Friday, April 29, 2005

Tigers, fat people and goose poop—The March of Science News 4.31.2005


OK Fatso, you had your moment of comfort--OK, here we go again. A study in the British Medical Journal indicates that fatter people (defined as those who are obese in their 40s) are more likely to suffer from dementia than those who are not. The cohort of 10,000 people involved subjects who were between the ages of 40-45 when the study began between 1964 and 1973. They were studied again in 1994. By that point, 7 out of 100 normal-weight people suffered from dementia. The risk for those somewhat overweight is 8 out of 100, and if you are really fat, 9 out of 100. The difference apparently is statistically significant. This, of course, comes on the heels of reports that the slightly chubby live longer. Kaiser and NIH funded this study. Everybody repeat after me: correlation does not equal causation. Gina Kolata, in the New York Times, blames the fat-fighting industry for this stuff. The problem is, we really don’t know. AP

If I’m not there, start without me-With an admirable sense of caution, NASA has decided to delay its return to shuttle flights until July. The feeling was that the agency had not corrected all the problems that led to the Columbia's breaking apart on reentry in 2003. Michael Griffin, the new administrator, announced NASA would wait until the July 13-31 launch window, mentioning the risk of falling debris, among other risks. The agency is down to three shuttles and among the delayed projects are the International Space Station, now being serviced by the Russians, and fixing the wondrous Hubble Space Telescope. By the way, I’m not sure what to make of the fact a character from StarTrek narrates NASA’s website. REUTERS AP NASA NYT

Clicking on this site will take you to lawyers--New York State’s hyperactive attorney general, who is clearly running for something, went after spyware this week. Eliot Spitzer sued Intermix Media, a large California Internet marketing firm for embedding invasive and annoying programs into other people’s computers. The programs, hidden in programs the company gives away for free, send users to web sites they didn’t want to go to, harasses them with popup windows, and links them unwillingly to clients of the company. Intermix Media is only one of several companies selling spyware, which not only track computer use, but manage to clog the machines, rendering them as useful as doorstops. In Intermix Media’s case, all you had to do was download something apparently innocuous and discover that aliens had taken over. Tens of millions of people have done so. The company claims it doesn’t do that any more. To get rid of them, you have to acquire programs that hunt them out and destroy them. To prevent them from ever popping up, you have to either foreswear downloading anything you don’t positively need—or buy a Mac, which are immune [see below]. Most experts think this is a first step toward regulation. NYT Office of the Attorney General Reuters

Tiger, tiger burning bright, why do I still have market shares in the single digits?—Apple Computer has taken time off from suing its best customers and chasing book authors long enough to ship its newest operating system, OS-X 4, or Tiger. [Be warned, I’m one of those people who consider this a religious question]. Tiger is at least two generations ahead of the latest Windows and is likely to stay that way for at least a year until Microsoft finally ships Longhorn, it’s newest version of its seriously mediocre Windows. Reviews have been mostly ecstatic, even from the Windows set [PC World], with emphasis on Spotlight, a routine that will search your hard disk for anything you want regardless of where it is, when you filed it away, what program you used to create it or what it is. Instantly. It is also even more secure than the system it is replacing, Panther, which makes Windows look like a sieve for viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, worms and assorted vermin. The most serious extensive and knowledgeable review can be found at Macintouch (naturally). For others see: David Pogue at the New York Times and Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal, and Steven Vaughan-Nichols in the Washington Post. Cheapest way to get it appears to be through Amazon. Apple


Goose shit—I’m not making this up. Researchers in Canada report they have found a new vector for pathogens: goose poop. It turns out that Canada geese, which can be a real pain when they take over a pond or a park, also may be a source for the spreading of multi-drug resistant salmonella. If the bacteria are dropped in horse dung in Georgia and a goose eats it (geese eat shit), then the bird can carry it to other states or up into Canada, where it gets on your shoes or our dog rolls in it or your toddler spreads it on his blanket or God knows what. The research will be published in the NIH journal Emerging Infectious Diseases by researchers from the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. Some other damn thing to worry about! Globe & Mail

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The March of Science and Medical News--4.28.2005

[We’re working on the marching music.]

Could Elvis be next?—It was thought extinct since 1944, but the extraordinarily beautiful ivory-billed woodpecker is still with us. Despite Elvis sightings for years, no one had actually verified they still exited until now. Science Magazine reports that Cornell scientists are sure they saw one in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. So, we haven’t killed them all off yet, huh? Science Now WP NYT

Send me your tired, your poor, but particularly your engineers—Bill Gates, he of Microsoft, says something must be done to let American companies get access to more foreign engineers. The country is in danger of losing its technological advantage because there are not enough America-born engineers around, and the number of H-1B visas for foreigners are less than the number Windows security upgrades. Reuters

When bad things happen to good planets—Science magazine has two articles with further evidence that global warming is real and world-altering, unless perhaps we eat plankton. One study shows that glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula have been in retreat for half a century; 87 percent of glaciers investigated are shrinking. Another study shows that Europe is warming up and how that affects summer monsoon winds. The good news is that this warming is producing a bumper crop of plankton in the Arabian Sea. Science and Science AP Nature

Tahoe Tsunami—An earthquake in the Sierra around Lake Tahoe could cause a 30-foot tsunami, which would really screw up real estate values. There is a major quake there every 3,000 years, writes David Perlman, and it isn’t clear when the last one was, so we don’t know when the next one is expected. But it could happen. Quakes in the past have thrown the ground up 10 feet or more and that would trigger one mother of a wave. SF Chronicle

Birds causing exploding toads—I’m not making this up. Toads have been exploding all over northern Europe (you didn’t know?), which, if you are a toad, is disconcerting at best. It’s even disconcerting if you are standing next to one. The plague has now spread from Germany to Denmark. Scientists doing necropsies on the splattered remains have found one peculiarity, which may solve the mystery: no livers. It turns out that crows have been pecking out the livers, the toads puff themselves up in defense, but with a void left where the livers have been removed, blood vessels and lungs burst and the toad explodes. You read it here first. OK, second: AP [SJMN]

You can't get a good cheese steak anyplace, you know—Following W.C. Field’s advice, Helis, the beluga, has returned to Philadelphia, swimming up the Schuylkill River, as if it was joining one of the boat clubs. Whales are not common in the Schuylkill. Indeed, few living things are. The whale had been in Philly nine days earlier, thought the better of it, and left, but it’s back. NOAA experts think it must have decided feeding was better in Philly than where it ended up. Philadelphia Inquirer

[Registration is required for some of these sites.]

