Friday, September 28, 2007

Chemical Industry Just As Deadly As Tobacco?

According to a Slate report, “a new book argues that chemical waste is as much to blame for cancer as smoking.” Makes sense to me, even without much explanation. Sorry to sound like such a gullible idiot, but doesn’t it? The problem is how do you prove it? How could you possibly show that one particular chemical, or group of chemicals, among so many in our environment are killers? “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” by Devra Davis is an attempt to do that.

In the book, Davis uncovers “exposure-related cancers, decades of incriminating research, and cover-ups by the chemical industry.” She also demonstrates how the chemical industry is using the same approach as the tobacco industry used to keep critics marginalized, and public opinion confused. This despite the facts according to the Slate report. “There is now a substantial body of evidence, obtained through research funded outside the war on cancer, suggesting that industry has managed to obfuscate the carcinogenic dangers of chemical and other toxic waste.”

My sense is that a fight like this could only be won by activists taking on a single chemical at a time, or a strong central government stepping in to twist some arms. But on both fronts, Davis finds, there are serious challenges. When it comes to activism, who’s going to step up to the plate? Who cares? People usually don’t care about anything until it happens to them. And when cancer happen, people don’t care about the causes, they care about the cure. This country is obsessed with cures, and it seems to have given polluter a free ticket to do their dirtiest.

As far as the government, for reasons that are easy to see (money, for example), they’re complicit in the killing. One example given by Davis is a Pennsylvania town where incriminating findings that probably would, should have closed a coke plant and put management (I think) on trial for murder were “squelched by the state's Department of Environmental Protection.”

Sure. Try these people for Murder 1. Give the consequences some teeth. Paying fines doesn’t seem to do a whole lot. How many tobacco companies have closed since it’s been proven they’ve been strengthening the addictive properties of their product while covering up evidence that these products kill?

Why the Madness Over New Breast Cancer & Alcohol Story?

Last night the NBC Nightly News, something strange happened: they led the broadcast with a health story. I watch the Nightly News a lot, and that’s very, very unusual. There’s a war in Iraq, soldiers killing pro-democracy demonstrators in Myanmar, and they lead with a report about the connection between alcohol and cancer.

The findings,
according to the Nightly News Report: one drink a day increases a woman’s risk for developing cancer by 10 percent. Three drinks increases the risk 30 percent. Does 10 drinks a day give you a 100 percent chance? They didn’t say.

But it’s not jus the NBC news that’s flipping over this story (yes, I consider leading the broadcast with a health, or science, story “flipping”). There are hundreds of results from the last 24 hours at Google News for “alcohol breast cancer,” with sensational headlines like, “
Any 3 alcohol drinks a day boost breast cancer risk by 30%.”

Anyhow, the Nightly News asks, “should women be concerned?” I don’t think so (but I’m not a doctor, so my opinion doesn’t count and nobody should listen to me). Who drinks a drink every single day? If you do, you probably have bigger problems. Yes, we’ve all heard the research that a drink a day decreases the risk of heart disease, but who really does this? Now, three drinks a day? Again, bigger problems, people.

The Nightly News also puts these findings in context by pointing out, “women who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have about a 2000 per cent increase in their risk for lung cancer.”

Over at the Wired Science blog,
the latest post is, “Overreacting to Alchohol's Breast Cancer Risks.” In it, they point out that, “there's a world of difference between having a few to many drinks and having a few too many drinks every single day.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Study, News Report Confuse Effectiveness of Acupuncture

Does acupuncture work, or doesn’t it? An AP headline reads, “Study: Acupuncture works for back pain.” But when you click into the article you find that, “fake acupuncture works nearly as well as the real thing for low back pain.” Um, if the fake stuff has the same effect as the real stuff, then isn’t it all psychosomatic? That is, isn’t it just the mind that’s making things better?

First, let’s look at what they mean by “fake acupuncture.” Basically, when going the fake route, they inserted needles in the wrong places and wrong depths. Wrong compared to the “real” version, of course.

