Archive for January, 2014


Posted by on Sunday, 26 January, 2014
Cartoon about a world where geeks are cool




You come back time and time again to read about the latest stuff in science and technology.

And it’s  much appreciated.

You really never know what I am going to be talking about.  How could you? I don’t myself.

Some of my articles deal with medical” advances” and some deal with physics or  chemistry or astronomy. Sometimes it’s economics. Sometimes it’s the IPhone. Or Google’s Android products. When I write about abstract stuff – string theory, fusion power, or firewalls in black holes, you’re like “I would love to catch up with you and read that latest blog post but, thing is, I have to visit my aunt” .

I really don’t think you have an aunt. Am I right?

I love all that stuff about the beginning of the universe. What could be more fascinating then that tender moment when out of nothing – or almost nothing  –  an early universe appeared? In that first incredibly small fraction of a second, out of about a gram of matter, a process (inflation) began and ended much faster than the flicker of an eye and kicked off what we call the ‘Big Bang” expansion of the universe. There are mysteries within mysteries there. Where did that gram of matter come from? What was happening in the sliver of time just before that moment? What is the role of so called dark energy and dark matter? Is there more? Something out beyond the universe we can see? More universe? Other universes?

I imagine writing the  ultimate article about “The Beginning”. There’s a  nice cartoon with it. I’m thinking “They’re gonna love this!”

“Honestly?”, you say.  “If I don’t change the air filter in the car today, when will I get another chance? How about I skip that little universie deal and check in with your blog later in the week? Maybe you’ll have something to say about self driving cars.”

Recently, I wrote an article about Prince Charles and how he’d gotten himself into the middle of the homeopathy controversy. When the article went live, to my surprise, I was swamped with readers! Was it the mention of the ever popular Prince Charles? Or was it your fascination with the wackier kinds of “alternative” medicine?

It’s hard to guess what you will find interesting because, after all, “you” is a mysterious amalgam of individuals who come and go. Some of “you” write textbooks on astronomy and some of you read science fiction while you’re waiting in your beat  up taxi for a fare. There’s only one me but – when I’m lucky, anyway – there are many of you. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I drop a bomb and nobody – well almost – comes.

Bill and Marion and Danny come but I sorta take them for granted.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad writes because – actually? I’m not sure why I write. I just do. The size of my audience doesn’t change anything. I’m not poorer if you don’t come and I’m not richer if you do.

That  “counter” I mentioned? The one that tells me how many readers I get? And how many articles they read? It keeps me aligned with my readers and their interests.  Maybe it’s vanity but I feel bad when you would rather check your air filter than read my latest article.

My point (if any)?

You read medical articles. If there’s a way to beat rheumatoid arthritis or hodgkin’s lymphoma or migraine headaches, you’re interested. Something for a bad back and you’ll read me for sure. Same for hearing loss.

Balding? Heck. A guy will ignore the love of his life for a few minutes and read every word of a new and promising drug that made a mouse look like Liberace.

Where medicine is concerned, I try as hard as I can to be a good partner. I know that being sick sucks; I do what I can to call your attention to important new developments and to steer clear of the blood suckers out there. For the “business of life”, I write about electronics and computers and refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners. I should do it more often but I’m no flipping Consumer’s Union. When I do, I try to sprinkle a little scientific sauce around. Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s my job.

Here’s the thing.

I won’t stop writing about  how life began or even how the  universe  got going/will end. Or whether quarks are  the smallest form of matter or are made of even smaller things. Or whether there’s evidence for life somewhere. I know I have to work harder to pull an audience with those blog posts.  And I’m not mad at you for choosing a spaghetti dinner over me. If I lose out to good food on a science article, it’s not your fault. I didn’t use enough seasoning. I’ll do better next time, okay? You’re not obligated.

We’ll work on that bad back of yours. But stay open. I’ll hook you on cosmology yet.




No More Anti-rejection Drugs?

Posted by on Tuesday, 14 January, 2014


Cartoon about anti-rejection drugs



A diseased lung, a diseased liver –  even a mangled finger –   can be replaced with one from a donor assuming you can find someone to do the donor-ing.

It isn’t as simple as it sounds. (Does it sound simple?).

First of all, to get a  donor organ you  have to be “lucky” . Unless you have a near relative who is willing to donate  (giving up a heart isn’t allowed) you may have to go “on the list”. Some of those lists stretch to the moon.  The criteria for selection can be stiff. Not sick enough won’t work. Too sick might not work either – not if you’re a bad risk.  And if you do get a transplant your immune system might attack the donated organ. Only matches that are very close are likely to get along well with your immune system and if your body does reject the organ, the entire effort will have been a total waste and you may even be worse off than when you started.

To keep this from happening, doctors give patients anti-rejection drugs. Those drugs are taken forever. Until the patient dies. And, you know what? They aren’t cheap and  they  have side effects – some so bad that you wonder “What was I thinking?”

If you mess up and forget to take your anti-rejection drugs?

That’s bad too.  You could – let’s be honest, okay? – you could die or, at least, be real sick. And you could reject the organ.

That’s the destiny of many recipients of a transplant- a lifetime of drugs that are often hard to tolerate.


My news is good.

Two doctors at MGH (Mass General Hospital), James F. Markmann and Tatsuo Kawai, did a small study (Science Translational Medicine but referenced here in Bioscience and Technology) .  For many of their patients they had donor organs that weren’t such a good match. So they did the transplants and followed up not with anti-rejection drugs but with stem cell transplants from the donors.

