7.31.2009

Liverpool Cathedral Bells - Behind the Scenes

On the heels of my last post, I found this video which gives a nice behind the scenes look of the Liverpool Cathedral Bells in action.

Altogether now...one two three four...one two three four...

Well...Imagine That!

Can you guess the song?



With Cathedral bells, no less! Some background info on the obvious sensitivity issues, as well as the technical challenges, can be found here, here, and here. There's even rumor that the group performing may bring this to New York.

7.30.2009

Simon Singh Appreciation


The following post is my little part in supporting Simon Singh, an author who published the following article and subjected himself to a libel lawsuit by the British Chiropractic industry. See Orac's post for more details on what those wacky doctors found offensive.
--------------------------------------
Beware the Spinal Trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all, but the research suggests chiropractic therapy has mixed results – and can even be lethal, says Simon Singh.

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.

Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.


(prodded by Skepchick)

7.26.2009

This Must Make Perfect Sense to Someone

Somewhere in the world, someone must see this and think "Why didn't I think of that?"



Yeah...what she said. Wait - what did she say?

7.24.2009

Atheist Meetup Location


(found at randompictures posted by krushisabitch)

Brad Pitt: Inglourious Glistening Atheist Basterd

In an interview with BILD,
BILD: Do you believe in God?
Brad Pitt (smiling): "No, no, no!"
BILD: Is your soul spiritual?
Brad Pitt: "No, no, no! I'm probably 20 per cent atheist and 80 per cent agnostic. I don't think anyone really knows. You'll either find out or not when you get there, until then there's no point thinking about it.

Say...doesn't that put atheism in the running for Sexiest Non-Belief System of 2009?

Of course, right after that, he had this to say about getting older:
BILD: Are you scared of ageing?
Brad Pitt (smirking): The grey hairs on his beard glisten: “No I like it. I think it’s good.”

So, there you have it. He's ath/agnostic, doesn't mind getting older, and has glistening gray hairs. Actually, Brad and I aren't that far apart, other than there is absolutely nothing about me that glistens. And the whole world-famous actor thing.

7.23.2009

Embarrassing the gods?


This is a new one on me:
Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state plowed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the plows.

It must be a very surreal culture for them to think this embarrasses only the gods. You have to wonder what these naked, plowing, singing girls are thinking.
"See me, O Weather Gods. Do I not shame you? I shall shame you some more with my nakedness. And my singing. And my plowing. I might even repair the roof and fix the tractor. I will do the work of my fathers and brothers, naked, until you give us rain. Or until they get bored with their new X-Box and 40" Sony HDTV. Until then, my bare buttocks will continue to embarrass you!"

Someone should take a poll in India as to how many men are praying for rain - and how many are not. Especially when Kareena and Jasmine take to the fields!

7.15.2009

Uh Oh

Study suggests H1N1 virus more dangerous than suspected
In contrast with run-of-the-mill seasonal flu viruses, the H1N1virus exhibits an
ability to infect cells deep in the lungs, where it can cause pneumonia and, in severe cases, death. Seasonal viruses typically infect only cells in the upper respiratory system.

"There is a misunderstanding about this virus," says Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and a leading authority on influenza. "People think this pathogen may be similar to seasonal influenza. This study shows that is not the case. There is clear evidence the virus is different than seasonal influenza."

The ability to infect the lungs, notes Kawaoka, is a quality frighteningly similar to those of other pandemic viruses, notably the 1918 virus, which killed tens of millions of people at the tail end of World War I. There are likely other similarities to the 1918 virus, says Kawaoka, as the study also showed that people born before 1918 harbor antibodies that protect against the new H1N1 virus.

And it is possible, he adds, that the virus could become even more pathogenic as the current pandemic runs its course and the virus evolves to acquire new features.

7.14.2009

Evolution in Action

Researchers have found what they believe to be a speciation event occurring in two populations of small birds called the Monarch flycatcher. The two separate populations live on different islands, so there is a natural barrier which, if maintained long enough, leads to a branching in the tree of life. One group lives on the large island of Makira, part of the Solomon Islands. The other lives on smaller, surrounding islands, and it is this group that developed one small mutation to a gene that regulates the production of melanin which, for birds, determines the color of their feathers. In this case, the normally black birds on the surrounding islands developed a brownish underbelly.

According to the PhysOrg article Study catches two bird populations as they split into seperate species,
The question of whether these two populations are on the road to speciation comes down to sex. When two populations stop exchanging genes--that is, stop mating with each other—then they can be considered distinct species.
While they can't actually observer every encounter between the two populations to check for mating, male birds are notorious for defending their territory from others males that are potential sexual competitors. The Makira population was seen to not really mind if the brown-bellies came around, which leads the researchers to think they are not seen as much of a threat.

Of course, this doesn't prove anything conclusively...only time can really tell. Over the next hundred years or so, the natural barrier may not be big enough to keep the mutated gene from spreading to all flycatchers, which means no speciation. Still, this is an example of evolution in action, whether or not speciation occurs. Can you guess why?

See Elie Dolgin's post at TheScientist.com for more, including comparison images.

7.06.2009

After-Image Optical Illusion - What Color Are Their Clothes?

