Transcript-TWIS.ORG jan 27, 2009

Synopsis: The End of the World Dead sea zones, This Week in Evolution, Why Being an Astronaut Isn’t So Hip, Police and Non Lethal Weapons increases death rates? Don’t Mix, Recess Makes You Smarter, and Interview on Autism w/ Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen

Kirsten: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

I’m not Justin. You are listening to This Week in Science. And anything that you hear during the next hour does not represent the views of the University of California, at Davis, ASUCD or even KDVS. This is all us.

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! Welcome everyone. It’s This Week in Science. And we have so much science news. We have a great show ahead. We are planning to interview Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen today.

Justin: For the second time.

Kirsten: For the second time.

Justin: We’re planning to have.

Kirsten: Exactly. We’ll see. We’ll make sure all the phone numbers are accurate and all of the overseas connections are working properly. You know, I went out and hand check all the under sea cables just to make sure it’s going to work.

Justin: Nice. See. That’s why you’re so thorough, Kirsten.

Kirsten: I know, I plan – I really do try and plan ahead when I’m producing a show. What do I have today? I have got stories about The End of the World and Evolution.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: What do you have?

Justin: I forgot. What did I say? It’s on the list somewhere.

Kirsten: Something about being an astronaut isn’t so hip.

Justin: Being an astronaut is not hip, recess makes you smarter.

Kirsten: And giving police…

Justin: New toy is not necessarily a good idea.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: It could end badly.

Kirsten: It could end badly. Wow! Huh, interesting.

Justin: And special bonus feature.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: I was like about five minutes late this morning.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: If we have time at the end of the show about two minutes, I’ll tell you what the dream was. And maybe the Minions can analyze it, tell me what means the dream that kept me sleeping to my alarm.

Kirsten: The dream that kept you sleeping. Those are always good dreams. I would like to announce – continue to announce – that we are accepting musical submissions for this year’s Science Music Compilation Album.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: 2008 is over and done. It is time for 2009.

Justin: The last three have been stellar.

Kirsten: Absolutely stellar. And we are also looking, you know, as part of this, you know, we are looking for This Week in Science theme song. So, one of the songs out of the – I’m not promising anything – but one of the songs from this year’s compilation album could end up being our theme song, which would be really cool, to open up every show.

Justin: I promise that one of those songs will be. But that’s only because I don’t have as much credibility as Kirsten and go back on my promise, easier than she could.

Kirsten: Right. Normally you’re the one who says the Disclaimer stuff. There’s nobody. Yes, email us. Email me If you have any questions, send me an MP3. I want your submissions. The deadline will be coming up in just a little over a month. So, you don’t have much longer to get songs together for the Compilation Album.

I let January slide by. I only mentioned it a couple of times. But bam!

Justin: Now is the deadline.

Kirsten: Yeah. If you’re a musician, if you know musicians, Science inspired music.

Justin: Whoa!

Kirsten: Whoa! This Week in The end of the World, I thought I’d lead off the show with some really disappointing science news.

Justin: Yey! Oh great.

Kirsten: Yey! Two studies this past week suggest that the end of the world as we know it is much more certain this week than last.

Justin: Well, which end of which world that we know because there’s something about the world that I know that I wouldn’t mind having end and then there’s others that I’m very partial with.

Kirsten: Yeah. Well, not really kind of stretching the truth a little. But the predictions are pretty grim. It’s beginning to look a lot like mass extinction all throughout the oceans.

According to new research by Gary Shaffer of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, dead zones could eventually make up over 1/5 of the world’s waters.

A study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience and applied various computer stimulated climate scenarios to the oceans up to 100,000 years into the future, telling the future through computers.

What are dead zones? Dead zones are oxygen-starved regions of the oceans which are almost devoid of life. Organisms that rely on oxygen to breathe can’t live there. They die or they evacuate the area and they leave a bunch of decaying matter that ends up full of nitrates and then little things eat it, the anaerobic bacteria, go yum, yum.

And there’s more sulfur that’s produced and so does nitrous, nitric sulfuric area that produces a lot of hydrogen sulfide which isn’t very healthy for many oxygen breathing organisms. So, it’s kind of an uninhabitable area.

Currently, only around 2% of the oceans are considered dead zones. And luckily for us according to the Computer Sims the oceans will not be a death trap until some time past the 40th and possibly 50th century A.D. So it’s okay if we kind of fire up.

Justin: Wow. We have a little time.

Kirsten: Yeah. Here’s the potential time line, all right. If we don’t change any – this is all assuming that carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere and lead to increases in temperature which have been supported by many computer simulations and computer models and data collections to date.

But if we don’t stop, our C02 emitting waves and don’t change any of our energy habits until 2100, so 2100 the next century in the atmosphere, C02 in the atmosphere is estimated to increase by four times.

It’s quite a lot because we’re getting pretty high up there and the amount of carbon C02 that’s in the atmosphere currently. And the Earth’s temperature is estimated to increase by as much as by 5 °C which is about 9 °F for those Americans out there.

If we stop, then emitting C02 in 2100, air temperature will continue increasing because there’s a lag hundred years. So, 2200 is when the temperature will maybe start a slow decline.

Because of the volumes of the ocean, the ocean lags even further behind the air temperature. And so the warming of the ocean is going to continue. And it’s going to take 2000 more years for ocean circulation to mix the warming surface waters into the cold deep waters below. And really begin the expansion of the dead zones.