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Radio days, the invention of a word and power to the people--UPDATED 5.5.05

Podcasting may be the savior of commercial radio and rescue popular music.
April 27. 2005

There is no more irrelevant form of media than commercial radio. The AM dials have long ago been taken over by wingnut performers disguised as political commentators, and a half-dozen corporations, which get their programming lists from focus groups, control the FM dial. Essentially, that leaves us with public radio. Part of the problem, of course is the sad state of popular music at this moment, and the scandal of rap and hip-hop, which aren’t music. What’s left of the audience is escaping to iPods or free-form satellite radio, which allow you to do your own programming—commercial free.

A San Francisco radio station is starting an experiment that could revolutionize radio. It is adopting its audience’s iPods as its programmer, in a form of communication called "podcasting." [Note the birth of a new word, derived from Apple’s ubiquitous and magical devices]. No one knows if it will work, but what have they got to lose?

According to, Infinity Broadcasting, one of those aforementioned corporations (183 stations, one as boring as the next) is switching it’s KYCY-AM to listener-submitted content. Just what that content will be is a mystery to everyone, including, one supposes, Infinity. The new call letters will be KYOURadio. Transmission will be by podcasting.

A podcast is anything collected on an iPod or another MP-3 player that is then transmitted, usually via the Internet, to someone else’s iPod. The content can be anything from music to discussions to the sound of crashing waves. They are the latest new thing. What Infinity is proposing is that its listeners send their podcasts to the station by its website, and if the podcasts are interesting and don’t violate FCC rules (keep in mind, this is San Francisco so the standards are bit different) they’ll play them—whatever they are. If the podcasts include copyrighted music (like the stuff you downloaded from iTunes), the station will pay the fees. It’s not clear what they expect to come in, and what the station will sound like, although there will be commercials. This is commercial radio, after all. Many of the submissions could be bands and musicians who cannot break into the business, and this may be their best way to get heard, just as it was when FM radio was in its glory days in the 60s and 70s—before corporations like Infinity screwed it up.

“I’m excited,” said Infinity vice president Joel Hollander. “We’re creating a new way to let a lot of people participate personally in radio—sharing their feelings on music, news, politics, whatever matters to them. I also think this is going to be a really interesting way to develop new talent.” Again, this being San Francisco, it is not likely to be dull. It has to be better than phone-in radio.

It’s another case of the Internet giving power to the people in ways no one anticipated—like blogging, actually.

According to Robert MacMillan in the Washington Post, this podcasting experiment is part of a move by station owners to get relevant again. Stations are adopting a programming format called Jack, which permits a random kind of music list, something like what you get from the Party Shuffle mode on the iPod. The result is one song coming right after another in an unstructured manner that would drive the programming chiefs of most radio stations to apoplexy. The origin of this programming apparently was a station called BOB-FM in Winnepeg, Manitoba, which begs the question why it is not called BOB. [It's actually named for an east coast DJ] A station in Denver was the first U.S. station to play JACK or BOB, and a half dozen others have followed. On May 5, it struck here in Baltimore, when WQSR became JACK-102, fired all its hands, and suddenly went freeform. They have a play list of about 1,200, instead of the usual 400, which will hardly impress an iPod owner.

Over at, Sam Whitmore reports a Pew study showing that 22 million Americans own MP-3 players (presumably, mostly iPods), a number he thinks is too high, but I don't. Apple sold 5 million in the last quarter. And podcasting is becoming as ubiquitous. Paris Hilton [if you are expecting a link, forget it] will podcast to promote her movie; the SciFi channel runs podcasters by the executive producer of Battlestar Galactica to comment on each episode; former vice presidential candidate John Edwards is keeping in the public eye with his own podcasts, and record companies are tying to figure out how to handle the legalities of podcasting, an entirely new legal conundrum, with the Grateful Dead and all the free music being a particular chore.

The key quote: “Madison Avenue realizes there is an entire generation out there that doesn’t listen to the radio.” Actually, more than one.

Poynter blog

Monday, April 25, 2005

Scandal under the dome

Another scandal in journalism as a well-known technology writer gets in trouble
April 25, 2005


Technology Review, the well-respected magazine associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has its own journalism scandal brewing. A freelance technology writer, Michelle Delio, a regular contributor to the magazine, has had all of her stories pulled when an outside investigation was unable to corroborate most of them.

Another of her clients, Wired Magazine, has launched similar investigations and a third is reediting a story it already ran.

Of the 10 stories by Delio published by Tech Review, Susan Rasky, a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and her graduate students, were able to verify three. Rasky was unable to back up the sourcing and accuracy of the other seven and Tech Review has pulled all of them from its website with a note stating why. Jason Pontin, the magazine's editor, said it was possible Delio was just a sloppy note-taker or that some of her sources lied to her, but "I cannot verify the sources in seven of the 10 stories she's written for us, therefore do not stand by them."

Delio, 37, a New York-based writer, admitted making mistakes and said she should have kept her notes to help verify sources. But she insisted that she fabricated nothing and declined to reveal her source for the HP stories.

"I certainly didn't make up sources," she said. "Leaving aside the huge issues of ethics, you're always going to get caught. Possibly I was lax in record keeping, but it doesn't mean people don't exist.

"(Stephen) Glass and (Jayson) Blair were fabricating facts, fabricating major sources, minor sources," she continued. "You're just not going to find that in my work." Glass fabricated stories as a staff writer for the New Republic. Blair did the same at the New York Times.

The three stories Rasky was able to verify were: "Augmented Reality," published last February; "The Snow Man" published the week before, and "Encrypt This," published in the previous November. Two stories, both about the removal of Carly Florina as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, have not been verified because they relied on unnamed sources and identification was too sketchy to enable Rasky to find them. One source was identified as Hungarian with the initials G.S, who one would assume would be easy to find, but no one apparently could. It was HP that triggered the investigation about one of those stories. (They weren't aware of the other.) Delio promised to provide more information but did not do so until last week. In the case of another story, "The Future Shock," one source quoted in the story said he never talked to her. Sources in another story said they met with her but talked about something other than what she wrote about.

