November 06, 2007

From Eze U. Okereke:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18): I am an African and I think some institutional actions do more damage to the race than people’s comments or actions. There was no point forcing the elderly Watson to resign his position because of the alleged comment. Freedom of speech should be respected. However we must demand proof or evidence to buttress some comments capable of giving new insights. Instead of asking him to resign, they should have demanded for the proof of his comment. He is an eminent scientist and perhaps he could provide one through the strands of DNA. He may as well be correct. Even a look at the African continent alone could point to some fundamental flaw. I can’t say what it is for sure but we must not inhibit knowledge, rather we must demand for proof and responsibility.

Dr U.O. Eze

From Prasanna Rao Balakrishna:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18): Watson has done excellent work during his time. It is sad that he has had to retire under such circumstances. It only goes to show that some issues are very politically sensitive and commenting on such issues should be only in appropriate forums and only when called for. Commenting on the superiority or inferiority of any race, religion or color is an issue which will be contentious anyway and research done by one group of people may differ from the results of that of another and should be done only where it is contributory to development of the group which is perceived to be lagging behind.

From Nik van Larebeke:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18): it could well be that Watson was right. But that a certain group of people is less intelligent on a series of parameters does not imply that these people are inferior. On other parameters they might be superior. If I remember well the American Academy of Science has, some decades ago, rendered more difficult research on the genetic basis of intelligence. I am of the opinion that taboos and “politically correct” thinking are harmfull to progress of humanity as they tend to slow down discovery of the truth and the acquisition of insights that in the long term are essential to avoid many sources of misery and conflicts.

Prof. Nik van Larebeke, MD.PhD.
Study Centre for Carcinogenesis
and Primary Prevention of Cancer
Ghent University, Belgium;
Founder & ex-member of the
committee on ethics of the Fédération
des Maisons Médicales
de la Belgique Francophone

November 03, 2007

Reader Poll on James Watson

Reader passions are running high over the furor surrounding Nobel prize winner James Watson, which we reported last week. We have created an unscientific, online poll to survey reader opinions. The full poll can be found at this page. We welcome your thoughts. We are also reproducing the first question below. Each question can be voted on separately. You can vote on this one either here or at the full poll page. The current vote tallies will be given to you after you vote.

Following are additional com­ments on this ent­ry. Type your own in­to the space right of the first one.

From Kitty Antonik Wakfer:

Re: Humans go into heat after all, strip club study finds (Oct. 28): Very interesting study, the results of which make sense from an evolutionary view - an ovulating woman who is more sexually attractive to males has a greater chance of reproducing than a women who is less attractive. And those women who are uncomfortable during menstruation will likely not put the usual zest into their dancing and therefore be at least somewhat less sexually attractive than at other times in their cycle. Using the measure of economics was very insightful and logical since humans are capable of voluntary interaction (trade) to mutual benefit.

Following are additional com­ments on this ent­ry. Type your own in­to the space right of the first one.

From Graham Reinders:

Re: Humans go into heat after all, strip club study finds (Oct. 28): Gentlemen (not ladies, because they already know),

You disappoint me.

ANYBODY, who knows women knows absolutely that about 14 days before menstration they are in Estrus. They look better (many wrinkles actually smooth out), smell better, act better, are more optomistic and in general in a “Flush”, which lasts some two or three days and then back to “normal”

Where have you guys been for the last 100,000 years?

From Ruth Rosin:

Re: Humans go into heat after all, strip club study finds (Oct. 28): The study in question jumps to rash, unwarranted conclusions. The menstrual cycle certainly affects a woman’s mood, and the effects differ during different stages of the cycle.

There is, however, no research that connects these different moods with sexual receptivity, and the probability of successful fertilization. The mood of a professional lap-dancer can, undoubtedly affect the quality of her dancing. For instance, when she feels happy and energetic, she may dance in a more attractive way. But this, does not mean that her mood is in any way associated with her sexual receptivity, or with her chance of becoming pregnant. In fact, it is not even certain that the effects of the menstrual cycle on women’s moods are the same for all women, or even the same for one and the same woman at different times.

For instance, I can easily imagine that for a woman who was hoping to become pregnant, the reccurrence of the cycle may result in depression, while for a woman who feared an unwanted pregnancy, the recurrence may cause joy.

From Elizabeth Daerr:

Re: At 400, clam may be longest-lived animal known (Oct. 30): I hope we do not use this information to extend life for human beings. There are too many of us and we are already destroying the earth at an astonishing rate. Not to be morbid, but I hope we kill ourselves off before we destroy every other species on earth. It’s fascinating information!

From Brian J. Dooley:

Re: Genes affecting generosity may be found (Oct. 31): Attitudes toward generosity being very closely tied to culture (ranging from giving away everything always to giving away nothing if possible), I would be very much concerned about the possibility of selecting for a particular culture or ethnicity rather than for this particular trait. It does not seem likely that there is a 1:1 relationship between specific genes and culturally influenced characteristics of this type.

