July 21, 2006

Asshat Design

P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula takes out "dissembling fool" John McCain, who wants to see intelligent design taught in schools. McCain said that "From a personal standpoint, I believe in evolution." At the same time, he said, "When I stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and I see the sun going down, I believe the hand of God was there."

I've been to the Grand Canyon. With my ex-husband. When he saw it, he said "it's nothing but a big hole in the ground." So much for Intelligent Design, from my ex.

P. Z. made some good points. He stated:

First of all, no one is afraid of Intelligent Design, or thinks kids need to be sheltered from the concept. American kids as it stands now get more exposure to creationism than to science—in the home and church. The fight isn't about hiding silly ideas from schoolkids. It's about not allowing crackpots to waste our children's time, and about promoting good, substantive science teaching. Do you want school to be a place where kids learn, Mr McCain? Or do you see it as a propaganda arm of the ideological apparatus of the state?

I'm not afraid of intelligent design. I know it's hoo-hah. It's no threat to me because I know it's not based on scientific fact. I can't remember where I read it - on a gay and lesbian blog, I think - but someone had made the opinion that why should human beings be convinced that there need to be laws to corral gays and lesbians, as in not recognizing gay marriage? In the Bible, God told Adam and Eve not to eat of The Tree. He told them not to kill each other. Then came Sodom and Gomorrah. Hey, if God can't get humans to stay in line with rules that he made, what makes anyone think that mere humans can get other humans to stay in line with rules that they make? That was a good point. If God can't control us, why should anyone think that mere humans can control us with laws, including feeding our children Creationist nonsense? Hopefully children will be given a well-rounded scientific education that will make them realize that Creationism is lint in their belly buttons, but McCain and others like him would not want to see that happen because it interferes with God's Word.

I don't want to see kids time wasted on nonsense either. Creationism is a waste of time that kids and teachers don't have. The DARE program was nonsense, and that wasn't even intelligent design. The Royal Spawn has to listen to that program at school when he would have been better served having his English teacher give him the low-down on improving his grades in English. English was always one of his worst subjects.

Thanks to my best friend, I came up with something about "intelligent design" that I had not considered before. I had mentioned one of my favorite jokes to him. The joke is as follows: "It's been said that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters could reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true." He replied to me that "I would be inclined to say "Intelligent Design". Judging from the products we see around, it could not have been a very intelligent design, wouldn't you say?"

I replied as follows: "I think you're wrong about "intelligent design". "Intelligent design" implies that there is a "Not-So-Intelligent Design", otherwise known as "Asshat Design". There is also plenty of that in the universe. Hmmm... you've given me the idea for a blog post. ;) "

The people who believe in that hoo-hah called "Intelligent Design" aren't really very intelligent. Maybe they are part of the contingency that promotes "Asshat Design", which misrepresent science to say things that science doesn't say. Just think, as The Count likes to say, that our Creation myth involved the world being on the back of a tortoise. How the heck would "Intelligent Design" folks explain that?

Posted on July 21, 2006 at 06:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

November 02, 2005

I Made Blogcritics' "Pick Of The Week"


Woo-hoo! I made Blogcritics' "Pick Of The Week" for the week of October 21 - October 28. My post A Description Of Bird Flu And The Possible Pandemic was cited by Lisa Hoover, in the "Culture" category. Heh. "Culture" takes on an entirely different meaning when you talk about infectious disease. Smiley1

I originally wrote that post for a science carnival. I think it was Tangled Bank. I included lots of links to the CDC in that post. Head on over and read it.

Posted on November 2, 2005 at 11:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 01, 2005

This Is For You, PZ Myers

Popular Science Magazine has out an article about the worst jobs in science. Amongst the worst jobs, including orangutan pee collector and semen washer was this gem, cited at number 3:

3. Kansas Biology Teacher
On the front lines of science's devolution

"The evolution debate is consuming almost everything we do," says Brad Williamson, a 30-year science veteran at suburban Olathe East High School and a past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers. "It's politicized the classroom. Parents will say their child can't be in class during any discussion of evolution, and students will say things like 'My grandfather wasn't a monkey!'"

First, a history lesson. In 1999 a group of religious fundamentalists won election to the Kansas State Board of Education and tried to introduce creationism into the state's classrooms. They wanted to delete references to radiocarbon dating, continental drift and the fossil record from the education standards. In 2001 more-temperate forces prevailed in elections, but the anti-evolutionists garnered a 6-4 majority again last November. This year Intelligent Design (ID) theory is their anti-evolution tool of choice.

