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Archive for September, 2010

Vaccines, Balance and Unraveling the Mind

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

(Photo by Andres Rueda via Flickr)

Every week we are bombarded with words. Whether it’s readings for school, work, pleasure or just to stay on top of current events. This week the majority of my reading related to school. But I must say the articles and book I read held my attention, taking me to places and things I hadn’t thought about.

A nurse stuck me with a needle; a reporter grappled with the concept of balancing both sides of a heated topic; and the human mind revealed just how complex and unique it is.

So, let me at least attempt to show you some of these places and things.


Last week I sat uncomfortably on an examining table, the fresh sheet of butcher paper crumpling under my rear. My annual check up had gone fine so far. I now had to wait for the doctor. When she came in, she greeted me with a smile, and we awkwardly exchanged pleasantries. But before too long, we got down to business. One of the first “business” items she mentioned was about a vaccine.

“There has been an outbreak of pertussis,” she said, recommending that I get the vaccine, which incidentally also guards you from tetanus and diptheria.


Chimpanzees, Dolphins and Extraterrestrials

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

(Photo by zooeurope via Flickr)

What do these three things have in common? Well, for the first two, more than you think. For the latter, ET may not even come close to the iconic image from the 1980s Spielberg flick.

Let me elaborate.

Chimpanzees and Dolphins

Maddalena Bearzi and Craig Stanford discuss their findings from years of studying dolphins and chimpanzees, respectively, in “A Bigger, Better Brain.”

Their compares these two animals with each other and their big brained cousin – humans. Of course, humans, chimpanzees and dolphins aren’t the only animals with big brains. But they do seem the most intelligent.

The best part of this piece, besides the interesting behavior of both chimpanzees and dolphins, was the beautiful description of the two animals in their natural habitat at the beginning. One detail of this description particularly invoked an image.

“Each sits sleepily on the branch supporting his or her nest, peeing quietly onto the ground many meters below,” wrote Bearzi and Stanford.


Brains, Mysterious Particles and More Brains

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

(Photo by The unnamed via Flickr)

This week several of the things I read and listened to seemed to have a common theme: brains. Well, I suppose that’s not exactly what these pieces were about. But they all had something to do with the mind, human and non-human. The lone odd ball in the group was a story about “elusive particles,” particles that are believed to hold clues about the beginning of the Universe. So, I suppose even those particles have to do with the brain since they are everywhere and involved with the creation of us all. (Okay, I know that’s a stretch. But it’s the best I’ve got at the moment.)

At any rate, this post will briefly discuss each of these pieces, fleshing out the concepts from each.


Human The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique is a fascinating look at some of the most fundamental questions about the human mind. In this book, Michael Gazzaniga addresses questions that continue to puzzle scientists. We [humans] know we are unique. But “how unique are we, and how are we unique?” (more…)

Mice, Randomness and the Wonders of Technology

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

(Photo by joostjbakker via Flickr)

This week I read many interesting science-related things. Several of them stuck out in particular. Unfortunately, though, they aren’t really all that related. So, I will talk about all of them separately in this post.


I have had many encounters with mice. Some comical. (One ended with me on the bathroom sink, my brother standing on a toilet, and a fast mouse up my mother’s pant leg.) Some disturbing. (Dead mice in a closet.) Some eye opening. (Animal rights protesters standing outside the lab I briefly worked in.)

Of all these close encounters, it’s the last one that relates most poignantly to Greg Critser’s “Of Men and Mice.”

This wonderfully frightening article really made me think.

How humane are lab technicians treating mice? Why aren’t animal rights groups more concerned with the welfare of monkeys than with rodents? (Especially, as pointed out in the article, since lab rodents are much more common than lab primates.) Perhaps, most important, why isn’t there better government regulation of lab animals and the environments they are kept in?

The article shed light on a world that few know about, and perhaps even fewer care about. Critser unraveled the mystery of the lab mouse string by string, keeping me engaged and inciting many emotions.

I shuddered at the descriptions of the techniques Joe Gile, an expert on mouse surgical procedures, used to draw blood by sticking the mouse in the eye with a needle. I almost stopped reading at the point Critser began talking about cervical dislocation (even if the animal isn’t supposedly in any more pain than newer euthanasia techniques).


Musings on John McPhee’s “Checkpoints; Personal History”

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

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Last year, one of my teachers emphasized the importance of checking facts. A single incorrect date or misspelled name would earn you a nice big “F”. While this practice may seem a little harsh, it was definitely an important lesson. If you got an article back with that lovely letter, you certainly would double and triple check all of your facts next time.

John McPhee’s New Yorker article called “Checkpoints; Personal History” takes an amusing yet somewhat scary look at the world of the fact checker, the person whose job it is to painstakingly check a writer’s piece over and over again. While I don’t intend to work as a fact checker, I can understand his or her pain. Even more, I know how vital the job is. Without fact checkers, many pieces would go to press with errors, damaging the reputation of the journalist as well as the publication. Fact checkers are especially important to anyone writing about complicated, technical topics.