From Jim Pivonka:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18) and Humans go into heat after all, strip club study finds (Oct. 28): Watson, nor any other scientist, should feel badly about being expected to restrain their “public” comments to areas in which they have specific expertise, and in the context of scientifically based and well founded studies. His comments in this case were offhand, rambling, and totally inappropriate.

That issues surrounding variations in human capacities among groups which are biologically differentiable, especially when groups which are readily identified and have been traditionally subjected to suppression and ill treatment, must be dealt with carefully, and with expecially strict attention to the clarity of communication and the validity of the study design and data collected and presented is entirely appropriate.

Expecting that such standards are conformed to, especially by senior scientists in administrative positions and with secular credibility from past honors, should not have been presented in your article as something which might “make it hard­er for re­search­ers to speak their minds in times ahead” in areas of their expertise and the context of well done studies.

Lay people are not subject to such strictures. Scientists are. Are you implying that this distinction is somehow inappropriate?

Speaking of “well done studies” --- you have an example of quite the opposite in “Humans go into heat after all, strip club study”. This “study” team “collected its information through a website where 18 dancers recorded their menstrual periods, work shifts, and tip earnings for 60 days”. This covers two putative cycles of the phenomenon supposedly being studied for 18 subjects. This study is not worth the electons required to transmit it, and should not be considered as even suggestive of a need for further research until expanded by a factor of 10 in both dimensions. You should have saved yourselves and your readers the time...

Following are additional com­ments on this ent­ry. Type your own in­to the space right of the first one.

From Ariadne Romano:

Re: Nobel scientist suspended from job over race comments (Oct. 18): Everyone is entitled to one’s opinion. I would ask the question, if the data he was quoting was in fact accurate data. These days so many “studies” are manipulated to suit the cause. He should have been allowed to speak. He may have shed a new perspective on things and at the very least helped others confirm or not their own perceptions.

The employer and the museum need only state a disclaimer that Watson’s statements/opinions are his and not necessarily those of the institutions.

From Yahya Abdal-Aziz:

Re: Other universes may be detectable, published study claims (Oct. 11): As you so rightly say:

It’s a rath­er dodgy con­cept on its face, be­cause strictly speak­ing, “the un­iverse” means ev­er­ything that ex­ists.But in prac­tice, cos­mol­o­gists of­ten loos­en the def­i­ni­tion and just speak of “a un­iverse” as some sort of self-en­closed whole with its own phys­i­cal laws.

Rather than coining the ugly and illogical “multiverse”, it might have been better had cos­mol­o­gists adopted a new term with the strict meaning ‘a self-en­closed whole with its own phys­i­cal laws’ - or if that seems too vague, ‘a closed convex region of space-time with its own phys­i­cal laws’. The term that immediately springs to mind when discussing a region with its own specific laws is, of course, a “jurisdiction”. Then the “universe” could rightly remain “ev­er­ything that ex­ists”, and comprise some kind of collection of “jurisdictions”.

From Marc Sacco:

Re: Researchers cracking case of the vanishing bees (Sept. 6): I noticed that this phenomenon of vanishing bees had not occurred in Australia, leading some to say it’s a northern hemisphere phenomenon. However, the problem is occurring in South Africa, and in the northern hemisphere, it is not as acute in the UK as in the rest of the continent. A quick check on countries currently using satellite radio shows a corresponding occurrence between satellite radio usage and Colony Collapse Disorder. Have any scientists ruled out satellite radio yet?

From Hugh Waters:

Re: A predisposition to pedophilia? (Oct. 23): Pedophilia is not a physical sickness but rather a psychological lust acquired due to the conducive environment where this behavior derived. Say … a normal man visited/(stayed) in an island where sex are so liberal that even children of 9 – 12 years old are already hyper-active due to island culture and tradition. A normal man is just a victim of this particular culture and practice … where children of above ages are trying to seduce a male visitors to conduct a sexual playful act on their inquisitiveness or whatever. So a normal man tried to explore the possibility of giving them sexual satisfaction and these kids cooperate and enjoy such acts. On this particular stage a normal man discovered that sex are possible at their ages…. Acquired sexual satisfaction too…. A unique sexual satisfaction that hover and haunt the victim even after he return to the normal environment where sex with children is a crime.

From ajc ha lk@ co mcast.n et:

Re: Scientists report flipping worms’ sexual preferences (Oct. 25): After reading articles on epigenetics, I wondered whether homosexuality is epigenetically controlled, i.e.whether environmental circumstances could switch off (or switch on) a gene determining sexual behavoiur. Your subject article suggests a confirmation. I should be interested in the authors’ views.

