June 28, 2008

From Anne Gilbert:

Re: On brink of collapse, Neanderthals may have flourished (June 24): Thiis was a really good story, though it raises a lot of questions... like how could Neandertals be “collapsing” if they were “thriving” as the archaeologist suggested. Still, it’s good to know that there are people out there that understand that this group of prehistoric humans were not “Neanderstupids”.

From Sharon Ellis:

Re: Nature’s laws found un changed in distant universe (June 21): It is no surprise to me that the laws of physics apply throughout the Universe. Everything that exists is made up of the same stuff - star dust, and the same rules would apply everywhere. This is logical.

I believe that a window into extra dimensions can be accessed through the mind. Humanity is now only at the first rung of the ladder when it comes to accessing the mind’s capabilities. Thoughts are creation energy (actually everything is energy) and it’s through our thoughts that we will travel through time and space. We are much more than our physical body.

Sharon Ellis

From Susan Stephens:

Re: Is The Odyssey astronomically accurate? (June 23): Somebody doubts that information could travel from Babylon to Greece in several hundred years? Oh, come on. Incorporating this information into “historical novels” was probably the next fad to hit Greece, once they heard it.

We were all taught that mythology and folk tales and even rumors all had a basis in some true fact, however obscure or vague it seemed on the surface. That “theory” seems to have proved itself many times over the past 50 years.

From Kathryn Stillwell Burton:

Re: Faked research data surprisingly common, survey suggests (June 19): I research research and can tell you the lies and misleading data will never go away until the grant systems make more demands for honest results, both on the university level (academics as well as students) and in business/industry. It’s too easy to produce redundant material, make incredible claims, doctor the material and results, and cry “WOLF” or “Eureka”(your choice) on any level. Noone has the time or inclination to be a watchdog, nor do they want to be the one to point the finger at their “peers.” I just read a paper written on this subject by C. Ian Jackson, a Canadian who takes no prisoners. He outlines an ethical approach that includes good behavior, not just justifying findings as correct, but how one assembles material and creates the end result, always giving create where it is due, along the way.

He is, as they say in crossword puzzles, “a oner,” but I hope I am wrong.

From Jennifer Smith:

Re: Faked research data surprisingly common, survey suggests (June 19): Hope the names of all the reviewers who approved each project over one million dollars funded by NIH can be known by the other researchers and accessed through Internet. Most of NIH grant application reviewers can’t do any experiments and don’t know if the projects are practical and the applicants’ data are true or fraud. If other researchers know some approved projects are not practical, they will tell those reviewers that these approved projects are absurd and impossible to achieve any expected objectives. Then those reviewers will probably not renew the projects.

For the funded-projects over one million dollars such as NIH RO-1 grants, NIH may set up an email address to receive the emails from other researchers for assessment and comments on the NIH funded projects progress and investigators’ data.

Hope the suggetions above can be helpful for avoiding some fraudsters’ getting NIH grants.

From Neil Arvanitis:

Re: Other universes may be detectable, published study claims (Oct. 11): Although your article on the web page, World Science, is an interesting read and raises some interesting points, in my opinion it fails to acknowledge one main fundamental point relating to whether other universes are able to be detected...; That is, what can be potentially detected within the realms of our own universe (think of concept: our entire universe = everything within its own sphere) by using our mathematical formulae/deductions, instrumental analyses and measurements, cosmological theorems etc. , will more than likely, and within a logical frame of thought, not be transferable assets when even attempting to gather evidence of other universes.

The main reason being that the other, so called universes, or bubbles as you refer to them, will more than likely be composed of other forms of consistency quite strikingly different to our universe and the concept of matter may not even fall into the category of matter as we comprehend it existing in our own universe! In addition to this and to add further fuel to the fire, other universes would also, most probably, be governed by entirely different ‘laws’ of physics and quite possibly be irregular having a chaotic order that wouldn’t give rise to a particular identifiable pattern capable of detection and understanding by our instruments and therefore, our scientific minds...

