by Jessica Reynolds

These are exciting and troubling times for scientists, but it can be difficult for the layman to stay up to speed.  By himself or herself, a regular person may not have the time or resources to keep track of important developments and breakthroughs, not to mention be aware of debates both between the scientific community and other interests (i.e. political, religious) and within the scientific community itself.  This is precisely why, now more than ever, we need journalists who are willing and able to keep abreast of events in the scientific world and communicate them to the public.

An Uneasy Union

Quentin Cooper, the host of BBC Radio 4’s program Material World, made an observation on the tension between scientific and reportorial practices: “Science values detail, precision, the impersonal, the technical, the lasting, fact, numbers and being right.  Journalism values brevity, approximation, the personal, the colloquial, the immediate, stories, words and being right now” (Robbins).  While I might argue that good journalists value detail and precision just as much as scientists do, I agree overall with Cooper’s assessment.

While scientific studies can go on for months, years or even decades, journalists typically work with tight deadlines.  They need to produce content that might appear in their publications within months, weeks or days.  However, while the priorities of scientists and journalists may potentially come into conflict, reporters with a knowledge of (or, at the very least, an interest in) scientific topics are nonetheless a necessary go-between for researchers and those whom their research may effect.

An Independent Voice

In a post on the Independent’s website, Sallie Robbins observes that scientific journalists serve as a crucial third party to which people can turn for information.  “Science journalism at its best celebrates science and calls it into account.  Scientists speaking direct to the public can really only do the former, and quite clearly we need both” (Robbins).  This speaks directly to the value and responsibility of journalists in general: they are supposed to present people with accurate, unbiased reportage (i.e. to present information from which they don’t stand to directly benefit).

Challenges

Unfortunately, not every journalist who writes about scientific issues fulfills this duty.  In a another post in the Guardian’s “Bad Science” blog, science writer Ben Goldacre describes a story that appeared on the Today program and in the British tabloid the Daily Mail about how putting toddlers in daycare could negatively impact their growth and development.  This basis for this story was a scientific paper published in The Biologist that “misrepresents individual studies” and “cherry-picks the scientific literature, selectively referencing only the studies that support [the author’s] view” (Goldacre).  “Nobody reading The Biologist, or its press release, could possibly have known that the evidence presented was deliberately incomplete,” Goldacre writes.

The point that I want to make with this is that the people at Today and the Daily Mail should have known this.  They should have gone beyond the paper in The Biologist and looked into those individual studies.  Sadly, they didn’t do this.  Sadder still, given the deadlines that such programs and publications work under (as well as their dwindling resources), I don’t know if they could.

A Ray of Hope?

However, this doesn’t mean that no one does produces scientific journalism anymore.  In a 2009 article on nature.com, Geoff Brumfiel describes the work that people at Princeton and Yale are putting into developing websites “aimed at generating scientifically accurate news coverage” (Brumfiel).  As of 2012, Princeton’s Climate Central, a website and Yale’s Environment 360 website are going strong, presenting reportage and opinions from writers across the world.  These two sites can’t do everything by themselves, of course, but it’s heartening to see that people are still working to fill the public’s need for quality science news.

Jessica ReynoldsJessica Reynolds writes and blogs on a variety of topics involving science, business and technology.  She currently writes for scientific poster printer postersession.com, a division of MegaPrint.

Brain neurons and diet influence onset of obesity and diabetes in mice.

via Brain neurons and diet influence onset of obesity and diabetes in mice.

Quick Survey

Dear Friends,

As a favor to me, I ask that you take about 5 minutes to complete this
survey. It is for a fellow scientist friend of mine and it would mean a lot to me if you did. The link is below.

http://surveys.questionpro.com/a/TakeSurvey?id=3019419&rd=108887541

 

Thanks,

 

Link  —  Posted: April 25, 2012 in Home, Research Corner
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Eating food today for some has become a bitter reminder of greedy big corporations, health problems, as well as controversies that are taking place with farmers and the pressure that is placed on them to mass produce.  It is true that food produced in the last 60-70 years is full of pesticides, grown from genetic modifications of organisms, and perhaps negatively impacting millions of people’s health.

