Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Blogs and whales and idiots, oh my! The March of Science News 5.3.2005--UPDATED

Inherit the Wind in Kansas—It seems remarkable to be writing this in the year 2005, but there’s going to be another evolution trial, this time in Kansas, a state that seems to be losing its collective mind. Eighty years after the famous trial that pitted Charles Darwin against the know-nothings, Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryant, and H.L. Mencken against the yahoos, it’s happening again. The Kansas Board of Education is scheduling a six-day “trial” in Topeka to determine just what little Kansans will be taught about the origin of life and the universe. Experts will be called for testimony and cross-examination, most of them against teaching evolution. Scientific groups have decided [incorrectly, I believe] to boycott the show on grounds the whole notion is absurd. [That’s true!] "To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round," said a Topeka lawyer. "It’s an absurd proposition." It’s the "intelligent design" folks again. Had I a schoolchild in Kansas, my house would be for sale so we wouldn’t be in Kansas any more. CNN Science KC Star

For daily coverage of the trial, click here.

Well, you give the peasants a blog and now see what they go and do—They may have gotten their boss fired, which was the point of the blog. William J. Broad at the New York Times reports that a blog, posted here on friendly, neighborhood Blogspot by unhappy scientists and engineers at Los Alamos, may mean the days are numbered for lab director G. Peter Nanos. Many of the posters at www.lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com didn’t like the man. It's all part of the struggle over who runs the famous lab, created for the Manhattan Project 62 years ago. Since its founding, the lab has been run by the University of California, and Cal's management contract is up. Washington is looking to see if it wants to renew it, and Nano’s management has become an issue. The blog has turned into a forum for discontent, and the dialog is credited with putting the university in the position of making him the sacrificial goat if it wants to keep the contract. [Why it should want to keep the contract is another matter]. The issue is interesting for two other reasons: again, it shows the power of this new medium [I need to get somebody fired], and two, it shows the danger of these things. No one knows if the unhappy scientists represent a minority, a majority or just a bunch of people who can type.

UPDATE: On May 6, Dr. Nanos announced he was resigning.


Call me Kim—South Koreans with a taste for whale meat--particularly the folks at Grandma’s Whale House in Ulsan--are pressuring the government to ease the moratorium on whale hunting. South Korea is a signatory to the treaty banning hunting, and a lot of people in Ulsan are unhappy, the Los Angeles Times reports. The city, once the center of the Korean whale industry, thinks a restoration of hunting—and eating—whales, will restore the economy of the blighted town, and besides, they think whale meat tastes good. They sometimes eat it raw, like steak tatare, sometimes boil it. The town also is to be the next host of the International Whaling Commission meeting in June, where these things get decided. If, as most scientists believe, whales have a complex form of communication and great intelligence, perhaps this is the time for them to speak up. They sure as hell can’t trust us.

I'm gonna sit and wait and you damn well better be right--There are two kinds of prostate cancer: low grade and high grade. Low grade, the commonest, is the slow-growing kind. Most men over a certain age have it and most of them die of something else. The high-grade kind, on the other hand, is swift and lethal. In many cases, when docs are sure its the low-grade kind, they recommend (or at least offer) a watch-and-wait regimen. They do PSA tests regularly, stick their fingers up your ass often, and perhaps recommend some hormone therapy, but mostly they do nothing unless the stuff flares up. High-grade prostate cancer gets you quickly into an operating room. That is the common wisdom and a study reported in JAMA this week seems to support it. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found in a study of 767 men, that 15 years after diagnosis, the death rate for low-grade prostate cancer had not increased. Even after 20 years, the risk had not increased materially. The conclusion, if you have low-grade prostate cancer and it hasn't killed you in the next 15 years, it probably won't. Not all doctors are convinced, and there is at least one study showing the opposite, as NPR [audio] reports.

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