So, it’s quite a way as off in the future. Us, we don’t have to worry about it.

Justin: No?

Kirsten: No.

Justin: We’ll already be dead.

Kirsten: We’ll be dead, you know, and our grandchildren will be dead, you know, or maybe not actually depending on life extending properties that, you know, age researchers are working on. But this is something that maybe we should take heat off if we are concern about future generations.

However, this is all based on assumptions of how the atmosphere in the oceans will react to increases in carbon dioxide. Computer models are, you know, they’re not faultless fortune tellers. You know there’s a little bit of wiggle room in there, you know. These are all based on assumptions.

And so they’re only – the models are only as good as the information that is fed into them. And, you know, we’re still making things better, you know, all of our models are getting better and better.

Justin: You know what? The only problem with when the models have gotten better is it the predictions have gotten more dire.

Kirsten: I know, it took me – it’s seems like it. Right?

Justin: It’s like what’s been the pattern is that right.

Kirsten: It seems like it. So it is something that we might want to take into account because this same process that we’re looking at that might lead to the expansion of the dead zones and the dead zones themselves pushing hydrogen sulfite is thought on a larger scale. This is from an article in Discovery to what’s contributed to the Permian mass extinction 250 million years ago, when 90% of the life on the planet died.

Justin: Yikes.

Kirsten: Yikes, yeah. Second warning of impending doom comes from the University of Washington and some NASA satellite. You know how it’s been reported that Antarctica was cooling while everything else was heating up. And global warming skeptics and deniers have been like, “Oh, you know, Antarctica is still cooling so what is this global warming shenanigan that you’re dealing with, anyway?”

Justin: Shenanigan.

Kirsten: Well, climate scientists might not have had the whole story. So, what else is new, right? A new analysis of temperature data suggest that Antarctica is warming up with the rest of the world.

Data used previously was mostly from the Eastern half of the continent which has been experiencing a slight cooling trend. This new analysis though incorporates more of the Western Antarctic and uses both land base and satellite records.

Scientist took the relationship between the land and the satellite data from 1981 to 2006 and then used that to infer a relationship between the two types of data. They then used that relationship to interpolate satellite data for the time period from 1957 to 1981 when satellite data collection began.

So, essentially the western portion of the continent has experienced substantial warming over the past 50 years, which when combined with the Eastern data has the entire continent warming at a rate of 0.6 °C per decade. And that’s right up there with the rest of the world. So Hey! Thanks for joining us Antarctica.

And if you’re interested in delving into this story a little bit more deeply, I suggest that you visit to read the commentary on the research by the authors themselves Mike Mann and Eric Steig.

They have a really good – there’s a great discussion up there and they have a really nicely written, easily understandable commentary. You know, even for the lay person that kind of, you know, you can actually correspond with the authors of the paper at their blog,

Justin: Nice.

Kirsten: So that’s – it’s a real opportunity for interaction if you haven’t checked that website up for. And if you just tuned in, and you are listening to all these happy end of the world talk, you’re listening to This Week in Science.

Justin: Okay. So, it’s recess. You’ve been waiting patiently for your turn at Four Square. Your first game didn’t goes so well and you know you can do better. You take a little time off the court to go hit the monkey bars. Get your focus back.

Kirsten: Monkey bores.

Justin: Monkey bores, wild pigs that you play with.

Kirsten: With long tails that swing from trees.

Justin: Oh no. All right, but now you’re ready to get back in the game. You know, you get the big red rubber ball in your hand ready to show these other kids that you really made to the right stuff when the bell rings.

Recess is over. It’s time to get you learn on, ten more minutes you plea with the RDD doll assuming we could carry less, fate has slided you from your glorious return from semi-force of your retirement.

As it turns out, a few more minutes of recess and another round of play may not have only given you your red rubber ball revenge but may have increased your ability to do arithmetic to read and to write.

Kirsten: Really.

Justin: Large studies, very large study of very small people 11,000 third graders were studied by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, they found that increased unstructured playtime in children may play a role in improving learning, social development, health. And children who received more recess behave better and are likely to learn more.

In the study they have compared children who got zero to under 15 minutes a day to those who got more, even getting more than 15 minutes like 16, 20 minutes that all sounds like way too little to me.

Kirsten: Way too little especially for our highly energetic small people.

Justin: Right. And there’s more on that here in a minute. According to American Academy of Pediatrics, “Free unstructured play is essential for keeping children healthy and for keeping them up with their important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones. Unstructured play helps kids manage stress and become more resilient.” It makes stronger little people.

So, some studies indicate that children are getting less and less unstructured playtime. The trend has been exacerbated by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act in which many schools responded to try and to, you know, increase their Mathematic and Reading by reducing creative arts recess and physical education.

Not because of budgetary concerns, it’s not like, “Okay we can’t have unstructured playtime because it cost the school too much in red rubber balls.”

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It was – they threw like well we’ve got it, you know, keep them in the classroom and keep drilling them on how to read.

Kirsten: Keep more, more work.

Justin: Not against reading but apparently this maybe counter productive activities. 2005 survey conducted by the National Center of Education Statistics shows that 12%-17% of children in public elementary schools have no recess.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: What is wrong, people? No recess? Wow.

