Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More on the importance of acknowledging bacterial evolution as just that

I recently linked to an article saying that researchers and the media tend to avoid calling bacterial evolution 'evolution', and commenting on why why this matters.

This blog post cites another reason it matters -- doctors who don't appreciate that antibiotic resistance is an evolved trait tend to prescribe antibiotics in a way that encourages such evolved resistance -- leading to so-called superbugs.

The author of that post has a personal stake in this antibiotic resistance issue and makes his point quite forcefully and eloquently.

A step-by-step look at the design of a logo

Graphic designer Chuck Greens lays out all of the steps he went through to develop a logo for a helicopter transport company (he ends up with a logo based on a hummingbird hovering). Good insight into the design process. Shows how much of a trail-and-error search process it is.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Amon Tobin on why leaked copies of his latest album means you won't find many copies of it in the stores

Amon Tobin's latest album was leaked to the net a number of weeks before it was to go on sale. On his website he comments on the effects of this (www.amontobin.com - it's a flash-based site, so I can't link directly to the text, but it's in the 'Logbook' section)

[...] Today, the release date for my album, it's unlikely that you will see it in most high street shops and after the initial run it's unlikely that you will be able to order a copy even from online stores. this is because in-spite of more people having access to and apparently listening to my music than ever before, the predicted sales of the record were so low that it didn't justify the manufacture or distribution to any significant level. strange? not when you consider how hard it might be to convince any retail outlet, physical or digital, that they should try and sell something everybody could already get for free months beforehand.

so what does this mean in the wider context? who the fuck knows. like I say I won't speculate on the wider picture and you can draw your own conclusions as to what this means with regards to my own future output. again I stress that I'm not talking about what should happen here. I'm not saying I should be able to 'keep on doing what I'm doing' or even that my record deserves to be bought. all I'm saying, mainly for the benefit of those who might otherwise have been unaware, is that if you personally like what I do and wish to continue hearing more then the only way that will happen is if you support it.

Most descriptions of microbial evolution avoid using the term ‘evolution’ - and why this matters

A quite readable article in PLoS Biology by Antonovics et al "Evolution by Any Other Name: Antibiotic Resistance and Avoidance of the E-Word".

"The increase in resistance of human pathogens to antimicrobial agents is one of the best-documented examples of evolution in action at the present time, and because it has direct life-and-death consequences, it provides the strongest rationale for teaching evolutionary biology as a rigorous science in high school biology curricula, universities, and medical schools. In spite of the importance of antimicrobial resistance, we show that the actual word "evolution" is rarely used in the papers describing this research. Instead, antimicrobial resistance is said to "emerge," "arise," or "spread" rather than "evolve." Moreover, we show that the failure to use the word "evolution" by the scientific community may have a direct impact on the public perception of the importance of evolutionary biology in our everyday lives."
[...]

"It has been repeatedly rumored (and reiterated by one of the reviewers of this article) that both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have in the past actively discouraged the use of the word "evolution" in titles or abstracts of proposals so as to avoid controversy."
[...]

"Nowadays, medical researchers are increasingly realizing that evolutionary processes are involved in immediate threats associated with not only antibiotic resistance but also emerging diseases [1,2]. The evolution of antimicrobial resistance has resulted in 2- to 3-fold increases in mortality of hospitalized patients, has increased the length of hospital stays, and has dramatically increased the costs of treatment [3,4]. It is doubtful that the theory of gravity (a force that can neither be seen nor touched, and for which physicists have no agreed upon explanation) would be so readily accepted by the public were it not for the fact that ignoring it can have lethal results. This brief survey shows that by explicitly using evolutionary terminology, biomedical researchers could greatly help convey to the layperson that evolution is not a topic to be innocuously relegated to the armchair confines of political or religious debate. Like gravity, evolution is an everyday process that directly impacts our health and well-being, and promoting rather than obscuring this fact should be an essential activity of all researchers."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Some beautiful pictures of Chinese landscapes

Some beautiful pictures Chinese landscapes. Apparently they're of the Guilin area.

Article: Illegal drugs can be harmless, report says

As reported in The Guardian:

The report, which is likely to spark fierce controversy, said: "The use of illegal drugs is by no means always harmful any more than alcohol use is always harmful. It called for the concept of drugs to be extended to take in alcohol and tobacco.
...
Current laws, the panel claimed, were been "driven by moral panic" with large amounts of money wasted on "futile" efforts to stop supply rather than going after the criminal networks behind the drugs on British streets.

At the heart of the report was a call for an end to what the panel called the "criminal justice bias" of current policy in favour of an approach that would treat addiction as a health and social problem rather than simply a cause of crime.
...
"Drugs policy should, like our policy on alcohol and tobacco, seek to regulate use and prevent harm rather than to prohibit use altogether," the report concludes.

Article: Taking our leaders at face value

The Star reports: "A new study suggests that how we respond to a candidate's face could determine who we vote for". The research was undertaken by the psychologist Anthony C. Little, and published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

Researchers started with pictures of political candidates such as John Kerry and George W. Bush, and used software to blend each picture with an image of an 'average face'. The resulting image wasn't recognisable as the candidate, but "nevertheless bore a sort of family resemblance to the originals".

"Then the researchers asked people to look at the faces and say who they would vote for.

In all eight races, the votes based on composite faces gave the same results as the actual elections."

The article also says

"The problem is, despite our specialized cognitive machinery for dealing with faces, it turns out that faces aren't a very good guide for judging other people.

Studies show that people think they can read all sorts of things about people based on their faces, including intelligence, basic character and personality traits. Unfortunately, the same studies show that we're not as accurate as we think we are.

Like everyone else, I know that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And like everyone else, I do it all the time – summing someone up in the street, or at a party, or on the subway, based largely on what I think I see in his face. I'm usually pretty confident I'm right, but I'm also probably wrong."