Tatyana Deryugina (Twitter: @TDeryugina)

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Posted 30 Jun 15 by arbelos in General

Ever since a class I took in college, I've been skeptical about whether organic fruits and vegetables are better for you in any meaningful way. What happened in that class? The professor pointed out that the term "organic" does not mean that the produce was grown with no pesticides or herbicides; only that it was grown with non-man-made ones. But surely that's better than synthetic pesticides and herbicides? Maybe. Nature has produced some pretty toxic crap (think of all the plants out there that are poisonous to humans). It's not clear that being restricted to a subset of chemicals (i.e., ones approved for organic farming) will mean that organic food ends up covered with less harmful ones. Indeed, the best available evidence, summarized here, is that organic isn't necessarily better for you.

I think it's entirely appropriate to worry about the pesticide and herbicide levels in our food. But the organic label is at best a distraction because the distinction between man-made and natural chemicals is quite meaningless. At worst, it's harmful because it leads people to believe that they can avoid the negative impacts of chemicals by eating organic. What we really need is a way to know what was sprayed on the food we're eating and how much. Unfortunately, as long as people believe that "organic" = "healthy", that's unlikely to happen.



Posted 14 Jun 15 by arbelos in Musings on Economics

Last week, I received the following email about an awesome new organization:

Dear Colleague,

All of us who publish in scientific journals know the frustrations of the peer review process: endlessly waiting for an uncertain outcome.

We have built a website aimed at changing this situation. At www.scirev.sc researchers can share their experience with the review process and select an efficient journal for submitting their work.

We already received more than 1000 review experiences, which are freely available on our website. They provide information on the duration and quality of the different phases of the review process and help you select an efficient journal to publish your work. An overview of all reviews is available at www.SciRev.sc/reviews

As a corresponding author of a scientific paper, your experience is of great value to other scholars in your field. We therefore invite you to visit our website and fill in the short questionnaire with questions about the duration and quality of the review process. You also can rate the overall quality of the experience and provide a motivation for your rating.

Any experience is important, even a direct rejection (we once waited three months to hear that the journal was not interested).

Looking forward to receiving your review(s).
Janine Huisman & Jeroen Smits
SciRev.sc

P.S. If you like our initiative, tell your colleagues about it. The larger the community of researchers who share their review experiences, the more useful SciRev becomes to all of us.

 

I think this is a great initiative to (a) give researchers a better idea of how long journals take and (b) put pressure on journals to be faster with their reviews by creating transparency. Consider joining and tracking your own review experience!



Posted 29 Jun 11 by Tatyana in News
I just saw a story claiming that TSA agents are developing cancer from working near the body scanner machines and that the TSA is covering it up. Personally, I do wonder about the cost/benefit of the scanners. Of course, cancer "clusters” could be random, and the article didn’t mention anything about statistical testing. It also made the following statement: "Of course, if TSA workers who are merely standing near the scanners are already developing cancer, frequent flyers are also putting themselves in harm’s way by standing directly inside the radiation-firing machines.”


Posted 23 Jun 11 by Tatyana in Science
There is direct evidence that endorphins are released following a period of strenuous exercise. What it takes for endorphins to be released is unclear (and probably varies from person to person), but the consensus seems to be that the body has to cross over some threshold of strain before endorphins are released. I’ve certainly experienced this myself (I think). The first two miles or so of my recent runs are usually pretty tedious and unpleasant.  I get tired and want to stop. Sometimes I get side pains. But then I start feeling better and am able to run another three miles without significantly slowing down. I’ve never gotten side pains during the second part of a long run (and it’s not because I selectively stop running). So I do think the time-delayed endorphin release is real.


Posted 05 May 11 by Tatyana in Science

Many people are convinced that computers will soon (everyone has their own definition of "soon”) become integrated into our bodies, pointing to the fact that some people already have medically prescribed hearing aids, pacemakers, and even brain implants. Will we soon be able to control the TV directly with our brains? We will if Intel has its way.