Kirsten: How did that work?

Justin: Little Justin Jackson will be racking up some sick days quick if I wasn’t getting a recess.

Kirsten: No wonder there are so many kids on like (little in) these days.

Justin: Yeah, number of recess sessions per day and the duration of recess periods has been steadily declining.

Kirsten: Wow.

Justin: Since the 70’s, which is when we were children why these numbers seems so astounding, children have lost about 12 hours per week of free time, that’s just free playtime in school, 12 hours a week including 25% decrease in play and a 50% decrease in unstructured outdoor activities according to another study.

Let the children play! Let them play!

Kirsten: Seriously, let children be children. I mean there is something to be said for that free time to be creative and not be forced to have very rigid, rigorous structured learning period.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I mean there’s something to that that time that will – I mean I could imagine this would allow children to build social behavioral pattern.

Justin: Social especially because if you’re on structured play where there – everybody is telling you, “Okay you’re going to stand here. You’re going to sit here. You’re going to do this. You’re going to that.” You don’t have to make friends. You don’t have to make connections with the other kids at all, really.

When you’re out there and you’re free playing, you’re going to make up a game with somebody else? You’ve got to negotiate. You got to learn, you know, if you punch somebody in the face, they won’t play with you. So, you stop doing that.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And then, you know, you learn all the little rules of our society and why people can get along. Yeah, play.

Kirsten: Play. I mean adults need to play too. I mean there’s not enough.

Justin: Yeah. What? I didn’t say anything.

Kirsten: There’s not enough playtime in this world. I think the world would be a much better place if we all got recess.

Justin: Everybody spend a little more time in recess.

Kirsten: Quiet.

Justin: What? I didn’t.

Kirsten: All right, huggy-bear. Oh dear, now and the kids aren’t getting recess, you know, things just aren’t going right. Another thing that’s not going right is the Large Hadron Collider.

Justin: Now what? Come on.

Kirsten: LHC can’t shake the black holes.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: The LHC can’t shake the black holes. A new study that’s up in an archive, what’s the website, which is kind of a preprint place that physicists print their ideas, they kind of test their ideas in the preverbal physics waters, see how things go.

Anyway, researcher named Casadio has taken a look at these black holes that are said to be – these little, tiny miniature black holes that are said to be produced by the LHC during the…

Justin: Strange little things.

Kirsten: Yeah. During the high forces that are being created by these particles being thrown against – like I’m punching my fist here. I’m being tone against each other that the very large forces could produce very tiny black holes that would just blink. In the blink of an eye would pop in and out of existence because of the mass and the forces that are involved.

Now, researchers have come out and said, “Well, you know, this decay – it’s okay to decay. And so because there’s the decay there’s not going be the growth.”

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Because they won’t be around long enough to a mass – the mass that’s necessary to continue to feed the black hole to make it grow and swallow up the Earth and then everything surrounding it.

Anyway, this researcher has come out and said, “Well, you know, they’re actually going to be around a little bit longer than that.” They still aren’t probably – they still probably are not going to grow.

Justin: Probably.

Kirsten: Yeah. They’re probably not going to grow very large. You know, “The growth of black holes to catastrophic size does not seem possible,” such as the quote from Casadio, Robert Casadio at the Universita di Bologna in Italy.

Justin: Baloney, baloney.

Kirsten: But now they say and I quote, “The expected decay times are much longer and possibly greater than one second.” So that’s like you could have 1001 you could look at the black hole in that amount of time. And go, “Look, a black hole.”

Justin: But it wouldn’t look like – you wouldn’t know it was there. You won’t be able to.

Kirsten: Yes. And they say this as a result of their new analysis of the decay and the forces that are involved and the particles that are involved. However, cosmic rays hit the Earth constantly and at much, much higher forces than the LHC is going to be able to produce.

So, if the LHC at its measly little forces that, you know, are still the largest that we’re producing here on the Earth. It’s producing these little black holes that aren’t going to really go anywhere but cosmic rays are striking the Earth. Bam! Crash! Boom! And we don’t even notice them.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And no black holes are being produced to that growing to “catastrophic size”. I think that we’ve got, you know, I think we’re going to be all right.

Justin: Yeah. Especially, unlike if you took our entire solar system and you can condense it down. It just all of a sudden collapsed into some form of a black hole. It wouldn’t even be a black hole big enough to trap light.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: It wouldn’t even be dark – I mean that’s so much how big a real black hole is, and how much NASA’s, you know, said to that.

Kirsten: Super black hole.

Justin: It’s so big that our solar system couldn’t make one crash into itself that would like, you know, trap light.

Kirsten: Right, yeah.

Justin: It would be too small. That and I think there still the chance of making the black hole, we have a higher chance of finding God. And actually there’s then means a chance we can do both together, which is we would find God at the same moment we create the black hole and then there’s two would have to do dig it out which could be entertaining.

Kirsten: Get ready to rumble.

Justin: All right, Kirsten, I’m going to devour it. Okay. So, it’s after work you’ve been waiting patiently for your chance to dance off some steam. Your last outing didn’t go so well and you know you can do better. Take a little time away from the bars to get your focus back. And now you’re ready.

You’re just about to get to the club –a big red rubber ball in your hand, ready to show there’s other kids what you really made off when at least stop you to ask you a few question. “Put down the red rubber ball, Sir. This is your last warning. Step away from the ball!”

