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Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 7326 | Comments: 0
A teacher calls on you when your hand isn't raised, and you feel the familiar sensation as your classmate's eyes immediately dart toward you. Mrs. So-and-So watches expectantly, smirking. A surge of blood races from your gut to your head and your cheeks become warm. Hot. A sheepish smile involuntarily follows. You know you're bright red, and that embarrasses you even more.

Everyone knows what it feels like to blush—whether from embarrassment, emotional stress, or even just receiving a compliment. Perhaps worse than the act itself is knowing that everyone else can see the physical manifestation of your discomfort, which inconveniently functions to further redden your face.

But for 5-7% of the population, blushing is a chronic problem—happening both more frequently and with greater magnitude than the average person. Physically, it's rather harmless—but psychologically, it can be devastating.

In late May, Brandon Thomas, a 20-year-old University of Washington student, committed suicide by jumping from his 11-story dorm. "I am tired of blushing," read his suicide note. "It is exha . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 6953 | Comments: 9
Last by Alchemystress on Jun 01, 2011, 11:48am
Sorry for the long delay since my last post; I've been hella busy. This post is going to be a long one.

I promised that we would talk about phylogenetic systematics (the method that most modern paleontologists use to determine the evolutionary relationships of organisms, as well as name groups of species). However, phylogenetic systematics is structured around evolution and common descent (unlike Linnean taxonomy, which was invented by a creationist, even though it illustrates evolution quite nicely; we’ll get back to that later). Therefore, it makes sense to talk about evolution before getting into phylogenetic systematics.

This first blog in the evolution series is really about creationism, and SOME of the reasons why the vast majority of paleontologists and biologists do not consider it a viable alternative to evolution as a way of explaining life in the modern world and the fossil record…or even a type of science. Other aspects of the scientific rejection of creationism are discussed in great detail by AronRa in his marvelous series of YouTube videos on “the Foundational Fal . . . More
Author: JaySeeDub | Views: 7520 | Comments: 2
Last by BeckonsAttore on Aug 08, 2013, 9:35am
I hate seeing thick patient charts. They're unweildy, and if you're carrying a stack of them they tend to slide around. Sometimes crap pops ut of them. The pages are held together by brass fasteners, and constantly flipping through pages eventually tears pages. Then you have to use tape to fix the tears. And punch them back through those brass fasteners.

And the absolute worst part is that thick charts are still common. Especially with new patients. Why? Because when a patient moves from one office/hospital to another, and if the new office doesn't use the same exact EMR system as the previous place the digital records can't get transferred over. Not as a digital record anyway. Do you know what happens in that instance? Those records are printed. They don't always get printed at the new office or old office. Sometimes, they're printed at a "Health Information Exchange" which is basically a third party office that prints up digital records. These companies exist solely because they have multiple EMRs and will print all the electronic information to paper. And then mail off stacks of paper. Sometimes giant stacks of paper.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If you can install multiple instances of EMR software on a given system, why can't you just convert files ove . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 7255 | Comments: 1
Last by Cute Quotes on Nov 29, 2011, 10:54am
So we (myself and the Psychobabble crew) are playing around with formatting and structure ideas for the podcast. Here's smething we're going to try and do a bit more of - Shorts. Something well less than 10 minutes that's on topic and covering a nice little chunk of information.

The following is only 8 minutes long, and it covers the history and science behind the idea of 'Women's Intuition'.

The rest of this post is cross-posted at the Psychobabble website, and covers some stuff we're looking at for the future of the show...

In other news we, the Psychobabble crew, have made some big decisions regarding the future format of Psychobabble. We’ve been doing this now since January and we think it’s time we tried to make the show a little bigger, a little better, and a little more accessible. Additionally, these changes should allow us to bring a little more insight to the topics than in the past.

Before I go on though – please consider filling out our survey - we’d like to know a little bit about you, about what you think, and how you’d like us to improve the show. Additionally, we’d like to know if the . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 8649 | Comments: 3
Last by jeff12 on Oct 15, 2012, 12:40am
This is a bit of a pet topic of mine, so I was surprised to find that I'd only written about it once before. Here I wrote on the idea that washing one's hands influences the manner in which we make moral decisions. At other times we've spoken of this topic on the podcast. Here, now, I'm going to give it a much better airing.

I'm talking about Embodied Cognition. Generally speaking the idea behind Embodied Cognition is that our physical and physiological selves are intricately linked into the way we think and experience the world. A few examples right off the top of my head (interesting metaphor, right?) include overestimating distance and the steepness of slopes when we're encumbered vs. unencumbered, physically leaning forward when we think about the future (as well as moving our attentional spotlight to the left under the same circumstances) and self-reporting feeling happier when we're forced to smile.

