Courtesy MandaA recently published, 25-year study suggests that children raised by two lesbian parents may actually be behaviorally and psychologically better adjusted than their peers.
The study tracked mothers from pregnancy or insemination, interviewing them and their children multiple times over their development, until the kids were 17 years old. The kids were asked questions focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships, and academic progress. The research found that despite occasionally being stigmatized for their parents’ sexuality, the kids tended to rate higher than the average in “social, academic, and totally competence,” and displayed less problem behavior (rule-breaking, aggression, etc.).
The researchers behind the study propose that the difference may have to do with the fact that lesbian couples often choose to become pregnant later than most people, and, being older, are more mature and better prepared for parenting. Growing up in households with “less power assertion, and more parental involvement” is tied to healthier development, and more mature parents may fit this model better.
The research was funded by a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, which some people consider to be evidence against its validity. Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America, “a group that supports biblical values,” says that the source of the funding “proves the prejudice and the bias of the study.”
Wendy Wright is, of course, wrong. There may or may not be aspects of the study that are biased or invalid, but the source of the funding doesn’t prove that at all. She’s seeing a causal relationship where there is none. Consider the following: JGordon buys a plum. Does this prove that JGordon will be eating a plum? Nope. Plums are frequently acquired for the purpose of being eaten, but there’s nothing about my getting a plum that necessarily means I’m going to eat it. Perhaps I will give it away. Or I might just be adding it to my plum collection.
The mystery of what JGordon does with all his plums, however, has far fewer social implications than a study on what makes for good parenting. So it’s important that we consider what actually “proves” what here.
Mrs. Wright also claims that the outcomes of the study “defy common sense and reality.” Common sense, though, may not be the best standard for judging scientific results. And, as for “reality,” how exactly do we figure that out? Careful observation, I suppose.
The study may still need more scrutiny, but it’s an interesting piece of potential evidence in the discussion of what constitutes a good environment for raising kids.
What do y’all think?
Guffaw with a cat? Giggle on a train. Even in the rain. No seriously, I was reading an Associated Press article last week about the topic of laughter and it did include rats that laugh. Science takes laughter very seriously. Just doing a Google search on science+laughing gave me more than 26 million hits! The rat guy intrigued me the most. I found his video available here.
Despite an ethological background of my own, I’m not sure I’m on board yet with Dr. Panksepp and his work. However, not only have researchers tickled rats and listened to them laugh, but other scientists have looked into like behavior in monkeys, dogs, chimpanzees, and possibly even dolphins. Perhaps laughter is a trait more primitive than the lineage of humans. It strikes me that, like humans, all the aforementioned animals would be considered social animals. There clearly is a social aspect to the behavioral benefits of this kind of expression. Some science has even looked at the evoluntionary effects of laughter.
Most everyone has heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”. It turns out that studies have delved into a multitude of health effects from laughter. Proponents tout its benefits. It can relax the muscles of the body, alleviate stress, trigger the release of certain hormones, lower blood pressure, and even protect your heart. This isn’t the first time Buzz has looked into the health effects of laughter. Despite studying its many effects, science still doesn’t quite understand the full mechanism of the physiological process. You can take a look at some of the best works here…
How Laughter Works.
Laughing with your Brain.
How we laugh
There is an interesting take on the scope of laughter from Robert Mankoff.
Courtesy Extra Medium's
While not everyone laughs the same, we all learn to laugh early and often. Children ages 4 to 5 laugh more than 400 times a day. As adults, we manage only 15 times a day to enjoy some humor. Since it is reasonably accepted that laughter is contagious, maybe we only need to promise to pass one good joke a day to bring a smile to a fellows face. If that doesn’t work you can always try this audacious little feline.
Laugh a little!
Courtesy Nicolle Rager and National Science FoundationScience Buzz has had a lot of articles on organ transplants over the years but a new report on liver transplants in children adds a new twist. Currently, severe organ damage or failure requires an organ transplant, preferably one from a donor with a histocompatibility similar to the recipient. In the case of severe liver failure in children, there is often no time to wait for a compatible organ and an incompatible organ is used requiring patients to take anti-rejection drugs (immunosuppression) for the rest of their life. In fact, 70% of all liver transplants require anti-rejection drugs.