Over at Wired News, management hired Adam Penenberg, the former editor of the New Republic who caught Stephen Glass faking stories at that publication, to do the same investigation on Delio. (He was played by Steve Zahn in the film, Shattered Glass.) He has no results yet.

Infoworld magazine revised one of her stories, removing quotes they could not verify.

Technology Review seems an unlikely place to find journalism fraud, but someone pointed out that the stories involved were business stories, not technology, and perhaps they were just out of their league.

This is of course more bad news for journalism, but the silver lining in this dark cloud is that these scalawags have been caught, the stories retracted and apologies made. The system is, to some extent at least, self-corrrecting, which is a good thing. That it happens at all is appalling.

Life is a cabaret, old chum--UPDATED

Only a cabaret
April 25, 2005

Like a lot of lazy people, I have a standing joke that I have is my list of people who died while jogging. It's not actually a list, just recollections, starting, of course with James Fixx, the famous marathon runner. If he was sitting on a couch, drinking beer and watching a baseball game, he would have lived longer. He wasn't really a great example, to tell the truth; he was very sick before he started running that day, had every reason to know he was in trouble yet went and ran and died anyhow. Nonetheless, the list--if there was one--is long and honorable, including the former governor of Florida who fell off his treadmill, and Jack Kelly, the brother of Grace Kelly, an Olympic athlete who would scull up the Schuylkill River in the morning and then go running. He dropped dead in front of my office. Then, of course, there was Doug Adams, the wonderful creator of the Hitchhiker books. He died at 49 at a health spa. The saddest story I know was a law professor at Stanford, John Kaplan, one of America's great experts on Constitutional law and a splendid man. He ran marathons, ate nothing that could clog anything under any circumstances, and while he was honing his heart to that of a lion, a tumor was growing in his brain. A friend described him as having the fastest mind he had ever seen. Same brain. He was president of the faculty senate and his colleagues, in respect, let him continue even though he was rapidly becoming incoherent. It was excruciating to witness. There is not a rule that man broke and he was still dead before the age of 50. He jogged until almost the end.

All this rumination is a triggered by a piece by Gina Kolata [$] had in the New York Times a week ago, pointing out that only Americans think they can battle aging and prolong life by their behavior. Most Europeans and Asians know better. Europeans don't read diet books and think our passion for them amusing. This battle with mortality is a peculiarly American trait, part of our charm, I guess. It is not just that Europeans think out fat-battling diets are ridiculous (and they guess, correctly, that none of them actually work for most people) but it is philosophical. Life, they know, is a crap shoot. Your longevity is largely determined by who you are and the genes you got, and then, what you do with them. And when your time comes, your time comes and that too is part of life. What part religion plays in this, I cannot tell, but I'm not sure that it does. We share the same religions they do.

As I approach the age at which my father died--of his third heart attack--I understand this. He would not have died at 67 if he did not smoke for many years and had access to the same medicines I do. My blood pressure is under control (Atenolol) and my cholesterol is at a lovely level, thank you (Pravacol). I have had nothing, praise be, even vaguely resembling a heart attack and the heart disease I do have is minimal. It's being watched and when it is necessary to do something drastic about it we will. Indeed, had my father been around for statins he might have gone on for many more years. Even popping aspirin might have made a difference, but no one knew that then. He lived too early. Bad luck.

I am convinced, as Ms. Kolata wrote, that while you can alter the odds somewhat, it is mostly genetic and karma that determines how old we live. Smoking obviously alters the odds. Working with asbestos radically shifts those odds. So does skiing in avalanche country. Devouring Big Macs and fries clearly is not going to do you any good, and if nothing else, will make you fat. Eating well, exercising and not going bungee jumping, also alters probability, but that's all it does. Mostly it is your genes and luck. I have an uncle who still works three days a week at the age of 93, looks 10 years younger, and except for a few odds and ends, has a fully functioning mind and body. His mother made it to 92, his aunt to 102, his sister (my mother) to 82, and his brother is doing fine in his late 70s. Another brother died of liver cancer in his 40s, and no one can guess why. I'm counting on those genes and hoping to avoid his brother's bad luck.

The problem we all run into (especially medical writers) is that scientists do studies and show that in the aggregate, the odds of living longer are improved by eating carrots, blueberries and kale, and we write stories to that effect (me too). People who exercise live longer than people who don't. In the aggregate. (That people who exercise may feel better than people who don't is not an issue. I concede the point). To an individual, it really doesn't make a hell of a difference. Cancer is a disease of age and every day in every place, I think, some cell is misbehaving. Almost all of the time, our bodies stomp on it and we never notice. And then sometimes, it doesn't. You are either programmed to have heart disease or you are not, and if you are, there are medicines. Indeed, death by heart attack is now a shrinking component of mortality tables thanks to aspirin and statins. I am convinced that only thing switching to a fat-free diet will accomplish is to take flavor out of my meals.

I would advise that we reconsider stories like that. I would, except that Americans still like to read them; editors, therefore like to print them and pay writers to write them, and writers....well, it's hard enough to make a living writing without standing on a useless principle. Maybe we should just not take them too seriously.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

If Plan A fails and they won't let you have Plan B...