According to a new study released by University of California San Francisco, “The rate of in-custody sudden deaths increased six-fold the first year that California Law Enforcement agencies developed the use of stun guns.”

Oh my goodness. We got a caller. I’m going to pause my story to take…

Kirsten: You have a caller. That’s an interesting statistic though.

Justin: Yeah. Good morning, TWIS minion. You’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Man: What would happen if you found God in the black hole?

Justin: Well, you’d have to make the announcement like, “Good news, we found God. You really just spoke out there, right.” Bad news is when we found I mean we got to a place it’s kind of now unreachable.

Man: And he’s holding a red ball.

Justin: And he took our ball. So, we’re going to have to cancel the Four Square for the rest of eternity. Thank you for checking in.

Kirsten: Thanks for calling in. Oh dear, all the philosophical possibilities. This is too much.

Justin: So what was happening?

Kirsten: Back to the taser-ing. So taser-ing has increased.

Justin: So, this isn’t in the City of San Francisco, mind you, that the sudden deaths increased six-fold. This was from a much larger, broader nationwide collection of data. Six-fold increased and in-custody sudden deaths like mysteriously they died while we took them in to custody.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Six-fold after the – okay, the most widely used brand of the stun gun is called Taser. And this is the one that the team were surveying for outcomes related to its used. Right?

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Well some industry-funded controlled human studies have shown that Taser causes no harm to humans. This study suggests that in the real-world of facts, there’s a different and there’s a much greater medical risk and much more danger than the reports generated by people who stand to gain financially from it were indicating.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Oh, surprise!

Kirsten: Surprise! Surprise!

Justin: Wherever we’re going on that in the first place?

Kirsten: However, I have seen somebody running from the cops, who was Tasered and the dude didn’t fall down. He just like, ripped the things off. It was like he was superman or something. He’s ripped the Taser contacts off of his – I mean it probably just got into his shirt and didn’t touch his skin. But at the same time I was like “Wow! Wow!”

Justin: And one of the things too is like the scenario that was sold under was that it was going to be less dangerous for police and they need to let loose firearms less often.

Actually, there was a slight increase here also in number of gun deaths being – so it didn’t actually decreased death. There was no increased in or decreased in police injury either like scaffolding that kind of thing.

And one of the things is the scenario is like somebody has got a gun and you can either shoot them or hit them with a Taser. Well, that’s not what happened. What happen is you’re having a conversation with the cop that’s not going well. And next thing you know you’re – it happened here near the University recently.

Anyway, the analysis though is a little bit limited. Is it only included portions of cities to be known to be using the Tasers? Several California cities and all of the largest US cities, top ten US cities by population surveyed were unwilling to release information on this.

Since the information request was sent under the Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, it makes me wonder if there isn’t perhaps some other non-lethal way of getting them to comply with this order. Some way we can convince them that at this very moment they needed to comply without using physical force.

“Physicians and law enforcement agencies need real-world knowledge of effects of Taser so that they know – Taser use — so the risks cab be weighed in establishing appropriate policies and techniques.” Says study author Zian H. Tseng, MD who’s the senior author on the paper, assistant clinical professor in cardiology at UCSF.

“There have been a number of animal and controlled human studies, but none that show how Tasers are used in the real world, where subjects may have pre-existing medical conditions or be under the influence of narcotics.” Or just falling down, I mean that seems like you could…

Kirsten: Fall down hit your head and suddenly you’ve got bleeding on the brain and that’s not something that’s very minor.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: Yeah. Moving on to quick science headlines, we’ve got about two minutes before we go to the break. It’s almost Darwin’s birthday and evolution is apparent everywhere.

Justin: Still going.

Kirsten: I know. I know. Almost Happy birthday Darwin, you got a couple of more weeks yet. But in Iceland, Icelanders are fast evolvers. Rapid genetic drift has swept modern Icelandic people away from the rest of Europe.

A sample of Mitochondrial DNA control region sequences from 68 early medieval Icelandic skeletal remains that are dated at approximately 1,100 years old is more closely related to sequences from contemporary inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia than to those from the modern Icelandic population.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah. So the settlers who moved to the island to get away from it all, they’ve really got, you know – their offspring really gotten away from it all, genetically speaking. Kind of cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And there’s evolution in action in the Southwest. Leaping lizards, science lizards are adapting to fire ant attacks. And how are they doing it? Over just a few decades, lizards in areas invaded by ants – by fire ants have developed behaviors to evade the stinging ants so they like shake it off “Oh! Get off me” or they blink your eyes, “Get off me.” And they have adapted longer limbs to be able to run away.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: So, over just since the 1950s, 1960s when fire ants started invading into the Southwest – the American Southwest the US Southwest, excuse me, they’re started to adapt.

They have had lizards that were in non-invaded areas and they’d stick them on to fire ant like they’re little ant hills. And the lizards would just sit there and not do anything. They had no evasive anything, pretty interesting.

Justin: Now they do.

Kirsten: And the invasion of fire ants has led to adaptation.

