From World Wide Words newsletter:

Pecksniffian means “Unctuously hypocritical”. We are in the company of Messrs Pumpkinskull, Sweedlepipe, Bumble, Tappertit, Honeythunder, Pumblechook, and Muddlebranes, whose names all came out of the mind of Charles Dickens. His ability to create memorable and frequently sarcastic names for his characters, his villains in particular, is surely unmatched in literary history.

“Pecksniffian” derives from his Martin Chuzzlewit of 1844, in which Seth Pecksniff is a land surveyor and architect, though the author remarks that the only surveying of land he did was of the view of the country from his windows and that “of his architectural doings, nothing was clearly known, except that he had never designed or built anything.” In truth, Mr Pecksniff, though in appearance the most moral of men, who prated about benevolence and high moral principles, was an awful hypocrite, full of meanness and treachery.

Dickens remarked scathingly that “Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there.” In common with some other Dickens’ characters, including Gradgrind, Micawber, Podsnap, Scrooge and Uriah Heep, Pecksniff has become an archetype. He was turned into an adjective as early as 1851 and later became a noun, “Pecksniffery”.

New data validate the low-glycemic diet [Science Blog]

Yet another from Science Blog:

A carefully controlled animal study provides clear evidence that a low-glycemic-index diet — one whose carbohydrates are low in sugar or release sugar slowly — can lead to weight loss, reduced body fat, and reduction in risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Many studies, including small studies in humans, have suggested that low-GI diets are beneficial, but due to study design, the observed benefits could have come from other aspects of the subjects’ diets, such as fiber or overall caloric intake. For this reason, no major health agency or professional association references glycemic index in their dietary guidelines. MORE

Little-known disease growing dramatically [Science Blog]

Science Blog:

A new study shows that rates of a recently identified and debilitating disorder called eosinophilic esophagitis have risen so dramatically in recent years that they may be at higher levels than that of other inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. ”Despite this explosion in incidence rates, there is so little information available about the disease that patients often suffer for a number of years before a diagnosis is made.” Eosinophilic esophagitis (EE) is characterized by severely elevated levels of eosinophils — a type of white blood cell — in the esophagus. These eosinophils grow in an uncontrolled manner and attack the gastrointestinal system, leading to vomiting and difficulty with growth and swallowing food.

Our office cleaner has this illness. She is on a heavily restricted diet. By her description is it is dire.

Adult brain shows more plasticity than previously believed [Science Blog]

From Science Blog:

Mice ”rewired” to receive visual cues in the hearing region of their brains learned to respond to a fear-inducing flashing light as if they had heard it instead of seen it. This research shows that even the adult brain is far more plastic, or adaptable, than previously believed. If extended to humans, this may mean that in the future, individuals with brain damage from aging, disease or injury may be able to have stimuli from the outside world routed in new ways to major brain structures–even those responsible for emotional responses and learning. MORE

The Political Brain by Steve Johnson [NYT Magazine]

Do Liberals think more emotionally? Will political neuroscience end elections? Is political affiliation based on simple kinship detection?

If amygdala activity is a reliable indication of emotional response, a fascinating possibility opens up: turning Armey’s muddled poetry into a testable hypothesis. Do liberals ”think” with their limbic system more than conservatives do? As it happens, some early research suggests that Armey might have been on to something after all.

As The Times reported not long ago, a team of U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ”Democrat brain” was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ”Daisy” ad from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of conscious control. MORE

Sheep pine for absent friends: official [The Register]

“The Cambridge University team which discovered that sheep prefer happy, smiley people has once again pushed back the envelope of ovine understanding with the revelation that sheep cheer up when they see snaps of friends and relatives.

According to the Telegraph (registration required), team supremo professor Keith Kendrick reckons that “seeing a face picture of a friend or family member would be the most effective way of reducing separation anxiety”.

The Cambridge sheep worriers proved this by locking their guinea sheep in a darkened barn and showing them various faces. Stress was monitored noting “the number of times each sheep bleated, its movement within the barn and its heart rate”. This being real science, the sheeps’ levels of cortisol and adrenaline were also recorded.

The results of the experiment were apparently significant: “When the sheep were shown faces of sheep familiar to them, they became less stressed and showed fewer signs of agitation than when they were shown goat faces or triangles. The areas of the brain which control fear and the stress response also showed reduced activation,” the paper reports.” MORE

'Electronic Jihad' fails to materialise [The Register]

“Rumours that the Internet would witness a sustained and devastating cyber-attack by Islamic “cyber-terrorists” today have turned out to be completely baseless.” MORE

This is in keeping with the Islamist tradition of screaming or otherwise promising near-poetic horrors to be inflicted upon infidels, Jews or invaders only to actually DO absolutely NOTHING.