Canada approves morning-after-pill without fuss.
April 21, 2005
imagesCanada, the eminently sensible country north of the border has, without a great deal of publicity or turmoil, approved the sale of Levonorgestrel 0.75 mg for sale over-the-counter. That’s Plan B, the emergency contraceptive being blocked in the U.S. by the wingnuts who would rather have a woman have a child she doesn’t want or shouldn’t have than not get pregnant at all. Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh [really] announced that "women who need this product must have access to it very quickly or it will not be effective. Allowing the product to be sold without a prescription will ensure that it is available when needed." Plan B [absolutely love that name] can prevent pregnancy up to three days after unprotected sex, but works best if taken within 24 hours. Health Canada said that it extensively reviewed the clinical evidence and safety data before making the decision. The decision was not a big deal up there. Three provinces, Quebec, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, already permit sales in drug stores without prescription. You have to ask the pharmacist. The Toronto Globe & Mail, arguably the premier newspaper in the country, put the story on B-16. A similar decision in the U.S. would make every front page. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been delaying its decision on Barr Pharmaceuticals’ request for similar approval despite a January deadline, claiming it needs to study the issue of the use by girls 15 years old or younger, but is actually afraid to get religious fundamentalists upset. Health Canada said its investigation led them to believe there is no issue. "No outstanding concerns on its safety in younger teens has been identified, the agency said. “there is no reason to delay timely access to other women." Barr asked for permission to sell Plan B over-the-counter to females over 16 and by prescription for the younger ones. Religious conservatives claim that the ability to take Plan B would lead to an increase in risky sexual activity by young women and more sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, not permitting it would lead to more abortions. Go figure. Democratic senators are holding up the nomination of the new FDA commissioner, Lester Crawford because of the delay. Several states, including California, are formulating plans to circumvent FDA obstruction, kind of a Plan B for Plan B. In the words of Health Canada: "A number of European countries and several U.S. states have already granted access to emergency contraceptives via pharmacist-controlled sales. In Canada, behind-the-counter status would give timely access and professional advice." Heaven forbid. Canada is now the 34th country to approve the pill.

Oh yes. Canada also became the first country to approve a pain killer for multiple sclerosis--based on the active ingredient in marijuana.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Make sure there is chicken fat in that chopped liver

Medical study adds to confusion about obesity and what else is new?
April 20, 2005

To repeat myself: the three things the medical community knows almost nothing about are sex, lower back pain and nutrition. Today we discuss the third. A study reported in JAMA says that obesity is less of a killer than first thought, only 112,000 Americans a year instead of the 400,000 previously reported. Those affected were the really, really fat (say a 5-foot-4 inch woman weighing 204 pounds or so). Being underweight killed 34,000 Americans. The researchers, at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute used the body mass index in their study. [An aside: has anyone else noticed that the cancer institute home page has nothing but smiling people on it?] The reaction in the medical community was mixed and it was reflected in the stories published in newspapers, with Gina Kolata in the New York Times being considerably less skeptical than Rosie Mestel in the Los Angeles Times. Mestel quoted someone from the Harvard School of Public Health calling the study “really na├»ve, deeply flawed and seriously misleading,” which is not a quote you see very often in news stories about medical findings--and should. But we shouldn't dismiss the report out of hand. Those of us who are, shall we say, a tad round around the waist, in other words, just a bit overweight, tend to live longer, as if the extra weight afforded some protection, according to the study. We suffered 86,000 fewer deaths than those whose weight was in the “normal” range. Right on! I wonder how much of the bad press fat folk gets is actually aesthetic? And the increase in obesity does not require a government research contract to find. Anyone paying attention has noticed in the last 10 years a great increase in really overweight people, particularly Americans. Go to any mall, any airport, any sporting event. Walk down any street in the world outside of the U.S. and you often can spot Americans, mostly by their girth. You might confuse them with an occasional German, but thanks to the terrible things we eat (visit Burger King and order an Enormous Omelette Sandwich--their trademark--and gulp down 730 calories and 47 grams of fat, which ought to qualify you for a Darwin Award). All this reinforces my opinion that none of those guys have any clue what they are talking about, and in honor of the report I am about to go out and get myself a chopped liver (heavy on the schmaltz) sandwich on rye with tomato at Edmart for lunch, which is to die for. OK. Bad choice of words! [And yes, the picture above is a pastrami sandwich at New York's Carnegie Delicatessen, the gold standard of self-indulgence]

For more, try Daily Kos here.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Death of a hero--UPDATED

Marla Ruzicka 1977-2005
April 18, 2005

This has nothing to do with medicine or science but a hero died Saturday. Her name was Marla Ruzicka. She was 28 and she took her opposition to the war as a moral imperative. Unlike the blathering bobbleheads on cable television and in Congress, she went Afghanistan and Iraq, surely the most dangerous places in the world, and set up an organization, the Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict (CIVIC), to help the innocent civilian casualties of the war, the very people we don’t read about and the Bush administration choses to ignore. She had no sponsorship and was on her own. Back in the U.S., she convinced Congress to approve $10 million in aid to the Afghans and $20 million for Iraq, the same people who spent $80 million investigating Bill Clinton’s sex life. She was described as beautiful, scatterbrained, charming, relentless and apparently fearless, and had been doing this kind of stuff all over the world since she was 15. Several years ago, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, she mooned President Bush. She had “Public Power Now” written on her underpants. Bush looked at her and said, “cute.” Her statistics on casualties on Iraq are considered as definitive as any, and her works are used as a resource by almost every journalist who went to Iraq, most of whom knew her. She crashed on their couches and threw parties to cheer them up. Perpetually broke, she sold blackmarket beer to raise money for the medical bills for innocent victims and rolled over American diplomats who failed to take her seriously. When U.S. officials said they didn't know how many Iraqis were killed accidentally by the invasion, she told them. Even generals learned to take her seriously, especially when she organized a mass of Afghan families to demonstrate for compensation. A number of reporters wrote appreciations for her, including Pamela Constable at the Washington Post, Ivan Watson on NPR, and Doug Smith of the Los Angeles Times. Also see Jennifer Abrahamson's piece in Slate. They were friends. Marla helped thousands of people who had no one else to help them and risked her life for them daily. She was killed Saturday along with her drive and another Iraqi on her way to help an injured child. A bomb exploded near her convoy on the infamous Baghdad airport road. It apparently wasn’t anything personal; the “insurgents” just saw a convoy and blew up the bomb. I wonder if President Bush, who cut short a vacation to intervene on behalf of a brain damaged woman in a Florida hospital, will bother to say anything.

One doesn’t know really what to say to her parents, except send them your condolences and admiration. Or:

Donations to CIVIC can be made in her memory to CIVIC, P.O. Box 1189, Lakeport, CA, 95453.


