Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Beef, It’s What’s for Suckers

Eating meat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the way Americans go about it is downright stupid, according to a new feature at the NY Times.

If you’re an American, you probably eat 110 grams of protein. That’s double the FDA’s recommended allowance. And well beyond the 30 grams of protein you need to stay fit (which you could easily get from plant-based sources like nuts, olives, avocados, etc).

Most of the 80 unnecessary grams of protein an American eats in a day come from animals (around 75 grams). That’s equal to about eight ounces of meat consumption per day and close to 200 pounds per year. To feed that completely unnecessary appetite, we need to slaughter about ten billion animals annually.

So what? According to the Times, the super-massive, completely unnecessary, consumption of meat is responsible for “deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease.”

How could this be? A couple of reasons…
  • “Livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.”
  • “In Iowa alone, factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually.”
  • “30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production.”
  • “2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles.”
  • “Agriculture in the US -- much of which now serves the demand for meat -- contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.”
That last point is an important one. It takes a lot of grain to feed animals. In fact, you have to feed two to ten grain calories to an animal in order to get one calorie of meat.

Take beef, which is on the high end, for example. Remember American eat eight ounces of meat per day. Eight ounces of
top sirloin is 1,325 calories. To create that, you need 13,250 plant calories, or enough sustenance for five days.

Meanwhile, “800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition,” according to the Times.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    Obama, Clinton Only Candiates With Space Plans

    For us space nerds, the 2008 crop of presidential candidates are making it easy for us to make a decision. According to Popular Mechanic’s “Geek the Vote 08” website, the only candidates revealing space plans at the moment are Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

    Neither one of them has a Kennedy-esque man-on-the-moon-in-ten-years-or-your-money-back guarantee, but there are some positive signs here.

    Both candidates acknowledge the atrophy of our space program has threatened the United States’ leadership in science, technology, national security and other areas (if we even are the leaders in all those areas anymore). Clinton and Obama both agree on the continuation of manned space flight, use of satellites to fight global warming and cranking up spending on space.

    Where is the money going to come from? They don’t say. But so far, the Iraq war has cost us 488 billion dollars, or about 68-times the amount of money we spend on space each year (7 billion dollars). So by pulling troops out of Iraq, say half of them, it should free up a few billion.

    One notable difference between the two Dem’s space plans is how hard Obama is working to tie space programs to national defense. He doesn’t advocate weapons orbiting the planet, or X-wings patrolling in lower Earth orbit, but he believes satellites are the best way to keep an eye on the bad guys (especially when it comes to the development of nuclear programs and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

    Big Advance Reported in Effort to Synthesize Life

    Scientists keep encroaching further on God’s territory. This time, they’ve managed to synthesize the entire genome (a strand of DNA) for bacteria, reports the NY Times. The next step in the process would be to inject the synthetic DNA into a cell and see if it takes over.

    According to the times this “watershed in the emerging field called synthetic biology” is the first step for a team aiming to “create the first synthetic organism.” What does that mean? Like making cats, horses and dogs? Pretty much. “Synthetic biologists envision being able one day to design an organism on a computer, press the ‘print’ button to have the necessary DNA made, and then put that DNA into a cell to produce a custom-made creature.”

    At once this is both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying. On the good side, let’s say a species suddenly goes instinct, all you’d need do is but up your God-class computer, pull up the right file, hit “print” and you’re done. On the evil side, let’s say you’re a terrorist that wants to wipeout a small town with ebola viruses? A jar full of the little monsters could be a mouse-click away.

    Some in the scientific community remain skeptical. “They have no idea whether it is biologically active,” said one scientist of the newly synthesized DNA. Another curmudgeonly man of science grumbled to the Times, “all they’ve done is shown they can buy a bunch of DNA and put it together.”

    Indeed, the team that pulled off the synthetic DNA feat spliced together about 100 pre-fabricated sequences of 5,000 to 7,000 base pairs. (It takes almost 600,000 bases to make a bacteria’s DNA.) But the process of buying a bunch of DNA and putting it together (sounds so simple, don’t it) took about five years and millions of dollars.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    European Governments Push Back on Biofuel

    As the world slides blindly from one dirty energy economy (fossil fuel) to another (biofuel), governments in Europe are beginning to open their eyes and pull the breaks.

