it is 2008...

...and yet there are still people out there who simply cannot abide the fact that entire classes of their fellow human beings--whether by choice, by their nature, through the use of technology, or some combination thereof--are having sex simply for its own sake.


george carlin, rip

Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits!

(I know it's pretty obvious, but I just can't think of a better way to express my feelings and pay tribute in fewer words.)



I'm off to the ATL tomorrow to witness my sister getting married. So that's pretty exciting.

After that, I'm heading to New England for a Gordon Conference (try to guess which one!) so I don't anticipate much bloggy action for the next week or so.

Go out and play.

in case graph jam doesn't take mine

21st century phrenology

I think it's all well and good to try and understand the biological basis of homosexuality for the same reasons it's well and good to understand the biological mechanisms of...well, basically everything.

But apropos of my earlier comments about overselling science, I worry about how studies like this can get twisted in the name of politics. The odds of a similar study producing different (or even opposite) results are actually pretty high here. The sample sizes are painfully small in this study, and I would definitely worry about selection biases. For example...how do you recruit a sample of gay males that are truly representative of the population as a whole? Certainly not by finding them through a geographically constrained social network (presumably everybody in the study was located conveniently to the study site.)

My point being that those concerned about gay rights ought not lean too hard on the science that sounds good to them when making an argument about policy, because this strategy is only one journal article away from biting you on the ass. Homosexual people don't deserve equal treatment under the law because they "can't help" their orientation...they deserve it because who you prefer to get your rocks off with is nobody's business but yours and your partner(s)', and has no bearing whatsoever on anything else.


graph jam

There go the next couple of hours for me.

bubble, bubble, oil and trouble

My economic literacy is admittedly pretty superficial, but I think John McCain might be correct about speculators contributing to the soaring price of oil (and in fact, I sincerely hope that he is), but, I also think he is completely wrong about what to do about it:

"Where we find such abuses, they need to be swiftly punished. And to make sure it never happens again, we must reform the laws and regulations governing the oil futures market, so that they are just as clear and effective as the rules applied to stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. In all of these markets, reform must assure transparency, prevent abuse, and protect the public interest."

If this really is a speculator-driven bubble, a good number of the speculators will lose their shirts when the contracts for delivery come due and the supply outstrips actual demand, bursting the bubble and dropping prices to less stratospheric levels.

In other words, if this is the problem, it is a self-correcting one. Politicians hate that.

Of course, another possibility is that what we are seeing now is the market correction, which is an unpleasant enough thought on its own, but would also mean that any heavy-handed attempts to thwart it will only make things much, much worse.

I think there is a clear choice between the major party candidates regarding foreign policy, and I will most likely vote accordingly if at all. But I'm pretty sure on economic policy we're fucked no matter what.


the game

Here is what I really, really don't like about being a researcher in basic (i.e., not clinical or even really translational) biomedical research.

We have to ought to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it is important for us to promote what we do, to make it relevant and accessible to the people that pay for most of our research (i.e., the taxpayers). Generally this follows the formulation of "understanding the basic mechanisms that regulate phenomenon X (my project) is critical to understanding how to diagnose/treat/prevent/eradicate disease Y, which might very well affect someone you know and love."

On the other hand, (and I think this is the hard part, and that many of my colleagues neglect it completely) we ought not trumpet our marginal successes so loudly as to give false hope to people suffering from disease Y right now (or their loved ones). Because a massive breakthrough in cell biology or basic pharmacology or basic neuroscience typically takes decades to be translated into a viable therapeutic, if that happens at all, which it usually doesn't*.

Maybe my temperament is rare in this regard, but I think hope can be a very cruel thing when it has no basis in reality. It's all good grantsmanship and typical academic politicking until someone you care about looks to you for some sliver of hope, and you know damn well you don't have a single thing to offer them. (There are reasons MDs get paid more than us, generally, and they don't have anything to do with whose is bigger.)

Anyway, that's not an experience I really wish on anyone, but it would, I think, put things in a more sensible perspective.

Moreover, I don't think we do ourselves any favors in the long run by overselling our science. People tend to notice when you don't deliver what you've promised them, and eventually they vote accordingly.

*Incidentally, the poor success rate of translational research is a topic on which I am giving some serious thought to writing a scholarly-to-general audience-aimed book. I'm mostly just making that knowledge somewhat public in the hopes that having mentioned it to people might keep me motivated to pursue it. It is a big project. But I do have a killer title figured out.


if it's sunday...

Tim Russert has died, and with him the only news show I still found watchable on a consistent basis that didn't air on Comedy Central. (Though lately, I had been subscribing to the audio podcast.)