The decline of western civilization, part 2

Please take your tongue out of my ear, darling, the phone just rang.
April 18, 2005

A study by the advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide, has found that 14 percent of the world’s cell phone users will stop in the middle of sex to answer the phone or their Blackberrys. The Germans and the Spanish were the most likely to interrupt sex, 22 percent. The Italians (of course!) were the least inclined to answer the phone, 7 percent. Americans rolled over 15 percent of the time, cell phone interruptus. As reported in [free subscription], the report came from “Wireless Works: Exploring New Brand Connections,” a study designed to show how people use wireless communications. The motive was to see if there was room for advertising on cell phones, which is just what we need. People apparently are reluctant not to answer lest the call be important and besides, getting a cell phone might impress your partner, according to Christina Hannis, head of BBDO Europe. In fact more than 52 percent of respondents used their cell phones to flirt. Almost half the respondents believed their cell phone says as much about them as the car they drive. Answering the phone during sex certainly does. [If my wife is reading this, I was much younger then, and besides it was always my mother.]

Jonathan Beard points out another phenomenon: men who stand at the urinal talking on the phone. He finds that odd. OK, a survey: how many of you have taken a business call whilst sitting on the toilet? I thought so.

Friday, April 15, 2005

God, the Big Bang and government scientists

What happens when science and the Bible seem to agree?
April 15, 2005

Every year, on the Saturday after the Jewish holiday of Simchas Torah, an astrophysicist from the University of California Santa Cruz campus would come to synagogue just outside of town, and deliver the dvar Torah, the dissertation of that week’s reading from the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The reading was Bresheet, the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis, wherein God creates the universe. The astrophysicist was appropriate because the similarities between the description in Genesis and the current cosmology, the Big Bang, are spookily similar, even though the former was written more than 2,000 years ago. If you make allowance for metaphor (the word “day” does not mean day but a discrete block of time), there is not only no conflict, but the two seem in many ways simply different lenses on the same story. One has a supernatural origin, the other doesn't. Having an astrophysicist do the dvar Torah, as an astrophysicist (he was Jewish), always amused the congregation. But he was always good at it, he never made too fine a point of specifics so he did not try to define things like string theory. He wasn’t representing anyone but himself and we loved having him join us. How things have changed.

Now, with the new emerging theocracy in America, scientists need to be really careful about that kind of stuff. One man who demonstrated that is Raymond Orbach, director of the office of science at the Energy Department. At a brown bag lunch someplace (not sure exactly where) Dr. Orbach did something like what the Santa Cruz astrophysicist did, except, he of course made a Powerpoint presentation. (My idea of hell, by the way, is spending an eternity watching Powerpoint presentations). Titled “Genesis, Science and the Beginning of Time,” Dr. Orbach also pointed out the striking similarities between Genesis and the Big Bang. His problem, of course, is that he works for the government and the Powerpoint images were government issue. It might have even been at a government office. I don’t now. You can find it here, a pdf file. Whether he should have done so or not, is now the topic of a commentary battle on Technology Review’s blog. [Thanks to Jonathan Beard for point me to this]. By this afternoon, there were 38 comments posted about the presentation, with most of them unhappy about the talk. The fact he quoted President Bush, was noted by many. The issue, however, goes back to the ancient battle of whether you can be a scientist and believer. Clearly the astrophysicist at Santa Cruz didn’t think there was a problem, but many of the correspondents on the Technology Review blog did.
Orbach takes science back to its limits, something like string theory and the first 10^-44 seconds, but in going back further then seems determined to inject religion into the discussion by quoting Genesis and by quoting others who invoke God as part of the process that explains the beginning of time. Not exactly what you would expect of a man of science—a science that has succeeded in going back further and further in time towards the Big Bang, and which shows no signs of suddenly stopping or of needing to invoke God at any point.

Is Orbach pandering to the religious right or devaluing science as is already underway in the Administration? In any case, I don’t think it’s appropriate for a man of his position.
Some writers were fervent atheists, which they presume to be the proper mindset for a good scientist. And others thought it was fine, except that it seems to be part of a growing religiosity that ought to be a concern to everyone. (Religiosity and being religious are not necessarily the same thing.) Some were merely amused.
There are people who do not understand the inherent separation of religion and science. I am not as well versed on the subject as the experts, but the short version is that religion can accept science as a study of God's universe and science cannot comment about God. The statement of religions position about science is pretty clear and historically supported (even, by some historians accounts, in the case of Galileo). The statement about science's view of religion is less obvious. Science is the study of the world around us. It is not based on opinion but on evidence. Ideas in science change as this evidence comes to the scientific society (we like to think). By the nature of what God is (supernatural), we cannot gather evidence about him/her. Therefore science cannot, and probably doesn't want to, comment on God. Science cannot prove or disprove God and as all the scientists reading this know, you can only disprove a hypothesis.

P.S. Scientists know that God is separate from science. People who claim science disproves God really do not understand either. They state opinion as fact without evidence or legitimate support. Such statements are very unscientific.
It is an interesting and ancient dispute, made more interesting by the times we live in. Would Dr. Orbach felt comfortable making such a presentation before the era of George Bush and the rise of fundamentalism?

And by the way, the similarities in versions of the creation get better if you use the Hebrew version (and its translations) rather than the Christian versions, which are based on the Greek and contain numerous errors. For one thing, the tense used to describe creation is different in the Hebrew. From the Jewish Publication Society Translation:
When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water--God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Remember that package we sent you last week?--UPDATED

Wrong virus is shipped to labs around the world and is hopefully destroyed before it gets loose...again

April 14, 2005
Add to the list of good intentions gone awry: Periodically, the College of American Pathologists (CAP) sends a package to labs around the world containing unidentified pathogens. The recipients are supposed to test the contents and report back. That’s how the college tests the labs; if you identified it correctly, you are doing fine. If you don’t, your lab needs attention. The CAP kits are sent out from a private contractor, Meridian Bioscience in Cincinnati. Somebody at Meridian goofed and sent out a package containing one of history’s most deadly influenza vaccines. No one is supposed to get hurt doing these tests and in well-run labs, the pathogens do not get loose. But, they did, by accident at the Canadian National Microbiology lab in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, and it contaminated a sample in a lab. An alert technician discovered the contamination and the lab, one of Canada’s best, had no trouble identifying it as the flu that caused the Asian flu pandemic in 1957 that killed millions around the world, an H2N2 virus. The virus evolved into another type in a year, as flu viruses do very well, and we now get sick from something else. What makes this serious is twofold: no one born after 1958 has any immunity to this potentially deadly virus, and the virus is not used in vaccines since it no longer poses a threat. If the virus could escape from a lab as good as the one in Winnipeg, it could get away from other labs. All that has to happen is that it infects one lab worker, who goes home, goes shopping, gets on a plane or otherwise insures transportation and contagion. At the request of the World Health Organization, labs around the world are now busy destroying their samples, autoclaving them to cinder. So far, there have been no reports of an escape. Interestingly, Canada and most other countries classify the virus as Type 3, meaning it requires the very high security precautions. In the U.S., it is only Type 2. That classification is now being reassessed. And, incidentally, the 1957 pandemic began with birds in Asia, just as one seems to be forming now.

