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.

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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.

Panelists:

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

Moderator:

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:  bccewh@cw.bc.ca

  • For more information, please look under “Events” at www.bccewh.bc.ca
  • 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

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{October 18, 2008}  

Saw a link to this article over on Derek’s blog:

“Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn’t as though there will be a “you” around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you’ve died—and once you’ve died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce.”

It’s an interesting read – check it out over at the Scientific American website: Never Say Die: Why We Can’t Imagine Death



{October 9, 2008}   Science and the Election

Note: This blog posting is going to be a long one. I’ve been writing it for days. But it’s so worth the read, if you are interested in science, education, the Canadian election, or hearing my ongoing rants about the Conservative* party.

Today Yesterday The other day, I read this story on the CBC: Researchers wonder: What’s the plan for R&D?. Some of the key things that jumped out to me:

  • “On Sept. 17, federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion did pledge a 60 per cent increase of funding for university-based research — to $500 million a year — and proposed a $100-million fund to enable scientists, researchers and graduate students to take on projects that extend beyond the barriers of their disciplines.  But the topic was soon buried under the larger issue of government spending, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper that same day calling the spending proposals of Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton “mind-boggling” in size.”
  • The Conservatives have not issued their party platform, but neither they nor the other party leaders has devoted a speech to science-related issues outside the environment.”
  • Scientists “expressed dismay at political parties that want to build a knowledge economy but seem unwilling to contribute to it.
  • “Funding was the top concern: few scientists can complain about current funding levels, but some worry about the future of the funding while others worry those funds are becoming too narrowly focused on industrial spinoffs or favoured established programs at the expense of new initiatives.|

Few scientists can complain about current funding levels?” What? The Canadian Institutes of Health Research – the federal funding agency for research related to health and the agency with which I’m most familiar – has very depressing rates of funding: exact numbers depend on the particular grant competition, but it’s fair to say that you can expect ~ 25% success rate1,2 when you submit a grant application (i.e., 3 of every 4 grant applications submitted won’t get funded). And that’s not because the grant applications aren’t high quality.  They have a category called “Fundable, But Not Funded,” which basically it means that the proposed research is of high enough quality that it should be funded, but there’s no money for it.  According to a recent CIHR Operating Grant Program Analysis2, the success rate of “fundable but not funded” grant application is only ~30% – that means that 2 out of 3 high quality research applications submitted to the operating grant competition are not funded.

As I’ve mentioned before, the National Science Adviser to the Prime Minister was first shunted to the Industry Ministry (which shows how the Harper government views science – in their view, science is only important if you can make money from it) and then canned completely.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Harper government is willing to completely ignore scientific evidence and oppose Vancouver’s supervised injection facility, claiming that there isn’t enough science to back it up (I suppose all the scientific evidence that they choose to ignore doesn’t count?).

Shortly after reading that article, my friend and scientist extraordinaire, Mel Kardel, sent me and some other colleagues a summary of each of the main political parties’3 stances on science and on students, which she created by going through each of their platforms and searching for “science” and “student”4. Would you believe that the Conservative* party platform does not include the word “student” even one time? Oh yeah, the Conservative* party *finally* released their platform. One week before the election. The election that THEY called. And after some people have already voted in advance polls. Anyway. The only mentions of “education” in their 44-page document were vague references to “provid[ing] practical help to Canadian families to assist them with higher costs of living, and protect them from unfair retail practices so that families can focus on the things in life that matter most, like buying their first home and saving for their children’s education.” Which basically sounds like “as for actually paying for education – you’re on your own!” Oh wait, on page 9 it says that they’ll let charities and NPOs create RESPs for kids. Isn’t this like saying “hey poor people, want your kids to go to college? You better ask a charity, because the Conservative* government isn’t going to help!” And then there’s the vague: “Improving Aboriginal education is crucial to giving young members of the Aboriginal community the opportunity to succeed.” No mention on *how* they are going to improve Aboriginal education. Awesome.

As for science, the only mention of science in their platform is the claim that they “made major new investments in leading-edge science over the past three budgets, which will increase support for science and technology by $850 million by 2009-10,” (with no indication that most of this was directed very specific, industry-focuses areas rather than the basic sciences), a claim that they will “make additional investments in internationally recognized science and technology projects in Canada,” (with no suggestion of how much that investment will be, or in what areas).  And there’s a promise to “build a world-class High Arctic Research Station that will be on the cutting edge of Arctic issues, including environmental science and resource development.”  And that’s it for education and science in the Conservative* party’s platform.  For real.