It worked!

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad wishes he he could adequately express his enormous joy at this fantastic research. I would write an ode if I knew how.

It is still a work in progress even though another group had similar success. More tests have to be done before this can be considered “standard of care” or even be introduced into the clinic. But if it sounds exciting, that’s because it is exciting.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 well deserved points.

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The drawing is mine.

Click “comments” (just under the headline for this article) to leave a comment.

Unnecessary Surgery For President Bush?

Posted by on Saturday, 11 January, 2014


Cartoon about G W Bush




President George W Bush recently got a stent for his heart.

Were it not for his great healthcare, he wouldn’t have.

He didn’t have pain or shortness of breath. No symptoms. No nothing. But those (few) of us who are former presidents have exemplary health care. Evidently, one of President Bush’s exemplary set of physicians said “Uh oh, Mister Former President, I don’t like the way that artery looks.”  One thing led to another and, before you knew it, the former President of the United States was  recovering from heart surgery.

Here’s the thing. The British Medical Journal isn’t sold on this.

Who asked them? I can not say. But their take is that this stenting was too aggressive and was unjustified by the data. Even if his arteries were a lot worse, they say, there’s no data to support such aggressive surgery with the attendant risk to former presidents and such.

“No data” isn’t the science equivalent of “expletive deleted” but it’s close. Modern medicine is supposed to adhere fairly close to the evidence.  Dr. Aseem Malhortra (Royal Free Hospital in London) was the author of the article.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad loves the concern of the British Medical Journal. To be honest? I didn’t think anyone over there in England cared much whether GW Bush leads a long and happy life or not. He wasn’t too popular over there when he was in charge here.  Anway, Dr. Malhortra’s point has merit, I suppose, but I would say that doctoring is about striking the right balance. Evidence is a good guide. But it shouldn’t handcuff. There’s still room  for judgement from those on the other end of the scalpel I hope.

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The drawing is mine.

Please leave comments by clicking “comments” just to the right under the headline for this article.


Posted by on Wednesday, 8 January, 2014


humorous cartoon about gifted kids




It isn’t easy being a teacher. Lots  and lots of pressure from parents, school officials, and the community. The kids with problems need (and demand) a lot of attention. It’s great if you have a gifted kid or two in the class.  It leave a little more time to deal with the ones who need your attention.

This bothers Dr.  David Lubinski (Vanderbilt University). We need these gifted kids too. We can let them go off and “figure it out” on their own. They’ll get by just fine and lots better than fine. But don’t they deserve more than that? They shouldn’t be punished for being smart. They’re going to run this asylum some day. 

Lubinski  had 300 subjects in his study – kids and grown ups. (The study was published in Psychological Science.) They were real smarties with unbelievable SAT scores.  As they got older, they did terrific. The got great grades, got advanced degrees, got great jobs, and did really well with their lives.

Is there a problem here?

Lubinski says we’re not doing what we could be doing.

Yes, as a group, they did great. That’s what you would expect, okay? Gifted people usually do. There are programs for them, but not enough and no federal programs at all. We need, say the authors, to do better by them. It’s in our interest as a nation.

What does MISTER ScienceAintSoBad think?

Well it must be frustrating to have the world’s smartest kid and not have everything all perfect for him or for her. But, you know what? I don’t think we’ll run out of astronauts if we don’t pave their paths with petunias. It’s an interesting study. But MISTER ScienceAintSoBad isn’t convinced.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 3

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The drawing is mine.

To leave a comment, click “comments” which can be found at the top right of each article just beneath the headline.





Posted by on Saturday, 4 January, 2014
Cartoon about a dumb teenager




It wasn’t as good as modern medicine but, at least you could get an appointment. The ancient Peruvians healers cured by drilling a hole in the head with a hand drill. It’s called trepanation. 

Danielle Kurin (UC Santa Barbara) was the lead researcher. Her team looked at Peruvian skulls from a 250 year period beginning in 1000 AD. She looked at skulls that had holes in them – holes that had  been made  by someone on purpose. Old time surgery.

Is it crazy to drill a hole in a guy’s head with a hand tool? Especially when you don’t have any of the modern stuff to prevent infection? When you don’t have anything to put the guy out, or control the bleeding? And when  knowledge of anatomy and physiology is iffy?

Of course it is.

But if you are a Peruvian shaman, you follow tradition.This is what you do.  An ancient Peruvian with a serious head injury and a subdural haematoma – a bleed inside the head – would have had a good chance of dying unless the pressure  was  somehow relieved.

Here’s the thing.

If the head was whacked hard enough, you can probably skip the anesthesia anyway. And, even though infection’s a bad thing, the ancients had their tricks. Honey, for example.

For a bad head injury, what the Peruvian healers were doing was reasonable. Kurin’s team saw skulls where the holes had healed. “They must have gotten better,” she said. because “both the original wound and the trepanation healed”.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad can’t say he likes this approach  for the spiritual or psychosomatic illness cases which Kurin says were also treated in that way. But what do I know? Am I a shaman? 

We’re lucky. We live in a time when so much is possible.

It’s great to see how we got here.

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The drawing is mine.

The article appears in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

To leave a comment, click “comments” which can be found at the top right of each article just beneath the headline.