    From
    the NY Times this week: “Governments in Europe and elsewhere have begun rolling back generous, across-the-board subsidies for biofuels, acknowledging that the environmental benefits of these fuels have often been overstated.”

    “The biofuels craze was founded on the theory that plant-based fuels are carbon-neutral,” reports the Times. But that’s pretty much a fantasy. Yes, plants that turn into biofuel absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But that’s just part of the equation. Most people weren’t paying attention to the whole picture. The picture includes…
    • You’ve got to burn fuel (put more pollution in the atmosphere) to make biofuel. Consider the machinery used to cultivate crops, refine the fuel, ship it to market.
    • Biofuel crops need to be fertilized and fertilizer is not a healthy thing for the environment, especially the ecosystems of waterways and swampland.
    • Rich, biodiverse land is, in some cases, wiped out to make room for biofuel crops.
    • Since biofuel demand is outstripping the increase in supply of biofuel crops, unintended consequences like surging food prices are developing.
    In the end, governments in Europe (and Canada) have found “there is increasing evidence that the total emissions and environmental damage from producing many ‘clean’ biofuels often outweigh their lower emissions when compared with fossil fuels,” reports the Times.

    Of particular concern for long-term thinking governments is the very fuel stock we’re most excited about here in the United States: Corn. According to new Swiss and German regulations aimed at promoting sustainable biofuels, corn “will have trouble meeting the standard.”

    The Swiss government, for example, is pushing for biofuels that reduce emissions from fuel by 40 percent. Corn hovers somewhere between 10 and 20 percent.

    According to the Times, “Corn is a relatively inefficient crop for making biofuel, because it requires intensive processing and in most cases yields only a minor emissions benefit.”

      Tuesday, January 22, 2008

      Biofuel demand sparks food riots

      “Food riots” have taken place in countries around the world in recent months following a 37 percent spike in global food prices last year, reports the New York Times. Much to blame is soaring demand for biofuel. Palm oil prices alone are up almost 70 percent in the last year.

      In response, families around the world are cutting back on staples and in some cases risking their lives to get cooking oil at affordable prices. In China for example, grocer Carrefour held a “limited-time cooking oil promotion.” The resulting “stampede” killed three and injured 31.

      Across all vegetable oils, biofuel accounted for half the increase in demand last year. Surprisingly, just seven percent of vegetable oil is used for biofuel.

      In a nut shell, the problem is, we’ve suddenly found a new use for crops without finding a new way to make more crops. Besides, it’s not like we had massive piles of extra food lying around and world hunger had been wiped out. Taken together, you can understand why we’ve got a problem.

      Compounding the problem, governments aren’t letting high prices slow demand (thereby stabilizing prices). According to the Times, “Governments in many poor countries have tried to respond by stepping up food subsidies, imposing or tightening price controls, restricting exports and cutting food import duties.”

      People, when is it going to sink in? We can’t solve the problem of dwindling fossil fuel reserves by cranking up demand of another finite resource, biofuel. There is only so much land to cultivate and there are so many things we rely on crops for (food, shelter, clothing and now fuel). The answer? Two things. First and most importantly: conservation. Second, infinite fuel sources like wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.

      Monday, January 21, 2008

      Meet the Incredibly Strange Boltzmann Brain Problem

      It took me three reads of the NY Times article, “Big Brain Theory: Have Cosmologists Lost Theirs?” before it finally made sense. And it’s huge. The piece challenges whether or not “we and the universe are real,” and elegantly explains (in theory) how (what we call) the universe came to be.

      Also, I should note it took me about five revisions to create a blog posting here that I think is useful. Really, you need to read the Times piece. But before you do, read this. The purpose of this post is to explain the concepts explored in the article so, hopefully, it will make sense the first time you read it.

      This is a story of what we (pretty much know) and what we don’t (or don’t want to) know. So let’s start with what we (pretty much) know.

      We know the universe is expanding, that is, galaxies are moving apart from each other. And we know that they’re moving away from each other at increasing speeds.

      Now, according to conventional wisdom (because of something called “dark energy”), “this runaway process will last forever,” explains the Times.

      So, space is forever expanding at faster and faster speeds.