What many are forgetting is that the rise of such practices came due to the many shortages of food. This was a major reason for why the Green Revolution started.  Hunger and famine resulted in scientists, corporations, and farmers to come together to come up with technologies that can yield mass amounts of food that is cheaper and that can sustain through weather conditions, threats of other animals, as well as weak genetics.

A perfect example of this would be chicken.  Chickens have been genetically changed so that their bodies would produce more breast meat, which is the more popular white meat that many like to consume.  They are also raised to mature in a shorter amount of time so they can be slaughtered and sent off to the factories.  It isn’t too far-fetched to believe that changing an organism from its natural state to something that does not exist in nature can be bad for someone’s health.

The use of pesticides is regulated, and even though they are used to protect crops from being damaged, it is easy to see how consuming foods that contain pesticides for years and years will have some sort of negative effect on the body. Even in such small increments, our bodies are not made to ingest such chemicals.

Unfortunately, there is no real answer to such a problem. GMO foods and pesticides do allow for farmers to produce more food, hence, feed the world at an affordable rate, all while companies make a huge profit.  The issue therein lies between quantity and quality.  The world is so deep in these type of food production practices that trying to do the right thing by creating quality food seems almost impossible, and not to mention that big corporations simply will not allow it.

The only real compromise at this point that is feasible is for companies to be as transparent about the products they sell.  This applies to the companies that produce crops, meats, dairy, as well as restaurants and food chains.  Perhaps a symbol that can go on all nutrition labels which tells consumers if the product is a GMO or even the level of pesticide that it contains. Restaurants should also post information for their customers about where they are getting their food supply from.

At this point, it’s all about giving people choices to what they are free to choose from. It took a long time for many fast food restaurants to finally be honest about the caloric content on menus, but at least now, people are able to make wiser decisions about their health if they need to.  Organic and locally grown products may be expensive, but supermarkets that sell organic are also selling their own brand of organic foods that are an economically friendly solution for those who want to make the switch.

At the end of the day, everyone has to be aware of what they are putting into their body, but the key is to first educate oneself on what is out there.  Many websites are dedicated into educating those who want to learn, and certain markets like Whole Foods,  Trader Joe’s, and specialty stores are educating their employees with in-depth information so they can well inform the customers if they request it.

 

More and more  students around the world are fleeing to schools who offer degrees in the areas of forensics.  Most of this excitement is attributed from popular shows like Criminal Minds & CSI. These shows do a fantastic job of making forensic sciences to be more appealing.  Unfortunately, the real word is not as glamorous as the actors portray some of these roles to be.

For one thing, the way in which the characters are portrayed seem to imply that careers in forensics pay a lot of money.  Those who are in the business know that this is not true, and for the professionals that do make a good living are doing so because they have achieved success in school as well as having many years of experience.

While it is understood that most of these shows have about an hour to start and finish a case, viewers are made to think that crimes are solved in a short amount of time.  Getting an analysis on evidence or researching for information related to a particular crime, say a murder, takes a lot of time.  Yes technology is quite advanced nowadays, but to keep up with all the cases that come to police authorities takes time for investigation, resources, and also depends on how important the case is.  Many government agencies, both local and federal will tell you that most crimes are not even reported.

Lastly, one of the most highlighted features of the shows are the crafty and ingeniously evil criminals that detectives and medical examiners are trying to catch.  Repetitive is the use of the infamous “serial killer” character.  Serial killers are real, but they are quite rare. Some are highly intelligent, but many are not, but of course, these shows will have the audience thinking otherwise.

It’s not to say that every aspect of these shows are unreal.  Producers of such shows actually get their inspiration from real life case files.  This also includes scientific and law jargon that is used outside of TV land.  Down to some of the science practices and technologies like finger printing techniques and analysis methods are demonstrated pretty accurately.

Producers are just doing their job of captivating viewers with the fast paced and exciting life of a forensic professional. However, if you’re really interested in these types of jobs, check out a school’s curriculum and see what it really means to be a detective or a forensic psychologist. You may be surprised to know the reality and versatility of many of the professions.

Healthy? What’s that?

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Health
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Image

 

We live in a world today where nobody can seem to get away from magazines and TV where the term healthy is tossed around endlessly. When doctor X says to eat organic and exercise 5 times a day, while doctor Z says to limit carb intake, it’s hard to know what it really means to be healthy.

