Not To Be Trusted With Knives

So, as a general rule I don’t blog about work, but rules were made to be broken, right?  I’m running an event through work for the general public and I’m thinking that some of my readers might be interested in attending, so I’m blogging it.

Café Scientifique is a public science initiative that gets scientists together with the general public to talk, in layperson’s terms, about science.   I think the Wikipedia entry on Café Scientifique puts it nicely when they say that Café Scientifique:

“aims to demystify scientific research for the general public and empower non-scientists to more comfortably and accurately assess science and technology issues, particularly those that impact on social policy making”

There are a number of different groups running Café Scientifique events in a number of cities. Our particular series of Café Sci events is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and my particular event in that series is called “Addictions: Nature Meets Nurture.”  We have a panel of four researchers who study different aspects of addictions and each of them will present a brief (like, four minute long) introduction to their area of addictions research – and the rest of the event will involve questions, answers, comments and discussion among the audience and the panel members.  It is meant to be an informal event and one that will generate a lot of discussion about this complex topic.

Event Details:

Understanding Addictions: Nature Meets Nurture

February 4, 2009
7 – 9 p.m.
Café Du Soleil
1393 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC (close to Grandview Park)

Note: the event is at Café Du Soleil, not Café Deux Soleils (which is also on Commercial Drive).  Here’s a map.

Addiction is a complex problem that cannot fully be understood from any single perspective. Join us as we try to find common ground to deepen our understanding of the problems of addiction and strategies to address them .

Food and beverages will be provided.


Erin Gibson
Masters student
Interdisciplinary Studies, UVic
Hajera Rostam
Ph.D. student
Counselling Psychology, UBC
Iris Torchalla
Postdoctoral Fellow
BC Centre of Excellence for  Women’s Health
Kristina Uban
Ph.D. student
Behavioural Neuroscience, UBC


Dr. Lorraine Greaves
Executive Director
BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (BCCEWH)

This Café Scientifique event is part of the series Sex, Drugs and the Public: Men, Women & Addiction coordinated by the BCCEWH. This Café is offered in partnership with the Integrated Mentor Program in Addictions Research Training (IMPART)

RSVP to:

  • For more information, please look under “Events” at
  • To check out our Facebook event listing, go here.

If you plan on attending, be sure to RSVP to the email address above and let me know in the comments!

Image Attributions

As you know, I love being a participant1 in research studies.  As a scientist myself, I know how difficult it can be to recruit participants, so I thought I’d write a posting about some of the research participation opportunities that are out there.

First up, a friend of Raul‘s (and a colleague of mine) is looking for women who are less than 13 weeks pregnant to take part in a study assessing environmental chemicals & maternal-fetal health (check out Raul’s posting for the deets).

Other research studies looking for willing participants include:

  • The UBC School of Human Kinetics is often looking for people to participate in their research studies – you can check out their site for a list of current opportunities.
  • Researchers in my old department (Nutrition @ UBC) are looking for healthy woman in Vancouver aged 50 to 65 years for a study on dietary fats and chronic disease – check out this site for more info.

And if you don’t even want to have to get up from your computer to become a research guinea pig, why not check out Steven Pinker’s website2, as he often has online survey research projects on the go3.

Have you ever been a research participant? If so, what did you think of your experience?

1The PC word is “participant” rather than the traditional research “subject,” as it recognizes that the people who are being researched are actively and willingly participating, rather than being “subjected” to the research
2Dr. Pinker just so happens to be giving a public lecture in Vancouver this month: “The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature”
3At the time of writing this posting, he had a “Violence perception questionnaire” on his site.

Not sure how to cite this one. It came from here.  Props to my friend Dan for posting this in Facebook.

{August 20, 2008}   The Science Tattoo Emporium
DNA ankle tattoo from the Science Tattoo Emporium

DNA ankle tattoo from the Science Tattoo Emporium

While emailing with my friend Dan about (a) his new birthday tattoo1 and (b) his lack of luxuriant flowing locks preventing him from joining the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™, I was prompted to search out a club that the tattooed scientist can call home.  And now I share with you:

Discover Magazine’s Science Tattoo Emporium.

Those scientists have some pretty awesome tattoos, like this DNA ankle tattoo on a molecular and cell biology instructor at a University in Atlanta.  If it weren’t for my (a) crippling fear of needles and (b) remarkable fickleness which would result in my being bored with any tattoo I chose before the ink dried, then I too would want to join the Emporium.

Also, while checking out the Emporium I noticed an ad for “made with molecules” – a company that makes jewelry that looks like molecular structures.  I totally want this dopamine necklace.  You know, in case you were looking to buy me a present.