      In the Times column, we learn that “galaxies will eventually be moving apart so quickly that they cannot communicate with one another.” That’s fast. Faster than the speed of light. So fast, that (this is important) the edges of a galaxy “would glow, emitting a feeble spray of elementary particles and radiation, with a temperature of a fraction of a billionth of a degree.”

      Within the seething, glowing edges of galaxies hurtling through space, faster than the speed of light, rare fluctuations “big enough to recreate the Big Bang” would occur. According to the Times, “In the fullness of time this process could lead to [an] endless series of recurring universes. Our present universe could be part of that chain.”

      How could a new universe expand within a universe? For the same reason galaxies can move faster than the speed of light: it is space that is expanding.

      Confused? Here’s an example that should help. Think of space as a piece of saltwater taffy. Now imagine pulling the piece of taffy, and as it stretches, dropping a spot of ink on it. As the taffy expands, so does the ink. That ink is a new universe.

      In our universe,
      there are something like 80 billion galaxies. If our universe sprouted from the edges of one galaxy in another universe, and ours was the first and only universe to do this, then there are at least 160 billion galaxies. But ours was probably not the first and only universe to do this. There are probably a lot of universes sprouting off the edges of a lot of galaxies going back to whenever this whole incredible process started. One expert told the Times, “In eternal inflation, the number of new bubbles being hatched at any given moment is always growing.”

      This brings us to the Boltzmann Brains problem.

      Ludwig Boltzmann was a 19th-centry Austrian physicist who described how the universe could (bear with me here, I’m dumbing this down so it makes sense) restore itself after burning out. Given what we know (and I described earlier), the universe doesn’t regenerate in that way. But Boltzmann started cosmologists thinking about the “probabilities in an infinite universe in which everything that can occur, does occur, infinitely many times,” as described by one scientist.

      Now, if “everything that can occur, does occur,” what are the most likely things to occur? Simple stuff. We know that because of something called “the second law of thermodynamics.” Simply put, the law states that stuff in nature gets more disorganized as time goes by. For example (again, bear with me, this is a very simple example), you can scramble an egg, but it’s not going to naturally unscramble itself into a more highly organized, egg-in-its-shell if you leave it alone.

      So here’s the Boltzmann Brains problem. If nature favors simplicity, and we live in an infinite universe of infinite possibilities, then what’s more likely, that you, the reader, reading this now are “a person with a real past born through billions of years of evolution in an orderly star-spangled cosmos,” or that you’re a very simple, “momentary fluctuation in a field of matter,” or in other words, a brain floating through space imagining an illusory reality.

      According to some calculations, there are an “infinite number of free-floating brains for every normal brain, making it ‘infinitely unlikely for us to be normal brains,’” reports the Times.

      Of course, this is entirely absurd. But you can’t just ignore it. We’re talking about “a string of logical conclusions” here! It just happens that the logic leads us to a very absurd (or very uncomfortable, if not terrifying) place. So what now? Cosmologists are struggling to eliminate the “freaks” (free-floating brains) from theories. Two reasons. One, I think we’d all like to know that reality is, well, real. And two, what are we missing here? If the logic leads us to an absurd place, maybe the logic is flawed. Or maybe there’s a big something-or-another that we’re missing. And that something-or-another could be something very exciting that unlocks a new era of scientific discovery. Time travel? Teleportation? Interstellar space flight? Perhaps something more modest. Faster computers? Zero-emission energy? A cure for cancer? Whatever it is, the smart money is on something nice and simple.

      Wednesday, January 16, 2008

      Why the Broad Coverage of Texas UFO?

      Yesterday morning, news of a Texas UFO sighting was the most read article at CNN when Pound360 was combing the site around 8AM. Run a search at Google News for “Texas UFO” and hundreds of articles come up, from the Washington Post to the Telegraph UK and everything in between.

      Why?

      CNN reports that, according to the “Mutual UFO Network,” 200 UFO sightings are reported each month. So what’s so special about the latest sighting in a small Texas town, population 17,000, called Stephenville?

      Quite frankly, I have no idea. Slow news day, maybe.

      According to town residents, the UFO “was larger, quieter, faster and lower to the ground than an airplane.” And the whatever-it-was had shifting lights, which airplanes don’t have. Some observed “fighter jets chasing it,” reports CNN. One resident, who got a good look at the craft through his rifle scope, described “a very large” craft with no seams, no nuts and no bolts.

