Thursday, March 27, 2008

Science Education Thursday

As graduate students at Penn, we are required to complete yearly bioethics training. Due to this training, I attended a symposium last night entitled "Vaccine Mandates and Children". It was a pretty interesting discussion since the majority of people attending seemed to be pretty educated on vaccines and scientific theory. But there were the requisite crazies there too, which made me want to write a little bit about how science works. In general, scientist do experiments in order to answer some type of question. For example, if a gene is thought to be involved in some process, scientists can knock down or knock out the function of that gene in order to determine if it's involved in a certain process. Really, any type of science involved hypothesis (question) driven work, including population trends, clinical trials (does this drug treat the problem it says it does?), etc. Once we have gathered enough information, a "story", if you will, we begin the process of publishing our work in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The peer review process is extremely important because it involves prominent scientists who are experts in the field you are publishing in. They read your paper, critique your data, and send you feedback as to whether the journal should publish your work, or whether you should do more experiments to prove your point. Sometimes, you might miss a control, your interpretation of the data can be explained in several different ways, etc. This part of the process of publishing papers is so important because otherwise, science would not be regulated. As such, scientists self-regulate themselves, push each other to do better experiments and create an open dialogue about science and experiments. Without this regulation, scientific papers would merely be opinion of the writers of the paper, with no input from the scientific community. Once papers have been reviewed, the paper is sent back to the authors with important changes to be made, or it can be accepted or rejected on first submission. More often than not, papers are sent back to the authors for some changes and extra experiments. Once your changes have been made, your paper is sent back to the journal and sent out for re-review. If the reviewers are satisfied with the changes you have made, your paper will usually be accepted for publication. If not, it can again be rejected and new experiments may be suggested. Why I'm telling you this is because it's an important part of science that is not usually discussed. If you see a news story about an article in the New England Journal of Medicine you can be assured that article was peer-reviewed and passed the test for having proper controls, had a logically designed set of experiments, and the sample size was large enough to draw conclusions about the larger population. However, when a study was published in a journal that does not peer review articles, or worse, is published in a book (also not peer-reviewed) then you can be assured that the study was not done properly. The reason I am stating these things is because the unsubstantiated link between vaccines and autism came up last night (of course). People are refusing to vaccinate their children because they think vaccines cause autism. The link has never been proven, even though large studies have been carried out in multiple countries looking for a link, correlation, anything. The few people at the talk last night who still believed this cited a study that was not peer reviewed, was not published in a peer reviewed journal, had multiple, fundamental flaws, but was able to draw a link between autism and vaccines. Basically these people were citing faulty research. Just because someone with the title of "Dr." publishes a study does not mean you should entirely trust everything they say in their study. However, when articles are peer-reviewed, you can at least be assured that prominent scientists agree with the findings, the proper controls were done, and the proper number of experiments were carried out. It's unfortunate that the internet allows for people to get a hold of faulty research, so please, please do your research yourself.
Vaccines do not cause autism. More than likely, autism is caused by a combination of genes and the environment we live in. The first few weeks of pregnancy are extremely important, basically when all the "good stuff" happens. Like the formation of the brain, the nerves, your internal organs. If you face an environmental insult during this time period, or in later stages when the "fine tuning" is occurring, we have no idea what effect this has on a developing fetus. More than likely, this is when autism is started, but we have no way of assaying its development until a later time period, when language skills are developing and interpersonal interactions are becoming more obvious. The truth is that vaccines have saved lives and that having even a few un-vaccinated individuals in a classroom can nucleate an outbreak of a disease that should be preventable. The truth is that children should be vaccinated and parents that refuse to vaccinate their children are putting the rest of the human population at a huge risk for outbreaks of eradicated disease that can kill people.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Haiku Good Friday

Working today, blech!
Too bad grad school doesn't stop
for religious days.


Sun shining, wind blows
Ready for spring to grace us
Rebirth, regrowth, redemption.


Circle of life is
Never easy to deal with.
I don't understand.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Coloring Rocks


My Dad's crazy little brother is dying. He's in the last few weeks (?) of terminal prostate cancer. He's only 63, just became a Grandpa literally 2 weeks ago and he's decided to stop chemo and get ready to go. He's lived an insane and crazy life, most of it before I was born. I've loved hearing the stories about him and it's hard to believe he's had the balls to do some of the things he's done. Like crash a plane with his daughter in it and walk away. Like skydive something like over 200 times (and on the 200th time, he broke his leg!). Water-skiing, snow skiing, white water rafting, hiking, camping, biking. Just living, you know? And now it's time for him to go. I have mixed feeling about this whole thing. I am really far removed from everything, so I can kinda pretend it's not happening, although I know it is. He's been so sick and so far from what he normally was that his passing might be a blessing. At the same time, I don't want my cousin to lose her father at age 30 and I don't want her son to grow up without knowing the ridiculously crazy, insane, out of this world Grandpa he has. I don't want my Dad to lose his little brother. I don't want my Grandpa to lose his son. I don't want my Aunt to lose a husband. I don't want him to go because I don't know where he'll go. I don't want to go home in two weeks and have to deal with this whole thing. I want to to deny that it's happening and pretend it's not going on. I just wish there were such things as miracles.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday Politics