In contrast, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party all talk extensively about science and education in their platforms. I can provide you with the full details if you like, but in view of the fact that this blog posting has gotten quite long (!), I’ll just hit you with some highlights here:

Liberals:

  • increase in the indirect costs of university based research to $500 per year
  • increased funding for both CIHR and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to $1.275 billion/year (from $960 million) and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) to $450 million a year (from $320 million), plus $100 for interdisciplinary research
  • an Education grant of $1000/yr for postsecondary students, plus a $250 tax credit for students who also work
  • increased grants and bursaries for students in need
  • an extension of the post-graduation interest-free period before you have to start paying off your student loan from 6 months to 2 years, plus lower interest rates on student loans (man, could I ever use that!)

NDP:

  • $1000 grant to students who qualify for student loans
  • more funding to universities and keeping tuition fees affordable (although I’d argue with the word “keeping” here, as tuition fees are *not* currently affordable)
  • reforming student loan system, including interest relief for students completing an internship after graduation
  • increased funding for research and for grad students (to keep the best and brightest here in Canada)

Green Party:

  • “Post-secondary education should not be a debt sentence”  Hee hee. Debt sentence.
  • forgiving 50% of your student loans when you graduate (holy crap! that would have amounted to a $35,000 grant for me!)
  • increased funding to universities
  • working with provinces to lower tuition fees
  • “Fund universities to create more tenure track teaching positions, regardless of perceived commercial value of the area of pedagogy.”

Now, I realize that the proof is in the pudding and we’ll only know if anyone will follow through with these promises once they get into power. But I also think it’s pretty clear that the Conservatives* have no intention whatsoever of doing anything for students or for scientists.  At least the other parties have promises for which we can hold them accountable.  Time to replace Harper!

1How to Prepare a CIHR Application, University of Western Ontario
2Operating Grant Program Analysis
3Not including the Bloc, ‘cuz we can’t vote for them here in BC.
4My friends rock.



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.



{September 8, 2008}   My hockey muscles hurt

Latissimus dorsi.pngYesterday marked the first hockey game of the new season! It was nice to have a few weeks off to rest and, you know, shoot laser beams into my eyes. Last night’s game was an exhibition one, which we won despite a rather short bench1. The increased amount of ice time that comes along with having fewer players + a few weeks off from playing = my back is killing me! Specifically, my latissimus dorsi are killing me. This always happens when I haven’t played in a few weeks – I’m relatively certain that the only thing I ever use my latissmus dorsi for is hockey.

I’m going to be playing on two teams this year – my usual team out in Coquitlam, plus I’m playing UBC Rec once a week as well. With two games a week, my latissimus dorsi are going to be the fittest latissimus dorsi ever!

On a related note, does anyone know of a good podcast on beginner’s yoga? I found one that just shows examples of different yoga poses, but I’d prefer one that takes you through a routine.

1We have a small roster as it is, and are looking to recruit a few more players, but we had the added pressure that three of our regular players are out of the country this week, so we really didn’t have a lot of players!

Image credit: Christer Johansson, posted in Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.



{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.



{July 22, 2008}   Brain Cells

I already have a stuffed cold virus, a stuffed flu virus and a stuffed Ebola virus. But when I was in the airport waiting for my flight from San Francisco on Sunday, I discovered that they now make stuffed brain cells!

So cute.



{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:

http://www.gvrsf.ca/travelocity.html

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 received an email about a new service from TheScientist.com, “the magazine for life science professionals”:

LOOKING FOR A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP?
And finding the world is a crowded petri dish?

It’s not always easy to find that certain person for a great symbiotic relationship. Enter Science Connection. The Scientist has partnered with Science Connection to offer our single readers of an intellectual bent a unique and open meeting place.

Join Science Connection today and meet other scientific professionals like you in a safe and specialized environment.

– Find a friend to meet at a scientific conference
– Meet a pen pal with similar interests
– Create a meaningful relationship…true love has been found in stranger places!

START YOUR SEARCH NOW >

Apparently there are plenty of microbes in the petri dish and maybe, just maybe, one of those could be your soulmate!

50 points to the first scientist who finds a date on this site and then comments on my blog to tell us about it.  You know you want to.



I saw this news story on CNN the other day – a man was arrested in Las Vegas the other day in possession of the biological agent ricin. The news articles didn’t say any reason why this dude was making ricin, or what he planned to do with it.

Freaky.



et cetera