1The Greek letter “gamma” (Γ). Dan is a statistician and has the goal of covering his body with tattoos of all the Greek letters and so far has sigma, psi, delta, pi, gamma, and xi.

{August 19, 2008}   Fun With The Elements
Because you never know when you might need to know the atomic weight of thorium while standing in your kitchen.

Because you never know when you might need to know the atomic weight of thorium while standing in your kitchen.

Looks like my sister is on a roll in getting shout outs her on NTBTWK.  Yesterday it was for bacon band-aids, today it’s for a magnetic periodic table of the elements.  She actually gave me this gift of awesomeness when I was visiting back in June, but I, like the ingrate that I am, forgot it there.  I also forgot my phone charger and am very stoked to have both of these items back now, my sis having mailed them to me.

As you know, I’m a bit of a nerd, and I’ve long had a thing for the periodic table of the elements – I have it on my Palm Pilot, I had a poster of it on my bedroom wall as a kid, and I’m even able to sing several pieces of the Periodic Table of the Elements song1.  And now I have it on my fridge.  You know you are jealous.

And the extra fun thing about this particular set is that every element is its own individual magnet.  So you can rearrange them and spell fun things.  If you are lucky2, like me, you can even spell your name3:

Or other fun words:

And I can’t believe I’ve never noticed this element before:

1But only pieces, because it’s a really hard song to sing!
2Not every letter of the alphabet is available as an elemental symbol. For example, there isn’t a element represented by “T”; for my name I can use “Th”, but if your name has a T that’s not followed by an “i” (Ti = titanium), a “c” (Tc = technetium), an “e” (Te = tellurium), an “a” (Ta = tantalum), an “l” (Tl = thallium), a “b” (Tb = terbium), an “m” (Tm = thulium) or an “h” (Th = thorium), or preceded by a “p” (Pt = platnum), an “a” (At = astatine), an “m” (Mt = meitnerium) or two “u”s (Uut = ununtrium), then you are SOL.
2Alas, there’s no “D” or “Dr”, so I couldn’t do “Dr. Beth Snow.”

{August 13, 2008}   She’s A Member

Congratulations to my friend Kristina who was recently accepted to the prestigious Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™.  The club is “for scientists who have, or believe they have, luxuriant flowing hair.”  I think we can all agree that Kristina’s hair is both luxuriant and flowing.  And she’s a pretty damn good scientist to boot!

I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on that fateful day in July 2007 when me and my luxuriant locks were accepted to the LFHCfS™.  I’m honoured that I have now led the way for another luxuriantly haired colleague into this venerable organization.

The federal government’s opposition to Insite, Vancouver’s supervised-injection facility, has long baffled Canadian scientists, health professionals and social workers. Now, Canada’s Health Minister has managed to perplex an international audience as well. (Source: Globe & Mail editorial: An illogical Statement)

At the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Health Minister Tony Clement said: “Allowing and/or encouraging people to inject heroin into their veins is not harm reduction, it is the opposite … We believe it is a form of harm addition” (Source: ‘Clement’s Insite attack leaves WHO red-faced, Globe & Mail).

Putting aside all of the scientific evidence that supports the “reduction in harms” from InSite1 for a just moment, I would like to point out the major flaw in Tony Clement’s statement.  The word “addition” suggests that something (in this case, “harm”) that wasn’t there already is being “added.”  So saying that having a supervised injection site such as Vancouver’s Insite is “harm addition,” suggests that in the absence of Insite, those harms weren’t there.  Is Clement suggesting that people who use injection drugs weren’t subject to harms (such as HIV or hepatitis infections, drug addiction, negative effects of drugs on the body, or risk of overdose death) before Insite existed, and thus Insite is a “adding” these harms to the situation? Or is he suggesting that people who weren’t using injection drugs before are now starting to use drugs because Insite exists, thus adding those harms to their lives?  Of course not.  He’s making a stupid play on words to hype a misguided opposition to supervised injection sites.  Why?  Because, despite the Conservatives’ claims to the contrary, he can’t back his views with science.

For a summary of the research findings on InSite, click here.  Or just check the peer-reviewed scienctific literature – it’s all in there!

And for one of the best articles I’ve read on Vancouver’s supervised injection site, check out Dr. Stephen Hwang’s paper “Science and Ideology” in Open Medicine.

1Of which there is, unequivocally, plenty.

{June 19, 2008}   Support a little scientist!

Planning any travel in the near future?  If you are and if you book through Travelocity, I encourage you to use this link:

A portion of the commission of anything booked through that link will go to support the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair.  I’ve judged at the GVRSF for several years and it really is a fantastic experience for both the students who get to show off their amazing science projects and meet with scientists and get inspired to go on in the sciences, and for the judges/scientists who get to meet these amazing, inspirational, enthusiastic kids!

