Archive for July, 2013


Posted by on Monday, 29 July, 2013




You know about saccadic eye movements?

Ha ha!

But, seriously, this is interesting.

First what it is. Then I’ll get to to why we’re  even talking about it. .


Your eyes are  strange. No offense. But they are. You wouldn’t think they would work as well as they do. There’s only one small part of  your retina where the vision receptors are close enough together to tell a bear from a bush. If our ancestors had tried to pick berries from bears, we wouldn’t be having this little talk,  now would we?

As the eye evolved,  it learned to keep the fovea, the aforementioned part,  on the move. The fovea follows a complex track around whatever you’re looking at, darting quickly over everything before steadying.  These quick eye  movements are automatic; you aren’t aware of them. To you, seeing the world seems  simple  and natural. Behind the scenes, the brain and the eyes are involved in a saccadic dance.

That’s how it works,  okay?

Back to my point.


Well YOU might not have been aware of your eye movement but it’s nothing new to scientists and physicians. In Finland,  Dr.  Martti Juhola at the University of Tampere, wondered if saccadic eye motion could be used for identification (International Journal of Biometrics). He knew that these movement  patterns are unique for each individual. Could eye movements be used like passwords are used? Maybe instead of passwords?  Could we use a video camera to turn saccadic eye movements into a biometric ID that might – just might – free us from “password hell” someday? Just a video camera and the right software and we could lose the passwords? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Juhola ‘s group is developing a system for doing just that. If it proves viable,  maybe you will use it some day.


They’ve been trying to replace passwords with “biometrics” for years and years. It isn’t an easy thing to do get right. This Finnish idea might have legs but it will take time till we know.

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Image credits for the image above: ‘fraid it’s me again. 


Posted by on Sunday, 28 July, 2013



Two (married to each other) mathematicians are taking a shot (get it?) at settling the wide disagreement we have about guns.  They tried to get some science into this putting aside their own biases and looking at the best evidence  going back through almost a century  of data.   Dominik Wodarz (University of California, Irvine) and Natalia Komarova (Rutgers)  found mixed results. Under some circumstances, packing a weapon might prevent a mass killing whereas, where domestic violence is concerned,  less guns equals less deaths. Their goal was to get more science into the discussion and lower the temperature. They think a calm deliberative look at things might save lives.

They may be right and I hope you will give the smith’s a break here. They’re trying to get us to take a fresh look. That’s  a bad thing?

The work is published in Plos OnePlos One is a little different as journals go. It is an open access peer reviewed journal.  Its  goal is to make sure that the stuff that comes to it is professionally done but it doesn’t make an a priori judgement about the importance of the article. It trusts that the truth of the article’s claims will be thrashed out in public so it does accept a wider range of articles. Does this mean it is less reliable? MISTER ScienceAintSoBad isn’t sure.  But if you’re kinda a zealot on this issue and you don’t see anything wrong with the research but hate its conclusions, you can always go after the damn journal.

Good luck on that one.

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Yup. I’m the guilty party. My drawing again. 


Posted by on Thursday, 25 July, 2013



Oh wow!

Sorry about the oh wow! As MISTER ScienceAintSoBad I try not to sound like a former hippie.  But what’s sitting on my desk is seriously hot. I’m talking about this thing from The  Imperial College Of London.

Zolton Takats (the journal Science Translational Medicine is where the article was published) has developed an “intelligent knife” for surgeons. It’s for surgeons who spend their days trying to figure out where the tumor stops and where you start –  carefully cutting away cancerous tissue with just enough margin to avoid having to go in again later.

That’s the hope.

A wrong decision – and I mean a wrong decision by a half a millimeter – can be really,  really bad. Leave a little too much in, and your patient may die. Take a little too much out, and you’re in court being called a cold, uncaring, nasty (and rich) doctor.  Takat’s knife,  with pitch perfect accuracy (more and larger studies to come I am sure),  guides the doctor precisely. As the hot knife vaporizes tissue, it sucks it into an instrument – a mass spectrometer – which, with the aid of some proprietary software and miscellaneous other technology including a profile of the mix of cells that characterizes certain cancers, can let the doc know when the knife is cutting through bad tissue. Or not.

