February 2005

British Dhimmitude Watch

by Limbic on February 15, 2005

From Little Green Footballs:

Religious Education students in Britain must now include the letters “pbuh” (“peace be upon him”) in parentheses every time they write the name of Mohammed, according to teacher David Holford.

[Update: Sleuthing by wise heads at Abelard.org and uk.politics.misc indicate this is story may well be bunk.]



From American Scientist newsletter:

“A broken heart can actually break your heart, according to a new study out of Johns Hopkins University. Cardiologist Ilan Wittstein has shown that the overwhelming emotional stress that accompanies the end of a long relationship—due to death, divorce or breakup—can provoke a heart malfunction that is similar to a heart attack.

Wittstein was prompted to look for a link when he noticed a preponderance of women arriving in the emergency room who complained of shortness of breath and chest pains, which are signs of a heart attack. But X-rays of these women didn’t turn up the kind of arterial blockages that would accompany a heart attack, and blood tests did not reveal heightened levels of troponin, a protein the heart produces after cardiac arrest.

Other blood tests turned up a tantalizing clue, however: levels of stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline were as much as 34 times higher than normal levels. “You might call it ‘adrenaline poisoning,'” said Redford Williams of Duke University.

Ultrasounds showed that the women were indeed experiencing an abnormal heartbeat. After finding out that many of the women had recently lost a spouse, Wittstein called the new phenomenon “stress cardiomyopathy” and wrote up his study for the New England Journal of Medicine. Wittstein and colleagues will have to figure out why so many of the sufferers are older women. Some good news: “This is a temporary broken heart syndrome,” said Wittstein. All of the patients in his study recovered.”


Playmate meets the nerds

by Limbic on February 14, 2005

From Metafilter:

Perhaps one of the most viewed images ever, the Lena image is used as a standard test of image processing algorithms. Bored engineers scanned Lena Sj√∂√∂blom’s playmate centerfold into the USC image lab computer system to spice up a presentation on image processing. The lena image has been used countless times to evaluate image compression algorithms, not without some controversy. Enamoured with the image, the Society for Imaging Science and Technology invited Lena to attend their 50th annual meeting. (note, all links safe for work, though a few sites link to the full playboy image).


Field Guide to Sprawl

by Limbic on February 14, 2005

 A mini-review of the Field Guide to Sprawl by Delores Hayden from American Scientist:


“Field guides to plants abound, but where can an amateur (un)naturalist find something to lead him or her through the jungle of terms used in modern land development? Dolores Hayden’s A Field Guide to Sprawl (W. W. Norton, $24.95) provides such a resource. This little book offers “An Illustrated Vocabulary of Sprawl,” which invokes low-level aerial photography (by Jim Wark) to help define such cryptic terms as LULU (locally unwanted land use), TOAD (temporary, obsolete, abandoned or derelict) site and duck (a building that replicates—and thus serves as an advertisement for—the product sold within it). Readers are also treated to examples of some more familiar language, including interstate, strip, landfill and gridlock (shown right). More important, Hayden’s 10 pages of introductory material, titled “Decoding Everyday American Landscapes,” gives the reader some background on the forces that helped to shape the more or less off-putting features so intriguingly displayed in the material that follows. Although the book is successful in illustrating the many things we Americans have done wrong in shaping the countryside around us, it would have been nice to see at least a few examples of development carried out in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Perhaps A Field Guide to Neo-Urbanism is yet to come.

Field Guide to Sprawl by Delores Hayden – [Amazon. co.uk /.com]



A very interesting interview with the author of “Out of Gas” [Amazon .co.uk /.com]. I particularly recommend you take a close look at his responses to the antidepletionists who argue Venezuela’s heavy oil and Canada’s vast sand oil reserves will save us.

Why did you decide to write a primer on energy and energy policy?

This is the most important problem of our time. I asked myself (a physicist whose research serves no useful purpose) what I could do about it. The answer was, I could write a book.

To whom have you targeted this book?

It’s for the educated nonscientist (although scientists seem to like it too). 

The clear message of the book is that this is the century in which humanity must learn to live without fossil fuels. One of the several alternatives you discuss is nuclear energy, which you point out has various pluses and minuses. Weighing everything, do you think it’s time to put aside concerns about the environment or terrorist threats and begin building more nuclear power stations (as James Lovelock recently urged)?

Definitely yes. But we should remember that nuclear fission energy is not a magic bullet that will solve the problem. The largest practical nuclear plant is roughly 1 gigawatt. It would take an almost unimaginable 10,000 of those to replace the 10 terawatts of fossil fuel we consume worldwide today. And then the known reserves of uranium would only last a decade or two at that burn rate.

[click to continue…]


Chains of teenage sexual relations

by Limbic on February 14, 2005

Interesting look at teenage sexual networks and how they differ from adult networks.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the first time, sociologists have mapped the romantic and sexual relationships of an entire high school over 18 months, providing evidence that these adolescent networks may be structured differently than researchers previously thought.

The results showed that, unlike many adult networks, there was no core group of very sexually active people at the high school. There were not many students who had many partners and who provided links to the rest of the community.