Justin: One thing – our last note here, one thing that may curve our ability to go in no man has gone before stepping off the curve when we get there. “Houston, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” New study coming out of joint research for the UC San Francisco again and UC Irvine finds 13 astronauts who spent 46 months in the International Space Station experienced an average of 15% hipbone strength loss.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: “Three of the surveyed even reached the ranges of 20%-30% decrease in strength which can be comparable to elderly women with osteoporosis. Preventive measures are not taken, some of these astronauts maybe at increased risks for age related fractures decades after their emission,” says study researcher Joyce Keyak, UCI orthopedic surgery and biomedical engineering professor.

So, yeah this maybe, you know, and we’re talking about – we’ve been talking about Mars for a while. I think Mars is quite a track to get out there.

Kristen: It’s just the next step in humans adapting to space.

Justin: Yeah. But if that next…

Kristen: They don’t need heavy bones in zero gees.

Justin: But one small slip for mankind Kirsten.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: This is one major hip fracture from Mars.

Kirsten: Thanks for listening. We’ll be right back with Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen on This Week in Science.


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Justin: So really quick I want to tell you this dream I had. I have – this is I think the third time I’ve been late in these many years of doing the show. And it goes so therefore it’s not worthy.

So, the dream is I’ve got this little remote control. And my remote control is operating a squirrel. There’s no real explanation for exactly how this is working. There’s no obvious call or anything. But I’m moving the squirrel around and it’s just sort of strange world place where people have – there’s no roads but people have, you know, houses and stuff, pretty densely populated.

One of my neighbors has a tiger chained up in the front lawn like you might see like a real dog tied up upfront. And I’m running the squirrel back and forth in front of the tiger sort of aggravating it.

And then I hear this beeping sound presumably this is my alarm trying to reach me through the fog of dream. And I’m assuming down the dream it’s rational that I must be losing battery strength on my remote control of my remote control squirrel.

So, eventually they must have been antagonized the tiger a little bit too much. It breaks the chain, comes charging after the squirrel which is now running directly towards me. So, I’m thinking maybe the remote control battery is dead. But this is completely pointless at this point because now there is a tiger, let alone a squirrel barreling down at me.

It’s this moment that I woke up and realized that I had overslept my alarm and that I was missing This Week in Science. It sounds like Kirsten is making some progress. So, we maybe getting Simon Baron-Cohen back on in a few moments.

There is a new bacteria that they found that helps the growth of trees. This is kind of an interesting – this is actually a study that at first, was worked – the work they were doing was at first to see how you could clean soil, how you could grow something and perhaps like a super fun site.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: All right, something that have like lots of heavy metals and the like in there.

Kirsten: That normally are quite toxic

Justin: Very toxic and it was sort of an accidental thing, they were kind of messing around. They’re actually trying to pull I think bacteria out of the soil. So, they weren’t a factor.

So, they weren’t inhibiting the growth and they just wanted to see just on the barn, you know. And what that actually ended up doing was isolating down a few specific bacteria in this. And what the bacteria did was in one of the cases in certain trees, popular trees they experienced a 50% increase in growth.

So being the February 1st issue of Applied Environmental Microbiology but this is actually now. It’s a whole new project. Now this project is based more around the biofuels. Now their whole project is taking another direction because now they’re looking at being able to produce biofuel timbers, all right, vegetation and super fund or whatever site, non-specifically agricultural use.

And by using this bacteria – which showing in certain cases here 50% increase in growth over the other plants. It’s just – and there’s a whole now realm of studying and trying to figure out exactly why that’s been taking place.

Kirsten: Right. Why did that happened?

Justin: There’s so much symbiotic use of bacteria in the human body like most of what we digest, we couldn’t digest if don’t have bacteria predigesting it for us. That it make sense that that could be useful to the plants too.

Kirsten: Absolutely. There are some other interesting studies that are out looking at the “brown cloud” over Asia. Where is it from? I mean brown clouds, not so pretty. You like white fluffy clouds, right?

Justin: Yeah. Swummy swans a little bit.

Kirsten: A study out of Stockholm University in Sweden has taken a look at what it is and basically they say in Science Magazine is that, the brown cloud comes from the burning of biomass.

So, vegetation, this really unpleasant, you know, it affects the climate so environmentally not necessarily friendly or it envelops the region of South Asia in the winter. And they’ve been trying to figure out exactly where it comes from.

Much of the soot and carbon-containing aerosols comes from the burning of fossil fuels in cars, power plants. And they wanted to know how much comes from burning wood and other things for cooking and agriculture. And actually, they – you use carbon-dating. The carbon – they used carbon-14 dating of the atmospheric soot.

Justin: Interesting.

Kirsten: Yeah. To figure out where it came from so there are different levels of the carbon isotopes depending on how they were laid down, where they came form whether it’s a living plant or something that’s a decayed matter.

And they took a look at these isotopes to see how much of the carbon-14 had decayed away and what was actually the relative – what were the relative amounts. And they found that the majority was the biomass combustion produced about 2/3 of the pollution.

So 2/3 of the brown cloud as opposed to being from fossil fuels or from cars or industry. They found that it’s actually from burning wood stoves. So the cooking and the agricultural burning — so in fields and cook stoves have caused a lot of these problems.

So, if we can help South Asia along with advances in cook stove technology or even find other ways aside from burning of vegetation maybe we can deal with that.

Let’s answer the phone.

