Archive for January, 2010

8 Year Old Inventor Tackles Two HUGE Problems

Posted by on Saturday, 30 January, 2010


MISTER ScienceAintSoBad brings up the same tired old names in science and engineering a lot – Newton, Einstein, Kepler, Planck, Jobs (That’s Steve, not “jobs, jobs, jobs”) and so on.

Today, however, I would like to introduce a fresh face – a rising star in engineering, known as the Redlands Rascal, who, only yesterday sent me.. well, let him speak for himself.

For his highly innovative and truly ingenious solutions to some of society’s most nagging problems:
ScienceAintSoBadRating = BOING! (That’s the weight hitting the bell at the top)

Men Have (Small) Consciences

Posted by on Tuesday, 26 January, 2010

The image is mine
(not a self portrait) .

By the way,
I don’t steal images
from others.
I wouldn’t be able to handle the guilt.

Psychology: Guilt.

Hold onto your wig because this is a real toupee blaster. According to an article in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, men feel less guilt than women.

An article like this illustrates beautifully the power of the scientific approach.

You observe the male species, burdened as it is with feelings of over sensitivity, huddled in corners with arms tightly clasped and murmuring about the possible emotional injuries we may have caused, through a passing slight, to another, and you would, necessarily, conclude that it is the oppositely endowed gender – the x chromosomal female version of us – that is a stranger to feelings of guilt.

But it is the work of scientists to tease out the facts from the seemingly obvious. MISTER ScienceAintSoBad can’t BEGIN to express his awe at this work.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = YGBKM (You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me!)

Fifteen Minute Cure For EVERYTHING

Posted by on Monday, 25 January, 2010


EndoBarrier is a plastic sleeve that gets inserted through your throat into your upper intestine.

It modulates the amount of food that’s absorbed which, in turn, tends to shed pounds which, as we know from other studies, tends to (really) turn off type II diabetes.

Not A Condom

G I Dynamic’s device is smart and seems pretty benign (compared to tummy surgery) and, in fact, it does have the potential to be very helpful. An earlier article in OPNOTES describes the concept well.

The “Endobarrier” is probably a good thing.

But MISTER ScienceAintSoBad’s butt starts to itch when he reads over-the-top journalism (except his own) that describes stuff like a “15 Minute Cure For Diabetes.” AND for obesity.

EndoBarrier HAS been approved (in Europe).
And it SEEMS pretty safe.
And it DOES seem like an “easy install”

BUT the AMOUNT of weight lost is quite a bit less than with bariatric surgery

Not an unreasonable trade off.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 7 .

Time will tell.

Stick Figures Have Lives Too

Posted by on Sunday, 24 January, 2010

A follow up to my recent article on comic books as literature:

Randall Munroe studied physics at Christopher Newport University and has worked for NASA. He also writes a sparse but very funny “webcomic” with sardonic observations on life as lived in the technobulb.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10

The Oh So Very Stubborn Anterior Cruciate Ligament

Posted by on Saturday, 23 January, 2010

Was this necessary?

Orthopedic Surgery: Knee.

Have you ever heard the term “Anterior Cruciate Ligament?”

I sure hope not.

It’s one part of the most complicated thing in the world – probably the most complicated thing in the whole UNIVERSE – the knee. And when the ACL gets ripped, it really HURTS!

Normally, it doesn’t get much better on its own – especially a major tear. Which means you get to make a visit to MISTER Orthopedic Surgeon.


Surgical repair of the ACL is a common procedure and, with a little cooperation on your part and a bit of luck, it usually works pretty well. But it’ll cost you in the long run since your chances of arthritis later in life bump up significantly.

The interesting thing about all this is WHY the thing doesn’t get better on its own. Some parts of our body (luckily) do. Other parts don’t.

So that’s the question for our time. What’s it take to get the things that DON’T heal to change their ways?

Dr. Martha Murray (Children’s Hospital, Boston) has been puzzling out this very thing with respect to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

No big announcements. Just slogging through the science. But, so far, she has figured out that fibrin – the stuff that makes blood clot and which plays a role in repair of other tissues (including bones) – doesn’t seem to last long enough at the injury site – an important clue which may lead to techniques for enhancing the fibrin around the ligament.

Anyway, this is just a report on a work in progress but one that is so representative of the many efforts throughout medicine to learn how to teach the body to heal in new ways.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 5 . Still early days.

Comic Books As Literature

Posted by on Saturday, 23 January, 2010



By the time I hit kindergarten, I was a reader.

I wanna think it’s cause I had a brain but, thinking back on it, my primer consisted of a small collection of comic books which my Mom (and other adults in my life) helped me to figure out.

The process was kinda informal.

I would point and ask my Mom what was happening and she would say “Captain Marvel’s about to get hit by a brick. He’s saying ‘Shazam!,”


“It’s the word he uses to turn into a tough guy” she would say. And she would help me to see the pieces of the sound – the “sh” and the “a” sound and so on.

I’m off comics now (because you can’t buy ’em for a dime anymore) but they did give me an edge in kindergarten (where you want every advantage you can get).

Carol Tilley, who teaches Library and Information Science at the University Of Illinois has done some research in this area; the research was picked up in Science Daily .

I wasn’t able to find the original study and Ms Tilley wasn’t particularly responsive to ScienceAintSoBad (which I don’t hold against her) but the gist seems to be that comics deserve to be taken more seriously as adult literature.

She reminds us that some advocates of comic books use the term “Graphic Novel”. And she says that comics are just as sophisticated as other forms of literature.

