Monkeys brain controls robot arm

One step closer to monkey robot domination:

With the probes inserted into the monkeys motor cortices, computer software was used to interpret the brains electrical impulses and translate them into movement through the robotic arm.

This arm was jointed like a human arm and possessed a “gripper” that mimics a hand.

After some training, two monkeys – who had had their own arms restrained – were able to use the prosthetic limbs to feed themselves with marshmallows and chunks of fruit.

For some reason, the BBC is reporting on a 3-year-old story, but it’s still cool and there’s a video, so I’ll post it anyway.

The missing finger that never was

I read a really interesting article in BBC News not long ago about a guy who was given a substance extracted from pig’s bladder to grow back part of his finger. Sounds too good to be true!

The Guardian (warning: semi-gross pictures) sorts it out:

The patient is Lee Spievack. He was given the powder by Acell, a large and longstanding biotech firm founded by Alan Spievack. He is Lee Spievack’s big brother. Dr Badylak is Acell’s chief scientific adviser, and he can be seen bravely making the best of all this unwelcome media attention by showing TV cameras around his labs and giving lengthy interviews, both now and in February 2008, when this story made the US news, and also, interestingly, in February of 2007, when it made the news for the first time, in exactly the same form, with exactly the same characters, and many identical quotes, verbatim, in the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, and more.

I’m glad someone besides Jon Stewart is fact-checking these trigger-happy news morons. In addition to being published in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre’s got a great blog entitled Bad Science.

Our next President will most likely be stupid

Orac has a nice rejoinder to David Kirby’s recent article, which contained the following disheartening, if not unsurprising news:

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionnaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

(Note: The Washington Post reports that when Obama said “this person,” he pointed to someone who had asked an autism question).

Orac contends (and I agree) that the problem isn’t the answers themselves, but rather that they answered at all (his notes and links, not mine):

In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

And of course, John McCain is even worse.

Physics giant (and former UT Prof) passes away

14wheeler6001.jpg

John A. Wheeler, Physicist Who Coined the Term ‘Black Hole,’ Is Dead at 96 – New York Times

John A. Wheeler, a visionary physicist and teacher who helped invent the theory of nuclear fission, gave black holes their name and argued about the nature of reality with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, died Sunday morning at his home in Hightstown, N.J. He was 96.

He was one of the major contributors to physics of the last century:

Among Dr. Wheeler’s students was Richard Feynman of the California Institute of Technology, who parlayed a crazy-sounding suggestion by Dr. Wheeler into work that led to a Nobel Prize. Another was Hugh Everett, whose Ph.D. thesis under Dr. Wheeler on quantum mechanics envisioned parallel alternate universes endlessly branching and splitting apart — a notion that Dr. Wheeler called “Many Worlds” and which has become a favorite of many cosmologists as well as science fiction writers.

Recalling his student days, Dr. Feynman once said, “Some people think Wheeler’s gotten crazy in his later years, but he’s always been crazy.”

Scientific American posted a profile of him originally published in 1991 that contains some interesting glimpses into his personality and theories.

Genetic link for lung cancer identified

464749_cigarettes.jpgSome really interesting genetic research was recently published in Nature on smoking and lung caner:

Three independent genetic studies have found some of the strongest evidence yet that your genes influence your risk of developing lung cancer.

Lung cancer, the most common killer cancer in the world, is largely caused by smoking. Tobacco is thought to be responsible for about 5 million premature deaths every year and smoking is still clearly the largest risk factor. But the new results suggest that, amongst smokers, some people may be as much as 80% more at risk than others thanks to their genes.

So how risky is smoking? You won’t need a genetic test; it suffices to say it’s fairly risky indeed:

About 50% of the general population carries a single copy of this cancer gene variant, members of the three research groups suggest. Data from all three studies — some of which did not include non-smokers — show that possessing this single copy raises the risk of lung cancer by about 30%.

What’s more, another 10% of the population is likely to carry two copies of this set of mutations, raising cancer risk by as much as 80% relative to people with equivalent lifestyles without the cancer-linked gene variant.

Baptists fight climate change

Church to step up climate fight

Leaders of the influential Southern Baptist community in the US have declared their churches have a duty to stop climate change.In a statement, senior figures in the movement said evidence of man-made global warming was “substantial”. Southern Baptists are the largest protestant group in the country.

Anti-climate change republican politicians and conservative pundits, start your backpedaling … now!

McCain is anti-vaccine

Into the Fray Over the Cause of Autism – New York Times

“It’s indisputable that autism is on the rise among children,” Senator John McCain said while campaigning recently in Texas. “The question is, What’s causing it? And we go back and forth, and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

Not as if I need another reason not to vote for McCain… I’ve posted numerous refutations of the thimerosal-autism link here before, and this one‘s as good as any. You can also take a look here [NSFW] at what happens when you don’t immunize children, but I’ll warn you the pictures are pretty graphic. Here’s my favorite Metafilter comment from a now-deleted thread:

It’s mercury, a neurotoxin.

You know what else is a toxin? Chlorine. That’s right: it corrodes sensitive mucous membranes and can digest living cells. I therefore suggest you stay away from table salt — it contains chlorine, you know. Clearly toxic!

Hooray for Texas education!

Veteran on state education board holds own against creation backer:

Veteran State Board of Education member Pat Hardy of Fort Worth was defeating a challenger in the GOP primary Tuesday night, holding off an effort by social conservatives to gain a working majority on the politically divided board.

Social conservatives threw their support behind Cleburne urologist Barney Maddox, known for his strong support of creation science and calls to revamp textbooks used in classrooms across Texas.

Take that, Barney! Take that, Cleburne!

Overdose Rescue Kits Save Lives

NPR: Overdose Rescue Kits Save Lives

Every year, overdoses of heroin and opiates, such as Oxycontin, kill more drug users than AIDS, hepatitis or homicide.And the number of overdoses has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

But now, public health workers from New York to Los Angeles, North Carolina to New Mexico, are preventing thousands of deaths by giving $9.50 rescue kits to drug users. The kits turn drug users into first responders by giving them the tools to save a life.

[…]

The nasal spray is a drug called naloxone, or Narcan. It blocks the brain receptors that heroin activates, instantly reversing an overdose.

Pretty awesome, right?  The Bush administration doesn’t think so:

But Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, opposes the use of Narcan in overdose-rescue programs.

“First of all, I dont agree with giving an opioid antidote to non-medical professionals. Thats No. 1,” she says. “I just dont think thats good public health policy.”

Madras says drug users arent likely to be competent to deal with an overdose emergency. More importantly, she says, Narcan kits may actually encourage drug abusers to keep using heroin because they know overdosing isnt as likely.

Madras says the rescue programs might take away the drug users motivation to get into detoxification and drug treatment.

Now, this would be an ok position for an idiotic, hack pundit or talk show host to have, but this is the deputy director of the ONDCP. Let’s see what their mission is:

The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences.

I always hear President Bush saying history will be the judge of his administration. I’ve got a good guess what word history will file his presidency under: failure. It’s like he hires people based on their ability to be willfully and blissfully stupid. The rationale against Narcan reminds me a lot of the opposition to the HPV vaccine; a twisted moral argument at worst, a bureaucratic cop-out at best.