So scientists wonder whether or not any collection of pin pricks can “block” the pain. Still, I’m wondering, if the real thing works the same as the fake, can you say Acupuncture actually “works?”
When asked how acupuncture works, University of Maryland’s “director of complementary medicine,” Dr. Brian Berman said it works for reasons that can’t be explained in “Western terms.” Magic? According to the AP report, Berman feels acupuncture works by “changing the way the brain processes pain signals or by releasing natural painkillers in the body.” Um, if they can’t prove that using the scientific method, does that mean it’s magic? Or am I just being another arrogant Westerner?

New Theory on Origin of Earth’s Water and Why You Should Care

A few weeks ago, I described a theory on how water could form in space, and how that water (in the form of ice) could reach the surface of the Earth in the form of comets or deposits on asteroids. And most scientists believe this is how water ended up on Earth. But a new theory by scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology suggests, “water brewed at home, not in space,” according to a New Scientist report.

Who cares? Well, you owe your existence to water on this planet. Said one Japanese researcher, “Water is essential for the origin and evolution of life. Why does water exist on Earth, where did it come from? These are fundamental questions for human beings."

According to the new theory, the primordial earth was covered in a “thick blanket of hydrogen.” Over time, oxides from the Earth’s mantle reacted with the hydrogen to form water droplets, and then puddles, ponds, lakes, rivers and eventually seas and oceans.

The theory isn’t without soft spots. One reason scientists mostly agree that water came from outer space is the chemical signature of water on Earth. As it turns out, water on Earth has a similar chemical makeup as water in asteroids. Basically, the ratio of heavy-hydrogen to hydrogen is pretty much the same in the Pacific Ocean as it is in an asteroid drifting between, say, Jupiter and Mars.

For the wonks that are still with me here, “heavy hydrogen” is the common man’s term for “deuterium.” Deuterium is hydrogen with an extra neutron and proton.

Biofuel Mania Killing Rain Forests (That’s Really, Really Bad)

If you’re a regular at this blog, you know Pound360 is no fan of biofuel. My problem with it is that, as you would see if you click on that link in the last sentence, it’s not a silver bullet for lowering costs, energy independence or anything. It may be part of a multi-part solution, but a small part.

The bigger problem is that people don’t like complex, mult-part solutions. They like silver bullets. So as people get more attached to biofuel as a solution to all the world’s problems, they will blindly throw themselves off the cliff, then complain in 30 years about how corporations or the government fooled them into doing so.

Anyway, the point of this post is Jane Goodall. Yeah, the gorilla lady.
Reuters reports that she’s raising awareness at the Clinton Global Initiative this week about biofuel’s impact on rain forests. If know the slightest bit about rain forests (their rich biodiversity and how this provides things man needs, but can’t crank out of a factory), you know how insane it is to torch large tracts of rainforest to install a farm.

But that’s exactly what’s happening in Asia, Africa and South America. On those farms, their growing biofuel crops.

But it’s not just biodiversity that’s at stake. “Critics say demand for the fuels has led companies to cut down and burn forests in order to grow the crops, adding to heat-trapping emissions and leading to erosion and stress on ecosystems,” according to the Reuters report.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How Sleep Can Kill. Huh, Sleep Kills Too?

In an earlier post, I explained how loneliness can kill. Now, it turns out too much sleep can lead to an early grave, reports CBC News.

A University of Warwick (UK) study found that people who increased from seven to eight hours of sleep also increased their mortality rate. According to study results, these folks were twice as likely to die over the next 20 years.

While scientists have a pretty good idea how too little sleep can kill (it’s linked to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes), they haven’t studied how too much sleep can also be deadly. Who would’ve thunk too much of a good thing could kill?

Leading candidates are depression, low socioeconomic status and cancer-related fatigue, suggested one scientist. I’m not sure exactly what the connection there is. Maybe I’ll circle around on this in a later post.