Justin: There is something of the forensic climatology going on like that in Texas, Houston too.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: There was – when they were tracking the pollution that was in the general air, to see what industry it came from. And they were saying that they could get it down possibly even to which refineries for instance we’re putting the pollutant in the air.

Some stuff is more general, they could tag and say, Okay, this is vehicle emission, you know. It’s not going to tell you whose vehicle, what type of vehicle that sort of thing.

But this is a vehicle emission versus this is a power plant versus – but the refineries they said, they could probably even figure out which specific refinery it is based on the molecules that they’re finding in the air.

And by doing that, once that started, I mean I think that’s going to be a pretty big step going into the future because then you can really look at okay what industries or what areas are really producing the most that is staying in the air. I mean knowing that they’re producing from the plant is one thing knowing what’s actually in the atmosphere or something else.

So that’s going to be kind of – that might play into this whole future of carbon credits in the whole rest of it. Although from what I’m hearing, the carbon credit system has been building it so far has been already absolutely rife with problems.

The whole international aspect to this looks like it may end badly in the near, near term. We may have to figure out something stronger, something better than in this trading market.

Some of the news out of China anyway is they’ve created this strange flood basins for some reason, taking out people’s homes and all the rest of it. Uh-oh, now we have the outgoing/ingoing…

Kirsten: Yeah confuse.

Justin: …all lines have lit up. There we go. Now hit the button. There we go.

Kirsten: I was just going to – I was almost on the phone with Simon. It’s not Simon. It’s Ray.

Justin: Hi Ray.

Ray: Hi, interesting dream.

Justin: Thank you. I wonder what it means.

Ray: You know, there was a thing on or .org they screened it on the Sacramento Educational thing and never got in there talking about dreams. And he’s put together a dream bank of all the different meanings and interpretations.

Justin: Interesting.

Ray: And there are common themes, you might want to check that out.

Kirsten: Thank you. That’s interesting.

Justin: I’m going to have to find out what taunting tigers of the squirrel means because it seem like it might be a good analogy for my life.

Ray: Am I live or am I not live now?

Justin: You are. You are.

Kirsten: You are live now. It’s all live radio. Yehey!

Ray: I was thinking about your burning cooking fire thing and I saw a thing on T.V. just the other day about somebody somewhere that’s having a population of monkeys that were being harmed by everybody cutting down their trees. And what they did since they have a lot of wild buffaloes around and I guess the people they were making a biogas collection thing.

Justin: Mm hmm. Yeah, yeah.

Ray: And not only could they save a large population of trees for monkeys to hang out in, but they also could work more and grow more of whatever their crop was.

Kirsten: That’s awesome.

Ray: And I remember hearing somebody talking about that on that dish the dirt show the other – well, but I was thing, you know, in this biogas is that something that we could like could every house have its own biogas thing or…

Kirsten: Potentially.

Ray: …they are actually using biogas down the supplant and is there I mean because I remember…

Kirsten: That’s a really good question. I’m going to take the question off the air.

Justin: There’s actually a ton of solutions out there. There’s somebody we interviewed when I first got to the show, I want to say it was like an August of ‘05 or something like that. I can’t remember the cat’s name. It’s – go Google up there Earthship Biotecture. They build these Earthships, these things that are completely out of the grid. There are a lot of different aspects too.

One of the neat things is my favorite when I’ve talk about the show a couple of times is the air conditioning. And these units consist of basically digging a trench that’s about 20 feet long and about 8 feet deep all right. Big enough to just put a one foot diameter pipe down there, corrugated plastic, whatever, PBC and running it to the house and use that with a skylight and you have a normal convection.

The heats normal, you know, the heat rises and the air that’s coming through this tube all summer long, no matter what the temperature is on the surface that air is going to be about 57 degrees. So you don’t actually have to have a plugged in air conditioner to produce that sort of thing.

Turning dung into fuel I think, you know, burning it might be the most effective way of doing that. But you can also…

Kirsten: There’s that – there’s an interesting new technology that’s been developed involving lasers. Yeah, laser beams to create…

Justin: To cut down trees?

Kirsten: No. To burn biomass to basically create a plasma that’s high energy producing. We have another caller.

Justin: God morning TWIS minion, you’re on the air with This Week in Science.

Simon: Hi there, Kirsten:

Justin/Kirsten: Oh!

Justin: Lovely.

Kirsten: Dr. Baron-Cohen.

Simon: Great. Hi!

Kirsten: We’ve been going back and forth. I think I was catching you as you were calling me.

Simon: Great.

Kirsten: But you’re on the air. Welcome to This Week in Science.

Simon: Thank you.

Kirsten: I’m so excited to connect with you. I’m sorry it’s been so difficult this morning. Let’s get started. You study Autism, that’s correct, yes?

Simon: That’s correct, yes.

Kirsten: Could you tell us – I mean we talked about the autism spectrum. What is that entail? What does it contain?

Simon: Well, that word spectrum is the really important one because these days we already recognized quite a wide variation. One subgroup is called Classic Autism and another subgroup is called Asperger Syndrome.

But basically what these children all share are social difficulties, difficulties with communication. But as well as that, they often have very narrow interest sometimes called obsession and a lot of are repetition. They like to do the same things over and over again. And get very upset when things are unpredictable.

And the diagnosis is really given when a child is suffering to some degree where they need help.