Instead, the romantic and sexual network at the school created long chains of connections that spread out through the community, with few places where students directly shared the same partners with each other. But they were indirectly linked, partner to partner to partner. One component of the network linked 288 students – more than half of those who were romantically active at the school – in one long chain.


From: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/chains.htm


Collapse by Jared Diamond

by Limbic on February 14, 2005

Jared Diamond has a new book out called “Collapse” about why societies collapse. I first blogged about this project in 2003 when Diamond mentioned his research on the book on the superb Edge website in a piece called  “Why do some societies make disastrous decisions”. #

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee” remains one of my all time favourite science books and I cannot wait to read “Collpase” it when I get back to London (where it is waiting for me on my desk).

Here are a few reviews and author interviews to introduce you to the topic and the author.

Chapter 1 of “Collapse” – New York Times

There goes the neighbourhood – New York Times review

Don’t Do as the Romans Do – Grist Magazine

How Are the Mighty Fallen?  – Scientific American

Never ask a Viking for advice  – Guardian

American Scientist Author Interview with Jared Diamond –  American Scientific

A Usable Past  – American Scientist

Ecological Collpase – Abelard.org

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The Ethical Brain

by Limbic on February 14, 2005

A forthcoming book, The Ethical Brain by Michael Gazzaniga [Amazon .com / .co.uk] examines the issues that the massive advances in neuroscience have provoked.

From Amazon.com:

“Will increased scientific understanding of our brains overturn our beliefs about moral and ethical behavior? How will increasingly powerful brain imaging technologies affect the ideas of privacy and of self-incrimination? Such thought-provoking questions are rapidly emerging as new discoveries in neuroscience have raised difficult legal and ethical dilemmas. Michael Gazzaniga, widely considered to be the father of cognitive neuroscience, investigates with an expert eye some of these controversial and complex issues in The Ethical Brain.

He first examines “lifespan neuroethics” and considers how brain development defines human life, from when an embryo develops a brain and could be considered “one of us” to the issues raised as the brain ages, such as whether we should have complete freedom to extend our lives and enhance our brains through the use of genetics, pharmaceuticals, and training.

Gazzaniga also considers the challenges posed to the julstice system by new discoveries in neuroscience. Recent findings suggest that our brain has already made a decision before we become fully aware of doing so, raising the question of whether the concept of personal responsibility can remain a fundamental tenet of the law. Gazzaniga argues that as neuroscience learns more about the unreliability of human memory, the very foundation of trial law will be challenged.

Gazzaniga then discusses a radical re-evaluation of the nature of moral belief, as he not only looks at possibly manipulating the part of the brain that creates beliefs but also explores how scientific research is building a brain-based account of moral reasoning.

The Ethical Brain is a groundbreaking volume that presents neuroscience’s loaded findings–and their ethical implications–in an engaging and readable manner, offering an incisive and thoughtful analysis of the medical ethics challenges confronting modern society at the dawn of the twenty-first century.



An attack on Evolutionary Psychology orthodoxy

by Limbic on February 13, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology has shaken off the Sociobiology mantle and started to go mainstream. Inevitably it is coming under fresh attack, but this time not from the establishment – it is the Establishment – but from skeptical nay-sayers and anti-dogmatists. Due in April 2005:

Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature  by David J Buller [Amazon .co.uk / .com ]

Product description from Amazon.co.uk:

Was human nature designed by natural selection in the Pleistocene epoch? The dominant view in evolutionary psychology holds that it was–that our psychological adaptations were designed tens of thousands of years ago to solve problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In this provocative and lively book, David Buller examines in detail the major claims of evolutionary psychology – the paradigm popularised by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate and by David Buss in The Evolution of Desire – and rejects them all. This does not mean that we cannot apply evolutionary theory to human psychology, says Buller, but that the conventional wisdom in evolutionary psychology is misguided. Evolutionary psychology employs a kind of reverse engineering to explain the evolved design of the mind, figuring out the adaptive problems our ancestors faced and then inferring the psychological adaptations that evolved to solve them. Evolutionary psychologists claim many discoveries based on this approach, including the evolutionary rationale for human mate preferences (that males prefer nubile females and females prefer high-status males) and “discriminative parental solicitude” (the idea that stepparents abuse their stepchildren at a higher rate than genetic parents abuse their biological children). In the carefully argued central chapters of Adapting Minds, Buller scrutinises several of evolutionary psychology’s most highly publicised “discoveries.” Drawing on a wide range of empirical research, including his own large-scale study of child abuse, he shows that none is actually supported by the evidence. Buller argues that our minds are not adapted to the Pleistocene, but, like the immune system, are continually adapting, over both evolutionary time and individual lifetimes. We must move beyond the reigning orthodoxy of evolutionary psychology to reach an accurate understanding of how human psychology is influenced by evolution. When we do, Buller claims, we will abandon not only the quest for human nature but the very idea of human nature itself.


Spray to boost female sex drive – [BBC]

by Limbic on February 10, 2005

Immediate downside: She may grow a greasy beard and get acne. Seriously.