Friday, February 27, 2009

And Speaking of Cool Fish

I had actually meant to blog about this other cool fish before I found out about the psychedelic frogfish:
The fishy denizens of the deep are many, varied and strange, and among the strangest are the barreleyes, swift little hunters with tunnel-shaped eyes that live in the darkness of the deepest waters of Monterey Bay and in other seas worldwide.

For decades, biologists have puzzled over those fishes' eyes, because apparently they could look in only one direction - upward - and have wondered at the role of the mysterious transparent shield that covers their heads much like the cockpits of jet fighter planes.
These are just among the very cool and interesting marine creatures that are being discovered and studied by the folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). We see some of the products of the research at the aquarium itself, but it's always interesting to learn what they're up to.

Check out the full press release at MBARI's website.

I like science.

Psychedelic Frogfish!

This is awesome, and the timing couldn't be better. News today of the discovery of a new kind of frogfish, called the psychedelic frogfish (good picture here):
A brightly-coloured fish which bounces along the seabed has been hailed as a new species by scientists - who have dubbed it "psychedelica".
Best of all is where they found it:
...the fish was spotted by scuba divers off the island of Ambon in eastern Indonesia.
As it turns out, that's exactly where we're headed next week. Our dive cruise through Raja Ampat starts at Ambon. I guess I shall have to demand that they show us this new fish!

But really, as the AP article points out (quoting Mark Erdman from Conservation International):
"It also speaks to the tremendous diversity in this region and to fact that there are still a lot of unknowns here — in Indonesia and in the Coral Triangle in general."
That is why we go to these places. Cool stuff!

This is Ominous

As Turkana at The Left Coaster points out, this is not just some senator, it's a member of the Intelligence Committee speaking. He knows things.

I have a feeling I may be glad I'm going to be out of the country while this stuff starts coming out. Brace yourselves.

Fluffy Toilet Paper

I noticed that one of my pet peeves made the news yesterday:
Americans like their toilet tissue soft: exotic confections that are silken, thick and hot-air-fluffed.
But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada
.I realize that soft, fluffy toilet paper is nice, but it is definitely a luxury, and one I decided long ago I couldn't justify. There are certainly purposes for which cutting down trees is justifiable. Wiping my tush is not one of them.

As usual, your mileage may vary, but the statistics cited in the article are quite dramatic.

By the way, I'm very pleased to see that Costco now stocks recycled T.P. in addition to the super-ultra-fluffed stuff. That's a step.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Reefer Madness or Real Science?

Just saw an article via Yahoo! News linking marijuana use with testicular cancer. Long-time readers know that I have an interest in cancer and cancer research, and testicular cancer in particular, as my dad had it (the first of several cancers in his life).

I have to admit that any correlation between pot smoking and testicular cancer seems a bit odd to my non-medically-trained self (though my degree in Environmental Science is not entirely inapplicable here). What's really interesting to me here is looking at how the study is reported from several different wire services and other sources.

Here's the lede from the HealthDay News story I initially saw:
Smoking marijuana over an extended period of time appears to greatly boost a young man's risk for developing a particularly aggressive form of testicular cancer, a new study reveals.
That sounds pretty definitive, doesn't it? They do include some cautions from study authors later on:

Though Daling emphasized that the findings are preliminary, she suggested that attention should be paid.

"We know very little about the long-term health consequences of marijuana smoking," she cautioned. "So, although this is the first time this association has been studied and found -- and the finding does need to be replicated before we are really sure what's going on -- this does give some evidence that testicular cancer may be one result from the frequent use of marijuana. And that is something that young people should keep in mind."

And this:
"But certainly, the idea that cannabis may cause cancer cells to proliferate is interesting," Schwartz acknowledged. "It could, however, also be that recreational drug use is simply a marker for affluence, since we know that testicular cancer is traditionally a disease that is more common among the affluent. Or it could be a marker for some other event that comes along with it, that triggers lesions that lead to tumors. So, at this point, it's just not clear to me how exactly the association between marijuana and testicular cancer would work."
Now, the AFP story is much shorter, and carries this lede:
Smoking marijuana may increase the risk of testicular cancer by as much as 70 percent, a study published on Monday suggested.
Although they do quote Dr. Schwartz, there is no indication of the preliminary nature of the findings, or any suggestion that there might be other factors involved:
"Our study is not the first to suggest that some aspect of a man's lifestyle or environment is a risk factor for testicular cancer, but it is the first that has looked at marijuana use," said Stephen Schwartz, an epidemiologist and one of the report's principle authors.
Now, here's the Reuters lede:
Marijuana use may increase the risk of developing testicular cancer, in particular a more aggressive form of the disease, according to a U.S. study published on Monday.
And their quote from Schwartz is much more circumspect:
"This is the first study to look at this question, and by itself is not definitive. And there's a lot more research that would have to be done in order to be more confident that marijuana use really is important in a man's risk of developing testicular cancer," Schwartz said in a telephone interview.
CNN has the most balanced lede, and actually interviews scientists other than the study authors:
Do men who frequently smoke pot have a higher risk of testicular cancer than those who do not? It's possible, according to a new study. However, the researchers say the link is currently a "hypothesis" that needs further testing.
UPI (touting their "100 years of journalistic excellence") has a much briefer and less detailed story that starts with this:
Being a marijuana smoker at the time of diagnosis was associated with a 70 percent increased risk of testicular cancer, U.S. researchers said.
Perhaps more disturbing is the article title on that one: "Pot increases testicular cancer risk".

