Surely too good to be true

Something that I have seen popping up in a couple of places now is some research out of Canada purporting to show a cure for diabetes (albeit in an animal model).

It almost sounds too good to be true: Inject a drug into the mice and have their diabetes disappear overnight, and some of the mice remained “cured” for more than 4 months with a single injection.

Normally I would be rather skeptical about this kind of thing, given that it blatantly flies in the face of the current understanding of how diabetes works, but it looks as though they’ve done their homework, and the work is also being published in the Journal Cell, which is probably one of the most prestigious biological journals around.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see if it translates into human clinical trials…

Setting a good example

Today in a quiet moment in outpatients I had a bit of a wander around the World Health Organisation’s website. As much out of curiosity as anything else I had a look at the Jobs at the WHO section, and made a rather pleasant discovery.

You cannot work for the WHO if you smoke.

It’s stated clearly as one of the terms of employment. Their reasoning is that to have workers who smoke undermines their credibility as a health promoting organisation, ans specifically undermines their smoking cessation campaigns, which are some of their main activities at present.

I liked the idea. People are free to choose to smoke, and organisations are free to choose to not hire those people. Now we just need a few more governments and health departments and hospitals to follow the WHO’s courage and foresight.

More from the science desk.

I stumbled upon a number of cool sciency stories this afternoon, and thought I’d package them together to pass them along.

The first relates to New Zealand and the long held belief that New Zealand had never been home to a native land based mammal, until they were introduced first by the polynesians (who bought rats and dogs) and the europeans (who bought just about everything else). There were bats, and seals, but nothing land based. Now fossils have been found which suggest that NZ was once home to a small native mouse sized mammal, which lived about 16 million years ago – Better get your history and biology books out kids and cross out that particular paragraph…

Secondly, earlier this week a telescope in New Mexico caught some damn cool footage of a shock wave spreading out across the surface of the sun. The technical name for the phenomenon is a Moreton wave, however for popular consumption the press releases all referred to it as a solar tsunami. Either way the picture is pretty cool.

Next was an article on slashdot relating to some research on how smell worked. The traditionally proposed model for how it worked was one smell molecule fits one receptor. The new research however was proposing that the receptors worked through some system of quantum electron tunneling, so that it was the nature of the quantum interaction that triggered the receptor (and thus the sensation of the smell) and not the shape of the molecule (thus explaining the previous observation that differently shaped molecules can have the same smell).

The pitter patter of muddy paws

It has been raining around our house recently, and while Jack, like any good cat, dislikes being out in the rain, he has no problems with running around in the mud afterwards.

This creates certain problems because Jack then tracks mud wherever he goes, including across the floor, on the sheets, in the shower, and perhaps most amusingly, all over our cars.

Now up until now I hadn’t really realised how frequently Jack gets up on to the tops of our cars when they’re parked in the drive.

We’ve seen him do it once or twice while we’re hanging out laundry or otherwise working outside, but it hasn’t been common.

Then the other day, after it had been raining, I came out to go to work, and got in the car. Only from inside the car did it become apparent that all up and down both the front and back windows were a series of little muddy paw prints.

Subsequent days saw similar situations, until the yard dried up again, and the paw prints disappeared.

I wonder where else he gets into while we’re not looking.

The Santa hat

Today, in response to a bet from one of the midwives, I wore a Santa hat to work.

Essentially the bet had been that I wouldn’t do it, and we all know how dangerous it is to bet me (with my well known stubborn and competitive streaks) that I won’t do something. (Just ask my friend James about the $10 challenge, or, on second thoughts, don’t…)

Anyway, the odd thing was how few people questioned, commented, or even appeared to notice the hat.

Big red hat with a pompom on the end. You’d think that would provoke a response or two, but people just seemed to take it in their stride.

Perhaps they just assumed I was really getting into the christmas spirit(s).

The summer game

The ashes are in town and I’m having my annual re-awakening to how much I love cricket.

It’s been nice seing some good competition (OK, so maybe not the first test, but even then there was some good individual performances that weren’t necessarily reflected in the outcome), and while I am far from being a die hard sports fan, I love being able to flick on the TV and watch bits and pieces of cricket, and not need to devote my full attention to it (while concurrently reading a book, or doing some housework, or playing on my computer).

There has also been a couple of shows on TV that have added to my interest. The ABC in, conjunction with the Australian Cricket Board, have made a series of Documentaries entitled “Cricket in the…” with each one focusing on a different decade of Australian cricket.

Now some of you may recall me previously mentioning a DVD called Calipso Summer, which dealt with the 1960-61 West Indies cricket tour of Australia, and the “Cricket in the..” series is made by the same people, and is almost as enjoyable.

I watched Cricket in the 50’s last week, and am looking forward to cricket in the 60’s which is on soon. They interview the players and have archival footage and the whole thing is generally fun and informative, giving a good insight into the matches and the dominant personalities and characters of the day.

That’s the christmas spirit

In what has to be one of the most bizarre and foolish thing I’ve read recently Catholic Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne last week unexpectedly banned Catholic children from praying with Muslim classmates.

Apparently the basis of this ban was that “The image of God in non-Christian religions is not identical with the God who is Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Surely when we’re talking about (catholic/muslim/jewish) children, the fact that they’re praying AND getting along with people of other faiths in a christian/muslim/jewish manner is enough.

They’re not going to understand the dogmatic distinction between a catholic praying to god versus a protestant praying to god versus a jew praying to god versus a muslim praying to god (which all 4 groups would acknowledge is still the same god, separated by human dogmatic differences (whether you believe Jesus is the son of god vs. not the son of god vs. just another prophet). More importantly they shouldn’t have to, and for the Cardinal to try and impose division on children seems both callous and pathetic.

Thankfully it sounds as though he is pretty much being either ignored or openly criticised for the stance, and once again the chuch as an organisation is being marginalised because it continues to focus on dogmatic minutae and maintaining it’s power, while ignoring the major themes of love, tolerance, understanding and community on which most people base their faith.

My next education campaign

One of the things which I have recently been finding quite unbelievable is how easy it is to confuse people with the simple question of “What is your ethnicity?”

As part of the booking in process when we first see soon-to-be-mothers in antenatal clinic we ask them a bunch of question relating to general health and influencing factors.

Because certain ethnic groups have different risks for certain conditions that can effect pregnancy we ask about ethnic background.

And what constantly leaves me wanting to slap people is the response to this question. I say “So, what is your ethnic background” (which I now usually follow with “…where did your ancestors come from” or something like that) and in response I still almost invariably get a look of deep confusion followed by a response along the lines of “Australia…. I’m… I’m Australian”. So seeing as they are almost all whites, I try to clarify with “But your ancestors, did they originally come from Europe, you know, caucasians?” to which I once again get a confused look and “No…. I’m… … Australian” at which point I do my best not to look exasperated, write caucasian on the form, and move on.
I don’t know whether it’s something to do with the demographic population group I’m dealing with here, or whether this is a wider Australian problem, along the line of the US theme of America is the best and we’re all Americans…

Coming from NZ where pretty much every form that required demographic information has the first two options being (1) New Zealand European (Caucasian), (2) Maori, followed by the other usual options, I find it interesting that there seems to be so much confusion and ignorance about the separation between ethnicity and nationality. My ethnicity is caucasion. My nationality is New Zealander.

Surely that’s not so hard? Is it?