March 24: Harvard — and HuffPo — offer live update of #marijuana science

You can’t buy it yet, but marijuana is now legal under state law. For the latest on weed law and science, tune in Friday for a  Harvard School of Public Health live webcast. Or, watch it via Facebook Live. 

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Send panelists questions in advance to theforum@hsph.harvard.edu

Tweet us @ForumHSPH #marijuanascience

 

Science in the News lecture series: Sugar, RNA, cancer and the brain

There are a lot of great science literacy programs out there. This one never fails to deliver. Lively, clear and topical. Check out their  Science by the Pint events too.

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Cats, dogs and bacon to make you laugh, then think at the 2014 #IgNobel awards

2014-Ig-Nobel-poster-150Much for pet and bacon lovers at this years Ig Nobels, which were awarded Thursday night. Go to the source for worldwide coverage  or check out Carolyn Y. Johnson’s blog post for the Boston Globe.  

Thursday night at Harvard University, Nobel laureates took the stage to hand out the Ig Nobels, a satirical version of the Nobel prizes, which will be announced in early October. This year, the prizes were awarded in 10 disciplines, ranging from the physics prize for at last explaining why banana peels are slippery, to the medicine prize for using strips of cured pork to stop a gushing nosebleed

 Public Health: The award was split between two teams for an investigation of the mental hazards of owning a cat.

Czech researchers chronicled personality changes in young cat ladies and documented a decline in I.Q. and adventure-seeking behavior by men who were infected by toxoplasmosis, a parasite commonly found in cat excrement. A US team scoured medical records from 1.3 million patients and found that depression was relatively common among women who had reported being bitten by cats, and that screening those who had bitten by pets might be fruitful.

 Biology: A team of Czech and German researchers are being honored for their finding that when dogs poop and pee, they prefer to squat with their bodies facing in a north-south line. Even silly results aren’t trivial to arrive at: the team observed 70 dogs, from 37 breeds. That’s nearly 2,000 defecations and 5,582 urinations over two years of smelly observation.

Also, a nod to Our Lady of Perpetual Condensation:

 Neuroscience: In “Seeing Jesus in Toast,” a team from China and Canada have clinched the neuroscience prize with an exploration of a phenomenon called face pareidolia, in which people see nonexistent faces. First, they tricked participants into thinking that a nonsense image had a face or letter hidden in it. Then, they carefully monitored brain activity in the participants they managed to convince, to understand which parts of our minds are to blame.

 

 

The Boston Globe’s science blog is worth digging for

ss2aCarolyn Y. Johnson’s “Science in Mind”  blog in the  Globe, which is buried in the print version of the paper and difficult to find online. (Hover over  “News” and it’s in the menu to the right.)

Science reporting is hard. Writers have to find a spot between jargon spewing and oversimplification. The “why should I care?” bar can be difficult to scale, especially for important but incremental developments. The tendency is to hype it up, follow the crowd or regurgitate journal findings because they are vetted – so they must be important.

They aren’t always, so we need sharp blogging like Johnson’s. She does a bit of reporting on journal articles herself. But, she puts the research in context. At a time when even papers like The Washington Post are printing press releases as stories, blogging like this is even more valuable.  (For more on the need for good science reporting, see Sense about Science.)

Johnson’s latest post deals with the tendency of some to judge the value of science by the silly title or obscure topic of research articles. Here, she alerts to some pushback from a UMass researcher Patricia Brennan who studies reproduction in ducks.

Can’t resist the – Ha ha, duck dick –  pun? Unless you’re handing out Ig Nobels, grow up and read on:

Her work became the butt of political jokes when a $385,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study duck penises attracted the attention of a conservative news website. Brennan found herself in the somewhat unusual situation of defending the scientific validity of her work to the masses, and saw a need for greater engagement with the public…

 In an interview, Brennan said that examining sexual conflict between male and female ducks provides a fascinating insight into evolutionary biology and sexual competition. That information is interesting in its own right, but she also notes that duck penises, which have an external sperm channel, may ultimately lead to new molecular insights that could be deployed in medicine. Or they might not. But unless scientists learn, no one will ever know.

Brennan points to research into avian genitalia that may already have a medical impact. Colleagues are examining why chickens do not have penises and ducks do, which may provide clues to better understand hypospadias, a birth defect in which boys’ penises are malformed.

Other posts of note:

STEM CELLS Already, scientists in laboratories across the world have begun dipping mature cells in acid, hoping to

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 see whether this simple intervention really can trigger a transformation into stem cells, as reported by a team of Boston and Japanese researchers in January.

At the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, a number of scientists have embarked on the experiment, which they’re informally calling “stem cell ceviche,” comparing it to the Latin American method of cooking seafood in lime and lemon juice.

 RESEARCH DATA:  For the past year, physicians, researchers, and ethicists have vigorously debated whether unexpected findings detected in people’s genomes should be reported back to patients or research subjects. In a provocative essay published Thursday, researchers from Harvard Medical School and King’s College London argue that an even more fundamental right has been totally absent from the conversation: research participants’ access to the raw data they provide.