UPDATE--The World Health Organization says that all of the virus samples have now been destroyed.

Blogged elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The decline of western civilization, part one UPDATED

Just sitting here in the living room knocking off kittens.
April 13, 2005
There are probably no crazier groups of people in America than the gun fanatics and cat lovers. The gun fanatics idolize their weapons and worship them in a way that comes close to religious idolatry. The weapons serve no use except to kill things, which, unless you are hunting for food, is not admirable. The cat people romanticize their pets, going great lengths to describe how smart cats are and how wonderful are their personalities. In fact, cats are as dumb as doorknobs and only seem to have a personality to people who don’t. It was only a matter of time before the two groups would apparently clash and now they have. It’s not clear who will win. In Wisconsin, one of the saner of the states, the Conservation Congress, an advisory group to the Department of Natural Resources, took votes around the state and the results--if they follow through--would remove the protected status of feral cats. That means if a little pussy ran across your front yard and did not have a collar, you could pop the little darling with your Magnum. The vote in every county was in favor of shooting the cats. The Congress now has to make a recommendation to the DNR and it is the DNR that decides what to do about the cats. Now it is perfectly true that in some places in the world (Australia comes to mind) feral cats are a serious threat to the environment and killing them would be a blessing to all the birds and other creatures that are part of the feline food chain. The cats aren’t natural to the wild but were pets that some cat lovers couldn't or wouldn't take responsibility for. In Wisconsin, they kill millions of song birds. Several people appalled at the idea have discovered it is not quite as weird as it sounds. Both Minnesota and South Dakota already permit killing feral cats, and we all know how sensible Minnesotans are. I married one. Rules haven’t been talked about yet. For instance, what about collateral damage when you try to shoot a bothersome feline in your yard? Like if you hit the 8-year-old girl across the street? The good news is that any rule would eventually require an act of the legislature, which apparently includes some cat people.

But hunters, take note; all is not over. You can may be able sit at home at your computer and still kill something. A Texas company (where else!) is considering letting people use a computer mouse to operate a remote-controlled rifle to hunt deer, antelope and pigs in a hunting preserve. (I am not making this up). It’s called Live-Shot. For a small fee, $150, you take control of a rifle and camera and aim at the animals wandering around in the park. Click and shoot. (One presumes you have broadband. The only thing you could hit with a modem and AOL would have to be sound asleep). The Texans already have the rig, a $10,000 device that contains a camera and a .22 rifle. The originator of this idea, John Underwood, says one use would be to permit handicapped people, who would have trouble getting out in the wild, kill something. [NPR Audio]My suggestion is that he sets this up in, say, Madison, Wisconsin so we can have pictures of handicapped people shooting cats from their living room.

UPDATE: But all is not lost. According to the Los Angeles Times, lawmakers--and of all people, organizations representing hunters and conservationists--are up in arms [sorry] about the idea of remote-control animal popping. Even in Texas! The vice president of the Texas Wildlife Assn, which represents hunters and conservationists, called it "off the end of the ethical chart." California legislators are now considering a bill making it illegal. The Senate has passed it. One scholar, however, points out that in a country in which the computer game "Grand Theft Auto" is wildly popular, Underwood is not necessarily out of the mainstream.

[With thanks to Carol, a sensible Minnesotan, and Circles, the family cat, who has a collar.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Maybe now that the NFL is involved people will notice--UPDATED

MRSA gets loose on the streets and in locker rooms.
April 12, 2005

What happens when the antibiotic-resistant superbug gets loose on the streets? It's out there, and has, oddly, received not a lot of attention in the media. Now, several reports and an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, may change that. It is methicillin-resistant Staphylcoccus aureus (MRSA), and while once it was restricted to hospitals, several cities in North America and Britain have seen it among street people and even locker rooms in athletic stadiums. The variant is called community associated. It is rare, but not unheard of for this infection to kill or hospitalize its victims. Included in the category is the famous and very serious flesh-eating variety which requires fast surgery. For some reason, the Canadian media has been way ahead of the U.S. media on the story until now, with much of the best work coming out of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC). Partly, that’s because MRSA has popped up frequently in Calgary, but the CDC has traced outbreaks among healthy athletes in Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania and California. It begins as a skin condition, usually a boil, and can spread through the bloodstream from there. If not treated quickly and well, it can kill, usually as a form of pneumonia. In the case of one young man in Calgary, it only took four days. In Colorado, it struck members of a fencing club and their families. Football players, including at least five of the St. Louis Rams of the NFL, as well as amateur wrestlers, also have been hit with the infection, sometimes requiring hospitalization. Children in day care and prisoners also are particularly vulnerable. MRSA has reached epidemic proportions in Chicago, particularly among children, and at least one child has died. It took 16 hours from first symptom to death. Unlike the hospital variety, standard antibiotics such as methicillin don’t work with the community version. Generally, labs have to analyze each case and then determine which, if any, of the available antibiotics will kill the bugs--usually it's vancomycin. Someday the bacteria may be entirely invulnerable, even to vancomycin. One of the jokes they tell in medical schools is that people become dermatologists because there is never an emergency in dermatology. There are now. Oh, by the way, one way to avoid spreading MRSA is not to pick your nose. (You have to admit you don’t get information like this in most places.)

