Stuff from the Science Blogosphere

Stuff from the Science Blogosphere

Good afternoon my loyal readers. The web crawl in the scientific blogosphere is about to begin! Fasten your seatbelts!

This instalment includes the not-so-far-fetched possibility of restoring a real-life Mammoth; research reporting on the dangers of vitamin overdose; mishandling of probabilities on the evolution of life “debate”; and putting the blame for an unfortunate student suicide on Richard Dawkins

  • Genome Hacking Could Reverse-Engineer Extinct Woolly Mammoth: Wired reports on how an international team of scientists has used 20000-year-old specimens’ hair to reconstruct the DNA of Mammuthus primigenius (our common Mammoths). The hair was preserved in the Siberian tundra and provides a window into the 4-billion-base-pair strong mammoth genome and its differences to the modern elephant.

    Of course the research paper, published in Nature, does not deal at all with the possibility of restoring the Mammoth -a feat that many Jurassic Park fans might find appealing :-)

    Nevertheless, Stephan Schuster, from Pennsylvania State University, has already found some uses for a genetically engineered mammoth-elephant hybrid:

    A modern mammoth could easily be introduced in their ancestral Siberian homes, said Schuster. They would face less competition from humans than elephants in Africa, and be a star attraction of the newly-opened Pleistocene Park.


    I would file it under the category of boutique science. The public is very curious. But you’d just generate a few specimens, a freak creature that you could put on display

    Thankfully, he quickly puts things in perspective again:

    from a scientific perspective, I think we would learn very little from doing this. A lot of what you want to learn about body plan and tissues we can get just by studying the carcasses

  • Vitamin C or E Pills Do Not Prevent Cancer: LiveScience (among many other science sites and blogs) reports on yet another study that shows Vitamin C and Vitamin E do not help in cancer-prevention.

    “Antioxidants, which include vitamin C and vitamin E, have been shown as a group to have potential benefit,” but have not been tested individually for a long enough time to know, said Howard Sesso of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

    Vitamins have long been the cause of confusion, and as such the playground for nutritionists and woo meisters: Linus Pauling (teaming up with Ewan Cameron) famously proposed in the 70’s that Vitamin C in very high concentrations can either cure or help cancer patients survive much longer. However, both their research and motives have been shown to be fatally flawed many times. The myth still persists in the New Age and CAM circles though…

    If anything, Vitamin C has been recently shown to have pro-oxidant effects and increase the risk of developing cancer in in-vivo studies (as opposed to in-vitro studies that had earlier showed possible anti-oxidant effects). And for the finishing touch: Vitamin C has also been shown to prevent anti-cancer drugs from functioning properly (“Vitamin C Antagonizes the Cytotoxic Effects of Antineoplastic Drugs”).

    Hell! What are we supposed to make out of all this? My opinion is: screw the vitamin supplements -if your diet is normal and you don’t have any relevant condition they are absolutely unnecessary.

  • Probability, Statistics, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: Peter Olofsson (at Talk Reason) blows to pieces the common mathematically-based argument of Intelligent Design proponents (IDiots) that modern species are too improbable to have arisen by chance alone. Of course this argument is based on severely flawed understanding of probabilities and statistics, combined with the common IDiotic technique called “making stuff up“.

    Olofsson, being a mathematician and an expert in probability and statistics, heavily criticizes the ridiculousness of Dembski‘s and Behe‘s “arguments”, their mishandling of statistical theories, and the fallacious reasoning behind many of their example cases.

  • Worldnutdaily Blames Dawkins for Suicide: Ed Brayton (Dispatches form the Culture Wars) discusses a recent report by WorldNutDaily, where religious nuts put the blame for a suicide on Richard Dawkins (for writing the “God Delusion”!) and on a biology professor (for suggesting the book to the unlucky student!). As Ed correctly observes:

    Because obviously, having been raised for 22 years in a Christian household had no effect at all on him psychologically, but reading a single book pushed him over the edge.

    What I see in this sad story is that a potentially bright student has terminated his life unnecessary for a God that was not there… I say “bright” because he had enough intellect to briefly rise above his dogmatic upbringing and figure out that his God is, in fact, non existent.

    If anyone is to blame for this death, it’s the ones that raised him so dogmatically that the poor guy found his world completely shattered after a single critical examination of some simple arguments (as presented in Dawkin’s book).

    This is the contrast of religious dogmatic upbringing, and scientific education. The former renders the youth immune to logic, reason, and evidence. The latter tries to sets them free again. In this case, the unfortunate student could not bear watch his long-held worldview falling apart…

OK, that’s it. You’re on your own now -go and read the original articles and I am happy to discuss any of those.