 

 

 

 

AAAS Boston science meeting: Genomics, bioengineering, stroke research and more

aaas logoThe annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (aka Triple-A-S) is coming to Boston in February.They offer plenty of sessions on health topics in between panels on chemistry, astrophysics and robotics.

It’s not exactly an academic meeting and not exactly for the general public. Unless you’re s student, the registration fees start at $235 and go up. But, we’ll be reporting on some of the below events  here and elsewhere.  This is just a selection from the program

The Science of Uncertainty in Genomic Medicine

Friday, 15 February 10:00AM-11:30AM

Organized by: Reed E. Pyeritz, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Shili Lin, Ohio State University, Columbus

SPEAKERS

Giovanni Parmigiani, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

How Useful Is It to Know Your Genome?

James P. Evans, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Genomics in Clinical Medicine: Navigating the Spectrum from Certainty to Uncertainty

Robert C. Green, Partners Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine, Boston, MA

A Data-Driven Pathway to Genomic Medicine

Between Science, Society, and Policy

Saturday, 16 February 8:30AM-11:30AM

Organized by: Peter Yang, Brenna Krieger, and Kevin Bonham, Harvard University, Boston, MA

SPEAKERS

Ting Wu, Harvard University, Boston, MA

Personal Genetics and Education

Mary Carmichael, Boston Globe, Malden, MA

The Media and the Personal Genetics Revolution

Brian Naughton, 23andMe Inc., New York City

Commercialization of Personal Genomics: Promise and Potential Pitfalls

Mira Irons, Children’s Hospital Boston, MA

Personal Genomic Medicine: How Physicians Can Adapt to a Genomic World

Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Societal and Ethical Dimensions of the Personal Genomics Revolution

Jonathan Gitlin, National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, MD

Personal Genomics and Science Policy

 

Interfacing with the Body Using Implants and Prostheses

Sunday, 17 February 8:00AM-9:30AM

Organized by: Erin Heath, AAAS Office of Government Relations, Washington, DC

SPEAKERS

Leigh Hochberg, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

Restoring Communication and Mobility Through Neurotechnology

*Hugh Herr, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Cambridge, MA

Perfecting the Prosthetic Limb

Joseph F. Rizzo III, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Creating a Retinal Implant

 

Biotechnology and Nanotechnology

Monday, 18 February 9:45AM-12:45PM

Organized by: Elicia M.A. Maine, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada; James M. Utterback, MIT, Cambridge, MA

SPEAKERS

Robert S. Langer, MIT, Cambridge, MA

Challenges and Opportunities at the Confluence of Biotechnology and Nanomaterials

Nathan Lewis, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena

Clean Energy Innovation from the Confluence of Technologies

Sarah Kaplan, University of Toronto, ON, Canada

The Process and Practice of Interdisciplinary Research

Elicia M.A. Maine, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Global Bio-Nano Firms: Exploiting the Confluence of Technologies

Han Cao, BioNano Genomics Inc., San Diego, CA

Commercializing Innovation: Applying Nanotechnology to Genomics

 

Why is Living Healthily So Difficult?

Saturday, 16 February 1:00PM-2:30PM

Organized by: Benedikt Herrmann, Joint Research Center, European Commission, Ispra, Italy; Geraldine Barry, Joint Research Center, European Commission, Brussels, Belgium

SPEAKERS

David Laibson, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Behavioral Economics and Health Behaviors

Todd Hare, University of Zürich, Switzerland

Neurobiological Mechanisms of Self-Control in Value-Based Choices

Benedikt Herrmann, Joint Research Center, European Commission, Ispra, Italy

How Much Do Social Norms Influence Our Ambitions To Live Healthily?

 

The Toxicological Impact of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human and Wildlife Health

Saturday, 16 February 8:30AM-11:30AM

Organized by: John Pierce Wise Sr., University of Southern Maine, Portland; R. Joseph Griffitt, University of Southern Mississippi, Ocean Springs

SPEAKERS

Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance, Gloucester, MA

Introduction to the Deepwater Horizon Accident

Samantha B. Joye, University of Georgia, Athens

Impact of the Gulf Oil Crisis on the Sea Floor

Carys Mitchelmore, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Solomons, MD

Laboratory Studies to Assess the Effects of Oil Spill Chemical Dispersants on Corals

R. Joseph Griffitt, University of Southern Mississippi, Ocean Springs

Effects of Dispersed Oil on Larval Sheepshead Minnows

Greg Mayer, Texas Tech University, Lubbock

Weathering and Dispersion of Crude Oil Alter Its Toxicity in Fundulus Grandis

John Pierce Wise Sr., University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME

The Gulf of Mexico Offshore Toxicology Study

 

A 50 Year Legacy: Why does Rachel Carson Matter?