A blog at Scientific American starts with this:
Fellas, you might want to think, well, twice about following Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps' lead. A study published today in the journal Cancer linked frequent marijuana use to the possibility of a slim increased risk of testicular cancer.
The rest of the post is less folksy and more balanced and analytical, including these disclaimers:
The prevailing belief has been that a man's chances of developing testicular cancer is largely determined in the womb, as cells in the fetus are developing and those known as germ cells (which later develop into sperm cells) fail to mature properly. This work shows the possibility that marijuana use–an environmental factor–might also play a role. But researchers acknowledge that it does not prove a definitive link–and that there were weaknesses to the study, including that it was based on a relatively small group of men and relied on self-reported drug use, which can be iffy.
"We're not exactly sure what role the marijuana is playing," Daling says, but it has come out as a possible factor that warrants further investigation.

Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, says that the study is a potentially promising clue, but that is by no means a firm conclusion.
Long story short: it makes a big difference where you get your health and science information. My take is that journalists are rarely trained in science at all, and tend to jump to whatever conclusion a study suggests, without necessarily reporting the scientific nuances and disclaimers (which I'm guessing they don't understand, or at least don't understand the importance of).

Probably most annoying to me is that none of the stories contained any links to the study itself or any way to get more information about it, other than either other new reports of the same study (which is how I started down this path today) or to past reports on related topics. A few mentioned that the study was published (some said "online") in the journal Cancer, but none indicated how to find that.

And for comparison purposes, here's the original press release from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. It, too, says the study is published online, but doesn't say how to get there.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Adding to the Blogroll

Those of you who are paying attention (and I know you all follow the details of this blog minutely) will see that I've added a new blog under my list of friends who blog. This one is by Jothy Rosenberg, who I worked with many years ago at Borland International.

His blog focuses on a lot of the issues of (dis)ability, a subject he knows a lot about. Jothy lost a leg to cancer as a teenager, and later part of a lung. But that hasn't stopped him from being an excellent biker, skier, swimmer, and more, on top of being a successful serial high-tech entrepreneur.

Although we didn't work together directly, our offices were near one another, so we got to know each other a bit. I was quite impressed when I played volleyball against him (although I still maintain that crutches gave him a big advantage in certain respects!), and he eventually played on my softball team, which is when I really got to know him.

His blog includes a number of really thought-provoking posts, and I look forward to reading it further.

Chard says, check it out!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


A friend just restored to me a local tourist paper we picked up in Quito last year. I had wanted to share a particularly confusing bit of translation.

It's an advertisement for a seafood restaurant called Las Redes with Spanish and English text, side by side. After a paragraph that seems pretty accurately translated to say that I will get a pleasant surprise when I visit Ecuador, citing its fine geography, nature, culture and friendly people, it then says this:
Las Redes lo sorprender√° deliciosamente por sus especialidades.
The English translation reads exactly as follows:
You will also recieve a delicious surprice fom with it's grat foot
We were in our last moments in town when we read this, otherwise we might have had to go find out what "delicious surprices" awaited us, courtesy of "it's grat foot."


Coolness abounds. Yesterday I got an e-mail about the upcoming Jimmy Buffett tour. He's playing this year at a more convenient venue for me, the Sleep Train Pavilion, formerly Chronicle Pavilion, formerly Concord Pavilion, which is, in fact, in Concord.

One of the things the e-mail emphasized was that one could now track Buffett's tour using Google Earth. Today I get a blog update from a friend at Google highlighting not only the Buffett tour, but the tools for making your own.

I've not been a big Google Earth user, but I might have to be now, just to make y'all extra jealous of my next vacation! Since it's a dive trip, I'll have to see whether I can combine this tour thing with their new underwater maps.... Geek nirvana meets Margaritaville!

Monday, February 02, 2009

You Don't Need a Weatherman

I know I can't deduce too much about global climate change from local observations, but hey, it's Groundhog Day, and our Japanese plum trees are all blossoming, thinking it's spring. I realize that we're entering the third year of a drought, which is no big thing in the Bay Area, but really.

The snow (PDF) up at Tahoe this weekend was getting pretty thin. They've had one small snowstorm in the last month, and even it was preceded by some rain. The snow pack is way below what it should be, and I'm not just talking from the perspective of someone who wants to ski.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was studying climate, my professors said that the first indications of global climate change would be greater variability and more extremes: more droughts and floods, extreme freezes and heat waves. And that's all out there, worldwide.

As the famous meteorologist Robert Zimmerman once noted, "The climes, they are a-changin'":
Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.