While there are many definitions of what healthy is, both professionals in the health industry and the everyday person would probably agree that having good health is a combination of things. Just because a person can sprint 5 miles or their BMI is a perfect number doesn’t automatically make a person healthy.

Since our body is like an orchestra that has different instruments to create all types of sounds for a piece of music, our bodies work in the same way.  Mental health is just as important as physical health, and many including myself, would argue that our emotional well-being directly impacts our physical condition.

It is important to note that the term healthy is a relative and a personal thing that we each identity with.  While many functions in our body are the same, there are differences in how the body and mind responds to different things. One person may respond to a certain medication positively, while there may be no effect on someone else’s body.  While it’s true that certain foods, lifestyles, medicines, or activities are healthier, health itself should be tailor-made to fit each individual person.  In understanding a little science, our individual body, as well as our mind, anybody can understand what is healthy for them.

Next time you hear of a new fad or even scientists telling you what you need to do to be healthy, take a step back, do a little research on your health, and figure it out for yourself.

By Ernest Dempsey

Dr. Uner Tan

In 2006, the world of science was stunned by the discovery of a Turkish physiologist Dr. Uner Tan who found that a few families in
Turkey consisted of members who could only move on all fours. After scientific examination and studying them, Dr. Tan concluded that these apparently disabled individuals were examples of “Reverse Evolution in Humans”, i.e. the ancestral trait of quadrupedal motion had genetically reappeared in them. This groundbreaking discovery is now termed as “Uner Tan Syndrome” and has culminated the research going on for years on the possibility of reverse evolution in nature. More recently, it has discovered that a single mutation can cause this condition in a family that otherwise would appear and function normally. Having interviewed Dr. Tan before for The Audience Review, I had another brief e-conversation with Dr. Tan the other day about his research.

Ernest: Dr. Tan, thanks for joining me at World New! First, please tell us what were your views about reverse evolution prior to studying the Turkish families affected with the Uner Tan Syndrome?

Dr. Tan: Actually, I was not aware of reverse evolution when I discovered the individuals walking on all four extremities in 2005. Before that, I had only been reading and thinking about the theory of evolution as an enthusiastic scientist. The idea of reverse evolution was just a flash, an ‘aha’ experience, without conscious thought, that came to me as I first saw them. My mind was in a chaotic state of high level excitation when I suddenly realized they were exhibiting the walking style of our ape-like ancestors. I called it “backward evolution” when I used the conscious verbal expression. Thus, the subconscious processes apparently ended in the emergence of a novel hypothesis.

After neuropsychological and radiological examinations, I prepared two articles about these cases, and named the syndrome “Uner Tan syndrome” following the suggestion of my English colleagues. As these articles were published, Jack Lucentini, the editor of World Science, reported the novel syndrome and backward evolution, which was found to be plausible and testable by a US biologist, and some paleontologists, despite some controversy. Nevertheless, this step opened a new area in my search for the quintessence of human beings.

I know now that the reverse evolution has been proven even in animal experiments. Nevertheless, I was the scientist who first suggested the existence of reverse evolution in human beings, consistent with the definition of backward or reverse evolution. That is, “the reacquisition of the same character states as those of ancestor populations by derived populations” (Teotonio and Rose).

Ernest: And what were the compelling evidences to convince you that it was reverse evolution rather than some physical disability accompanied by mental retardation?

Dr. Tan: There are many cases of individuals with similar physical disabilities with or without mental retardation and truncal ataxia, but they do not use quadrupedal locomotion. I have discovered reverse evolution (reacquisition of any ancestral trait) not only in the individuals with brain damage and mental retardation, but also in some individuals who exhibited facultative or habitual quadrupedal locomotion despite having entirely normal brain and cognitive abilities. These provide compelling evidence for a reverse evolution in individuals with normal brains, suggesting the role of adaptive self-organization for the emergence of a motor behavior.

In this context, the contemporary theories of motor development accentuate the role of self-organization as a holistic process, which occurs in dynamic systems that have very large numbers of interconnected elements during infantile development, without previously established neural code or any other motor program. Rather, a motor behavior such as locomotion may be the result of dynamic interaction of contributing subsystems such as genetics, central pattern generators, joints, posture, balance, body constraints, muscle strength, extensor and flexor motor systems, perceptual processes, cognition, motivation, environment, hormonal system, etc. Therefore, the output of the developing locomotor system may result in unpredicted behavioral patterns, including the reappearance of ancestral traits. The evolution itself may also be considered as an adaptive self-organization.