Kirsten: Right. Is there any way? I know most children are diagnosed about the time that they start becoming socially aware around two years of age, between one and two to three years of age. Is there anything that in terms of research is suggestive that a child might end up with that diagnosis?

Simon: Well, you’re right that the earliest stage to the diagnosis is usually given is around two years old. That’s often the age when children, you know, you start expecting your child to be able to socialize maybe at Day Care or with other kids in the community. They’re moving out of their security of the immediate family and be able to interact with the people outside the family.

For a child with autism, they’re meeting new people, socializing, communicating maybe the hardest things to do. The kinds of the behaviors that families – that parents often noticed maybe the child is avoiding interacting, maybe not looking up at faces, not making eye contact.

And to some children especially those with classic autism, they maybe late to talk, their speech and their language comprehension is delayed compared to other children.

Kirsten: Now you’ve been working a lot on a hormone theory or hypothesis related to autism and testosterone levels. Could you briefly explain that?

Simon: Yeah. We’ve been very interested in the puzzle about why autism and Aspergers affects boys much more often than girls. And so, we’ve been investigating as you say testosterone because males produce much more of this hormone than female.

So, in the womb, the male fetus is producing twice as much testosterone as the female. And from animal research, it’s evident that testosterone can affect the way your brain develops.

We haven’t yet been able to look directly at testosterone and autism because to do that, it needs many thousands of children. But what we have been doing is just looking at smaller groups of about 200 children who don’t have a diagnosis just typically developing regular kid to see if there’s any link between fetal testosterone, the amount of the hormone produced by the baby in the womb and how the child turns out later, and looking at individual differences, and how sociable they are and also characteristics like empathy, ability to recognize emotion.

Kirsten: So, do you think that the testosterone is one part of the puzzle? Do you – I know that here in the United States, I don’t know about as much in the UK but if people keep falling back on the vaccine…

Simon: Right.

Kirsten: …you know, and even though scientific evidence suggest that vaccines have nothing to do with the mercury in that levels have nothing to do with the prevalence of autism.

Simon: True.

Kirsten: Is that common? Are there other roads that people are going down?

Simon: Well, certainly both in the UK and also in the States, the alternative theory to the vaccine theory is the genetic theory that autism runs in the family and increasingly more and more genetic differences being established between people with autism and people without autism.

So, you know, I’m not really convinced that they have any good evidence were link between vaccine and autism. On the other hand, there are literally hundreds of studies now demonstrating the link between genetic practice and autism.

Kirsten: Now you’re working currently or you have been working on a cartoon for kids with autism. And it’s called “The Transporters”.

Simon: Yeah.

Kirsten: Is your cartoon something that is useful for all levels of the autism spectrum?

Simon: Well, I should sort of correct you there. It is an animation. That it’s animation which includes real faces not all cartoons. And so far, we’ve been evaluated it on children who are high functioning who have autism.

I have to say they’ve got language. And, you know, we’ve started with children aged five to eight years old showing them this DVD. It’s called “The Transporters”.

And what the child sees is, vehicles going down tracks, like toy trains or trans or cable cars. And unto these vehicles – these animated vehicles, we put faces of real people, active faces so that children with autism who loves watching vehicles and will get attracted to the predictability of mechanical object.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Simon: They’re also going to get a chance to look at faces. So the whole challenge has been how do you get a child with autism learn about emotions if they’re avoiding people and if they’re not looking up at people’s faces. This is the way of like capturing the child’s interest or attention by showing them things that they do enjoy, trains and trams and tractors. And then even without realizing it, they can learn about emotions.

Kirsten: Yeah, I think it’s fascinating. I mean I personally looking at these human faces super imposed on mechanical objects, I find it slightly creepy.

Justin: It’s disturbing.

Kirsten: It is a little disturbing but I mean your research has shown that – how effective is this cartoon?

Simon: Yeah. It’s very interesting that you should describe it as disturbing or creepy.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: Okay. What we have to keep in mind is that most kids don’t learn emotions this way. And then most kids will pick up emotion by playing with other children, playing in the playground or, you know, just having fun.

And in contrast children with autism, you know, they’re not making things as much as other kids and missing out on the relevant experience. And so, we have to find if you like a fairly artificial way of introducing emotions to them that they can not just tolerate but enjoy.

What we’ve done is evaluate whether the DVD is beneficial, very important when there’s any new method or treatment for autism that it should go through a research evaluation.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Simon: And what we’ve done is compared two groups of children with autism, one who watched the DVD and one who didn’t.

The group that just watched it for 15 minutes a day over a one month period, what we found is that they significantly improved in their ability to recognize emotions compared to the kids with autism who didn’t get that experience.

Kirsten: What is significantly improved mean in terms of your quantitative analysis, like what were you looking at in terms of interactions?

Simon: Right. Well, we devised three different tests to see whether they were learning anything. The first test was could they recognize emotions on faces that they have seen in the DVD. We found that they did improve in their score on these tests.

The second level was to see whether they could generalize. We showed them similar faces to what they’ve seen in the DVD but in clips or scenes that were not included in the DVD.

So, we wanted to see if they could go beyond what they’ve seen to generalize to new material. And again, we found an improvement on that test.

And then the final level was to show them faces that were completely different quite unlike what they’ve seen in the DVD, the new faces in new situations. And again, we’ve found improvement in their ability to recognize emotions even on unfamiliar or novel material.