From Ambrish Dhaka:

Re: When our vices get the better of us (Oct. 11): I read the article titled as above, found very exciting. This has some serious fallacy. The society is historically disposed to division of labour. The evidence of this is the formation of caste stratum in Indian society and as well as in other communities. The cultural division like caste are capable of transferring a particular type of mindset from one generation to another. And, when there are cross cultural interaction, they naturally disposed to inhibitions. Hence, the non-performance is also an indicator to the cultural atonement of brain reflecting the geocultural aspect of said vices. The simple example could be the case of a Christian marriage custom where a man and a woman kiss each other in front of the people gathering, where as in any Islamic marriage even the face is not allowed to be seen. So, the kiss would be almost a taboo for the latter case, if not the vice. Now, how could they respond to something universal thing called marriage, yet so particular in form and content, varying communities to communities. Hence, the article is another case of too simplistic attitude of science over social observations.

Ambrish Dhaka
Assistant Professor
School of International Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi

From Edward Medalis:

Re: Humans not just “big-brained apes,” researcher says (Aug. 22): The title of this article seems to be somewhat contradicted by the content of the article which focuses on brain differences and probable related behavior. Note the following phrases used within the article: “an­i­mal-hu­man si­m­i­lar­i­ties”, animals are “so like us,” “they’re (meaning animals) real­ly quite un­like us” These phrases tend to divorce the human animal from other animals by failing to make it clear that he is talking about the human animal. Considering the human as something other than an animal is common religious thinking.

Why is it “confusing” that human animal brains “have similarities in structure to other mammals”? Do to DNA evolution this sounds quite non confusing to me.

Then their is “most neu­ro­sci­en­tists agreed with Dar­win un­til re­cently”. I think that most neu­ro­sci­en­tists still agree with Dar­win that humans are animals and fit quite comfortably into the clasification of “big brained apes”.

Then, ”hu­man brains” have “unique” “mi­cro­scop­ic fea­tures,” “en­hanced wir­ing,” “con­nec­ti­vity among nerve cells not found in any an­i­mal.” There it is again, words that deny we are animals. What’s his point? Or, perhaps I should ask, whats his real point?

It makes me wonder if psy­chol­o­gist Da­vid Pre­mack has an “Intelligent Design” motive and is simply trying to discredit Darwin and infer that humans are not animals but some product of the supernatural.

One can draw all kinds of inferences from behavior but the buck stops at the DNA when it comes to defining what kind of animal we are from a physical biological perspective. DNA overlaps between species and behavior can vary widely within species and also overlap species.

From Yahya Abdal-Aziz:

Re: A language dies every two weeks, researchers say (Sept. 18): An excellent and timely article!

An­der­son said lan­guages be­come en­dan­gered when a com­mun­ity de­cides that its lan­guage is an im­ped­i­ment. The chil­dren may be first to do this, he ex­plained, real­iz­ing that oth­er more widely spo­ken lan­guages are more use­ful. The key to get­ting a lan­guage re­vi­tal­ized, he said, is get­ting a new genera­t­ion of speak­ers. He said the in­sti­tute worked with lo­cal com­mun­i­ties and tries to help by de­vel­op­ing teach­ing ma­te­ri­als and by re­cord­ing the en­dan­gered lan­guage.

Which is why every local educational authority should be enrolled in the program to help preserve languages endemic to their areas by teaching them - however informally, if necessary! - to school-age children, in particular those in the early years, and to any and all interested adults, for free.

I’ve been trying for years to get a Koori (Australian first nations person in the region including Victoria) who is willing to teach me what they know of their traditional language(s) and culture. I’m not at all surprised that they haven’t been willing, given the poor and patronising treatment they’ve received from governments for many decades, as well as the factors that Anderson mentioned. But I am feeling frustrated

Yahya Abdal-Aziz
Wheelers Hill VIC 3150

From Jim Freedom:

Re: “Out of body” research attacks philosophical questions (Aug. 24): I was disappointed to see that the scientists behind this research did not open their minds to the idea of telepathic communication between the parent and the child as source for the information about spiders. If that kind of communication can work for the hundredth monkey then it should (and does) work for humans.

One could test for the beliefs of the parents, particularly the mother and her attitudes toward spiders. Some mothers may not be afraid of spiders and therefore the child would not have picked up on that fear. It is a testable theory that is ignored by most scientists still today.

Jim Freedom

From Debra Hurt:

Re: “Out of body” research attacks philosophical questions (Aug. 24): I don’t understand why “scientists” would believe that “simulating” an out of body experience is equivalent to “having” an out of body experience. There are many ways in which our senses trick us into beliefs about the physical world that are mistaken. Imagine sitting on a train when the train next to you leaves the station and for an instant (or longer) you believe that it is your train that is moving.

I fell into the practice of leaving my body at the age of seven to avoid an abusive teacher. I suppose an argument could be made for disassociation from trauma, but that doesn’t explain my being able to relate the events taking place in the kindergarten where my sister was. I felt the process of rising up from my body and floating through the air into the hallway. Perhaps it was illusion, but I had no prior knowledge of of such phenomena; it simply arose spontaneously. So if it was illusion, does that mean that we have an inherent mechanism that creates such experiences on demand? It seems to me that spending time on these types of questions using scientific means is like a fourth grader from Omaha trying to read an orignal Goethe text. Wrong language, wrong level...