In some ways these are small things. If you want a better feel for the topic (ohh, another one) try to hold a conversation without gesturing... it'll feel amazingly unnatural and probably make th . . . More
Author: Suzy | Views: 6911 | Comments: 31
Last by Atet Kao on May 24, 2013, 3:04pm
I am a scientist for profit. This means, as you are well aware, I have to work with marketing people to generate pretty pictures showing perfect results with any product that we sell. You know those flyers and brochures and ads in BioTechniques where a tiny picture of a gel or a qPCR assay with photoshop perfect curves or bands is plopped on the page next to some meaningless picture and supposed to convince you to call or go to a website? Those things.

Before working for a company, I would take a look at those pictures but I never put much stock into them. I mean, of course they're going to show perfect data. What else will they show? Their kit sucks next to a competitor? So marketing data never really did sway me much. I looked at it, but not in any depth. I guess, I expect there to be some attempt at science in the ad, but it's merely representative data.

My first biotech job wasn't in marketing. The company I worked for was and still is considered one of the best in the world and I was so very proud to be a part of that company. When they would introduce a new product, the product manager would come present all the beautiful R&D data proving the product works and it was convincing. I would walk away from those meetings absolutely positive that . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 7724 | Comments: 1
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Dec 10, 2012, 9:46am
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

...a bunch of crap I really didn't need.

With just sixteen shopping days until Christmas, it's easy to get roped into buying things we might not actually have on our gift list.

Most times, we're conscious of our impulse purchases—there's a great sale on this! I'll use that later!

But sometimes reasons for our frivolous purchases are not so obvious to us. Don't feel too bad—store chains actually hire researchers to study our shopping patterns and take advantage of our weaknesses.

Our brains are endlessly fascinatingly organs—but sometimes they betray us. The following is the first post in a five-part series on how stores trick our senses into shelling out more money than we may intend.


Did you ever take the Pepsi Challenge?

For those unfamiliar (or living under a rock), the Pepsi Challenge was a campaign started by Pepsi back in the 1970s where Coca-Cola was pitted against Pepsi in a blind taste test by consumers.

When it was revealed that most Americans chose Pepsi over Coca-Cola, sales skyrocketed.

How they tricks us: We consumers like brands, and we're loyal to them.

It make sen . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 6763 | Comments: 9
Last by Sean Garvin on Jul 17, 2012, 10:23am
Dr. Perry Kendall asserted yesterday that the health risks of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine—or MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy—are exaggerated, and that pure ecstasy is not dangerous when consumed responsibly by adults.

Its lethal dangers arise, he says, when gangs pollute the drug with other chemicals.

I'm not sure when the notion came into play that anything which doesn't kill you automatically means its "safe," but I would like to respectfully debunk Dr. Kendall's remarks with a very powerful and striking study published 13 years ago.

Specifically, MDMA induces release of the neurotransmitter serotonin by causing serotonin-containing vesicles to dock and enter the synapse. Higher-than-normal serotonin levels can result in neurotoxicity in the brain.

What, exactly, causes the euphoria from MDMA is not entirely clear; other drugs that release serotonin, such as fenfluramine, do not have this effect.

Remember those old "Just Say No" PSAs from the late '80s championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan? "This is drugs." An egg cracks into a sizzling skillet. "This is your brain on dr . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 7573 | Comments: 1
Last by Sneha Mokashi on May 08, 2013, 2:08pm
My friend texted me something today that she thought I'd find interesting.

She had a meeting for work in an office she'd never entered before. Immediately as she entered the room, conflicting feelings of happiness and awkwardness washed over her.

The smell. It wasn't necessarily good or bad—just distinctive. And it didn't smell like anything in particular. All she knew was that it had an odor exactly like her boyfriend's dorm room when she was a freshman in college—something she hasn't experienced in five years—bringing back the paired feelings of excitement and nervousness that come with new relationships. And those of, well, being in a boy's stinky dorm room.

We've all experienced this at one time or another: a familiar perfume, a family recipe in the oven, the scent of a bonfire—they all bring back a flood of memories, momentarily whisking us away to re-live our past. But why does this happen?

One of animals' most primal senses is that of smell. If you look at a rat brain, the olfactory bulbs (the two little notches at the top) take up a significant portion of the total surface area. In the human brain, the piriform cortex (our primary olfactory cortex) is composed of three primitive layer . . . More
Author: Suzy | Views: 7908 | Comments: 14
Last by Suzy on Jan 23, 2011, 2:53pm
Many thanks to the scientist who sent in these great questions for discussion.  I welcome input from everyone so please share your advice with this reader. If anyone has more questions, please feel free to email me privately if you prefer. These questions were edited to remove specific details and indentifying information.