      Witnesses include a pilot, county constable and others, according to the CNN report. And others in the region have reported seeing the fast-moving, big, low-flying object, too.

      Officials at local Air Force Bases say none of their aircraft were present at the time of mass-sightings. And of course, one air force official has an explanation he’s “90 percent sure” of. Nah, not swamp gas or light from a meteor reflected off a windshield. Nope. Remember how residents said the craft was too big, fast and low to be an airplane? Well, Air Force Maj. Karl Lewis of the 301st Fighter Wing at Forth says it wasn’t one plane but two planes! “The object may have been an illusion caused by two commercial airplanes,” CNN reports Lewis describing. Oh, and don’t forget the sun. “"With the sun's angle, it can play tricks on you,” Maj. Lewis said.

      Monday, January 14, 2008

      UK Report Challenges Biofuel Mania

      We at Pound360 don’t believe biofuels are a climate change solution. If you’re not a regular at Pound360, here’s one of our ramblings on this.

      That’s not to say biofuels are useless. We think they perform well as part of a multi-faceted approach to energy independence. And a new report from the Royal Society of Britain backs us up. According to the report, EU biofuel policy "will do more for economic development and energy security than combating climate change."

      We’ll add that to the list, economic development. Biofuels will mean more farming, and farming-related jobs as well as industry to convert plants into fuel.

      The Royal Society’s report also points out that biofuel mania could be “disasterous” if it exacerbates
      humankind’s assault on biodiversity and other environmental damage. For example, consider all the fertilizer it will take to grow our fuel and what impact that will have on waterways.

      Already officials are starting to rethink their approach to biofuels. According to the BBC, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told them, “the EU had not foreseen all the issues thrown up by its target of providing 10% of Europe's transport fuel from plants.”

      At least he’s being honest. At least there’s still time to throw the breaks on this. But I wonder if it’s not too late to sway public opinion?

      Dinosaurs Keep Getting Less Like Lizards

      In school they taught us at Pound360 that dinosaurs were basically huge lizards. The name “dinosaur,” in fact, is Greek for “fearsome lizard.” But the more I read on the subject of dinos, the less like lizards and the more like birds they become.

      A while back, we reported on how velociraptor skeletons showed evidence
      the predators were feathered. Also, we learned last year that dinosaurs had air sacks, like modern birds, to help them extract more oxygen from the thin atmosphere of their time. And last summer, they found a giant “chicken-like dinosaur,” despite the theory that dinosaurs became more bird-like only as they got smaller.

      Now,
      new research reported by the BBC suggest dinosaur life cycles were similar to birds. According to a report from the University of California, dinosaurs appeared to reach sexual maturity early in life, like birds today, so they could reproduce before being killed by predators. On average, dinosaurs lived to the age of 30 and reached sexual maturity by age eight.

      Such a short lifespan means dinosaurs grew fast, and according to an expert close to the UC study, “to do this you can't have the metabolism of a crocodile; you need to have the metabolism more of a bird or a mammal."

      Scientists reached their conclusion after examining the bones of juvenile females showing signs of “egg-making” tissue, called “medullary bone,” also found in modern birds. Finding evidence of medullary bone in dinosaur fossils is pretty rare since it’s “only around for three to four weeks in females who are reproductively mature.”

      Sunday, January 13, 2008

      Renegade Black Holes, Monstrous Gas Cloud Threaten

      At the BBC this week we learned of a giant hydrogen gas cloud surging towards our galaxy that, when it officially collides in 20 to 40 million years, “will be just like a bomb going off.” Also from the BBC, we found that “hundreds of rogue black holes” currently “prowl the milky way.”

      Seems like every week, the universe is
      a more violent, menacing place.

      Just how many rogues black holes, the sharks of the cosmic sea, are we talking about? “There should be hundreds of intermediate-sized black holes wandering invisibly through the Milky Way,” said one expert. That’s not a whole lot considering how massive the galaxy is, and the chances of one of those monsters sucking up the solar system is “one in ten quadrillion per year,” but there’s more to the story.

      In addition to destroying the planet, a wandering black hole may disturb cosmic systems in such a way that could make things very interesting in our neighborhood. For example, one of these things could drift through the
      Oort Cloud (our solar system’s outer reaches) and trigger a downpour of comets into the inner solar system.