For the record, researchers found 7 hours was the optimum amount of sleep for adults.

How Loneliness Can Kill. Wait, Loneliness Can Kill?

Loneliness has been linked to killer conditions like heart disease. But researchers have always wondered if lonely people are physiologically different, or just isolated from health-support resources (like a friend to drive them to the hospital when they’re feeling ill).

A new UCLA study,
reported by Newsweek, suggests it’s a physiological issue. According to Newsweek, “Loneliness actually changes how the body functions at a molecular level.” For example, lonely people have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which can contribute to the development of cancer); their bodies don’t produce as many disease-fighting antibodies when sick; and in the lonely, “a group of genes involved in fighting viruses were not expressing themselves as much,” found researchers.

Before you get too worried because you only have three friends on MySpace, the report also explains that people that are alone aren’t necessarily lonely. Loneliness is a (very) subjective thing. According to Newsweek, “the loneliness that leads to these adverse health conditions is tied to how individuals perceive their social situations.”

Sorry (or Rejoice) Veggies Don’t Cut Colon Cancer Risk

If you’re faithfully devouring pounds and pounds of fruits and vegetables each day to lower your risk of colon cancer, we at Pound360 have some bad news: another study shows healthy eating does little in the fight.

This time, our friends at the University of Montreal found “higher intake of fruits and vegetables does not strongly reduce your risk of colon cancer,”
reports WebMD.

This is indeed lame news for those of us dedicated to boring, healthy diets full of fruits and vegetables (I’m one of those). But it’s great news if you regularly treat yourself to burgers, fries and ice cream in place of broccoli, tofu and carrots.

As a consolation for us healthy-eating suckers (if you can even call a diet rich in fruits and vegetables healthy anymore), WebMD assures us that, “a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is still recommended for a number of other reasons.” Although they didn’t dig into details on what those reasons might be.

Sigh… I’m off to get a bucket of onion rings from Burger King.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Meteor Sickness Mystery Solved

Yesterday, I reported on a group of Peruvian villagers with an unidentified illness they attributed to a meteor impact. Local authorities acknowledge that a meteor crashed (and left a gaping 65-foot crater), but questioned the relationship between the impact and the illness.

As it turns out, the sickness was the result of arsenic fumes created when the meteor tapped a polluted subterranean reservoir,
reports National Geographic News. No word on how the groundwater had enough arsenic to cause this phenomena, but the whole thing is pretty incredible to me.

What are the chances of a meteor hitting a populated area, let alone puncturing an underground pocket of water, and one that’s polluted with arsenic?

“Horrific” Frog Deformities Tied to Your Dinner Plate

"You can get five or six extra limbs. You can get no hind limbs. You can get all kinds of really bizarre, sick and twisted stuff," said one researcher when referring to “horrific deformities in frogs” resulting from farm and ranch runoff. This according to a report at Reuters.

As it turns out, a long, disturbing chain of events resembling a nursery rhyme from hell leads from corn stalks and cows to mutant frogs.

It all starts when nitrogen and phosphorus, from animal waste at ranches and fertilizers at farms, runs off into the watershed. These nutrients cause algae to grow out of control, which leads to more snails, which leads to more “trematodes,” a parasitic worm that infects snails.

Trematodes turn snails into “zombies,” according to one scientist, which allow the worms to “expel thousands of offspring.” When the snails die, the trematodes end up in ponds where they burrow into frog larvae causing the wild deformities described above.

Eventually, the deformed frogs (which are easy prey), get eaten by birds which “spread the [trematodes] back into the ecosystem through defecation.” From there, the whole wicked cycle starts over again.

Space Travel Makes Killer Germs Kill Faster

This serves as a warning for future space travelers. Beware after flipping the switch on your cryogenic hibernation chambers for long journeys. Bacteria in space turns to super bacteria, a new Arizona State study, reported by Reuters, finds.

When testing salmonella taken aboard a recent space shuttle mission, they fond it “became more virulent” and killed more mice, more quickly than Earthbound bacteria.

