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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Secrets of the Flamboyant Cuttlefish’s Display

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Photo: James Kilfiger, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia tullbergi) earned its moniker for a reason. Like many cephalopods, this cuttlefish can change its appearance with remarkable flexibility and speed. Sometimes it displays bright colors; other times, it camouflages itself to seamlessly blend into the background.

In a new study, Gilles Laurent, Michael Kuba, Tamar Gutnick, and Andres Laan of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research analyzed one of the flamboyant cuttlefish’s more extraordinary displays. Known as the passing cloud display, it consists of dark bands of color moving in waves across the animal’s body. While other cephalopods also use passing cloud displays, in the flamboyant cuttlefish they are especially frequent and complex.

Cephalopod skin is covered with elastic sacs of pigment called chromatophores. Neural activation of the muscles surrounding these cells relaxes and contracts them, changing their size to create different color patterns.

Laurent, Kuba, Gutnick, and Laan found that each side of the flamboyant cuttlefish’s body (or mantle) contains four regions over which the dark bands of color travel during a passing cloud display. The waves of color can propagate in a different direction in each region. The four regions are not always active at the same time, but those regions that are show synchronized activity.



Mystery of how rocks move across Death Valley lake bed solved

The cracking sounds were ferocious. An ankle-deep, frozen lake in Death Valley National Park was breaking apart under sunny skies.

As cousins Richard Norris and James Norris watched, a light wind began moving huge flows of ice across the surface of the water and into rocks weighing up to 200 pounds. Propelled by the ice masses, the rocks began to slide across the slick, muddy bottom of the normally dry lake bed, known as “the Racetrack Playa.”

“My god, Jim, it’s happening,” Richard yelled.

James Norris grabbed a camera.

Their photos last Dec. 21 provided the final evidence in solving a mystery of the Racetrack Playa that has long puzzled visitors and scientists: What mechanism moves rocks across flat dirt in the heart of the hottest, driest place on earth?



Amy Goodman: Is Ferguson Feeding on the Poor?

As the police killing of Michael Brown has focused global attention on the racial divide in the counties in and surrounding St. Louis, Missouri, a new report may explain why residents’ mistrust of the police runs so deep. It shows how a large part of the revenue for these counties comes from fines paid by African-American residents who are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. In Ferguson, the fines and fees are actually the city’s second-largest source of income, which is expected to generate $2.7 million in fiscal year 2014. We speak with Thomas Harvey, executive director of ArchCity Defenders and co-author of their new report, which has been widely cited — including in a stunning chart in Monday’s New York Times that shows how Ferguson issued on average nearly three warrants per household last year — the highest number of warrants in the state, relative to its size. "What my clients have told me since the first day I’ve ever represented anybody is, this is not about public safety, it’s about the money," Harvey says. We also hear about the impact of the police harassment and ticketing from George Fields, who was among the local residents lined up for Michael Brown’s funeral on Monday in St. Louis.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now back to Ferguson, where residents are continuing to demand the arrest of the white police officer who shot dead unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The reaction to Brown’s death focused global attention on the racial divide in counties in and surrounding St. Louis, Missouri. Now a new report may help explain why residents’ mistrust of police runs so deep. It shows how a large part of the revenue for these counties comes from fines paid by black residents who are disproportionately targeted for traffic stops and other low-level offenses. In Ferguson, the fines are actually the city’s second-largest source of income. We’ll talk with the author of the report in a minute, but first, this is one of the St. Louis area residents Democracy Now! interviewed Monday, as he waited in line to attend Michael Brown’s funeral.

GEORGE FIELDS: I’m George Fields, and I’m here for Mike Brown, and mostly for all black men walking down the streets stuck here, not being able to go out in the county, seriously, sir, because we’re like—city is a little more lenient with ticket values and stuff, and we have just been ticketed over much over there, and then it leads to other crimes, you know. And a ticket costs you 50 cents—I mean, $50 a ticket, right? But you have to pay bond. You have to be in jail three days and stuff and like that. It’s just too much.
And in past Goodfellow city line, they tow your car automatically, you know. So they don’t have no leniency in the county with the county police at all, for real. If you check the records, everybody that pass Goodfellow here at the city line get pulled over automatically. And then it’s just a kind of push-off against—you know, systematically against blacks, for real. If you look at the statistics, it shows you. It’s just a little too much when you get pulled over for menial things. You have to go through too much to get out, and you lose your jobs and whatnot, you know, for a $50 ticket and pull-over.


Websites mock offer of concealed weapons permit classes for Jaguars season ticket holders

By Matt Soergel
A Jacksonville Beach gun shop’s offer of a discount on concealed weapons permit classes for Jaguars season ticket holders has earned raised eyebrows and mocking on several internet sites.