      Back to that hydrogen gas cloud. It actually has a name, “Smith’s Cloud,” Smith as in American astronomer Gail Smith who discovered the cloud in 1963. When it was discovered, they couldn’t tell if it was coming or going. Now we know it’s coming at 240 kilometers per second, it’s 11,000 by 2,500 light years and contains enough hydrogen to spark “a million stars like the Sun.”

      While we probably won’t see a million suns when the cloud smashes into the Milky Way, we can expect a “tremendous burst” of massive, fast-burning stars that will quickly burn out and go supernova. “It'll look like a celestial New Year's celebration, with huge firecrackers,” said one scientist.

      Cutting Edge of Disease Detection: Odor, Saliva

      Expensive, time-consuming MRIs. Painful blood tests. Frightening, intrusive, sometimes risky biopsies. Could science someday render such tools of disease diagnosis obsolete? I hope so. Imagine the savings in cost, pain and risk. Imagine then how more people would be more willing to confront serious health problems. So where do we stand on new, easier means of diagnosing disease? A couple stories caught my eye recently.

      At Scientific American,
      a new piece looks at how researchers are working on an “electronic nose” to sniff out disease. When you’re sick, malicious bacteria can give off a unique odor. According to one expert, “you can walk into a patient's room and know immediately in some cases that the patient has such and such bacteria just because of the odor." Furthermore, certain diseases can change a body’s chemistry in such a way “that alter the smell of a patient's body.” For example, doctors have known for a while that “diabetes could make a patient's breath smell sweet.”

      If the human nose, as amazing and imperfect as it is, can pick up some diseases, imagine what a fine-tuned odor-analyzing machine could do? For one, it could tell whether or not a patient has cancer. “When you have cancer, metabolism changes and the volatile organic compounds are altered,” said one expert. By analyzing a patient’s breath, “the changes are detectable by an electronic nose."

      Speaking of cancer,
      I heard on Science Friday that scientists are working on a saliva test for cancer. “The proposed test would key in on hypermethylated genes, chemically modified pieces of DNA that can be found in the presence of some cancers of the head and neck.”

      Saturday, January 12, 2008

      Manned Space Exploration a Waste? Discussion Sparks Controversey.

      A controversial new post at the NY Times’ Freakonomics blog looks at whether or not manned space exploration is worth the cost. To come up with an answer, blogger Stephen J. Dubner reached out to five experts. Unfortunately, all five experts were either NASA employees, former NASA employees, the host of a space radio show or the space policy advocate. No, the analysis wasn’t very well balanced. And yes, the answer was yes, manned space exploration is worth the cost.

      The interviewed cited a number of interesting points, although none of them were very well substantiated. For example, one expert pointed out that, for every dollar spent on space exploration, eight dollars of “economic benefit” is returned. Sounds good to me. But the expert didn’t say where this multiplier came from.

      Other justification for manned space flight included the establishment of a “lifeboat” on another planet, say Mars, where mankind could flee in the case of a global catastrophe; inspiring a new generation of scientists (“There is now a national urgency to direct the creative interests of our youth towards careers in science and engineering,” said one expert; and where would we be without the technologies and solutions brought to us by previous manned space programs (the experts cited personal computers, cell phones and a whole range of medical advances like digital mammography)/

      Oh, and space exploration brings jobs. And yes, we’re talking about more than crews for spaceships. We’re talking high-tech, hi-paying jobs related to and supporting the space program. Real jobs, right here on Earth. “You have to spend all of NASA’s money ‘on Earth,’” said one expert. “There is no way to spend it in space — at least, not yet.”

      Again, the discussion lacked solid references, clear facts, and of course, a more critical, dissenting perspective. And this wasn’t lost on readers of the posting. Many of the latest comments (upon posting of this Pound360 entry) were critical.

      Quipped one reader: “Gosh, everyone agrees! Glad we straightened this issue out… you couldn’t find even one person to offer serious arguments against expanding manned space exploration?!

      Another: “Shocking that a panel of space enthusiasts would agree that spending money on it is good! Unfortunately, none of them provide a sound argument as to why our government should be using tax money to fund it.”