Fortunately, the liver is one organ that has the ability to regenerate itself, especially in very young patients. The child patient is given a small section of donated liver, enough to allow the body to function properly, while leaving a small portion of their own liver intact. Hopefully, after a few years, the patient’s original liver will begin to repair and regenerate itself. The doctor can than gradually reduce the quantity of anti-rejection drugs, causing the body to slowly attack and destroy the donated liver segment. Eventually the patient will be removed from anti-rejection drugs completely, have their own liver back, and no signs of the temporary donated liver.
The liver is unique in its regenerative properties; for humans, that is. In other animals, such as amphibians, entire limbs can regenerate. Scientists are researching the role proteins play in cell regeneration in hopes that stimulating certain proteins in other organs of the body will encourage them to regenerate like the liver can.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe Minnesota Science Olympiad State Competition for Division-B (junior high and middle school) students was held this past weekend at the University of St. Thomas campus in St. Paul, MN. The annual competition gives burgeoning scientists a chance to show off the knowledge, compete against each other and win some medals, too. Categories span across various disciplines, including ornithology, ecology, meteorology, paleontology, astronomy, anatomy, robotics, geology, and aeronautics.
Courtesy Mark RyanParticipants demonstrated scientific principles in several competitions. Team-constructed catapults launched projectiles in the Trajectory contest. The Wright Stuff gave future aeronautical engineers a chance to test their theories of flight dynamics using airplanes built of wood, paper, glue and rubber bands. The Shock Value category dealt with aspects of electricity, and precision built electrical cars were run through their courses in the Battery Buggy meet. But actually I never saw any of it. I was busy elsewhere.
Courtesy Mark RyanMrs. R (my wife) knows Brandi Hansmeyer, one of the division directors for the Science Olympiad in Minnesota, and I was enlisted to be the substitute coordinator/judge for the Fossils event on Saturday morning. What this entailed was setting up a classroom with fossil specimens and such, collecting tickets, distributing answer sheets to the teams, and timing their sessions (3 minutes) at each of the 15 stations. Most stations involved 3 or 4 questions that kids had to answer about a particular fossil, such as its classification, origins, etc. Participants were allowed to refer to binder notes or reference books they brought with them, which was a good thing, because to tell you the truth it was by no means an easy test. But as one of the organizers told me, the difficulty helps bring the cream to the top. Even so, most if not all of kids I saw showed lots of enthusiasm and a serious interest in science regardless of their level of knowledge.
Courtesy Mark RyanAfterwards, Mrs. R and I quickly graded the tests and ranked them by score then rushed them to the main tabulator for the award ceremony that afternoon. Bronze, silver, and gold medals are presented to each of the winning team members for individual events, and plaques and trophies are presented to the school teams with the most overall points. This coming weekend the senior high division will hold its Science Olympiads Competition, also at St. Thomas. Winners from both divisions get to compete in the national competition held later this spring at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. It’s a nice prize for all their dedication and hard work in the previous year.
Courtesy University of OsloPerhaps taking advantage of the Darwin publicity last year (200th birthday), a scientific paper was published revealing Ida, a 47 million year old fossil classified Darwinius masillae.
The study's lead author, Jørn Hurum of the University of Oslo, variously called the fossil the holy grail of paleontology and the lost ark of archeology. A two-hour documentary called "The Link" was on the History Channel and a book with the same title hit bookstores.
How big money became mixed with science is described in the Guardian post titled Deal in Hamburg bar led scientist to Ida fossil, the 'eighth wonder of the world'.
Now that money has been made, it is time for the scientific process (peer review).
John Fleagle, a professor at Stony Brook University, in New York state, who reviewed the paper for the journal, agrees that the fossil is not a lemur. But Ida's full significance would not be known until other scientists had seen the paper. "That will be sorted out, or at least debated extensively, in the coming years."
