Those troublesome, shaky X chromosomes!

It’s easy to find lists of dumb things creationists say, and I’m familiar with that lot, but here’s a fun new time-waster: Things Anti-Vaxxers Say. Here’s a beautiful example of something I’ve rarely seen so clearly stated: they get the facts totally wrong, actually the reverse of the actual situation, but nope, that doesn’t stop them from inventing a bogus rationalization around them.

You can do your own research but it comes down to chromosomes -- the X chromosome is shaky, and boys have two of them. So they are quite literally twice as likely as girls to be adversely affected by genetic and environmental factors that can lead to the development of autism -- they are at twice the risk, purely because of their gender alone.

You can do your own research but it comes down to chromosomes — the X chromosome is shaky, and boys have two of them. So they are quite literally twice as likely as girls to be adversely affected by genetic and environmental factors that can lead to the development of autism — they are at twice the risk, purely because of their gender alone.

Uh-oh. I have 22 other chromosomes besides my sex chromosomes (I’ve actually seen them!), and…they’re all in pairs. I’m doomed.

But wait! I only have one X chromosome! I’m saved by the reduction in its pernicious influence!

This is not how you do science

cyborg_chart2

There is a myth about how science progresses: great men have a eureka moment, and rush in to the lab to do the definitive experiment, often bravely and with the opposition of the Science Establishment, and single-handedly revolutionize a discipline. It’s nonsense. I can’t think of a single example of that kind of work that has gotten anywhere — the closest might be Isaac Newton, who developed some great ideas working privately at his home in Woolsthorpe, but even he was tightly connected to a community of fellow scientists. Science is very much a communal and communicative endeavor, and is built “on the shoulders of giants.”

So I do not approve of the work of Phil Kennedy, which looks like a lot of hare-brained Frankensteinian self-indulgence. Kennedy could not get approval for his experiments in implanting electrodes in human brains — I wonder why? — so he charged off to the Caribbean and had bits of wire and glass stuck deep into his own brain. It did not go well.

The brain surgery lasted 11 and a half hours, beginning on the afternoon of June 21, 2014, and stretching into the Caribbean predawn of the next day. In the afternoon, after the anesthesia had worn off, the neurosurgeon came in, removed his wire-frame glasses, and held them up for his bandaged patient to examine. “What are these called?” he asked.

Phil Kennedy stared at the glasses for a moment. Then his gaze drifted up to the ceiling and over to the television. “Uh … uh … ai … aiee,” he stammered after a while, “… aiee … aiee … aiee.”

Don’t worry, he got better — his deficits were caused by post-operative swelling of his brain, and that eventually diminished, and he started recording data off his electrode.

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How can you protect a brain by destroying it?

frozenbrains

Last week, Simon Davis wrote to me with questions about this cryonic brain preservation technique, which has now been published as How to Freeze Your Brain and Live Forever (Maybe). Unfortunately, my comments did not make it into the story, because, Simon politely explained, there are length restrictions and perhaps, I assume, also because my extended dismissive scorn does not translate well to polite journalism. And that’s OK! Because I have a blog, and I can rant here!

The Brain Preservation Society has a goal: to preserve dead brains today, so they can be reanimated at some distant time in the future. At least, that’s what they say — I’m more inclined to believe their goal is to pocket lots of money exploiting people’s fear of death. Their immediate plan, though, is to develop more thorough mechanisms of locking down the fine structure of brains.

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Stop pooping! You’re killing sentient beings!

bacteria

In a recent quack conference, Deepak Chopra did his usual thing: taking new science that he understands poorly and stuffing it full of magic bogosity.

According to Chopra, that pesky inflamed microbiome is sentient. The genome, microbiome and epigenome, which the author collectively calls the “super gene,” are referenced throughout the interview. His book, Super Genes: The Key to Health and Well-Being, was published last year.

Oh, no! Every time I use the bathroom, I am slaughtering billions of sentient beings? I’m going to have to stop pooping.

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Why do zebras have stripes?

zebrastripes

An article asks why biology students have misconceptions about science, and it clears up one misconception while implying another. Cool!

Here’s their example of a common error of thinking:

Zebras developed stripes to avoid predators.

That error is incredibly common: it’s the problem of thinking teleologically. Stripes didn’t evolve for a specific goal. The interesting point in the article is that biology students are just as likely to have these misconceptions as non-biology students, but that they are better at arguing for the teleological fallacy, which suggests that biology education is reinforcing the misconceptions. Uh-oh.

But I have to point out that the educators discussing this problem went on to reinforce another misconception, that the stripes are adaptive.

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