      We at Pound360 can appreciate where the critics are coming from, and would have liked to have seen a more balanced posting. But we’ll tell you this. To think that, somewhere on Earth, right now, the first person to walk on Mars is probably just starting preschool (the
      average age of an astronaut is 34, and we’re aiming to land man on Mars in the mid-2030s) gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. But to think it’s an American. Well, that makes us feel down right thrilled.

      Wednesday, January 09, 2008

      Disgraceful: Health Care Spending Up, Quality Down

      The United States ranks last in preventable deaths among 19 other industrialized nations. This according to a report at ScienceDaily. I think that means we shouldn’t be classified as an industrial nation anymore.

      Previously we were ranked 15 above countries like Portugal and Ireland. Not any more.

      Despite this miserable placement, American health care spending doubled to its highest level, greater than $2 trillion, in 2006,
      reports the NY Times. If you spend more, doesn’t that mean things should get better?

      On the positive side, growth in health spending slowed to 5.7 percent (about double the rate of inflation). According to the NY Times report, “factors that drove up drug spending included the use of existing drugs for new purposes and the increased use of high-cost biotechnology products.”

      Another positive note, deaths from preventable causes has fallen 4 percent in recent years. However, for other countries, the rate fell 16 percent, according to ScienceDaily.

      Specific to health care, the U.S. is also in last place when it comes to “mortality amenable to health care.” Each year, about 109 out of 100,000 die in this country because of inadequate health care.

      Move to Canada…

      Last year,
      Pound360 blogged on how Canada has better health care than America despite the fact that they spend half as much per capita ($7,100 for Yanks versus $2,900 for Canadians).

      Oddly enough, when
      NPR reported on the health care spending record, they barely mentioned how miserable our health care had become. And they waited until the very end to say it. Why?

      Man Survives 47-Story Fall, So Can You (Maybe). Here’s How…

      When 37-year-old window washer Alcides Moreno survived a 47-story fall, many wondered how such a thing is possible. But one person set out to investigate why, Slate Explainer Melinda Wenner.

      According to
      the Explainer column, surviving a super-fall means you must protect your head and pelvis from injury. That’s pretty much it. So how do you do that? According to Slate, “it's possible to right yourself to land feet first using the types of body motions used by athletes or acrobats to perform midair somersaults.” Possible, sure. But not likely. I think it’s mostly blind, dumb luck.

      Resulting from the fall, Moreno broke 10 bones, including some ribs, an arm and all the legs. Despite that,
      the NY Daily News reports Moreno is expected to walk again.

      No word on whether or not Moreno will wash windows again. In the short-run, his family plans to do what everyone who falls off a building does: sue the building owner, building manager and of course the company that installed the scaffolding he was on.

      Tuesday, January 08, 2008

      Approval of New Drugs Plummets. Guess Why.

      Last year, just 19 new drugs were approved by the FDA. That’s three less than the number approved in 2006 and the lowest number in 24 years (in 1983, only 13 new drugs were approved), reports Bloomberg.

      What happened to the U.S. as a leader of innovation?

      Drug companies blame the FDA for raising approval standards. The FDA of course denies the claim.

      One industry watcher, Kenneth I. Kaitin, director of the Tufts University Center for the Study of Drug Development in Boston, suggests drug companies are focusing on finding new uses for the drugs they already have instead of innovating. The problem with that, according to Kaitin: “If you're putting money into extending the lifecycle of a drug on the market, you're taking money away from a drug development program.''

      But is coming up with new uses for drugs the only culprit here? According to a recent York University Study, ad spending is also killing innovation. “A new study by two York University researchers estimates the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development,” reports ScienceDaily.

      In 2004, the last year for which data is available, drug companies spent $57.5 million on advertising. That’s $61 thousand for each physician.

      “The study’s findings supports the position that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is marketing-driven and challenges the perception of a research-driven, life-saving, pharmaceutical industry.”

      Oh well. These companies do have shareholders (which are a pathetically impatient bunch). So job one for them is immediately boosting earnings per share. If drug makers happen to get some research done and squeeze out a life-saver in the process, great. Look, we’re not saying that’s a perfect (or even a healthy) system, it’s just the system we have.

      Latest ‘Probable’ Carcinogen: The Night Shift

      A branch of the World Health Organization is set to add the night shift to a list of “probable” carcinogens, reports AOL News. As it turns out, people working the evening shift have a higher risk for breast, prostate and colon cancer.