Last year, I had a fairly popular post called Aural Illusion. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer of the Discover/Bad Astronomy blog, picked it up and, next thing I know, I'm getting hits from Siberia, Alice Springs, and Ouagadougou. Well, it took a year, but I've finally come across another, comparable illusion - only this one is optical. Check it out:



(discovered at Of Two Minds)

7.04.2009

Screaming Teens on Beta Aquilae

Somewhere in the universe, Ringo is the cute one...



(via NeuralDump)

7.03.2009

Squirrely!

Squirrel likes nut. Nut likes squirrel. The twain have met:

7.02.2009

Are you ready for the 2010 Census?


Are you ready for the 2010 Census?

Are you sure?

Are you ready for 100 Black Men being in charge of going door-to-door, asking you a lot of personal questions, getting all up in your business? How about Boat People? Hispanic Police Commanders? Baby Boomer Women?!

Because, if Rep. Michele Bachmann is right, that’s what you can expect. According to her, these groups are the recipient of federal money and are in charge of the door-to-door intrusive, highly personal examinations, all in the name of Census 2010.

So, maybe you’re OK with those groups. How about these:

Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese Americans
The NAACP
American Indians
Colored Women
Cuban American Women
The Rainbow Push Coalition
Residential Property Managers
Arab Americans
Japanese Americans
Blinded Veterans
Catholics
Florida A&M University
Phi Beta Sigma
Public Data Users

or (shockers)

Teachers of Mathematics!

These organizations are all official partners of the U.S. Census Bureau in carrying out the 2010 census. Bachmann, however, is particularly concerned with ACORN, an activist community organization that came under scrutiny during the last election for voter fraud. ACORN is also a national partner, one of nearly 300. The latest list of partners can be found here (pdf warn).

According to a Washington Times interview with Bachmann,

"They will be in charge of going door to door and collecting data from the American public," she said. "This is very concerning."

and
"I know for my family the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home," she said. "We won't be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond that."

Contrary to Bachmann’s assertions, however, these organizations are not funded by the government for assisting with the census. Their job is voluntary. They are specifically tasked with spreading the word about the census and helping in recruiting some 1.4 million census takers (who will be paid), who will be subjected to criminal background checks. These workers then become temporary employees of the Census Bureau, so the partners are never in charge of anything. And, Bachmann is also wrong about the requirements of the Constitution, but let me refer you to the Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact (here and here) for the best analysis of her claims.

About now, any sane person would be regretting the inanity of their comments and, in politispeak, “walk them back”. Bachmann, on the other hand, just keeps digging deeper and deeper into the stupidity, implicitly suggesting (by explicitly not suggesting) that this new liberal government might do something untoward with all that private information.
If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the census bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations, at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps. I’m not saying that’s what the Administration is planning to do. But I am saying that private, personal information that was given to the census bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up.

I'm not sure what Michele Bachmann hopes to accomplish with her public fear mongering about the census. I know it's getting a lot of air time with right wing media, but ultimately, her inciting the public to boycott the census can only hurt their districts. Besides, it's against the law. You'd think a lawmaker would know that.

Just one last thing - it'll be a cold day in hell before I let a teacher of mathematics cross my doorway without proof of identity and proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. Written in the margins of a notebook.

And them Public Data Users better watch out, too.

7.01.2009

Paleontologists Visit The Creation Museum


When some 70 paleontologists took a break from their conference and dropped in on the Creation Museum, the universe experienced a momentary spike in incredulity. NY Times has part of the story:
The museum welcomed the atypical guests with the typical hospitality. “Praise God, we’re excited to have you here,” said Bonnie Mills, a guest service employee.
Indeed, I'm sure some of the American PhDs must have felt a little ashamed or embarrassed with having their foreign colleagues come face to face with Backwater, USA.
“I’m very curious and fascinated,” Stefan Bengtson, a professor of paleozoology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said before the visit, “because we have little of that kind of thing in Sweden.”
Some scientists, though, are also believers. What was their take? Here's Lisa Park's response:
"I think it's very bad science and even worse theology -- and the theology is far more offensive to me," said Park, a professor of paleontology who is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

"I think there's a lot of focus on fear, and I don't think that's a very Christian message... I find it a malicious manipulation of the public."
...and...
Daryl Domning, professor of anatomy at Howard University, held his chin and shook his head at several points during the tour.

"This bothers me as a scientist and as a Christian, because it's just as much a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity as it is of science," he said.
Too many people actually believe that the comical presentations of the Creation Museum are fact, so this story is only one of gauging scientists' reactions, which ranged from bemused to appalled. Perhaps it will ignite a spark in the group, letting them know that the fruits of their labor are so easily ignored. Sure, we have traditional museums which try to be entertaining while being educational at the same time and, by comparison, the Creation Museum should be seen as nothing more than a curiosity - like Graceland, or the world's largest ball of twine. But at its heart, the Creation Museum demonizes the scientists, placing them at the root of the world's evils. It is explicit in its words and animatronics that religion cannot coexist with science, because one must surely bring down the other. The paleontologists, after chortling and eye-rolling, should have felt deeply offended because their short tour in the funhouse is insignificant to the hundreds of thousands who have passed through, many of whom agree with the museum's views.
The museum’s presentation appeals to visitors like Steven Leinberger and his wife, Deborah, who came with a group from the Church of the Lutheran Confession in Eau Claire, Wis. “This is what should be taught even in science,” Mr. Leinberger said.