From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

People Who Lack Critical Thinking Skills

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, there were some who were so disgusted by the court's judgement that they tweeted. [Credit to BuzzFeed.]

A little education about Canada.

Canada's national health insurance program, often referred to as "Medicare", is designed to ensure that all residents have reasonable access to medically necessary hospital and physician services, on a prepaid basis. Instead of having a single national plan, we have a national program that is composed of 13 interlocking provincial and territorial health insurance plans, all of which share certain common features and basic standards of coverage. Framed by the Canada Health Act, the principles governing our health care system are symbols of the underlying Canadian values of equity and solidarity. 
... the system provides access to universal, comprehensive coverage for medically necessary hospital and physician services.
The federal government provides funding to the provinces and territories for health care services through fiscal transfers. 

Texas Politicians Oppose Critical Thinking

From the 2102 Republican Party of Texas - Report of the Platform Committee:
Knowledge-Based Education We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. 
They oppose critical thinking skills?  Really? 

Are Dragons Real?

Look at what the Creation Museum is touting.  Dragons existed 6000 years ago.
CREDIT: Creation Museum

No one I know believes this bunk.  Why does Ken Ham, creator of the Creation Museum, believe this?

Let's examine Job 41:1 (KJV) - "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?"

What could the leviathan be?

Job 4:19-21 (KJV) - "Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.  Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.  His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth."

And sometimes it pushes Helen Reddy.

CREDIT: Walt Disney Productions

Are Mermaids Real?

CREDIT: Touchstone Pictures
This is just sad, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration feels it necessary to explain "No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 0.02%

I attended the graduation ceremony of a former student of mine. Jared earned his Bachelor's degree in physics from UCLA.  During one of the speeches, the speaker mentioned how few people actually attain the Ph.D. in physics.  He also said many nice things about those who do which swelled my head just a wee bit.

During the past year, there's been a lot of talk of the 1% and the 99% - those with the proverbial gold and those without.  So I began to think about with a doctoral hood and those without.

According to the American Institute of Physics, approximately 1200 students receive their doctoral degree every year since 1960 or so.  Therefore, there are about 60,000 of us  - some in academia, some in industry, some in the financial world, some in places you would never think of finding a physicist - like United States Secretary of Energy.

The U.S. Census estimates that the country's population is now almost 314 million.

Now I pull out my trusty calculator, and divide 60,000 by 314,000,000.

I am in the 0.02% of the country.  

<sarcasm> Don't I feel special? </sarcasm>

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Home, Sweet Buggy Home

Do you realize that you are home to 100 trillion microbes?  That's 10 times more cells than are in your body.  Furthermore, they account for up to 6 pounds of your weight.

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent account of the Human Microbiome Project. You have to read what the treatment is for recurrent Clostridium difficile infections.  If you are so inclined, here is a link to the relevant reports.
Left: Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria (green) resides on skin. Right: Enterococcus faecalis lives in the gut.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Great Nephew Jake

This is my niece Angie's little boy Jake with his dad Darin.  With the help of the physicians and surgeons at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, Darin saved his boy's life.  Jake was born with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD); that is, his kidneys have never worked.  On Thursday, June 7, doctors successfully transplanted one of Darin's kidneys into Jake.  I got the best news at 5:38 p.m. when Jake's Grandma, my sister Emily, sent me a text that read "kidney in and he peed!"

The cause of Jake's kidney problem is Eagle Barrett syndrome, also known as Prune Belly syndrome.  The abdominal muscles are often poorly developed, making the skin on the belly to wrinkle prune-like.  The cause of Eagle Barrett syndrome is unknown and effects boys mostly.

While I don't wish to understate the seriousness of the operation, kidney transplants have become almost routine.  More than 17,000 of them are performed every year - about 50 a day.  Sadly though, 87,000 people are waiting for a donor kidney.  Those people, like Jake before his operation, have to depend on dialysis.

Kidneys were once thought to be where your conscience and emotions existed.  Look up Psalms 7:9; "… for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins."  Then see Revelations 2:23; "… all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works."  [King James Version, Cambridge Edition]. The word reins refers to the kidneys; both rein and renal are derived from the Latin renes.  For more Biblical kidneys, see Psalms 16:7, Proverbs 23:16, Isaiah 11:5, and Job 16:13.  Note that in many translations, reins is replaced with mind.

However, the Bible is not a physiology text, and our knowledge of function has improved in two thousand years.  Your kidneys maintain pH and the balance of electrolytes (like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium).  They ensure that bodily fluids stay at proper levels and thereby help regulate blood pressure.  From physics and chemistry perspective, they are simple organs.  They do their job by three basic processes: filtration, reabsorption, and secretion.

The Herrick brothers examine an early dialyzer.
CREDIT: Kennebeck Journal
With ESRD, those three functions of the kidney have to be replaced with an artificial kidney - the dialyzer.  Dr. Willem Kolff invented dialysis in 1943 in Nazi-occupied Netherlands "using sausage skins, orange juice cans, a washing machine and other common items to make a device that could clear the blood of toxins."  It wasn't until  1960 though that dialysis could be used for ESRD patients.  Dr. Belding Scribner devised the Scribner Shunt that allowed a plastic tubes to be inserted into a vein and an artery that are then connected to the dialyzer.  After treatment, the tubes are connected by a U-shaped tube that redirects the blood back into the body.

This shunt would not have been practical without the discovery of Teflon®.  Blood is good at clotting.  The Teflon prevents this from happening.  By the way, Roy Plunkett accidentally discovered Teflon® or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in 1938 while trying to find a new refrigerant.

One further note: Dialysis is expensive.  So expensive that the federal government pays 80% of the cost.  I'm not going to complain about my taxes for awhile.

Ruth Tucker received the first transplanted kidney in 1950.  This kidney came from a cadaver.  Since immunosuppresant drugs were not available then, she rejected the organ ten months later.  Fortunately, her one kidney recovered functionality in the meantime. In 1954, Richard Herrick in Boston participated in one of the first transplants from a live donor, his twin brother Ron.  Immunosuppression is not an issue for twins.  Joseph Murray won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1990 for performing the surgery.

So Jake is doing fine; Darin is still pretty sore.  Jake's fantastic big sisters, Grace and Sarah Jane are going home with their grandparents, my brother-in-law Mike and sister Emily.  Angie has the big job of taking care of the boys - a job she is eminently qualified for.