I wonder how such implants will be regulated. Currently, medical devices areregulated by the FDA. It would seem unfair to have non-medical implants unregulated while medical ones are. I doubt the FDA is about to stop regulating the latter. So the logical conclusion I make is that someone will step up to be the regulator in this case. Who will it be? And will this change the picture of how "soon” these technologies will emerge?



Posted 20 Jul 10 by Tatyana in Science

I just read a book about polio in the United States (don’t ask why). It has some amusing anecdotes…

When researchers were trying to study how polio is spread in the early 20th century, they infected monkeys through the mouth, nose, or other means to see what the disease passageways were. Monkeys only became infected through the nose, which was bad news because it seemed as though the virus didn’t need to pass through the blood to infect people, as most viruses do. Coming up with a vaccine was thus made that much more difficult.

Unfortunately, the researchers chose a monkey in whose stomach the virus couldn’t multiply. Had they chosen another species, they would have seen that the virus is perfectly capable of being spread through the mouth.

In another polio-related blunder, researchers were trying to produce a lot of the virus in hopes of using it for a vaccine. The way virus cultivation was done back then was through growing it in animal tissues. The researchers discovered that the virus only grew in monkey nerve cells, but not any other tissues. This meant that vaccine production would be very very very expensive and impossible to do quickly. They published their results in a scientific journal and the study was so well-documented that no one doubted its accuracy and discouraging implication.

Unfortunately, the researchers used a particular strain that only multiplied in nerve cells. Years later, when another set of researchers tried replicating a different strain, mostly for the hell of it, they found that it grew perfectly fine in kidney tissues (which can themselves be replicated, thus making virus-making very affordable).

Lesson of the day:  thoroughness counts.



Posted 08 Jul 10 by Tatyana in Science

While reading Scientific American, I came upon an article titled "Under Threat, Women Bond, Men Withdraw”. It describes the result of a controlled study comparing the responses of men and women to a stressful situation. Guess what situation they used. Tiger or mugger attacks? Nope. Confederates yelling at them? Nope. Taking a test? Nope. They put the hands of some volunteers in extremely cold water, then analyzed their brain activity. They found that brain activity in a certain region (responsible for empathy) was increased in women but suppressed in men.

The fact that the brain responds differently is interesting. But how do you go from that to concluding that this is evidence of women "engaging in nurturing and social networking, perhaps as a way to protect their offspring”? Sure, theory can allow you to make conclusions about the world based on abstract and artificial situations, but in this case the leap is astronomical. It might make a nice story roughly consistent with stereotypes of gender roles in hunter-gatherer societies, but that should be relevant for fiction books, not good science.



Posted 29 Apr 10 by Tatyana in General

Apparently, Larry Summers has a protege, a 3L who wrote an email asserting the possibility that intellectual performance differences between races might be partly genetic. As much as the writer tried to be politically correct (if there is a politically correct way to say something like this), the email got passed around (you can read about it here).

What is it about nature arguments that makes them so appealing? (By the way, when I say "nature”, I mean the unexplained gap AFTER you’ve accounted for observable characteristics of individuals).



Posted 28 Feb 10 by Tatyana in Science

A recent Scientific American article (you need to be a subscriber to read it though) demonstrated one of my favorite caveats about inferring whether something is good or bad for you by giving huge doses of it to lab rats (e.g. saccharin, which allegedly causes cancer, and tannins, which allegedly are good for you). As it turns out, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon monoxide, which are all normally considered poisonous, play a vital role in regulating dilation in blood vessels, among other things.

The human body contains (and needs) trace amounts of gold and other things that in large quantities would kill us. What people are doing when they claim something is bad or good based on large amounts of a substance is assuming that the effect is linear (or at least monotonic). However, it seems that lots of things are bad in large amounts but good or necessary in small amounts. Something could also be bad (or neutral) in small amounts but good in larger doses, although it’s not as easy to think of an example. The key point is that it’s important to test comparable dosages.



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