      One possible issue is melatonin production. Melatonin, a multi-purpose hormone created by the pineal gland in the brain, supports the immune system, cancer-suppressing genes, and acts as an antioxidant. When you sleep during the day, production of melatonin is disrupted.

      Disrupted sleep patterns may also be an issue. According to one expert, “Altered sleep patterns and sleep deprivation weaken the immune system… and upset natural rhythms the body uses to maintain healthy cells.”

      One thing night-shifters can do is take melatonin supplements, suggests the article. But what about vitamin D? Could lack of sunlight caused by sleeping during the day lower vitamin D production, thus increasing your risk for cancer? If you have no idea what I’m talking about,
      check out some of Pound 360’s regular ramblings about D.

      Speaking of vitamin D, the NBC Nightly News ran
      a feature on the wonder vitamin last night. No new info for regular readers of Pound360, but if you’re not familiar, it’s worth checking out.

      Reusing Plastics May be Harmful to Your Health

      For those of you trying to do your part in saving the environment by reusing water bottles, there’s mixed news today from the NY Times. In the piece, we find wear on the most common type of reused bottles (such as those used for water, sports drinks or soda) can lead to the release of at least one “trace metal” called antimony. The piece doesn’t say whether or not antimony is poisonous.

      But it does note that, since beverage companies are tight-lipped about what they make their bottles out of, it’s anyone’s guess what else is slowly leaching into the contents of reused bottles.

      Other, firmer plastic bottles (such as those used for baby bottles) may be releasing bisphenol A, “an endocrine-disrupting chemical,” reports the Times. Again, the question is whether or not this stuff is poisonous, and expert opinions are mixed.

      One expert tip: To be safe, “do not heat anything in any type of plastic in the microwave.”

      Perhaps the biggest danger in reusing plastic bottles has nothing to do with trace metals, but bacteria. “Because the bottles -- with their small openings -- are harder to wash out than the wide-mouth hiking and sports bottles, they can house bacteria.”

      Saturday, January 05, 2008

      Another Exoplanet Defies Convention

      A team of German scientists observing a star in the constellation Hydra found the youngest planet yet discovered, reports the London Times. The planet, TW Hydra b, is believed to have formed shortly after the star it circles, TW Hydra (180 million light years from Earth), started shining about 10 million years ago.

      So far, the youngster is very active, but hasn’t strayed far from mom. Hydra b is orbiting just 3.7 million miles from its star (Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun), and covers its orbit in just 3.56 days.

      While Hydra b surges through empty space near the star, a field of dust and gas stretches further out. The planet, which is 10-times the size of Jupiter seems to have cleared the space closest to the star.

      As the TW Hydra system was forming 10 million years ago, chimpanzees were just splitting off from gorillas here on Earth, reports the Times. Dinosaurs had been extinct for 50 million years by then.

      Previously, the youngest planet discovered was 100 million years old. Earth is believed to be 4.5 billion years old.

      Thursday, January 03, 2008

      The Science of Stain Removal

      Well, it’s “almost” a science reports CNN, where you’ll find a handy guide for removing stains from clothing. In general, grease stains require oil solvents (like store-bought products such as K2r or Carbona) and protein stains (from stuff like blood or grass) require enzyme treatments (such as Era Plus or Wisk).

      Some stains require bizarre rituals instead of over-the-counter wonder chemicals. For example, to remove coffee or tea stains, they recommend stretching the stained fabric over a bowl and pouring boiling water “from a height of about one foot.” Yes, one foot. Apparently, “gravity helps.”

      For ballpoint ink stains, try a first attack with glycerin, then follow up with Woolite.

      The removal method also depends on whether or not the material is “washable” (as opposed to dry-clean-only, I suppose). For example, if you’ve got a washable shirt stained with red wine, cover it with salt then stretch the stained area over a bowl and do the whole pouring-water-from-a-height-of-one-foot thing. (But be careful of the splashing, which will probably burn pretty bad.) If the garment isn’t washable, you’ll have to use an oil solvent to the stain, let it dry, “remove residue,” and then use diluted vinegar to erase the stain.

      Do they have college courses in this?

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      About Me

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      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.