos of high status male macaques promoted risk-aversion in S/L monkeys but promoted risk-seeking in L/L monkeys. Finally, as measured by a “pay-per-view” task, S/L monkeys required juice payment to view photos of high status males, whereas L/L monkeys sacrificed fluid to see the same photos.


These data indicate that genetic variation in serotonin function contributes to social reward and punishment in rhesus macaques, and thus shapes social behavior in humans and rhesus macaques alike.

Since there are so big similarities between humans and macaques in this regard, they probably serve as a good animal model for human behavior, which makes this finding very interesting indeed.

One interesting thing about this, is that there are quite different frequencies of the different genetic variation among different human populations, which could help explaining different social behavior in different cultures.

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Preventing extinction

National Geographic has a good article about how preventing extinction requires protection of habitats.

Last One

In the United States as elsewhere, stopping the countdown to extinction means preserving healthy habitats—the aim of the celebrated and scorned Endangered Species Act.

The focus of the article is the US Endangered Species Act, which is aimed at protecting the habitats of endangered species, but the problems it mentions are global.

One of the things the article mentions is that the more iconic animals are easier to protect than the less "sexy" animals. Panda bears are cute, and an icon for animals close to extinction, yet there are other animals who are as close to extinction as they are, without receiving any focus whatsoever.

A thing I would have liked the article to mention, is the role of invasive species, when it comes to driving plants and animals to extinction. One way of loosing your habitat is for someone else to take it over, and while this might not be the worst problem in the US, it has had serious impact in other countries, including Australia, where imported animals such as rabbits, foxes, rats, and cats, is a huge problem.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sorry for the silence

I am sorry that I haven't been blogging lately, but I've just spent 3 weeks visiting my family in Australia. Given the fact that I only see them once every couple of years, they had higher priority than my blog. Sorry.

I hope everyone have had a great New Year.

There are several posts in the pipeline, but they probably will have to wait until I get over my jet-lag.

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