Showing posts from July, 2007

Get Your Story Straight

A delicious moment of reality. Consultant, reporter, author and former NASA employee Jame Oberg nails British TV news on their snide claim that astronauts flew aboard the Shuttle drunk. They didn't. The issue involved a Suyuz launch and a T-38 flight, not the Shuttle, as reported. But worse, Jim points out, the press missed the bigger story - astronauts apparently are not subject to the same medical screening as civil servants at NASA nor, for that matter, private pilots.

Twins are okay, why not clones?

Bioethicist Hugh McLachlan argues the reason we're so against the idea of cloning humans--cloning is a criminal offense in many countries--has to do only with irrational fears of risks we readily accept in other areas of reproduction. One argument is that it is morally wrong to replicate people. But environmental factors will ensure the resulting individual is not an identical copy, either psychologically or physically. Besides, McLachlan points out, we accept genetically identical people in the form of twins. If anything, clones would be less alike than twins because they would be different ages and be brought up in different contexts. Another concern is safety, but in other areas of reproduction (and life in general) safety alone isn't sufficient grounds to make something illegal. There may be an increased risk of miscarriage or deformity, but for people born as a result of cloning, it is their only chance of life. Cloning is therefore not a risk but an opportunity. If you co

An Unconcious Violinist

Here's a thought provoking analogy written by Judith Jarvis Thomson from Philosophy & Public Affairs , Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971). "You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will ha

Tibimet Cogitate (Think For Yourself)

Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe ... till we come to a hard bottom ... which we call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake ... below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or state, or set a lamp-post safely . -- Thoreau, in Walden : I understand that 50% of the people in the world are dumber than the other half, by definition. But I'm suspicious it's actually more than that. Still, there's nothing wrong with being dumb or naive or uneducated. If you're honest. If you're honest, you start with, "I don't know." And you can stop there. It's okay not to know. And you don't have to make stuff up if you don't. We used to do that to explain things like thunder and death, and it didn't work too well. Lightning still killed people even though we pray

Inside Information

Ever wonder how things work inside. Well, okay, I suppose you need to go get an advanced degree in physiology or medicine if you really want to understand how they work. But if you've ever just wondered what things really look like in there, take a look at this CT scan image. If you have to get a CT scan or MRI yourself, ask for a copy of the scans on CD. They should be willing to provide it without cost (or hastle). Now pop the CD into your Mac running OS 10.4 and go get a free open source copy of OSIRIX . Instead of a little image like the one here, you'll see it full screen, with all kinds of cool tools to change the density, color, angles, etc. Ta-dah, all you'd ever want to see of your own insides--and then some.

They'll Eat You Alive

Female mosquitoes, the only kind that will infect you, have to at eat least every 3 days. When they do, they ingest the human equivalent of a bathtub full of blood (2.5x body weight). In the process they accidentally inject parasites along with anti-coagulant spit. All manner of animals, not just humans, get malaria from rats and bats to chimps and humans. In other words, malaria parasites aren't very particular where they live, so you'll find them almost everywhere. A typical mosquito carries 100,000 malaria parasites in its glands. 50,000 of the parasites could live in a space the size of the period at the end of this sentence, but it only takes one to kill you. Researchers suspect that the deaths of half the people that have ever lived were caused by malaria. Washington, Jefferson, and Ulysses S Grant suffered from it. 1,000,000 soldiers died from it during the Civil War from it. During WW2, more Americans died in the Pacific from it than from combat. Even now, 3000 kids die