PZ Myers has a nice little blurb about a study that suggests priming one's mind with scientific terms (e.g. logical, hypothesis, science, theory, etc.) results in more moral actions when the subjects are subsequently asked to be charitable (share money) or make moral judgments. Of course, the study, like many of its kind has certain drawbacks, as Myers points out:
"Another important caveat is that it’s a typical psychology study, using a small pool of undergraduates at the University of California Santa Barbara, so they’re actually tapping into very narrow cultural norms. A group of students who were familiar with the Tuskegee syphilis study, to name just one exception, might respond to priming with science words very differently, while people from a less science-dependent culture might find the exercise meaningless."
He goes on to conclude that the important thing is that if some thing becomes widely accepted in a culture as being related to positive moral action, then just reflecting on that thing (be it religion, or science, or Bill or Melinda Gates) will make us more likely to adhere to the moral norms associated with it.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Unless you're R. Kelly, in which case it is likely contaminated with both mouse urine and human urine. But seriously, according to an article in Pacific Standard Magazine approximately 82% of homes in the U.S. have readily detectable levels of mouse urinary proteins, and if you live in urban areas, the likelihood is close to 100%. Dr. Elizabeth Matsui at Johns Hopkins University is worried about this mouse urine contamination for 2 reasons: 1. the proteins in mouse urine are apparently very stable and thus hang around for a long time (likely accumulating over time to higher and higher levels), and 2. mouse urinary proteins can elicit allergic responses and may cause asthma in children who are exposed to these ever increasing levels. That being said, while mouse urine is likely to get a lot of attention, there are actually many things we should be worried about in and around our homes that are known to cause or worsen allergies and asthma in children... like common house dust, proximity to automobile traffic, drinking too many soft drinks, cleaning agents, plastic bottles, and flooring made from PVC... even when they aren't saturated with mouse urine.
Friday, November 30, 2012
A recent article in Science by the title of "Does Scientific Research Need a Purpose?" addresses something I think is very important to keep sight of... some of the most important scientific discoveries come from the most unexpected places. The whole of the human genome project and all of the biomedical advances in genetics that have been made in the past few decades would not have been possible if not for scientists who were curious about whether or not bacteria could live in certain hot springs in Yellowstone Park. And similarly, almost all of the work that has been done in biomedical research in the past couple of decades would not have been possible if it weren't for researchers who were interested in studying North American jellyfish. That's right, jellyfish. See, the bacteria in Yellowstone have an enzyme called Taq polymerase that is stable at high temperatures, allowing for its use in amplifying DNA rapidly, which is needed for gene sequencing, and was perhaps the most important advance that made the human genome project possible on a reasonable timescale. As for the jellyfish, they make a protein that glows when you hit it with light of a certain wavelength (like a highlighter under a blacklight). By joining this protein to other proteins, or by engineering genes in other animals to make this protein, biologists are able to visualize gene activity and the localization of proteins within individual cells. This level of detail allows biologists to track individual cells during development or in disease states like cancer or Alzheimer's and has led to numerous breakthroughs at almost every level of biology. So much so, that this discovery was awarded a Nobel prize in 2008. Anyway, the point of all of this is that, while it is easy to get caught up in the idea that scientific research should have a somewhat short-sighted focus, like studying cancer cells to find ways to treat cancer, this is not always how science works, and if we start dismissing, overlooking, or under funding scientific research that asks seemingly irrelevant questions like, "I wonder what this jellyfish looks like under a blacklight" we may inadvertently delay some "more relevant" discoveries by several decades. Of course, this is not to say that we should abandon studying cancer cells, rather I believe we should be pursuing BOTH the science that seems relevant AND the science that may not seem so relevant (yet).