“Proving” the impossible with statistics

Jim Kaput of the Center for Nutrigenomics sent along an interesting article from the Economist magazine, referring to a study presented at the AAAS meeting recently and also published in a medical journal.

Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto surveyed more than 10 million Canadians for associations between astrological sign and admission to hospital with a specific diagnosis. He found that Leos had a significantly (less than 5% due to chance) greater likelihood of gastrointestinal hemorrhage, while Sagittarians had an increased risk of a broken arm.

Brain maps online

Digital atlases of the brains of humans, monkeys, dogs, cats, mice, birds and other animals have been created and posted online by researchers at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience.

BrainMaps.org features the highest resolution whole-brain atlases ever constructed, with over 50 terabytes of brain image data directly accessible online. Users can explore the brains of humans and a variety of other species at an unprecedented level of detail, from a broad view of the brain to the fine details of nerves and connections. The website also includes a suite of free, downloadable tools for navigating and analyzing brain data.

BitTorrent goes legal, becomes uncool

The peer-to-peer video service BitTorrent is to sell films legally under a deal with major movie studios. But that probably means that it’s going to lose its hip image, Jesse Drew of the UC Davis Technocultural Studies program tells the Mercury News.

“People forget that it’s not just economic models that make them popular, they have a certain mystique, an edginess, a hipness — they lose that when they enter into a commercial market,” he said.

Does anyone still use Napster? QED. Also, the videos will be protected by Microsoft’s “Digital Rights Management” software, and will not work on Macs or iPods. What that says about Mac users and their detractors I will leave up to the commenters to decide.

How do we detect temperature?

A new study by Jie Zheng, assistant professor at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and colleagues shows how the body can detect small temperature changes over a wide range.

“For a long time, we didnt know how temperature sensing was being carried out in animals,” Zheng said. Huge progress was made in the last decade when scientists discovered four ion channels sensitive to heat and two cold-sensitive ones. Ion channels are proteins that stick through the cell membrane and allow signals to be transmitted into cells.

Study: Meth Use Linked To Heart Failure

A study by Khung-Keong Yeo, now a clinical fellow in the UC Davis Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, found that young people who use methamphetamine (aka meth, crank, or crystal) more than triple their risk of heart failure.

Yeo led a team that reviewed the medical records of 107 patients ages 45 and 114 age-matched patients discharged without signs of heart problems. After adjusting for other risk factors, including body weight and kidney failure, the researchers found that meth users had a 3.7 times greater risk of cardiomyopathy compared to the patients who did not use the illegal drug. Yeo led the study while he was a medical resident at the University of Hawaii. The study was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Medicine.

American Scientist Online: Andy Frank on Plug-in Hybrids

Professor Andy Frank has just published a comprehensive review on plug-in hybrid vehicles in American Scientist magazine. Frank, widely regarded as a pioneer in plug-in hybrid technology, goes over the history of developing these vehicles from the 1970s to the present, and also discusses the different configurations of hybrids such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, their advantages and drawbacks.

Coverage of the latest vehicle from Frank’s “Team Fate” lab, Trinity, here.

ET hunt finds something…

Well, a missing laptop, anyway. The SETI @ Home project based at UC Berkeley uses idle computer time on millions of home computers to crunch data from the Arecibo radio telescope, looking for hints of extraterrestrial intelligence. Member computers check in every few days, giving their IP address when they do so. James Melin of Minneapolis runs SETI@Home on all seven of his home computers, so when his wife’s laptop was stolen, he used the program to track it down when it tried to “phone home” to the SETI servers.

Rural development won’t save biodiversity — or lift people from poverty

Trying to combine rural development with conservation in developing countries cannot make the world’s rural poor substantially better off, or protect biodiversity, argues UC Davis professor Truman Young in a recent article.

In a recent issue of the Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy, Young argues that the countryside cannot sustain current populations except at poverty levels.

Efforts to decrease poverty and restore natural habitats should recognize that human populations have been moving from rural to urban areas on a massive scale, and focus on giving immigrants the skills to thrive in cities, he says.

Bacteria Could Steady Buildings Against Earthquakes

Soil bacteria could be used to help steady buildings against earthquakes, according to researchers at UC Davis. The microbes can literally convert loose, sandy soil into rock.

When a major earthquake strikes, deep, sandy soils can turn to liquid, with disastrous consequences for buildings sitting on them. Currently, civil engineers can inject chemicals into the soil to bind loose grains together. But these epoxy chemicals may have toxic effects on soil and water, said Jason DeJong, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis.

Award for Delta levees story

Betsy Mason of the Contra Costa Times has won the David Perlman Award for Excellence in Science Journalism from the American Geophysical Union. The award is for reporting produced under deadlines of a week or less.

Mason wrote a series of three articles for the Times based on a conference commemorating the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The third article, about the risks of an earthquake destroying levees in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta, cited work by UC Davis geologist Jeff Mount.

All three articles are available online:

What if?” April 17, 2006

Geologists excavate clues from past quakes,” April 18, 2006