Food for thought; Just because we cannot detect or decipher the existence of multiple universes out there, does not mean that such multiverses do not actually ‘exist’ within their own unique spheres of existence (this could mean though that they their existence would most probably not fall under the category of what we term and acknowledge as existence-as our scientific minds are fundamentally flawed right from the start; we cannot compare like-for-like as whatever exists in our universe is self contained and applicable to its own interactions…

From Den (doo le yvi lle @y ah oo.com):

Re: Some “dwarf planets” are now “plutoids” (June 12): This probably isn’t anything you haven’t heard already, but it just seems to me that the gas giants and the terrestrial plants are so different as to hardly be considered the same thing. So, it would seem, the term “planet” has to have a pretty loose definition to begin with, why worry about kicking Pluto out of the club, or even Ceres? My solution would have been to come up with a nice bit of jargon that gets the point across within the scientific community and then leave the term “planet” to the lay folk.

However, I suppose this gives astronomers something to discuss and they’ve probably enjoyed the attention this whole issue has provided them with.

From Daniel C. Billings:

Re: Study: gays’ brain symmetry resembles other sex (June 16): If it should prove to be true that gay people have the same or similar brain structures as the opposite sex, then I wonder, who is to blame for their condition, these people, society, or GOD?. I would very much like to here what his eminence the Pope has to say regarding these findings.

His thoughts should prove interesting, and I wonder, will they help to alleviate the prejudice that these people have to endure at the hands of politicians and religious zealots and those who are simply narrow minded. Yours truly D. Billings. A straight heterosexual male who doesn’t like to see the way the majority and those in power treat the minorities. Maybe some good will come out of this. We will see.

From Brian Hill:

Re: Study: gays’ brain symmetry resembles other sex (June 16): I would venture to suggest that the paedophile brain and perhaps most incestuous fathers would show similar properties to the male homosexual/female heterosexual brain. Equally I would suggest that child molesters (men) and male rapists would exhibit the normal male heterosexual brain... though some of each group will almost certainly display psychopathic tendencies as well.

As a stress management consultant in Harley Street in the 90’s I was asked to treat anxious clients who were on post sentence S O therapy programmes. I found the men fell into those 4 distinct groups, though paedophiles and many incestuous fathers were generally similar right brain dominant types (feminine though not effeminate) while child molesters and rapists were generally left brain dominant types in this case heavily masculine, especially the rapists.

If the research didn’t go that far perhaps you could suggest to them that they test my hypothesis on even a few individuals.

From William A. Cummins:

Re: Study: gays’ brain symmetry resembles other sex (June 16): the simple fact is this: No matter how you slice it, our thinking controls our lifestyle and our genetic configuration. Therefore this evidence is not surprising.

William A. Cummins, Author
"Life Is Sexually Transmitted"

June 13, 2008

From Daniel McGuire:

Re: Brain abnormalities seen in heavy pot smokers (June 2): Do a quick google search for “THC Cancer” and see what you find.

The 15 person study that showed smaller brain structures on average for 15 people who chose to smoke an average of 5 joints a day for a lot of years hardly has bearing on the great majority of pot smokers. In fact, if 5 joints a day is a stupid amount, then maybe people with smaller brain structures in the first place are the ones who are going to be more likely to smoke that amount. This study shows no causal relationship whatsoever between pot and the smaller brain structures.

The anti-cancer THC research on the other hand seems solid and is being repeated in many universities around the world.

From James Morris:

Re: Brain abnormalities seen in heavy pot smokers (June 2): How do these ‘pot smoking’ abnormality studies relate to cultures where hash or cannabis consummation is the accepted norm? Did the researchers find entire Mid-Eastern cultures generally dysfunctional, currently and for past centuries or even millennia? And to think they invented the sundial, algebra, trend setting medicine, etc. etc.

Until the personal ingestion of chemicals is set apart from the judgementalism of religion, politics and uptight researchers, such “scientific studies” must be viewed with a especially skeptical eye.