In a paper in the Journal of Human Evolution, Chris Kirk strongly argue(d) that Darwinius is not one of our ancestors. Science blogger, Brian Switek, also explains why ... That "Ida" is Not Our Great-Great-Great-Great-Etc. Grandmother. Dissenting scientists are awaiting a response from Jørn Hurum.
I am reminded of another case where the media was used to hype a story before it was properly reviewed by others. I wrote about it here: Jesus and family found in tomb? What moral is to be learned here?
Don't announce discoveries through the media, but through the tried and tested peer-review process.
Courtesy Mark RyanA new study came out last week that appeared destined to shake up the current line of thought that birds descended from dinosaurs. Birds share common traits with some dinosaurs, including furculas (wishbones), hollow bones, and other skeletal features, which scientists have interpreted to mean the former descended from the latter. But now a new study by researchers at Oregon State University, it may have happened just the opposite way.
"We think the evidence is finally showing that these animals which are usually considered dinosaurs were actually descended from birds, not the other way around," said John Ruben, a professor of zoology at OSU, and the study’s lead author.
The study involved the fossil of a Microraptor, a dromaeosaurid dinosaur with evidence of feathers on both its arms and legs. Studying the skeletal remains, Ruben and his colleagues constructed 3-dimensional models that they tested for flight capabilities. Their study showed Microraptor’s structure better suited to be glider rather than a flyer. From this Ruben extrapolated that it made more sense that Microraptor descendents came down from the trees and eventually evolved into flightless birds we call dromaeosaurs or raptors.
"Raptors look quite a bit like dinosaurs but they have much more in common with birds than they do with other theropod dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus," he said. The study appears in the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
Sounds good at first, and I have to admit I was smitten with the idea. But not everyone feels the same way.
Over at the Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Tracking blog, freelance science writer Brian Switek has pointed out that Ruben’s proclamation is “actually only a commentary, or the equivalent of an opinion piece.”
He then goes on to point out some of the flaws in Ruben’s argument, particularly the uncertainty surrounding Microraptor’s place in the evolution of flight, and the lack of reasonable evidence that Velociraptor wasn’t a dinosaur. Switek doesn’t think Ruben’s claim stands up to scrutiny.
But what annoys Switek most is how the media inundates the various outlets with this kind of science news, giving it wide distribution and often, undeserved credibility.
“In this increasingly fragmented media landscape, knowledgeable science writers who recognize a fishy story when they see one are getting outnumbered. More often, websites and newspapers simply reprint press releases issued by universities and museums (science writers call this “churnalism”), and this policy sometimes lets questionable science slip through the cracks.” – Brian Switek
One of the reasons for this is the internet. There's just a huge amount of time and space that requires constant feedings of content now. It does make things difficult to sort through. There have been times I’ve begun researching some new science story to post on Science Buzz only to become frustrated with details that don’t seem to add up, confusing statements, info that counters other info, and outright misinformation. Some of it may be due to the writer(s) not being able to properly articulate or distill a particular idea or hypothesis for the general reader (I know I suffer from this occasionally). Sometimes it’s due to the fact that many science writers lack access to the papers themselves (most science journals require paid subscriptions to access anything beyond an abstract of the story), so writers are left with relying on press releases and abstracts or another writer’s thoughts on the subject (like I’m doing here). But other times it ends up being that there’s no real story at all, just a rehash of something from months or years ago that somebody figures needed to be in the headlines again.
To this end, paleontologist Dave Hone over at his Archosaur Musings blog recently posted “A guide for journalists reporting on dinosaur stories” that deals with some of issues raised here. It’s worth reading.
Courtesy Morgan GoodwinDo you feel like me – that the Winter Olympics coverage is hours of commercials interrupted by occasional bursts of winter sports activities? Well, rather than watch those same commercials for the 123rd time, here are some interesting links that can add some scientific understanding to the amazing things we occasionally get to see during the TV coverage. Click on these links to fill in the time wasted on all of those commercials. And then you can thank me after the games are done.