Sunday, 17 February 10:00AM-11:30AM

Organized by: Jane Maienschein and Gregg Zachary, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

SPEAKERS

Sharon Kingsland, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

Bridging Two Cultures: Rachel Carson as Scientist and Humanist

Gregg Zachary, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Back to the Future: The Rachel Carson “Model” as a Response to the Crisis in Science

Jane Lubchenco, NOAA, Washington, DC

Rachel Carson and Responsible Science Policy

 

The Benefits of Randomized Experiments for Science and Society

Friday, 15 February 1:00PM-2:30PM

Organized by: Daniel McCaffrey, RAND Corp., Pittsburgh, PA

SPEAKERS

Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Experimenting with Politics

Michael Kremer, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Experimenting with Public Health and Education in the Developing World

Susan Murphy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Experimenting to Improve Clinical Practice

 

Stroke Research: New Concepts and Innovative Solutions

Friday, 15 February 3:00PM-4:30PM

Organized by: Virginija Dambrauskaite and Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, European Commission, Directorate General for Research and Innovation, Brussels, Belgium

SPEAKERS

Costantino Iadecola, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City

Great Expectations: The Promise of the Neurovascular Unit for Stroke Therapy

Molly Shoichet, University of Toronto, ON, Canada

Engineering Meets Medicine: Innovative Strategies To Overcome Stroke

Stephen Meairs, University Medical Center Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, Germany

The European Stroke Network: A Platform for Overcoming the Translational Roadblock

 

Engineering the Nervous System: Solutions to Restore Sight, Hearing, and Mobility

Sunday, 17 February 1:30PM-4:30PM

Organized by: Sanna Fowler, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

SPEAKERS

Stephanie P. Lacour, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

Flexible Electronics for Interfacing with the Nervous System

Silvestro Micera, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

Controlling a Prosthetic Hand with Peripheral Neural Interfaces

Grégoire Courtine, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

Walking Again After Spinal Cord Injury

Konstantina M. Stankovic, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Reversing Infant Deafness Through Genetic Engineering

Joan Miller, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Saving Sight in Retinal Disease

 

Predicting Major Events and Planning for Hazards: An Art or Science?

Friday, 15 February 10:00AM-11:30AM

Organized by: Julia Wilson, Sense About Science, London, United Kingdom; Albert Yuan, San Lian Life Weekly, Beijing, China

SPEAKERS

Kelin Wang, Geological Survey of Canada, Sidney, BC

Operational Earthquake Prediction: Castles in the Air

Azra Ghani, MRC Center for Outbreak Analysis and Modeling, London, United Kingdom

Disease Scares: Predicting and Preparing for Outbreaks

Peter Webster, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Assessing Risk from Climate Change: Scenario Generation Versus Prediction

Can Exposure Science Quell the Furor over Environmental Endocrine Disruption?

Saturday, 16 February 1:30PM-4:30PM

Organized by: Justin G. Teeguarden, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA

SPEAKERS

Russ Hauser, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA

BPA and Human Health: Epidemiologic Evidence and Its Interpretation

K. Barry Delclos, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, AR

Relating Internal BPA Doses to Adverse Effects in Rodent Toxicity Studies

Daniel R. Doerge, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, AR

BPA Pharmacokinetics in the Adult and Perinatal Periods in Experimental Animals

Justin G. Teeguarden, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA

Estrogen Receptor Activation Potential of Internal Concentrations of BPA in Humans

Jeffrey Fisher, National Center for Toxicological Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, AR

Estimating Infant and Adult Human Serum Levels of Unconjugated Bisphenol A

Richard M. Sharpe, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Are Causal Associations in Epidemiological Studies of BPA Exposure Plausible?

 

Global Health and Environmental Impacts of E-Waste Recycling

Friday, 15 February 3:00PM-4:30PM

Organized by: Erica L. Dahl, SafeBridge Consultants Inc., New York City; Bruce A. Fowler, ICF International, Fairfax, VA

SPEAKERS

Sanmi Areola, Environmental Health Services, Metro Public Health Department, Nashville, TN

The Scope of the Problem: International Regulation and the Basel Treaty

Myrto Petreas, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Berkeley

Regulated and Unregulated Contaminants in California Waste Streams

Aimin Chen, University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health, OH

E-Waste Recycling in Developing Countries: Concerns of Developmental Toxicity

Health reform round-up and scientific take-down

  • Check out the most recent Health Wonk Review, a year-end edition that doesn’t include any best-of  lists!
  • A scientific miracle? Maybe not.  A piece in last week’s New Yorker expounded on what a Tufts/Harvard-linked scientist has been saying for many years — most published research article are false.  More on Nature Network Boston.  While you’re there, check out the scientific events calendar.
  • For some solid reporting on recent local developments in health payments and hospital mergers, see the work of Martha Bebinger at WBUR and Robert Weisman at the Globe. WBUR’s CommonHealth is keeping up too.