Placebos Considered Harmful

It makes total sense that placebos could have people get phantom side-effects as well as phantom improvements, but it had never occured to me before I read this article, When Placebos Do Harm. The thing I find most interesting is the possibility that extensive discussion of the side-effects of drugs could cause people to experience them even if there is no chemical causation for that individual. The article also has some interesting things to say about how this effect can influence medical studies – if a subject attributes a random headache to a placebo, they may then believe they have … Continue reading Placebos Considered Harmful

Kids aren’t just small adults

An interesting article from last week, sure to give you warm fuzzies about drug companies: Antidepressant Makers Withhold Data on Children. Says the article, The companies say the studies are trade secrets. Researchers familiar with the unpublished data said the majority of secret trials show that children taking the medicines did not get any better than children taking dummy pills. … “Conflicts of interest and the company control of the data have thrown out the scientific method,” said Vera Hassner Sharav, a critic of the drugs and a patients’ rights advocate. “If hundreds of trials don’t work out, they don’t … Continue reading Kids aren’t just small adults

Unmanned NASA Successes

Whooo! Whooo! Rover rolls onto Mars! I’ve been watching the daily updates from NASA and JPL, and it’s unbelievable how well this mission is going. Right now I’m listening to NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe talk about their proposed new direction to various NASA personnel, and he’s clearly working hard to sell the advantages of having a unified direction. He talked a lot about debating over the best way to achieve a specific goal rather than continuing to debate over what goal to try to achieve. It’s also the first place I’ve heard a good account of how the decision to … Continue reading Unmanned NASA Successes

Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans

Always amusing, the 2003 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded yesterday. Physics, as always, has one of the best winners, with the prize going to a number of Australian researchers for their paper An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces, though the interdisciplinary report on Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans would some in a close second. If you haven’t been before, take time to browse the rest of the Annals of Improbable Research website – there’s really funny stuff tucked away in there.

Close Mars

I had vaguely heard that Mars was closer to Earth than it had been for millenia, but I hadn’t really paid much attention to that fact before I was outside a couple of weeks ago and was positively freaked out by the red object in the sky near the moon. I’ve never before been able to notice the red color that people claim they can see in Mars (it’s always looked white to me…) so it was the first time I’d ever noticed a star or planet actually having a color, and I found it eerie. Since then, I’ve been … Continue reading Close Mars


In one of the cooler PR campaigns I’ve seen, NASA has built a website posting the e-mail conversations between two LEGO “astrobots” about the Red Rover Mars mission that just launched. While the actual physical astrobots (Biff Starling and Sandy Moondust) can’t be launched because they would melt, Biff’s likeness has been put on a metal magnetic disk bolted to the exterior of the spacecraft. They’ve done a nice job forming at least rudamentary personalities, with Biff being an adventurous but fairly unknowledgeable late addition to the team, and Sandy being a dedicated space explorer who will be going on … Continue reading LEGOnauts

Cannibalism Gene

Because the news just hasn’t been disturbing enough in the past month, the New York Times lets us know Gene Study Finds Cannibal Pattern in humans. If you read the article, it seems that the study actually finds that people have genes which protect them from diseases spread through cannibalism, and the end of the article concedes that this could be explained by eating habits other than cannibalism in pre-historic humans. But it’s always good to get that Friday-morning skin-crawl in….

Science in Space

For those who are claiming NASA accomplishes nothing of value besides being a sort of “extreme-science” for thrillseeking nerds, I suggest you visit Space Research at NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research (a huge list of technical articles about research out of NASA with nice summaries) or NASA’s Earth Science page. I commented in a private forum earlier today that even beyond these results, I have no problem if we haven’t seen the fruit of all of this research yet. Arguments against funding pure research when people are suffering are as old as government, as are the arguments for. … Continue reading Science in Space

Columbia Coverage

So far, the best on-line coverage I’ve found of the Columbia tragedy is at Spaceflight Now. They are updating continually on their Mission Status Center page, and you can read back through their coverage of the entire mission and the reaserch being done. [via Eatonweb]

Keep your mind on the road

Researchers in psychology report that hands-free cellphones are no safer for drivers, thus suggesting that the New York law prohibiting use of cellphones without a hands-free device jumped the gun. They actually demonstrate that talking on the phone (of any kind) impares driving more than listening to audio books or talking to a passenger. Even if you think you can talk on the phone and pay perfect attention, you can’t. I wonder why that is… Is it a physiological problem of the adio quality of a phone conversation, or something about the context-shift between you and your conversationalist?