Hi Jade,
I'm a frequent reader of the blog, if a rare commenter. I thought I would ask your advice on moving into biotech jobs. To give you a bit of background, I am doing my PhD at a UK university and still in my first year, but I'm certain I would like to work in industry. I spent two and a half years before grad school at a small company, working in a contract research division that ran tests looking for acute toxic effect in pre-clinical compounds from pharmaceutical companies. I found I liked the company environment for research, and quickly figured out that tenure-track faculty positions aren't what I'll be looking for. My work has mostly been happenstance, not that I don't find it interesting, but I have many other research interests, like cancer biology, immunology, and virology. I want to have a game plan in moving forward in my career, and figure now is better than later to have one. I am curious for your opin . . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 6500 | Comments: 2
Last by rich on Dec 31, 2011, 9:28pm
Happy holidays, everyone! It's a time of eating lots of delicious food, spending time with friends and family, and celebrating long-held traditions. For many, it's also a time of finding their way back home, whether it's in the town where they grew up, or in the company of loved ones (or both). This also means that for many, it's a time of airports and cars and lots of frustrating travel. For us humans, navigating home involves making reservations, getting on a plane in one city and landing in another. Or it means climbing into the car, punching in an address in the GPS, and hitting the gas. But what does getting home mean for other animals? They don't have a GPS with a vaguely snarky voice to tell them which way to turn, nor do they have massive(ly disorganized) transportation hubs in major cities that quickly shuttle them back and forth to destinations. So what happens when you take an animal, put it somewhere where it's never been, and let it try and find its way home?

That's actually a pretty big question when it comes to animal navigation. Different animals have very different ways to navigate--for example, some use the position of the sun to orient themselves. Others can see polarized light, and use that to navigate home . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 7303 | Comments: 6
Last by Taurus on Mar 19, 2012, 8:04am
What is this all about?

See Part 1

See Kate's response, Part 2

See Denise's response, Part 3

See Psycasm's response, Part 4


Kate's response, Part 5.


If Free Will is an Illusion, What Sort of Free Will is it That We Think We Have?

Before I launch into another defence of free will, let’s get back to basics. Let’s check Wikipedia. According to the good sustainers of Wiki, free will is:

“The apparent ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints.” – Wikipedia

The word “apparent” is an important one. Free will, everybody agrees, is something we’re all convinced we have, although it may or may not be real. Both the popular and academic discussions of free will have lately consisted of people taking one side or the other towards the proposition “free will is an illusion.” One of the best-selling books . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 6368 | Comments: 4
Last by Jeffrey Martz on Mar 15, 2011, 3:57pm
In the last two blogs (click here for Part I and Part II), we've been talking about ways of determining the relative ages of sedimentary rocks and fossils (e.g. species A lived some time before species B), without determining their exact numeric ages (in thousands, millions, or billions of years). This is referred to as "relative age dating." If we start applying numeric ages, we are talking about "absolute age dating." The main method by which this is done is called radioisotopic dating. Explaining how radioisotopic dating works is going to require that I hop around a bit between subjects, but it will all come together in the end.

Just to give a little basic physics recap, an atom is made up of three types of particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. The number of protons determines the type of atom (and element); for example, an atom of potassium (K) always has 19 protons, which is its "atomic number". The number of neutrons only changes the mass of the atom; atoms with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 8645 | Comments: 4
Last by Sisu on Sep 07, 2012, 9:12am
Check out this short video of "Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog." I was first introduced to Rusty in a video presented to my high school psychology class. As expected in a classroom full of teenagers, we erupted into a fit of laughter when the happy-go-lucky dachshund suddenly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Gallup polls reveal that 56% of Americans complain that daytime drowsiness is a problem in their lives, the majority of which is caused by sleep deprivation. A controlled, objective scientific study once revealed that 34% of participants were considered "dangerously sleepy," even when they didn't complain about daytime sleepiness.

America is a sleepy country—but narcolepsy takes it to a whole new level. Imagine feelings of exhaustion at all times, accompanied by inappropriate sleep attacks. Sure, falling asleep on the job is embarrassing and unprofessional, but also imagine the danger of a narcoleptic attack while driving. What is narcolepsy, and what causes this mysterious disorder?

What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a curious disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. The sleep attacks are particularly strange; typically, it takes us at least an hour of s . . . More
Author: Angry Scientist | Views: 5941 | Comments: 12
Last by Carniwhore_hater on Apr 02, 2013, 4:11pm
Vegans, please STFU. I'm sick of you preaching to me about what I should and should not eat. I evolved canines for a reason and will eat anything that I damn well please.

. . . More
Author: Cynthia McKelvey | Views: 6750 | Comments: 2
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Apr 30, 2013, 1:10pm
Last summer, I became inspired to write an article about the potential benefits of the club drug, MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy or Molly. The blog post got turned into an article for my alma mater's science magazine, The Synapse, and was published a few months ago. With permission, I am cross-posting it here.

. . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 6193 | Comments: 4
Last by JaySeeDub on Apr 20, 2011, 1:51am
This week's guest blogger is Dr. Carin Bondar. She is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. In addition to her biology blog, she recently released her first book ‘The Nature of Human Nature’, a light-hearted look at where the human species fits in with the rest of the animal kingdom. Find Dr. Bondar online at, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page, Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist.


The practice of silviculture has been alive and well in the terrestrial ecosystems of our planet for a few centuries. From Latin roots, the term essentially means to grow (culture) the forest (silvi). Such a practice has made both economic and ecological sense in a myriad of biomes on each and every continent. After all – if the world’s forests are somehow degraded (most often by anthropogentic disturbances) it makes a lot of sense to have a number of techniques by which to restore them. As I mention above, silvicultural practices like ‘human assisted natural regeneration’ of forests are both well researched and successful in terms of their goals of re-growing terrestrial forested stands. Researchers recently asked whether such methodologies could be applied to their aquatic counterparts: the world’s coral reefs

. . . More
Author: JaniceF | Views: 6449 | Comments: 7
Last by KL on Sep 28, 2011, 11:38am
Today, I met another woman who is a postdoc and has decided to leave academia. That's a total of 5 women now, all of whom were postdocs for somewhere between 1-5yrs and have left or are planning on leaving. And no, it's not always because of family/kids.

I met PostdocXX yesterday at a conference mixer and we immediately hit it off. After the last symposia, we went for drinks and talked and talked or rather she did. I think she was just so grateful to find someone sympathetic to her struggles. She's in a lab with 17 postdocs (50:50 male:female) and 3 grad students. At this conference with her are three postdocs from her lab (2 guys and 1 other gal). Her supervisor is here at the conference and it turns out that he's decided to play hookey and go and see a ball game. The interesting thing is that he's invited four people to join him. Guess who. All boys. And two of them are postdocs from his lab. The other two are colleagues of his that are also both senior faculty. So her and this other female postdoc have been left out. She knows that this is an ideal networking opportunity, but doesn't get the chance to participate because whether by intention or not, she has not been invited. In PostdocXX's words, "I'm just tired of battling the old boys. I don't want to do it anymore. It's not that DrXY is not a good scientist, he's so great. And when I need to talk with him about science, I just email him and he will immediately set up a time. He's got great ideas and is very encouraging, but I don't feel supported, you know. I guess I'm just not ambitious enough." WTF, another one bites the dust, is what I thought.

So on that note, here is the last of my reposts on career trajectories. It's called, "The Glass Ceiling of Academia." and is from April 1st 2010.

. . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 6571 | Comments: 4
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 10, 2011, 10:52am
Parents screamed, children cried and I looked on in horror at the scene unraveling around me in the Shamu tank at the San Diego Sea World in February 2010.

Death was up to his usual tricks.

The stadium was packed and the trainers were putting the whales through their paces. Birds circled above, eyeing the fish the trainers were using as rewards for Shamu and his pals performing their tricks

But then, a lone brown pelican, about the size of a poodle, landed on the far side of the tank to take advantage of the bounty.

The trainers didn’t notice. But Shamu did.

In an instant, Shamu dove under the water, swam up under the bird, opened his mouth and, with a splash, dragged it down. The trainers realized what happened when the carcass floated to the surface and the whales began fighting over the prize. They immediately stopped the show.

Instinct had trumped training, and Shamu was sent for the killer whale equivalent of a time-out.

A week later at Sea World in Florida, instinct won over conditioning yet again. Only this time, the victim was a female trainer. According to news sources, while the trainer lay down in a shallow area leading into the tank, her ponytail was floating and attracted the whale’s attenti . . . More
Author: Suzy | Views: 8577 | Comments: 13
Last by Suzy on Sep 07, 2011, 1:06pm
Last week the biotech community in San Diego suffered a tough blow as many positions were eliminated as part of a plan to save $20 million dollars in the hopes that Life Tech will please their investors. People who lost jobs included veterans with the company, many who were loyal and hard-working to the almighty borg of biotechs, sacrificing their nights, vacations, and weekends to promote the success of an organization that never sleeps.

Life Tech was formed out of a merger of two companies; Carlsbad-based Invitrogen and Foster City-based Applied Biosystems. The acquisition of ABI by Invitrogen in 2008 resulted in the $6.7 billion dollar company renamed Life Technologies, which holds some of the hottest IP in the world, including lucrative patents on PCR, qPCR, and market domination in Human ID/forensics. With a portfolio this powerful, how could they fail?

Life has not reported how many people were sent home last week and they have not updated their numbers on the State Employment Development Department website which tracks company layoffs, according to the . . . More