The bad news, scientists don’t know why space travel emboldens bacteria. One possibility is something called “fluid shear,” which wasn’t explained very well in the Reuters piece. But this effect occurs in zero-G conditions and mimics the conditions in the human body, where salmonella typically thrives.

The good news, “the findings have already given other researchers at the same institute some ideas for designing new antibiotics.” So maybe future space travelers will be okay. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Or maybe our grandchildren. Or our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Or maybe, as the Copernican Principle suggests,
we’ll never find out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NASA Moon Base Plans Get Interesting

A single-module space station may be shot to the Moon on an “unmanned cargo ship” someday according to NASA plans, reports the NY Times. The base would be run on solar power.

Earlier plans suggested a multi-module station brought to the moon in pieces by manned missions. NASA is planning to return man to the Moon around 2020.

Included in the new plans are lunar rovers with pressurized cabins, which means you don’t need to wear a spacesuit while driving AND you can listen to tunes. These new vehicles would be “much larger” than rovers from the Apollo missions, and cost “more than a Ferrari,” said one scientists.

Scientists are also discussing the possibility of a mobile Moon base. Good idea in case of alien attacks. Devotees of Starcraft know the unique advantage of a
mobile command center.

In other Moon news, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin suggested the Chinese will beat us back to the moon. “I personally believe that China will be back on the Moon before we are,” said Griffin. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it, but they will just have to not like it.”

Then again, the Chinese have
abandoned exploration after a healthy start in eras past.

Meteorite Sickens Peruvian Villagers

Officials confirm a meteorite smashed into the Peruvian countryside leaving a crater 65 feet wide and 15 feet deep, according to CNN. Following the impact, “small rocks rained down… for several minutes” on the roof of one nearby house.

Following the impact, 200 villagers claimed they were sickened by fumes resulting from the event. Symptoms include headaches, nausea and breathing problems. As of now, alien embryos have not sprung from the chests of anyone affected.

Experts doubt the meteor is directly responsible for the mysterious illness. “Fear may have provoked psychosomatic ailments,” suggested CNN based on talks with scientists on the scene.

Didn’t they say the same thing about World Trade Center Syndrome and Gulf War Syndrome? At best, people claiming they suffered from these mysterious afflictions were victims of their own psychosomatic powers. At worst, they were exploring a creative way to profit from extraordinary events. But these days, isn’t it pretty well accepted that real illnesses were at play?

Velociraptor Appears to Have Been Feathered

New skeletal evidence supports the bizarre theory that many dinosaurs were feathered. Recently, researchers found “quill knobs” similar to those of modern birds while studying the skeleton of a velociraptor, reports Voice of America.

Quill knobs are small structures on the bones of birds (and now, it appears, dinosaurs) where flight or wing feathers are attached. In the case of dinosaurs like velociraptor, the feathers were probably not flight feathers. One scientist suggests velociraptor feathers were used to “shield nests” or keep the creature warm. The feathers may have also been used “for show.” But I’m not sure what that means. What evolutionary purpose would that support? Mating ritual perhaps.

My favorite theory is the warmth one. Cold-blooded reptiles need a way to stay warm. And I think the prospect of a hairy velocirapor is even more strange than a feathered one. Actually, no. They’re both bizarre. Back to the cold-blooded part, since dinosaurs are looking more-and-more like birds, I wonder if they actually were cold blooded. I’ll have to research that and report back here someday.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cosmic Butterfly Flaps Wings, Dinosaurs Die

The title’s a stretch, but when I read this story, “Ancient Space Collision Killed Off Dinosaurs,” at FOX News, I couldn’t help but thinking of that, um, whatever it is (a “saying” maybe?) where a butterfly flaps its wings in China, setting off a series of cascading events that leads to a hurricane in the Atlantic.