Was it considered that subjects with these brain abnormalities might seek out ‘pot smoking’? Was the strength of the individual “dubie” factored in? In thirty-five years of observing smokers, I don’t know any who could smoke that much cannabis in a 24 hour period... unless they bought it in 1966. This is just one of the study’s red flags.

We’d be better to emulate cultures beginning before ancient Greece where recreation drugs were as important as religion, and requisite for a fulfilling, spiritual and enjoyable life. Let’s spend some research time appreciating the positive, beginning with D. C. A. Hillman’s recently published book: “The Chemical Muse: Drug Use and the Roots of Western Civilization.”

From Sander Greenland:

Re: Brain abnormalities seen in heavy pot smokers (June 2, 2008): As a researcher in this topic area, I have sent a letter to the Archives of General Psychiatry regarding the small epidemiologic survey by Yucel and colleagues(1). This study has generated considerable media coverage, including at your own website. I was disappointed by your coverage, which largely ignored many problems that could nullify the validity and generalizability of the study. As I wrote to the Archives: 1) The study failed to control for potentially important differences between the groups. The study did note much more tobacco use among the cannabis users, which along with their heavy cannabis use indicates unhealthy behavior patterns among the users relative to the controls.

The study also failed to note there was also more alcohol use among the cannabis users. They may have failed to note and control for this difference because it was not “statistically significant” -- a fact that does not lessen the potential confounding effects of alcohol use(2). This failure means that some of the difference they report may be due to co-use of alcohol and poorer health behaviors among the users.

2) The users in the study were self selected for a rather extreme behavior (heavy cannabis use for decades), and also for volunteering for the study. It remains possible that pre-existing conditions (including the observed anatomical differences) led to the preference for heavy cannabis use. It is also possible that there was selective nonparticipation by professional and anatomically normal users who would not want to reveal a long-term illegal and socially unaccepted behavior.

Self-selection could thus have acted to create an unusual population of heavy users, and nonparticipation could create a sample further weighted toward the lower functioning and anatomically unusual end of the spectrum.

3) The 15 cannabis users in the study all had used more than 5 joints a day for more than 10 years. Most epidemiologic research has been among occasional users (e.g., Hashibe et al.(3)). Among them, joints have typically been shared or extinguished to be used repeatedly, and thus represent multiple doses, sometimes 2-4 doses. In the latter case the users in the Yucel et al. study may have been consuming over 4x5 = 20 doses per day for over 10 years, with a mean of 20 years. If a single dose were the analogue of (say) a 4-oz. glass of wine, the users in this study were consuming an analogue of over 80 oz. of wine a day, or over 3 standard (750ml) bottles a day for an average of 20 years. Thus the subjects in this study would be the cannabis equivalent of severe very long-term alcoholics, who also show extensive brain abnormalities (as well as liver and other alcohol-related disease).

The above problems are not mutually exclusive and may all have been acting in the Yucel et al. study. Thus, while further study is certainly warranted, the study is at best a very tentative and limited result which may have no relevance for the vast majority of users, and may not even reflect genuine effects in heavy users.


1. Yücel M, Solowij N, Respondek C, Whittle S, Fornito F, Pantelis C, Lubman DI. Regional brain abnormalities associated with long term heavy cannabis use. /Arch Gen Psychiatry. / 2008;65(6):694-701.

2. Rothman KJ, Greenland S, Lash TL. /Modern Epidemiology/, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Williams Wilkins, p. 261.

3. Hashibe M, Morgenstern H, Cui Y, Tashkin DP, Zhang Z-F, Cozen W, Mack TM, Greenland S (2006). Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper-aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study. /Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention/, *15*, 1829-1834.