UPDATE: Two more cases have been reported in western Manitoba and one of the two has died.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The anniversary of Moore's Law--UPDATED

Few men have been as prescient or gotten richer than Gordon Moore.
April 7, 2005
This month is the 40th anniversary of one of the great intellectual feats of modern times: Moore’s Law. If you don’t understand Moore’s Law, you don’t understand the electronic revolution. If you run a business based on electronic technology you better grok it. In a paper published on April 19, 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, predicted that the number of transistors that would fit per square inch in a microprocessor would double every year. He later revised that to every 18 months, and astonishingly, that's exactly what has happened. If you are old enough, you remember the first hand-held calculators out of Texas Instruments. They added, subtracted, multiplied and divided and cost several hundred dollars. We were dazzled. I wrote a book in the late 1970s on a Radio Shack TRS-80 (the infamous Trash Eighty) and blew away my friends with the capabilities of my 28 k memory. (It worked). I don’t remember the clock speed but let’s say “leisurely.” You can now buy calculator that does all that the old ones did, plus currency conversions and mathematical tricks like square roots for a few bucks. The chips inside are called “jelly bean chips” because that’s about what they are worth. I’m writing this on an Apple G-5 iMac with 1 gig memory and a clock speed of better then 1.6 gigahertz, several times more powerful and faster than the computers that were used on the moon expeditions in the 1970s. It has the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in storage and four days worth of iTunes files including most of Mahler’s symphonies, and it works effortlessly. In 1971, Intel put 2,300 transistors in its first microprocessor. This year they will have one that contains 1.7 billion! Moore, who incidentally is a very nice man (I interviewed him once), has been right on the money. "If the automobile industry moved this fast," he once said, "your car would move at a million miles per hour and it would get 50,000 miles a gallon." Most everyone, including Moore, knows that the law will eventually expire. It runs into the laws of physics in about 15 years, when the transistors get to the size of atoms and manufacturing the chips will prove impossible. Moore’s Law, nonetheless, has been a major factor in the modern economy, not only turning California’s Santa Clara Valley into Silicon Valley, but driving and challenging industry. The semiconductor business now has $213 billion in annual sales and powers the $1 trillion electronics business. If you have a business that relies on this technology, you have to factor in the law. The technology you use will change in 18 months, the business plan you devised will have to adjust every 18 months, and you better be right guessing how it will go. The world is littered with people who either guessed wrong or never thought of Gordon Moore. Bad mistake. And of course Gordon Moore got to be a very rich and very happy man. He earned it.

UPDATE: The estimable John Markoff points out in this morning's New York Times that while Moore gets the credit for the concept, he wasn't first to do so. The equally admirable Doug Engelbart was years ahead of him. That surprises no historian of Silicon Valley; Engelbart was ahead of most people most of the time and has probably received less publicity than anyone of the founders of this electronic revolution. He is best known as the inventor of the mouse, but he had his hands in many of the developments and inventions of the computer age, including the whole concept of aq desktop computer. Happy to set the record straight and knowing Gordon Moore, he probably is too.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

So three H. Sapiens walk into a bar...

Maybe mammals show silly human tricks for laughs.

April 6, 2005
Animals laugh. Sort of. Rats, when tickled, emit sounds that sound like laughter. How do we know that? Scientists at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and Northwestern University in Illinois, tickled rats for science. Not only that, they got their research on rat-tickling published in "Science" this week. The article didn't say who funded the research but how expensive can it be to tickle rats? You take a rat, hold in your hands.... The reseachers concluded that humans are not the only species to laugh, although we may be the only ones to respond to verbal jokes. The neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and therefore may precede the capacity to speak in evolutionary terms, the researchers wrote. Organisms can laugh before they can speak, which when you think about it, is a nice thing. According to Jaak Panksepp of Bowling Green, the capacity to laugh "emerges early in child development and perhaps in mammalian brain-mind evolution as well. Indeed, young children, whose semantic sense of humor is marginal, laugh and shriek abundantly in the midst of their other rough-and-tumble activities." Other mammals have play sounds, including a panting sound when you tickle them. Panksepp has "laughing rats," which emit “a cacophony of 50-kHz chirps when delighted, including when Panksepp (or more likely a graduate student) tickles them. The laughing rats also preferred the company of other rats that laughed a lot, forming a jolly band of rodents. The animal room must be a riot. When they laughed, they seemed to show that dopamine reward circuits in the brain fired off, just as happens when humans laugh, so the sounds have some biological basis. “The sources of play and laughter in the brain are instinctual and subcortical," he wrote. The research, he suggested, might lead to the discovery of molecules that could alleviate depression. The "Science" paper was notable for several reason, not the least of which it was politically incorrect enough to quote Charles Darwin, and contained part of a poem by William Blake (“...Under every grief and pine/ runs a joy with silken twine.”). You don’t get to see a lot of Blake in "Science," which is too damned bad. There is the Annals of Improbable Research, to think of, of course.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Wisdom of the Body

A brief essay
April 5, 2005

One of the great differences between the death of Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo has to do with an interesting concept: the wisdom of the body. Essentially, there are times in life, usually in old age but sometimes just because of illness or injury, that the body decides to shut down. Organs fail one after the other, the immune system gives up to infection (often pneumonia), and a cascade of events, each one perhaps treatable by itself, gangs up on life and brings the body down. In the past doctors, who seemed to view death as an enemy they can--or at least try---to defeat, charge on, treating each event in the cascade only to have something else go wrong. But in recent years, many doctors understand this process, understand that when the body deems it time to stop, they let it be. That’s what happened with John Paul.

He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for years and finally he deteriorated to the point his body determined his fate. Keeping true to his beliefs, he let himself go, believing that suffering was part of living and dying.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, that’s not what happened. Her body seemed perfectly willing to go on. She was not on a respirator as she could breathe for herself; her organs seemed to be working, except for her brain, which was functioning at a primitive level, keeping her alive. While most people in a persistent vegetative state die within a few years, she stayed on. There seemed to be--at least to the public--no real deterioration of her condition. Her body, in its wisdom, or indifference, kept going. Hence the furor. To pull the respirator from John Paul was to let him go. To take out the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo was to make her go. So when the pulled the plug, did they kill her? Yes. And no.