You’re gonna ask me where’s the science in all this, aren’t you? You’re gonna ask me why I’m even writing about it, right?

Cause I LIKE comic books.

ScienceAintSoBadRating (for MISTER ScienceAintSoBad’s article here) = 1

Maybe Salt’s OK For You

Posted by on Friday, 22 January, 2010


Cardiology: Seasoning.


Here’s the thing. About 25% of you are “salt sensitive”. Which means, if you eat too much salt, you could be at risk for high blood pressure (like you always heard), as well as heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, cataracts, strokes.. on and on.

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about.

How can you tell if you’re salt sensitive?

Not that easy. A clue: low birth weight kids are prone to it.

If you’re in that group (salt sensitive, that is), you really SHOULD steer clear. Keep it off the table and out of reach. Learn other ways to enjoy food.

Or try exercise.

I’m sure you remember from your running days that you can get sick if you don’t have ENOUGH salt. Good hard exercise (done often enough) chews up the salt and may very well ALLOW you to indulge a bit.

Not such a terrible compromise, is it?


I knew you would ask.

See, keeping extra salt out of your diet is such a standard part of government guidelines, that it is now the orthodoxy. EVERYBODY knows it’s true.

“But,” you may ask, “if one in four of us is salt sensitive, don’t we bias the results of the studies that all this stuff is based on?”

You would think.

What about those of us who aren’t sensitive – the majority?

Dr. Richard Fogoros, from the University of Pittsburgh, talks about the “Salt Wars” and concludes, conservatively, that you should “sell your salt shaker”.

Just in case.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad, doesn’t want to lead you astray, but, given that most of us AREN’T salt sensitive, maybe a little common sense, based on your own medical history, your known inherited risk factors, and the advice of your Doc might give you license to “shake it”.

Just a little.

Anyway, all this stuff is a reminder that science is great ‘n all. But it doesn’t always lead us to clear answers.

The salt and pepper shaker image is from:

Fly The Plasma Jet

Posted by on Wednesday, 20 January, 2010


Dentistry: Plasma Drill.

What’s your favorite thing? I’m including food, music, sex, and American Idol in this.

Going to the dentist, you say.

Hardly surprising. Everybody we ask says the same thing. BUT, let’s say – I know this is crazy – you are one of those very rare people who CAN get through the week without feeling the urge to have the “just a little pinch” experience.

You will be VERY interested to hear about the Plasma Jet (Journal of Medical Biology) which is designed to substitute plasma for the dental drill.

Plasma isn’t a solid a liquid OR a gas (which, I think, is why they call it a plasma) and it has some interesting properties. Skipping lightly over the physics (why make a fool of myself?), the major point here is that this stuff kills the bacteria that destroy the tooth enamel and the dentin, thus halting the decay process without a drill burr in sight. Completely painless!

Dr Stefan Rupf, the lead researcher, says 3 to 5 years till it shows up at your dentist.


ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10.

Keep smiling.


Posted by on Saturday, 16 January, 2010


Oncology: The Role Of Stress

Robert’s amazing.

He’s a good guy. Well informed and smart, good looking, full of energy, kind hearted, and ambitious.

And, believe it or not, he’s the guy who picks up our refuse every week in his antiseptically clean truck.

And he’s bonded with our pink nosed cockapoo, Luna.

Some day, Robert will own a fleet of trucks. Or a fleet of companies.

A couple of weeks ago, he asked MISTER ScienceAintSoBad if stress might be one of the causes of cancer.

“Robert! You can’t just make this stuff UP! Where’s that COME from?”

He looked abashed.

I felt bad.

“I don’t have a source for it,” he said “but it seems possible to me.”

Patronizingly, I explained to him that cancer’s causes are known. Genetics and the environment. EVERYBODY knows this.

But Robert isn’t the type to say things without thinking them through. So I thought about it (after I had made an ass of myself).

Robert giving Luna a biscuit

Isn’t the immune system the front line of defense against cancers, keeping spontaneous cellular mutations at bay? And it IS known that stress effects the immune system.

Damn! Where did I leave my computer?

After grinding Google down to a nub, I could see the basis for Robert’s conclusions and they seemed quite sound. Or, at least, they would have been until recently. However, D DeNardo (University Of California) dug down another layer showing how complicated things really are.

According to our latest understanding, the immune system does try to chomp cancers. But, unfortunately, its clumsy response can be exploited by some cancers for their own purposes.

Best thing I’ve found on the stress/cancer thing’s an article from the New York Times, November, 2005 (so a little dated). It’s by Gina Kolata.

Kolata points out that LOTS of people have come to believe there’s a cancer – stress link. But, after tons of studies, it’s been impossible to prove. So no link. Or, at least, in scientific-ese, “no evidence”.

Which, in science, is the sweet kiss of death.

Science, however, is the ultimate exercise in open mindedness.

Just ask us. We’ll tell you.

So maybe the very next study WILL show a link. Could happen.

For the excellent question, ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10

For my incomplete answer, ScienceAintSoBadRating = Well, I Tried.

Stroke: Unparalizing A Limb

Posted by on Wednesday, 13 January, 2010

Brain Science: Repairing Paralysis

In this month’s (January) Neuroscience: a way to reverse – really reverse – the damage to a limb paralyzed by a stroke with “Transforming Growth Factor Alpha”. This would earn the HIGHEST ScienceAintSoBadRating PLUS a case of champagne IF it had gone through successful human trials.

In a rat? Well, we’re quite excited, but we’re cheaping out here with a ScienceAintSoBadRating = 6 .