{June 15, 2008}   Unbelievably Cool Image

You have to go and check out this series of pictures in New Scientist magazine. The pictures show ovulation occurring.

Donnez captured the event by accident while preparing to carry out a partial hysterectomy on a 45-year-old woman. The release of an egg was considered a sudden, explosive event, but his pictures, to be published in Fertility and Sterility, show it taking place over a period of at least 15 minutes.

That’s freaking amazing.

Look whose funding they’ve cut now.

When will it end?

I just read this over on the Quirks & Quarks blog:

No science in the PM’s ear: Canada dismisses National Science Adviser at its peril

Apparently “Prime Minister”1 Stephen Harper is eliminating the position of National Science Adviser, less than 4 years after the position was created.

I remember when Dr. Art Carty was appointed as Canada’s first ever National Science Adviser, the office of which was situated in the Privy Council Office2, and there were high hopes among the scientific community that there was finally someone to advise the Prime Minister on scientific issues. I mean, it was 2004 and we hadn’t had a science adviser to the P.M. before? Wtf? Shortly after his appointment, I got to meet Dr. Carty at a science outreach conference; he sat with me and a few of my friends during one of the conference sessions, during which my friend Erika dropped the F-bomb in front of him. True story.

Soon after “P.M.” S.H. took power, the Office of the N.S.A. was moved down from the Privy Council Office to Industry Canada, meaning that the N.S.A. was now to report to the Minister of Industry Canada, not directly to the P.M. This move happened with little fanfare as far as I can tell, as I hadn’t even heard3 about this move until I read these new stories about the N.S.A. being eliminated altogether. Or, in the government’s lingo, “phased out.”

But really, why would the P.M. need someone to advise them on scientific issues anyway?  It’s not like science is important or anything… I mean, climate change, stem cells, alternative energy, mad cow, bird flu, biotechnology… these things never come up in matters of policy, right?

1Sorry, but much like I have trouble calling the Reform-Party-In-Sheep’s-Clothing the “Conservatives” or calling Gordon Campbell’s party the “Liberals,” I just can’t bring myself to think of S.H. as the P.M.
2 Meaning that he reported directly to the P.M.
3And I’m usually up on such things.

{July 17, 2007}   I’m a Member!

I know that you were jealous when I joined the Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique.

Well, be prepared to further exercise your jealousy muscles, as I am now a card-carrying member of:

The Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists

You can view my personal page on the LFHCfS site at:

You’ll notice that I am now entitled to add the initials: “LFHCfS” after my name. Meaning that I’m now “BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD, LFHCfS”… that’s right, I have a name that is 8 letters long, followed by 19 other letters. Oh yes, I can feel your jealousy!

In celebration of this momentous acheivement, I give you pictures of my luxuriant flowing hair:

I’m spending my “day off” volunteering at a science competition for grade 6-8 students. Just on a break between the quiz show and lunch right now, so I thought I’d fire off a quick blog posting. Sitting with a group of grad students during the quiz show and watching the competition was like a real life version of that show that was on TV a little while ago* “are you smarter than a 5th grader?” Except it was 6th-8th graders. And the answer is “no”. In fairness, the kids had been studying a book on science from which the questions were taken, and we had not. Yes, I am justifying why the kids knew more about math than I do.

Had you been sitting in that lecture hall at my table, you would have heard things like this:

Question: A question from the physics and astronomy section. Name the three components of the exterior of a space ship.

Grad Students**: Um… windows… doors…. and… and… um…. fire coming out the bottom?

Question: This is from the math category. What is 7 + 14 medulo 5.

Grad Students: [looks of stunned incomprehension] Medulo? wtf???***

Question: A physics and astronomy question. Why do the icy comets live in the outer part of the solar system, while the rocky ones are in the interior?

Grad Student #1: oooh ooh! Because it’s colder! YES! We are so smart!

Grad student #2: I protest that question. Comets aren’t alive.

Grad student #3: Who are you to say that? Are you an comet? Comets might have feelings!

Grad student #2: Do they reproduce? Do they metabolize? Do they??

Grad student #4: This is why we don’t invited to the cool parties.

*I didn’t actually see the show, as I don’t have cable, but I seemed to be all over the media at the time.

**I’m counting myself as one of the grad students here, even though I’m not really a grad student anymore. I have trouble letting go.

***After the competition, we asked one of the kids if we could see her science book to find out what a medulo was. Even after reading it,w e still didn’t understand!

{May 18, 2007}  

Did we really need someone to do a study to tell us this?

et cetera