At the heart of ID is the idea that certain elements of the natural world—the human eye, say—are "irreducibly complex" and have not and cannot be explained by evolutionary theory. Therefore, IDers say, they must be the work of an intelligent designer (that is, God).

The problem for teachers is that ID can't be tested using the scientific method, the system of making, testing and retesting hypotheses that is the bedrock of science. That's because underpinning ID is religious belief. In science class, Williamson says, "students have to trust that I'm just dealing with science."

Alas, for Kansas's educational reputation, the damage may be done. "We've heard anecdotally that our students are getting much more scrutiny at places like medical schools. I get calls from teachers in other states who say things like 'You rubes!'" Williamson says. "But this is happening across the country. It's not just Kansas anymore."

Posted on November 1, 2005 at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

October 05, 2005

Bird Flu Month - Bird Flu, The Next Pandemic?

This is another repost of an earlier post I made about bird flu.


Here is yet another alarmist article about avian flu possibly becoming the next pandemic. These kinds of articles have been written for a very long time, and this is not the first one with that theme that I've read. Yes, people in Asia have contracted bird flu when they are in close proximity to infected birds, such as people who work in the poultry industry. The flu has transmitted from animal-to-human. The key thing that must happen to send up red alarms about a pandemic is that the virus must evolve to person-to-person contact. It hasn't done that yet. It probably will eventually happen, and the question is will the medical community be prepared to handle it? I think it's worth keeping an eye on the avian flu stories, and at the same time not panicking over them.

Posted on October 5, 2005 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bird Flu Month - Scientists Believe That Bird Flu Will Mutate To A Pathogen Transmitted From Human To Human

As many bloggers have figured out by now, October is Bird Flu Month. I'm reposting some posts I made several months ago about bird flu. They should provide much important information for my readers. As it turns out, I did have a nasty case of laryngitis and bronchitis, not bird flu. I wouldn't want to catch bird flu, even though it hasn't transmitted human-to-human yet. It sounds like a really nasty bug should it do that.


Since I'm still walking around with laryngitis that makes my voice sound like Gollum, I felt inspired to write about disease. NTodd wrote in my comments that he and his wife came down with a variation of bird flu that has migrated to human beings. That's just lovely. I'm also writing because PZ Myers from Pharyngula is asking people to write anything about science or the natural world for his next birthday, which is tomorrow. I figured bird (avian) influenza and human influenza were good subjects.

A primary fear is that should bird flu successfully mutate to a pathogen transmitted from human to human, an influenza pandemic may result. Most people are aware of the most famous of flu pandemics, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which "caused the highest number of known flu deaths: more than 500,000 people died in the United States, and 20 million to 50 million people may have died worldwide. Many people died within the first few days after infection and others died of complications soon after. Nearly half of those who died were young, healthy adults."

Influenza viruses are found in pigs, ducks, horses, whales, seals, and other birds. However, "certain subtypes of influenza A virus are specific to certain species, except for birds which are hosts to all subtypes of influenza A. Subtypes that have caused widespread illness in people either in the past or the current period are H3N2, H2N2, H1N1, and H1N2. H1N1 and H3N2 subtypes have caused outbreaks in pigs and H7N7 and H3N8 viruses have caused outbreaks in horses."

According to one news report, the CDC says "there is a high chance that the avian flu will mutate into a form than can transfer from human to human. It is currently the right season for the flu virus to spread in Asia, so the CDC expects to see more cases in the next few weeks. Although few deaths have been reported so far, it is very likely that the numbers will increase." The symptoms of avian influenza in humans includes "typical influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications." Influenza drugs such as amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir, and zanamivir have worked, but influenza strains may become resistant to drug treatment so these drugs may not always be effective.

The CDC's web site describes transmission of influenza from birds to humans in this manner:

Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans are thought to have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. However, there is still a lot to learn about how different subtypes and strains of avian influenza virus might affect humans. For example, it is not known how the distinction between low pathogenic and highly pathogenic strains might impact the health risk to humans. Of the documented cases of human infection with avian influenza viruses, illnesses caused by highly pathogenic viruses appear to be more severe.

Public health authorities currently closely monitor human influenza outbreaks associated with avian influenza. A fear is that a pandemic may result should avian influenze successfully mutate and transmit from human to human. That said, since 1997, humans infected with avian influenza viruses have not resulted in human-to-human transmission.