Just how dangerous are winter sports anyway? We got a strong sense of the dangers involved just before the games started when a German luge racer was killed from injuries suffered in a training run wipe-out. This story takes an analytical look at how dangerous ice and snow sports really are. And here's a story on why doctors strongly urge you to wear a helmet when snowboarding or skiing, even if it's just a leisurely run on your local ski hill.
Ski jumpers aren't being accused of using steroids....it's just the opposite. New regulations are in place to prevent excessive weight loss, including linking ski length to body mass index among competitors. Find out more here.
Will a ton of new world records be set on the speed skating rink? New technologies in racing suit designs – "(suits) more aerodynamic than human skin" – will be used in this Olympics. It's good to know that there is now a disincentive to naked speed skating in the games.
Why do they have that funky blue paint on the ski and snowboard courses? Find out more here.
Over the weekend, ARTiFactor posted a number of NBC's video reports on scientific aspects of specific sports. You can learn more here about:
• Curling science
• Skate technology
• Ski technology
• Snowboarding physics
• Figure skating physics
• Bobsled physics
• Short-track speed skating physics
Courtesy Nino BarbieriA recent article in the Journal of Archaeological Science reminded me of the importance of the Scientific Method Often we hear new and exciting scientific theories that seem plausible, especially if these ideas are presented in prestigious journals. However, the beauty of the Scientific Method is its verifiability, whether or not the data can be recreated through repetitive testing (If we truly believed everything the first time, our budding young scientists would have nothing to do!)
Michael Campana from the University of Cambridge and colleagues from across the UK and Ireland recently ran a sequence of DNA tests on 18th and 19th century parchments made from animal skins in order to reveal the complexities of ancient parchment analysis. Parchment is one of the most valuable archaeological and historical artifacts that can be used to understand not only language and history, but DNA testing on it can reveal clues to animal population studies, animal husbandry, different historical animal breeds, and provenance (where the animal or skins originated from). In the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls, DNA testing on the parchment could reveal what type of animal was used and possibly where it came from, providing additional data for questions regarding who wrote the scrolls.
Campana and colleagues analyzed both mitochondrial and autosomal genetic data using stable isotope, genetic, phylogenetic and ion beam analysis. All samples were considered to be well preserved and ideal samples for accurate testing. All but one parchment produced multiple DNA sequences that matched several different species including cow, goat, sheep, and even human. In other words, a parchment assumed to be made from one individual of one species, gave conflicting results as more than one species or more than one individual. Of course it can be assumed the parchment was not made of human skin and therefore human genetic data must have came from handling and processing of the parchment, but parchments can also be contaminated in long-term storage or contact with each other. Testing results can also be skewed by glues and inks or other preparatory treatments used to improve the surface. All of these factors need to be considered when testing truly ancient parchment like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Previous DNA test results from 2001 and 1996 on the Dead Sea Scrolls produced results pointing to a single species, either ibex (Capra ibex) or domestic goat. While these results may indeed be correct, the likelihood that the results were so exact, when testing such as Campana's and colleagues on better preserved and more recent parchment were so complex, questions the accuracy of the earlier DNA testing. Of course we must not forget, precious artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls can not be needlessly dissected to offer unlimited samples for DNA testing labs. But as, Campana states, “Improving our understanding of parchment's DNA content would allow us to develop a predictive model for sampling of historic manuscripts.”
So the messages for today, bravo for the Scientific Method and go see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Science Museum! Learn the science, archaeology, history and more that surround these amazing artifacts. Ask questions like: did the scroll writers choose ibex for some scrolls over goat because they thought these documents were so special or was ibex as readily available as any other animal species? Did the handling of the scrolls by shepherds who supposedly found them contaminate the actual scroll DNA with sheep, human or goat DNA? What can DNA testing tell us about other ancient artifacts? As long as there are unanswered questions, no matter how small, there will be a need for scientific investigation; which is good news for our future scientists!