An Asheville radio station’s website had it as the top item in its “Daily Report.”

Another site noted how “Jags fans have more to look forward to than Chad Henne starting this season!”

Wrote one wit in the comments there: “Perks for season ticket holders? I’m sure all four of them are very excited.”

Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2014-08-27/story/websites-mock-offer-concealed-weapons-permit-classes-jaguars-season

Concealed guns and drunk football fans. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Clinical trials of integrative medicine: testing whether magic works?

David H. Gorskiemail, Steven P. Novella

A new phenomenon in clinical trials has arisen over the past 20 years. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) or integrative medicine (IM) modalities based on principles that bespeak infinitesimally low prior probability of success or that even violate well-established laws of physics and chemistry are being tested in randomized clinical trials (RCTs). CAM proponents frequently justify such RCTs by arguing that they will finally settle once and for all which CAM or IM modalities do and do not work. Our response is that this is a misguided viewpoint that has led to the infiltration of pseudoscience in academic medicine. We begin with a thought experiment.

Imagine that someone were to describe to you a treatment modality based on two principles. The first principle states that symptoms should be treated with compounds that cause the same symptoms in asymptomatic subjects and the second principle states that serially diluting such a remedy makes the action of that remedy stronger. These remedies are often diluted 1060-fold and beyond, many orders of magnitude beyond Avogadro's constant, meaning that the chance that a single molecule of original compound remains behind is infinitesimal. Would it be reasonable to believe that such remedies have a sufficient chance of being efficacious and that it would be worthwhile and ethical to test them in RCTs?

This is not a made-up example. What is being described is homeopathy, a 200-year-old system of medicine based on vitalism and prescientific ideas invented by Samuel Hahnemann that has been tested in multiple RCTs. Indeed, a recent search of PubMed for ‘homeopathy randomized clinical trial’ turned up over 400 references. Although many of these were review articles, many were RCTs. Of these, perhaps the most famous (and notorious) are two randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials testing homeopathic remedies to treat acute childhood diarrhea in Nicaragua and Honduras . Depending on the trial, the specific homeopathic remedies tested consisted of 1060-fold dilutions of mixtures containing substances including arsenicum album (arsenic trioxide), calcarea carbonica (carbonate of lime), chamomilla (German chamomile), podophyllum (Mayapple), and mercurious vivus (quicksilver, metallic mercury). One trial reported a questionable benefit ; the other, a later more rigorous study, found no benefit at all . Yet both trials were performed even though the ingredients in the homeopathic remedies tested were not known to be effective against childhood diarrhea, two ingredients, arsenic and mercury, are definitely toxic, and the ingredients were diluted away to nonexistence. These two trials serve as examples of this trend of testing CAM and IM treatments that have a very low to nonexistent pre-test probability of producing a true positive RCT. There are many more such clinical trials of homeopathy, to the point where systematic reviews and meta-analyses are becoming common. Not surprisingly, they tend to be inconclusive or negative .

More common in the USA is reiki: ‘energy medicine’ that involves using hand and touch to direct into the patient's ‘healing energy’ from what reiki masters call the ‘universal source’. It is closely related to therapeutic touch (TT), which makes similar claims. For such modalities, the pre-trial likelihood of a positive effect greater than placebo is negligible, if not zero, given that there is no evidence that this healing energy even exists, much less that humans can manipulate it. Nonetheless, numerous hospitals, including prestigious hospitals , have reiki programs and carry out RCTs , resulting in at least one systematic review , which, not surprisingly, concluded that there is no evidence that reiki has specific therapeutic effects for any condition. Yet RCTs to test whether reiki, TT, homeopathy, reflexology, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, and other modalities equally lacking in preclinical plausibility are ongoing, as is easily verified by a search of www.ClinicalTrials.gov.



Wednesday Toon Roundup 4- The Rest





Climate Change

Wednesday Toon Roundup 3- War Around the World





Wednesday Toon Roundup 2- Race in America

Wednesday Toon Roundup 1- A Farewell to Kings

How the Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops


IRVINE, Calif. — LAST week, a grand jury was convened in St. Louis County, Mo., to examine the evidence against the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and to determine if he should be indicted. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. even showed up to announce a separate federal investigation, and to promise that justice would be done. But if the conclusion is that the officer, Darren Wilson, acted improperly, the ability to hold him or Ferguson, Mo., accountable will be severely restricted by none other than the United States Supreme Court.

In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

The most recent court ruling that favored the police was Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, which found that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution. Police officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Rather than comply with an officer’s request to get out of the car, the driver made the unfortunate decision to speed away. The police chased the car for more than five minutes, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, officers fired 15 shots into the car, killing both the driver and a passenger.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and ruled unanimously in favor of the police. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and that the police were justified in shooting at the car to stop it. The court said it “stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”


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