The following are incidences since 1997 of avian-to-human influenza outbreaks:

H5N1, Hong Kong, 1997 : Avian influenza A (H5N1) infections occurred in both poultry and humans. This was the first time an avian influenza virus had ever been found to transmit directly from birds to humans. During this outbreak, 18 people were hospitalized and six of them died. To control the outbreak, authorities killed about 1.5 million chickens to remove the source of the virus. Scientists determined that the virus spread primarily from birds to humans, though rare person-to-person infection was noted.

* H9N2, China and Hong Kong, 1999 : Avian influenza A H9N2 illness was confirmed in two children. Both patients recovered, and no additional cases were confirmed. The evidence suggested that poultry was the source of infection and the main mode of transmission was from bird to human. However, the possibility of person-to-person transmission could not be ruled out. Several additional human H9N2 infections were reported from mainland China in 1998-99.

* H7N2, Virginia, 2002: Following an outbreak of H7N2 among poultry in the Shenandoah Valley poultry production area, one person was found to have serologic evidence of infection with H7N2.

* H5N1, China and Hong Kong, 2003 : Two cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) infection occurred among members of a Hong Kong family that had traveled to China. One person recovered, the other died. How or where these two family members were infected was not determined. Another family member died of a respiratory illness in China, but no testing was done.

* H7N7, Netherlands, 2003 : The Netherlands reported outbreaks of influenza A (H7N7) in poultry on several farms. Later, infections were reported among pigs and humans. In total, 89 people were confirmed to have H7N7 influenza virus infection associated with this poultry outbreak. These cases occurred mostly among poultry workers. H7N7-associated illness included 78 cases of conjunctivitis (eye infections) only; 5 cases of conjunctivitis and influenza-like illnesses with cough, fever, and muscle aches; 2 cases of influenza-like illness only; and 4 cases that were classified as “other.” There was one death among the 89 total cases The death occurred in a veterinarian who visited one of the affected farms and developed acute respiratory distress syndrome and complications related to H7N7 infection. The majority of these cases occurred as a result of direct contact with infected poultry; however, Dutch authorities reported three possible instances of transmission from poultry workers to family members. Since that time, no other instances of H7N7 infection among humans have been reported.

* H9N2, Hong Kong, 2003 : H9N2 infection was confirmed in a child in Hong Kong. The child was hospitalized but recovered.

* H7N2, New York, 2003: In November 2003, a patient with serious underlying medical conditions was admitted to a hospital in New York with respiratory symptoms. One of the initial laboratory tests identified an influenza A virus that was thought to be H1N1. The patient recovered and went home after a few weeks. Subsequent confirmatory tests conducted in March 2004 showed that the patient had been infected with an H7N2 avian influenza virus. An investigation to determine the source of infection is ongoing.

* H5N1, Thailand and Vietnam, 2004: In January 2003, outbreaks of highly pathogenic influenza A (H5N1) in Asia were first reported by the World Health Organization. From December 30, 2003, to March 17, 2004, 12 confirmed human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) were reported in Thailand and 23 in Vietnam, resulting in a total of 23 deaths. Visit www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/outbreaks/asia.htm, http://www.oie.int and http://www.who.int/en/ for more information.

* H7N3 in Canada , 2004: In February 2004, human infections of H7N3 among poultry workers were associated with an H7N3 outbreak among poultry. The H7N3-associated illnesses consisted of eye infections.

* H5N1, Thailand and Vietnam, 2004: Beginning in late June 2004, new lethal outbreaks of H5N1 among poultry were reported by several countries in Asia. The new outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry in Asia were followed by renewed sporadic reporting of human cases of H5N1 infection in Vietnam and Thailand beginning in August and continuing into 2005. Of particular note is one isolated instance of probable limited human-to-human transmission occurring in Thailand in September.

The following information about influenza subtypes, transmission, and antigen shift is from the CDC web site:

Influenza viruses have eight separate gene segments. The segmented genome allows viruses from different species to mix and create a new influenza A virus if viruses from two different species infect the same person or animal. For example, if a pig were infected with a human influenza virus and an avian influenza virus at the same time, the viruses could reassort and produce a new virus that had most of the genes from the human virus, but a hemagglutinin and/or neuraminidase from the avian virus. The resulting new virus might then be able to infect humans and spread from person to person, but it would have surface proteins (hemagglutinin and/or neuraminidase) not previously seen in influenza viruses that infect humans.

