Monday, April 10, 2006

Cool Science Stories 2005

I've been reading the January 2006 issue of Discover Magazine (yes I am a geek), in which the top 100 science stories of 2005 are revisited. Some of them made me yawn, or drift off into LaLa land (not to be confused with L.A. California, LaLa land is where I go when whatever I am reading is not holding my attention. You may in fact have a similar experience if you are reading this sentence), but a few stories I found very interesting, and a few actually drew me out of my world's-gone-to-shit attitude by showing that good things do happen once in awhile (notably, the rediscovery of plant and animal species once thought to be extinct, and evidence that humans, as a group, can get our shit together - international co-operation has halted the destruction of the ozone layer). Here then, I widdle Discover's 100 down to 10, using my own interest as a sieve.

Top Honours in the Just Plain Wierd Category (a characteristic that goes a long way in my selection process)
Pop Went the Toads (99)
My Synopsis: Toads in Germany expanding and exploding all over the German countryside. Turns out, gourmand crows had "developed a taste for toads' livers and were plucking them out in lightning-quick strikes", popping the toads which had puffed up in defense.
Why I like this story: truth is stranger than fiction, cool imagery of exploded toad parts all over the place

Best Unsolved Mystery
Are Incan Knots A Crackable Code? (55)
My Synopsis: Khipus ("knotted, colored and twisted textile strings") appear to be an ancient Incan system of writing, as yet undeciphered.
Why it's cool: it may expand the concept of "writing" as we know it - to more than just 'marks on a smooth surface'; what's more intriguing than an ancient mystery?

Most Uneasy-Feeling Generating
Tissue Engineers Cook Up Plan for Lab-Grown Meat
My Synopsis: the title says it all. Growing meat in a lab is offered as an alternative to vegetarianism and people who feel bad about eating animals who were once alive.
Why It's Interesting: I am ambivalent about eating-meat issues. I am strongly against inhumane treatment to animals, yet eating animals is entirely natural to our species. Animals live and die daily in the wild, sometimes savagely, and it's all perfectly natural. And if there's one thing (at least some of) humankind is quickly learning, it's not to fuck with Mother Nature. Discuss.

Best Sci-Fi Shaking Off the Fi
Secrets of Hibernation Seen In Clouds of Hydrogen Sulfide (89)
My Synopsis: Breathing hydrogen sulfide is the new cryogenics - it slows down the metabolism such that lab mice were put in stasis and revived with "no discernible ill effects".
Why this is cool: do you have to ask?

Most Interesting Controversy
FDA Approves First Race-Based Drug (25)
My Synopsis: A study showed that a BiDil was effective in treating heart failure in self-identified blacks, even though previous testing showed inconclusive results with samples comprised of people from all ethnicities.
Why It's Controversial: Some people think approval of the drug based on these results "could be intepreted as validating a genetic basis to race that does not exist", but it would be unethical to deny patients medicine that works.
Why I think it is interesting: It suggests further research - what, other than their race, do this subset of people share in common that allows this medicine to work? Individualized (targeted) medicine would probably be more efficient, with less side effects. Western medicine seems to have a one-size fits all mentality, unlike the Eastern medical model. Perhaps this could be a first step in narrowing that gap and creating well-rounded health care.

The second half of my top ten will be posted soon!

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I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.