This photo from a PETA protest makes me think about two things. And neither one of them is "becoming a vegetarian".


mixed messages

From the NC Dept of Environment and Natural Resources press release:

This forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid moderate exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include children who are active outside, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion...(emphases added)

OK, fine. So what can us good citizens do to help?

Citizens can help reduce air pollution by taking some of the following actions:

--Limit driving by riding the bus, walking, bicycling or postponing trips.

This is a good example of why I think it's generally a bad idea for people to get in any way accustomed to the government telling them what's good for them...


things that are NO FUN

1. Evaluating a couple of dozen abstracts, half of which are about neuroprotection (which is rather easily accomplished in a lab but never, ever works in people) and the other half involve functional neuroimaging (which is neat when they show it on the Discovery Channel, but the nuts and bolts of which are incredibly, incredibly boring.)

2. Trying to write 1000 words on something over which you could easily produce 50,000 (given time and leave from everything else on your professional docket, of course), making it accessible to a (relatively) general audience, AND make it not sound exactly like the other 30 or so papers published on the same subject in the past 4 years (especially the ones you wrote) and oh yeah, do it by the end of the week, please.

The upside (and it isn't a trivial one when it's 90+° out and gas is $4/gallon)...I get to do these things at home.



Just put her out of her misery, will you? I'm actually starting to feel something resembling sympathy for her, and that's just plain icky.


wish list

Megan McArdle digs her Kindle. People in the business of making books, unsurprisingly, not so much.

I'm pretty sure I haven't a use for it just now, but I am a confirmed late adopter. There won't be a flat-screen TV in my house until the CRT explodes, and I am desperately clinging to my current cell phone for its most endearing feature of being a phone and nothing else. Hell, my car doesn't even have (meaningful) air conditioning, and the most temperate place I've ever lived with it is North Carolina.

Where was I?

Right, I don't think I need a Kindle for my relatively modest 1-2 books/month habit.

WHAT I WANT NEED...is essentially the same thing (a stripped-down, compact device with a highly readable screen) onto which I can load .pdf files of journal articles, that is hooked into Pubmed the way Kindle is hooked into Wikipedia, and also includes a tablet-type functionality enabling me to highlight and scribble snarky notes about the authors onto the documents the way I do with the printouts I currently lug around a dozen or so at a time in my briefcase, until they come to rest in one of several piles on my desk to be forgotten and printed out again six months hence when I realize that I can actually locate them faster on the internet than I can on my desk.

Also, if they could be fully searchable that would be swell. Category tags, naturally, are a must. And if it could spit out a nice Endnote or Reference Manager-type bibliography to merge into a Word document, that would be pretty cool, too.

Yeah, I realize I could do all of this with some effort and a decent laptop, but the thing I'm looking for is something that might also force me to plow through the journal articles without easily transitioning to looking at something (i.e., anything) more entertaining on the internet.

I love our house full of books, and may it ever be thus. But the sooner I get the paper out of my office, the better...



I got tired of this place looking like the liner notes of a Tool album, but I'm also trying to maintain a minimalist aesthetic. Also, my eyes are in their fourth decade, and I'm starting to notice that.

go left, young man

Will Wilkinson:

Meanwhile, with the obsolescence of the anti-communist alliance with conservatives, many libertarians have sloughed off much of their previously tactically useful sympathy for socially conservative initiatives. Freed to be full-on social liberals, many libertarians are left sensing a much deeper cultural affinity for the left than the right. And this leads naturally to seeing more clearly their ideological affinities with welfare liberals.

Um, in a word, yeah...this articulates my thinking about modern libertarianism over the last couple of years about as well as anything I could ever hope to write*.

In practical terms, I'd say that for my part, given an electoral choice between two different flavors of government overreach, I'm certainly inclined to go with the one oriented towards the welfare of people (however ill-conceived and poorly executed the particulars tend to be) over the one that is oriented towards blowing them up.

Plugging your ears and denouncing statism in all its forms is fine and admirable, but only if you view ideology as an end rather than a means. It's just silly to pretend that universal health care is as great (or greater) a threat to your freedom and well-being as is funding a global empire.

Jim Henley also makes a great point that cuts to the heart of our age:
...this election season certainly reminds me how deranged and deranging the real political process is. It still makes powerful sense to me to minimize its sway over our lives. I agree with an awful lot of what Will says about the merits of what he doesn’t quite call Hayekian Social-Democracy, but by god we should still keep the whole thing as simple and circumscribed as possible. Because the people who come through this process are crazy, and the people who involve themselves deeply in it become so.

*This is not true. It's actually much better.