Sander Greenland, Professor
Departments of Epidemiology and Statistics
UCLA School of Public Health

From William Treurniet:

Re: Brain abnormalities seen in heavy pot smokers (June 2): Mu­rat Yü­cel et al. apparently concluded that certain brain structures were small because of the heavy pot use. Given the methodology reported in the article, such a conclusion is premature. Brain scans were not performed before the subjects began smoking pot, so changes in brain structure sizes were not measured. Only a correlation between brain structure size and pot use was observed, and that does not imply causality. People may just as well have become heavy pot smokers because they had smaller brain structures. Perhaps the pot somehow compensated for some psychological inadequacy due to the smaller hippocampus and amygdala, and that was why they became habitual users. Contrary to the reported conclusion, the results equally suggest that smoking pot may have had a positive effect on the heavy users.

From Miguel Machuca Cervantes:

Re: Dip in brainpower may follow drop in real power (May 10): This was a fascinating article, not that others aren’t, but let me explain.

I have always considered myself as a reasonably intelligent human being with a special capability for easily understanding new issues, facts, etc.

I was either unemployed or underemployed for about 15 months and, when I began working again, I felt stupid, as I was not able to understand several issues that were not that complicated. After approximately 4 months in the job, my brain started working as I was used to.

I had attributed this to a lack of “mental exercise”, but your hypothesis sounds very interesting and might be the real reason for my situation. Or is it maybe that the drop in real power causes lack of “mental exercise”?

June 03, 2008

From Catherine Scott:

Re: Gender math gap erasable, studies suggest (May 30): The article on the hypothetical differences between human males and females in maths attainment is great example of the lengths to which even those who style themselves as followers of the scientific method will go to preserve their core beliefs. The existence of fundamental cognitive differences between men and women is one such core belief because it cuts straight to our identity. First and foremost we think of ourselves as men or women and anything that proposes that these categories are built on shifting sand is anxiety-provoking, so anxiety provoking that we’ll even clutch at evidence of sex differences in animals not even in the phylum as us as ‘proof’ of the naturalness and inescapability of apparent gender differences. (What about spatial differences in our nearer relatives, primates? I bet they wouldn’t exist, otherwise female monkeys etc would routinely fall out of trees and drive the species to extinction. ) That male cuttlefish are thought to have more in common with men that female humans shows the extent that gender is a fundamental and essential COGNITIVE category for male humans, (if not cuttle fish :-) ). And it shows the lengths to which people will go to amplify any small differences between men and women they can find.

Let’s look at the evidence as if it were experimental in origin and see what conclusions we reach: In a population of interest there are two naturally occurring groups, A and B. In one experimental condition, the two groups are subjected to the same intervention, X. In the second condition Y the two groups are subjected to two different interventions, such that group A experiences intervention Y and group B experiences intervention Z (not a good experimental design). Measurements on an outcome variable reveal that the two groups that experienced intervention X did not differ, however, the groups that experienced interventions Y and Z did differ, Now, on the basis of this what is the logical source of the measured differences? It has to be the interventions, NOT a pre-existing between group difference. Like it or not the only way to prove this not to be correct is to raise some girls like boys and some boys like girls. Not going to happen, so we have to rely on naturally occurring ‘experiments’. When girl do boy things that they perform like boys, as in the computer game example.

Boys are regarded as naturally less able at reading than girls but when reading is taught well (which it mostly isn’t in Anglophone cultures) this difference also disappears. Presumably the reading differences didn’t excite your correspondent’s interest because in our culture maths ability is regarded as the true measure of ‘braininess’ (which is why it s important to find ways to defend men’s ‘natural’ superiority’ at it).

From Michael R Oberndorf:

Re: Dip in brainpower may follow drop in real power (May 10): The alleged dip in brainpower is just another example of politically driven agendas using “science” to fool people. This is a thinly veiled attempt to make capitalism and individual achievement seem really bad, and socialism as the only hope for mankind. This is the kind of garbage that has truly tarnished science over the past 40 years, and you do all scientists a disservice by publishing this junk.

Michael R Oberndorf, M.A., RPA
Idyllwild, CA