Courtesy SanandreasBeing a boy king of Egypt had it’s share of downs along with all the gold and glitter.
CT scans and DNA testing conducted on the mummy to King Tutankhamun (King Tut for short) show that the boy pharaoh was suffering from several medical problems at the time of his death at age 19.
The contemporary medical testing shows that Tut had a cleft palate and a club foot and was suffering from malaria and a broken leg at the time that he died some 3,300 years ago. The results were announced today and will be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Medical experts have also been able to untangle the web of intrigue as to who Tut’s parents were, sort of. DNA shows that Tut is the son of the previous pharaoh, Akhenaten, and his likely mother is an unidentified sister of Akhenaten. In total, 16 mummies underwent CT scanning to get a better picture of who Tut was and what the times were like when he was alive.
The 21st Century testing was able to answer more than half of Tut’s paternity questions by identifying his father. And while we know that Akhenaten’s sister was Tut’s mother, her mummified remains confirm Tut’s DNA, her identity is still unknown. It was not uncommon in New Kingdom Egypt for pharaohs to marry to their sisters.
The findings put to bed once and for all long-held speculation that Tut was murdered. That idea was fueled by a hole in his skull, but a 2005 scan of Tut’s mummy showed that hole was made as part of the mummification process.
The majesty that we associated with Tut based on the ornate furnishings found in his burial chamber may be a far cry from what life was like for the finals days of the boy king. The medical testing shows that Tut was a sickly teen who was done in by complications from the broken leg and malaria in his brain.
On top of that, Tut had a club foot that likely required him to use a cane. In fact, 130 canes or walking sticks have been found among his burial goods, with some of the canes showing wear and tear. Tut also suffered from Kohler's disease in which lack of blood flow was slowly destroying the bones of his left foot.
Another theory cleared up through the medical tests: Tut did not suffer from any medical conditions that would have given him female body characteristics or misshapen bones.
And here is even more in-depth coverage from National Geographic.
Bummed out that Tut was so sickly and need a pick-me-up? Do you really need a shot of Steve Martin's "King Tut" song right now? Enjoy (with a special guest appearance by Fonzie [aka Henry Winkler]). Maybe Steve needs to add a new verse to include all this new medical information.
Courtesy MissTessmacherThe naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is truly one of the most remarkable animals on this earth. On average 3 inches long and weighing just over an ounce, one would not think this creature so high and mighty. However, its unusual traits have brought it under more medical scrutiny and established an ever increasing presence in research laboratories. Stories have rung for years about how the only species to survive a world Armageddon would be cockroaches and rats. My money is on the naked mole rat.
While called a rat, they are one of 37 species of mole rats globally and are more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than other Rodentia. Limited to parts of East Africa, they spend their lives under ground in a highly social commune of individuals, all governed by a queen. This is very similar to the eusociality seen in bees and ants. The queen is the only female to breed, with all other individuals serving as guards or workers. This unusual social life for a mammal in a colony can lead to fierce competitions among females when the old queen dies. It may take days or weeks of power struggle before life in the colony returns to normal.
In search of plant tubers for sustenance, they dig through the dirt with their teeth, developing a system of burrows that can carry on for miles. One of the naked mole rats remarkable features is its ability to survive in the high carbon dioxide environments of these tunnels. Their extremely low metabolic rate and high absorption of oxygen allow them to overcome the limitations of the cramped and congested space. Research has found that these mole rats are void of a pain transmitter called Substance P found in other mammals, and have an uncanny resistance to the oxidative stress of daily metabolism.
Researchers hope this could lead to new insights into the process of aging. Captive research colonies have had individuals live as long as 28 years. That is more than nine times as long as a research mouse! This longevity and unique durability lead even more scientists to consider the naked mole rat for captive study populations in the fight against other afflictions like stroke and cancer. If these superman-like traits haven’t given you a deeper appreciation for such a tiny hairless creature, perhaps you just need a clever ditty to sing their praises. Oh! …you so UGLY!