This type of major change in the influenza A viruses is known as antigenic shift. Antigenic shift results when a new influenza A subtype to which most people have little or no immune protection infects humans. If this new virus causes illness in people and can be transmitted easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic can occur.

It also is possible that the process of reassortment could occur in a human. For example, a person could be infected with avian influenza and a human strain of influenza at the same time. These viruses could reassort to create a new virus that had a hemagglutinin from the avian virus and other genes from the human virus. Theoretically, influenza A viruses with a hemagglutinin against which humans have little or no immunity that have reassorted with a human influenza virus are more likely to result in sustained human-to-human transmission and pandemic influenza. Thus, careful evaluation of influenza viruses recovered from humans who are infected with avian influenza is very important to identify reassortment if it occurs.

While it is unusual for people to get influenza infections directly from animals, sporadic human infections and outbreaks caused by certain avian influenza A viruses and pig influenza viruses have been reported. (For more information see Avian Influenza Infections in Humans.) These sporadic human infections and outbreaks, however, rarely result in sustained transmission among humans.

I even found a picture of the nasty little bug.


I seriously doubt that I have an avian influenza virus, but coughing my lungs out made me decide to read up on it anyway. My doctor has prescribed amoxicillin, which my husband is picking up from the pharmacy on the way home from work tonight. I'm certainly no scientist, so I hope my post meets with PZ's approval. I'll take off my infectious disease body suit now and get back into my jeans.

Posted on October 5, 2005 at 01:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 16, 2005

The Genographic Project

Even though I now have a royal heritage due to my marriage to the Count, I am adopted. I have no idea what my birth heritage is. My fathers' side of the family includes Scottish heritage, so by adoption I am a member of the Scottish clan "Gunn". Wilson is part of the Gunn clan. I learned that while attending a few Scottish festivals in Maryland. Those festivals are fun. I ate bridies (yummy!), listened to some Scottish bagpipe music, and watched a few tournaments. No, no one threw telephone poles in the air. That tournament always made me go "huh?"

Because I have no idea what my birth heritage really is, I have always been interested in The Genographic Project, but I didn't know what it was called until I saw a blurb about it on National Geographic last week. Finally! I had a name for the project! You may have heard of it, too, but didn't know how to participate in it. I will tell you how.

I found the web site for The Genographic Project. Here's a description of it:

The National Geographic Society, IBM, geneticist Spencer Wells, and the Waitt Family Foundation have launched the Genographic Project, a five-year effort to understand the human journey—where we came from and how we got to where we live today. This unprecedented effort will map humanity's genetic journey through the ages.

The fossil record fixes human origins in Africa, but little is known about the great journey that took Homo sapiens to the far reaches of the Earth. How did we, each of us, end up where we are? Why do we appear in such a wide array of different colors and features?

Such questions are even more amazing in light of genetic evidence that we are all related—descended from a common African ancestor who lived only 60,000 years ago.

Though eons have passed, the full story remains clearly written in our genes—if only we can read it. With your help, we can.

When DNA is passed from one generation to the next, most of it is recombined by the processes that give each of us our individuality.

But some parts of the DNA chain remain largely intact through the generations, altered only occasionally by mutations which become "genetic markers." These markers allow geneticists like Spencer Wells to trace our common evolutionary timeline back through the ages.

"The greatest history book ever written," Wells says, "is the one hidden in our DNA."

Different populations carry distinct markers. Following them through the generations reveals a genetic tree on which today's many diverse branches may be followed ever backward to their common African root.

Our genes allow us to chart the ancient human migrations from Africa across the continents. Through one path, we can see living evidence of an ancient African trek, through India, to populate even isolated Australia.

But to fully complete the picture we must greatly expand the pool of genetic samples available from around the world. Time is short.

In a shrinking world, mixing populations are scrambling genetic signals. The key to this puzzle is acquiring genetic samples from the world's remaining indigenous peoples whose ethnic and genetic identities are isolated.

But such distinct peoples, languages, and cultures are quickly vanishing into a 21st century global melting pot.

That's why the Genographic Project has established ten research laboratories around the globe. Scientists are visiting Earth's remote regions in a comprehensive effort to complete the planet's genetic atlas.

But we don't just need genetic information from Inuit and San Bushmen—we need yours as well. If you choose to participate and add your data to the global research database, you'll help to delineate our common genetic tree, giving detailed shape to its many twigs and branches.

I plan to participate. Participation is a bit pricey - $100.00 - but you get the entire kit, including buccal swabs, and then you'll get your results online. I think The Count and I can get our kits within the next two months. I'm so excited!