I've been hearing a lot of reaction to the whole Spitzer governor prostitute scandal thing lately and some things have started to bug me. A lot of people are blaming his wife for "driving" him to a prostitute. Is this ridiculous? Blame the wife for not doing something right (not wearing enough leather was one man's comment) and therefore nobody blames the man for going out and sleeping with "Kristen". What an absolutely outrageous double standard. If the wife was caught cheating, would it be the husband's fault? For one thing (and I realize this is a little cheesy), this man took a vow to be true to his wife and his family "until death do they part". I realize that marriages and relationships go through their ups and downs and I realize that people do cheat. But I think that this man is entirely responsible for his actions. Nobody (presumably) was holding a gun to his head while he made an appointment with the prostitute. He made a conscious choice to do that action and therefore I think the responsibility is entirely his. And to suggest anything otherwise is speculation and not supported by the facts.
On another note, is it now required to divulge every single unfaithful event in one's life upon entering politics? The newly appointed governor of NY just admitted to an affair, as did his wife. Do I care? Nope. Not in the least. They worked it out. It was part of their relationship, not part of how someone in government operates. For that matter, what is everyone's obsession with sex? I mean, how many of those old, fuddy duddy senators and reps are having affairs? And who cares?
So sick of this entire thing...especially bringing up the Monica Lewinsky thing in relation to Hillary. As if she had anything to do with it!
And that, folks, is my opinion of the day...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh Girls!

Letters to Jerks.

Dear Jerk,
I realize that this past weekend and today are some kind of holiday for drunkards and generally I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with your drunken ass trying to molest me in broad daylight as I am walking down the street. I am not some dumb drunk New Jersey chick who thinks you're "hot". I never want to be groped by some drunk ass guy who just drove into the city from suburb-nowhere and thinks that "Irish Pub" is a great place to hang out. Go home. We certainly don't need the likes of you around here.

Dear Other Jerk(s),
Let me introduce myself. I'm a pedestrian. That's ped-es-tri-an. Try to sound it out now. I walk most places because I don't have a car. Try to follow me now. When it's snowing, I walk. When it's raining, I walk. When it's blustery and cold, I walk. I don't have a heater or warm car to return to after a long day of work. I walk. Got that so far? So, here's the deal. When you drive into the city, there are more pedestrians here than in your little land of suburbia. You have a watch out for us because, unlike you, we are not surrounded by 2 tons of metal. There are these little areas called crosswalks that have been painted into the ground to designate areas where you should not place your car. It's because we have to cross the street and we need a place to walk where we won't get hit by cars. When you pull into these crosswalks, you see, we can't cross the street. Or, we have to wait until traffic is lighter to go around your giant vehicle. Get a clue, would you? Oh, and while you're at it, right hand turns on red are illegal in the city because of pedestrians. Start learning how to drive and pay attention to us pedestrians (and cyclists, too) because we don't have the same protection you have. And chances are that the 30 seconds you would save by making that right on red has no effect on your life. Chill out.

Phew...that makes me feel better!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Haiku Welcome Friday

Welcome to the world
baby boy! You are so new
and little and cute.


We have been anxious
waiting for your arrival.
You are so much loved.


I promise I will
try to make this world the best
place for you to grow.

Welcome, Sayer! I love you already.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Weather Woes

It's been quite the rollercoaster weather lately. It's now near 60 degrees (and it's 11am!) and let me tell you, it brings out the weirdos. Because of an early trip to the Dental School this morning, I was able to walk through campus to observe the native Penn students in the wild. Wow, what weather does to these kids. I am so glad I went to college in a place where the weather never changed too much, I never needed a jacket (although sometimes I wore one just for fun), I could wear whatever shoes I wanted (mostly flippers) and we could always go out on Fri/Sat night without a coat and without freezing too much. Here, the kids run the gamut. I saw boys in shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops, girls in mini-skirts, flippers and trench coats (stripper?), girls in short skirts, uggs-like boots, and puffy coats. There was a fair representation of jeans and t-shirts and many variations, but few were dressed appropriate for the weather. I have what I like to call the "winter fear". I am afraid to go without a coat because I think the weather might change at any minute (the weather people are often wrong!). So, I am without hat and scarf (they're still in my bag, tho) and I am wearing my winter down coat (not the knee length one, tho) mostly unbuttoned, jeans, t-shirt and sweater. It's cold in my lab, so I usually bundle up, even in the summer. On campus, it was so funny to see what people were wearing. There were the requisite sweats-tucked-into-uggs, clutching some book or notebook, looking terrified and rushing toward the library (midterms for freshmen). There were the girls in high heels, cute-I-just-bought-this-from-Bebe-outfits, the interesting spring "must haves" and the popped collars, argyle sweaters, and striped button down shirts that go with attending an Ivy League school. So silly...What are YOU wearing?