In the process of life and living, we tend to forget that each of us is the result of eons of evolutionary experimentation. That each one of us is alive is testimony to the body’s survival skills, developed in uncountable numbers of ancestors who face weather, hunger, pestilence, and the generally aggressive and selfish disposition of our own species. The result of the experiment is a body-mind unit--the person--a melding of flesh and psyche that has an innate inner balance, a wisdom of its own. Physicians study and are taught by the body’s recuperative wisdom. When someone is seriously ill or injured, the task of the health care team is to support the vital functions of the body--using the most advanced available technology--and coaxes the psyche to gather its strength to live while waiting for the body, in its wisdom, to heal itself.

Medical interventions do not heal the organs. Even if in the next decade or so scientists discover hormones or small proteins that will trigger the regeneration and repair of organ tissues, physicians will still be servants to the body’s own recuperative knowledge. The best a physician can do is control the environment so that the body can best heal itself.

So what happens when clearly the body can’t heal itself? Ever.

What they certainly ended when they took out the feeding tube, was the life of her body. But did they kill Terri Schiavo? Or did her heart failure, which cut off the blood to her brain for long enough to destroy her cortex, kill her? Did the heart failure simply do too incomplete a job, leaving it to the physicians in the hospice to finish it? We can get metaphysical here. What are humans? Where resides the soul?

Start with the premise that the doctors--all but the politically motivated doctors--were correct and she was no longer mentally alive. The brain stem was still operating but she thought no thoughts, felt no sensations, dreamed no dreams and was aware of nothing. The body moved, her eyes moved, but there was nobody inside. Now did they kill her?

It’s easy to come up with simplistic declarative statements, such as “it’s murder.” Fortunately--and unfortunately--life and death are not that simple and simplistic statements aren’t very useful.

Don’t let the wingnuts of the world obscure the argument. This is serious stuff.

Oh no, he's going to resort to facts!

Lost in the Schiavo debate was medical science and that's too bad.
April 5, 2005
One hates to spoil a good argument with facts, but the sad affair of Terri Schiavo and the wingnuts who politicized it requires most sentient humans to sit back, take a deep breath and think about what actually happened. Benedict Carey has an excellent piece in the New York Times describing the various states of brain injury, the differences between coma, sleep and vegetative states, persistent and otherwise. The law, of course, was not the issue, part of the rage from the right. In every state, the spouse’s views trump the parents. The husband said she would not want to be kept alive, and absent a written declaration to the contrary, that view pertains in law. But you know that. Huge amounts of misinformation were disseminated, however, largely on cable news (whose influence, incidentally, is great exaggerated in the mainstream media), so that the moral and legal issues involved--and there were profound moral issues--were obscured by deliberate obfuscation and slander. Since those issues are important and interesting, that’s too bad. Carey’s story points out that comas are like sleep, and are measured a continuum of unresponsiveness. People in comas can move around or make sounds though they many not remember any of it. After about two or three weeks, the eyes pop open and the brain begins to slowly restore activities, one by one. It’s like it shuts down for repairs and slowly turns on the lights one by one. Eventually, lucky patients wake up as the cortex resumes operation. In this case, “neurologists were all but unanimous in diagnosing the condition of Ms. Schiavo, whose heart stopped temporarily in 1990, depriving her brain of oxygen. Brain cells and neural connections wither and die without oxygen, like marine life in a drained lake, leaving virtually nothing unharmed.” She had no cortex left, as brain scans showed clearly. She was not in a coma; she was in a persistent vegetative state and she wasn't going to wake up. Despite the mumblings of the chattering set on Fox News, there is not a single case of anyone recovering from this condition after two years, Carey reports, quoting a 1994 study. Mrs. Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years! My research in the National Medical Library failed to show an exception after anything near that length of time in the 10 years since that study. So, if the Schiavo case has any value, and her death any purpose, the debate ought to be over whether removing the feeding tube is moral or not. Under Orthodox Jewish law, the beliefs of many conservative Christian and Catholics , it is not moral, it is murder. (They make a distinction between respirators and feeding tubes). Lots of other people, including many Jews and Protestants, think it is the right thing to do. That’s what the discussion ought to be about. Terri Schiavo is long since gone.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water--UPDATED

Monterey Aquarium's great white is doing just fine out there. Beware.
April 1, 2005

How do you release a great white shark back into the wild after it’s been in captivity for 198 days? Yes. Yes. Very carefully. Actually, you wait until just before dawn, when the shark usually approaches the surface of the aquarium tank, net it quickly and then transport it in a tanker to the release point, and very, very carefully lower it into the bay on a sling. Then you watch the dorsal fin slowly glide away, remembering why you don’t surf. The shark in this case was an unnamed great white, about a year old, that was for a brief few months the crown jewel exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the first great white successfully kept in captivity for more than 16 days. She had been caught by accident by commercial fishers off Orange County, California, but released in the southern end of Monterey Bay because she seemed healthy enough to survive there, and driving the freeways with a great white shark in your tank, well.… Every other great white refused to eat when captured and had to be released lest it starve to death. This shark, apparently not prepared to stand on principle, ate with relish. Actually, it started eating its tank-mates in the million-gallon Ocean’s Edge exhibit at the Cannery Row facility. Reasonably docile for much of the time--for a great white--she began showing aggressive behaviors and started munching on soupfin sharks in the tank. When aquarium staff saw her chasing a hammerhead and some Galapagos sharks, they thought it was time to reconsider. The great white had grown from five-feet and 62 pounds to six-feet-four-inches and 162 pounds, and it was clear to the aquarium staff that if she got any bigger they would not be able to safely handle her. The captivity, besides being a record, was a winner all around. The shark got to spend more than six months not having to hunt for a living; the aquarium--crowded even on quiet days--saw attendance jump to a million during the time she was around, and marine biologists got to plant a transmitter on the critter as part of their study of the migratory behavior of these threatened beasts.

And how is the little darling do? Splendidly, apparently. It was last recorded off the coast of Santa Barbara. The electronic tag placed on the shark by aquarium officials, broke off and popped to the surface as it was programmed to do, 25 miles west of Point Conception. That's far enough away from Monterey Bay to tell scientists she is doing well. The tag is still floating in the water, sending readings on what temperatures and depths she liked, which would give them the best data ever on what great whites do in the wild when they are not noshing on surfers.

[By the way, one of the stories on the shark was written for the local Santa Cruz Sentinel by a reporter named Brian Seals. No wonder he got the assignment. ]