Here is the page that tells you how you may participate. Here are some details on participating:

With a simple and painless cheek swab you can sample your own DNA. You'll submit the sample through our secure, private, and completely anonymous system, then log on to the project Web site to track your personal results online.

This is not a genealogy test and you won't learn about your great grandparents. You will learn, however, of your deep ancestry, the ancient genetic journeys and physical travels of your distant relatives.


Order a Kit
The Participation Kit costs U.S. $99.95 (plus shipping and handling and tax if applicable). The kit includes:

  1.   DVD with a Genographic Project overview hosted by Dr. Spencer Wells, visual instructions on how to collect a DNA sample using a cheek scraper, and a bonus feature program: the National Geographic Channel/PBS production The Journey of Man.

  2.   Exclusive National Geographic map illustrating human migratory history and created especially for the launch of the Genographic Project.

  3.   Buccal swab kit, instructions, and a self-addressed envelope in which to return your cheek swab sample. (You can download a pdf of instructions or the consent form. You will need Acrobat Reader.)

  4.   Detailed brochure about the Genographic Project, featuring stunning National Geographic photography

  5.   Confidential Genographic Project ID # (GPID) to anonymously access your results at this Web site

I so want to do this! I want to know my genetic history. I know it's not the same as a geneology chart, but I think this is more interesting. I'm going to buy one of these kits for The Royal Spawn, and give it to him for his birthday.

I've known about this project for a long time, but I've never known how to participate - until now. If any of my royal readers plan to participate, or have already done so, please let me know in comments. I'm very curious to know the results others have received.

Posted on August 16, 2005 at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 12, 2005

Don't Miss The Perseid Meteor Shower Tonight

The Perseid meteor shower is at its peak tonight. If the Count and I are awake, we'll check it out. We'll either go to a local park or to one of the beaches to see it. As far as I know, we'll have clear skies. This will be a better year to see the Perseids than next year, because a bright gibbous moon will hide a lot of the meteors. I'm looking forward to seeing the meteor shower tonight.

Posted on August 12, 2005 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 31, 2005

Bird Flu, The Next Pandemic?

Here is yet another alarmist article about avian flu possibly becoming the next pandemic. These kinds of articles have been written for a very long time, and this is not the first one with that theme that I've read. Yes, people in Asia have contracted bird flu when they are in close proximity to infected birds, such as people who work in the poultry industry. The flu has transmitted from animal-to-human. The key thing that must happen to send up red alarms about a pandemic is that the virus must evolve to person-to-person contact. It hasn't done that yet. It probably will eventually happen, and the question is will the medical community be prepared to handle it? I think it's worth keeping an eye on the avian flu stories, and at the same time not panicking over them.

Posted on July 31, 2005 at 08:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

Next Scientific Study: Nuke People Who Talk On Their Cellphones While Driving

Quoted directly from FARK. I couldn't have said it better. "Scientists invent machine that forces drivers to use turn signals before changing lanes. Still waiting for the machine that shoves the driver's cell phone up her ass."

I think that people who drive while chatting on their cell phones should be drawn and quartered. I won't drive and talk on my cell phone at the same time. For one thing, I'm not that coordinated. For another, I find talking on a cell phone distracting when I'm trying to drive, especially if there is a lot of traffic.

Scientists also need to come up with a machine that turns the signal off once the driver has changed lanes. I'm tired of following people in the left lane who have their turn signal on for ten miles.

Here's a quote from the article about the biggest causes of accidents:

''Studies show that 55 percent of fatal accidents in the United States are caused by lane departure," said Nissan's Robert Yakushi, a Nissan product safety director, citing National Highway Transportation Safety Administration figures from 2003, which were based on 2001 data.

Why? Yakushi cited a group of factors including driver distraction, inattention, and drowsiness. Those are all situations in which Lane Departure Warning can help.

We can think of a lot more: changing the radio, inserting a CD, adjusting the navigation system, talking on the phone, reading directions, yelling at kids, looking for a highway sign, answering a passenger's question, or searching for that dropped french fry.

Turn off your cell phone, for God's sake!!!

Posted on July 18, 2005 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

June 02, 2005

You've Gotta See This

There is a really awe-inspiring photo of the South Pillar region of the Carina Nebula up at the Astronomy Picture of the Day. It blew me away. I use APOD as my IE home page. I get a new photo every day.

Posted on June 2, 2005 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)