Ernest: How do people with Uner Tan syndrome differ genetically from other humans, which we call normal individuals?

Dr. Tan: All of the individuals exhibiting Uner Tan syndrome belonged to consanguineous families, that is, the father and mother were close relatives, suggesting that an autosomal recessive transmission may be responsible for the syndrome. If so, there ought to be a genetic mutation contributing to human quadrupedalism and reverse evolution. Accordingly, we succeeded in discovering the genetic mutation associated with Uner Tan syndrome and possibly reverse evolution. We have also succeeded in publishing the results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA (PNAS), which was the first article on genetics solely from Turkey. The Editor of this journal, Mary-Claire King wrote “Human molecular genetics in Turkey is ‘on the map’ with this elegant analysis.”

Recently, we have also discovered another gene in another family, responsible for the Uner Tan syndrome. An entirely new technique was used in the genetic laboratories of Roche, to identify the gene for the syndrome: Roche reported this great discovery to the world scientists in a media release with the title: “Researchers solve mystery of Uner Tan syndrome with targeted next-generation sequencing using Roche NimbleGen sequence capture.” Till now, the cause of this disorder in the original family remained unclear. Now, a single mutation was discovered as the genetic basis for Uner Tan syndrome in the affected family. This study will be published shortly. In summary, as originally proposed, a single mutation was responsible for the syndrome and evolution in reverse.

Ernest: So is Uner Tan syndrome solely genetic, or are there environmental factors that contribute to its development in affected individuals?

Dr. Tan: It seems that genetics play a major role in the origins of Uner Tan syndrome. Concerning the environmental factors, most of the families lived in small villages, but not all of them, since one family lived in a big city. Most of the individuals belonged to poor families, but there was one rich family. All of the families were religious and believed that “God gave them to us”. One of the relatives of one family was a physician and attempted physical treatment of the affected children, but without success. The mother forced her quadrupedal daughter to walk upright for six years, but without success. The landscape they lived in was not rough enough to force them to walk on all fours. These results suggest that socioeconomic and environmental factors are not primary in the development of quadrupedal locomotion and mental retardation.

Ernest: Has any case of Uner Tan syndrome been reported in any other human individual or group of people besides those you studied in Turkey?

Dr. Tan: Yes. Some cases exhibiting Uner Tan syndrome have been found in places other than Turkey, but rarely. These countries are Iraq, Argentina, Chile, and India where one family has been reported in each country.

Ernest: So are your subjects being treated for the disability associated with Uner Tan Syndrome?

Dr. Tan: The individuals exhibiting Uner Tan syndrome have been using parallel bars to learn upright walking every day since 2005, but without the slightest improvement. In one family, a physician who was a relative of the children with Uner Tan syndrome, tried to treat the quadruped individuals also using parallel bars, but with no success. The mother of a quadruped daughter fastened stones to her legs for six years to make her legs stronger so she would be able to walk upright, but again without success. Moreover, some individuals have also been given crutches but without success, and they prefer quadrupedal locomotion. So, any physical treatment seems to be unable to improve the ability to walk upright in these individuals.

Ernest: Going back in time Dr. Tan, there were some news of controversy with some British researchers, if I remember correctly, over studying the affected Turkish families. Do you mind telling a little about it?

Dr. Tan: I’d prefer not to talk about it because as a scientist I prefer to communicate with publications rather than get involved in slanging matches and gossip. Basically, some British scientists came to Adana supposedly to meet the families, but actually to make a documentary they then sold to the BBC and which contained false claims. I had concerns about some of their later behavior and false claims also, and reported these to the Turkish Academy of Sciences’ ethics committee. Their claims were incorrect, and that’s all I’d like to say about it.

Ernest: Understandable! What are your current research projects mainly about?

Dr. Tan: Discovering novel families with members exhibiting Uner Tan syndrome, further analyzing the genetics of this syndrome, and studying the mechanisms of human quadrupedalism with regard to the evolution of the human brain.

Ernest: Many Thanks Dr. Tan for your precious time and sharing your knowledge!