I hope you don’t have cancer. Believe me, I know how scary it is. But if you have to get help you want to lean the odds your way, right? Even with an instrument like this in your surgeon’s hands you won’t really relax until its over and they say you’re okay. But the smart knife should make the whole process a lot more predictable.

I like this.


Well  it’s not a catch, really. The data look great so far. But the device still has to prove itself useful and cost effective in clinical settings. Only then will we see it come into general use.  Soon I hope.


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Image credits:  I’m the guilty party. My own drawing.



Posted by on Saturday, 13 July, 2013













And how is YOUR subfornical organ? 

In a recent article, I mentioned a  “bracelet” that measures blood pressure. No cuff, no catheters, no needles. Just a bracelet around the wrist. This got me thinking about what else might be new for people with hypertension.

Well what DO you know! Here’s a good one.  The root of the hypertension problem may not be the arteries. Dr. Robin Davison of Cornell (Journal of Clinical Investigation) says the brain is the reason that blood pressure gets “stuck” at high levels. He says the problem is in the subfornical organ at the very bottom of the brain which is responsible for the way both the arteries and the heart interact to raise the pressure. The good thing is that this particular structure, because of its location, should be easily reached by therapeutic drugs (not true for most things in the brain because of the “blood brain barrier”).

Does this matter?

About a third of Americans (and most older Americans) have high blood pressure. There are things that can be done to treat it. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. But there’s room for something better – something that gets more directly at the cause. There’s a particular hormone which acts on the subfornical organ during stress. Davison has shown that when drugs are administered to counter the influence of that hormone, the elevated blood pressure returns to normal.  Just like that. If this idea can be turned into a practical drug, stress induced hypertension might be much much easier to deal with.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

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Credit for the nifty head flipper above:


Posted by on Thursday, 11 July, 2013




I received a  letter from a reader.

Dear MisterScienceAintSoBad,

My sister’s mad at me because she says I pick pick pick. Can’t help it though. She’s like my grandmother. God this and God that. God?  Don’t I have a right to challenge her dopey ideas? A-Boy

Dopey ideas? A-boy,  (I’m hoping the A stands for atheist and not a certain orifice) believers aren’t idiots (exceptions exist). They just believe in God.

It’s not a sin.

Doesn’t mean they DENY reality. They just have an extra one.

Most educated believers aren’t trying to prove Darwin wrong. Mostly, they know about fossils and other stuff that show how life evolved. Maybe they even know how the earth was formed out of cosmic dust over millions of years.

What about God? What about Genesis?

That too.

But you said..

Believe it or not, it is perfectly possible for an educated person to “get” the Big Bang – even string theory – and still open a bible once in a while. The interior of the human brain isn’t made for consistency.

Prayer and plain geometry. They can get along. Ask Isaac Newton – Hey –  Ask his spirit. Most people believe in God or something like. Even in Europe where religion’s less popular. Why is that hard? People believe. They want to. It feels good. It’s comforting. If I were you, I wouldn’t mess with it.

This makes me MISTER Science IS So Bad? I don’t think so. I’m just saying that it’s possible to be too literal minded. The human brain CAN have two different ideas at the same time. Most minds do. This is what we are and I’m sorry it’s messy.

This isn’t an apologia. There ARE plenty of zealots who say that the bible’s got all the wisdom we need and science just gets in the way; and there are uber-rationalists who wanna smack bibles out of the hands of the misguided.

A curse on BOTH their houses.

Or whatever.

Discussion about religion vs science  can be exasperating but it’s a chance for “worlds to collide”. Which isn’t such a bad thing if it’s done with respect. Science-minded folks need to have some respect for the very evolutionary processes that they defend. As human intellect evolved, there was a strong need to make sense of the world on a personal level. Science didn’t show up to add understanding until very late in the game. In the meantime, we needed something to make sense of the world. Religion did that for us. Today our religious heritage coexists in a delicate but, often sweet, tension with rational scientific thought.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad says that’s okay.


Credit for above drawing: Stick Angel by VergilsBitch

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