So here’s the deal. Scientists at the University of Arizona using “a series of computer models” believe there’s a good chance debris from a collision of two “mega-asteroids” led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Don’t even ask how a computer model could figure this out. I don’t know exactly, and it seems like a stretch (which is probably because my puny brain can’t fathom how the math on this works). But from what I gather they’re studying the “Baptistina asteroid family,” which seems to be the leftovers of a collision between two big asteroids. How big? Researchers estimate one of the rocks was 25 miles across and the other was 6 miles. From this collision, a big chunk, one believed to be six-miles across itself, went hurtling through space. Eventually the species-killer zeroes in on Earth, tears through the atmosphere with a biblical howl, a T-Rex looks up from its last meal, the asteroid hits the Yucatan peninsula, and the rest is history.

Back to the Baptistina family. About 20 percent of the large-fragment pieces have spun off into the solar system. Two percent of that has made its way towards earth, accounting for a “two-fold increase in the impact rate over the past 100 million to 200 million years,” researchers believe.

Another large fragment from the original asteroid impact is believed to have hit the moon, creating the 53-mile Tycho crater.

The Greatest Journey in History

The Voyager 1 space probe is in the news this week as we come upon the thirtieth anniversary of its departure from Earth. Among the coverage is a, um… touching… piece at the New York Times by op-ed contributor Timothy Ferris, “Mix Tape of the Gods.” Yes, I called an article about a space probe touching.

Ferris spells out in plain, but sweeping English how truly amazing Voyager 1’s journey has been. Surviving “cosmic rays, solar flares, the hurtling rocks and sand of the asteroid belt, and Jupiter’s intense radiation bands,” Voyager 1 returned “reams of scientific data,” to the delight of scientists around the world. And for us lay folk, Voyager delivered shiny pictures of Saturn’s rings, the “shimmering blue ice” of Europa, and volcanoes erupting on Io.

Now, Voyager 1 is 10 billion miles away, but “faithfully calling home” on a regular basis. The spacecraft is so far away, it takes 14 hours for radio signals (which travel at the speed of light) to reach earth. Voyager 1 is so far away, “the Sun is just another star, south of Rigel in the constellation Orion.”

Get this. Right now, Voyager 1 is about to break free of the heliosphere. This borders of this region mark the edge of the Sun’s influence. Yes, something made by the hands of human beings will soon be outside the reach of the sun’s power (not all that soon, Voyager 1 leaves the heliosphere in 2015). Something made by the hands of human kind will finally reach interstellar space, “where it is destined to wander among the stars forever,” wrote Ferris. I get chills just thinking about it. But, I wonder if most people on Earth really care. There probably won’t be any celebrations when Voyager leaves the heliosphere. I mean, what does it have to do with the stock market, right?

Anyway, the path ahead. Hurtling through space at 38,000 miles per hour, it will be 40,000 years before Voyager 1 approaches another star. Around that time, the probe will come within 1.7 light years of “AC+79 3888.” I hope by then we have a better name for that thing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

For Rock Stars, Good Looking Corpses

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but a new study confirms “rock stars… are more likely than other people to die before reaching old age,” reports Reuters. If you’re a superstar rock musician, your chances of dying a premature death are two to three times that of the general population.

The study, by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, looked at more than a thousand musicians between 1956 and 2005. About 100 died early. A quarter of those were due to drug and alcohol abuse. The study didn’t describe the proportion of deaths attributed to other causes, like suicide.

The most dangerous time for musicians is within 5 years of “achieving fame.” That’s when their death rate skyrockets to three-times the norm. The good news for British rockers, if you survive the first 25 years after hitting it big, your life expectancy returns to normal. But if you’re an American rock dude, you carry a doubled risk of premature death well into your golden years (what most of us call middle-age).

Two possible culprits, according to the study authors: reunion tours and a lack of health insurance. American musicians seem to do more reunion tours, which can prolong exposure to the unhealthy rock lifestyle. “Impoverished American ex-pop stars” also skip on health care, and that’s not a good thing.

Pound360 Archive

About Me

My photo
I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.