So, to us what it suggests is that the children are enjoying it. They’re learning and they’re not just repeating back what they’ve seen but they’ve actually picked up on the underlying concept that they can apply what they’re learning to a new situation.

Kirsten: Did you question the parents of these children at all to see how their interactions after the month long period of viewing the cartoons changed– if whether or not there were any differences in the way that they actually interacted with people as opposed to their responses to the videos.

Simon: Sure. I mean, so far we’ve any really got this one preliminary study which is sort of looking at how they performed on this emotion recognition tests.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Simon: You’re absolutely right that we would like to do next is to see whether the DVD is actually changing the child’s behavior out in the real world. We’ve got plenty of feedback from parents suggesting that the children are looking at faces more in the real world in the family for example talking about emotions more. And they’re commenting that daddy is happy for example.

But what we really need is, you know, sometimes quite time consuming studies which track the kids in their everyday interactions to see if it’s actually have an effect on their behavior.

Justin: And I’m not really familiar with autism because I had no experience in anybody I’ve known or relatives or anything like that. Is there a point at which somebody can become non-autistic?

Simon: That’s a really interesting question, you know, whether a child could grow out with autism for example or whether they might need the diagnosis at one point and then maybe not need it later.

And I think what we’ve certainly come across some people who needed the diagnosis of the child because they needed the extra support, the extra services that the diagnosis often bring that, you know, they’ve made a good adaptation, if you like.

They’ve learned social skills and they may not need to diagnose it when they’re older. That’s particularly true if the person has, you know, good general intelligence and good language skills.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, it would be maybe someone that has more of an Aspergers which is I guess at the lower, you know, more socially able.

Simon: Yeah. That’s right. And in Aspergers syndrome, you know, perhaps it’s important to make it clear that people with Aspergers have good intelligence. They don’t have any general learning difficulties and they have good language. But I should say that even for people with Aspergers, you know, most individuals with the diagnosis, they tend to need the diagnosis run through their lives.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: It’s a life long condition. And, you know, support maybe more or less intense at different points in their lives.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: Is that something that can develop in later years or is that something that’s been around and might not be diagnosed until later on.

Simon: Right. Yeah, it is developmental in the sense that it’s there right from the beginning.

Justin: Okay.

Simon: It may take a few years until, it’s clear when a physician or a pediatrician or a psychiatric could made the diagnosis. But if you go back and question the parent, typically, you know evidence right from the beginning that the child would develop in differently.

Kirsten: I just find it fascinating. I’ve heard several times that people hypothesize that this is potentially, you know, it is a developmental difference that there are actually differences in the brain that cause people to respond to stimuli differently.

So, maybe overwhelmed by social stimuli, which is why they’re more attracted to the predictability of mechanical things. Is there evidence so far to subject that there are actual physiologic or anatomical differences within the brain?

Simon: Yeah. In fact there’s evidence for both. So, you know, you mentioned anatomical differences and there are differences in the brain structure in people with autism. It has found some evidence for example that the brain is growing faster than it should so that the brain is larger in the first two years of life.

And even if you look at different structures within the brain, some are larger or smaller than they should be and one example of that is a structure in the brain called the amygdula which is particularly relevant because some people think of it as the emotion center.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: It’s where we process emotions and where we experienced emotions. And that’s often either too large or too small in children with autism. But you also mentioned, you know, the physiology, the functioning of the brain.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: And again, as evidence using MRI where you see the activity of the brain that some of these structures are overactive or underactive. That’s to say they’re responding differently when the person is reacting to the world.

Kirsten: Do you think – this is just I guess more of an “out there” question but in terms of genetics and two people coming together mating, having an offspring, if this is a genetic process, is it possible that, you know, this is an evolutionary step that this is just part of a continuum of the way that the brain could possibly look and function as a result of reproduction?

Simon: Well, certainly. Whenever you have a condition or a set of characteristics which are genetic, you have to think in terms if there are changes happening in the population, some genes becoming more common because they’re actually adaptive?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Simon: You know, I think we have to sort of be clear that severe autism where the child may be very delayed and have many difficulties like no language, epilepsy, self injury, you know, that kind of – that form of autism is unlikely to be adapted.

Kirsten: Right.

Simon: But it could be that in the relatives of children with autism that the relatives may have some mild characteristics which could be positive. We talked a little bit about autism that can involve excellent attention to detail and, you know, very good memory for details and the ability to focus a long period on one topic.

And if some of the relatives for genetic reason had some of the qualities that could be quite – you know, they could be positive. They could actually, you know, in today’s environment.

Kirsten: Yeah. It could be as we get more into computers than we’re…

Justin: I think that puts my children completely in the clear because I have none of that.

Simon: Exactly.

Kirsten: You got ADD.

Justin: Yeah, I’m going the other way.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think that’s a really fascinating idea, I mean I’ve heard – I heard ideas that, you know, Silicon Valley where people are focused on, you know, technology and very focused on their work and even in research institutions that these might be, you know, good place for those kinds of people to go and maybe those areas have higher prevalence of autistic children.

Simon: Yeah. I mean there’s certainly some of discussion about whether the rate of autism for example is higher in Silicon Valley. But I’ve not seen any evidence which kind of demonstrates or proves that. To do that kind of study really needs epidemiology.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: You need good comparisons in large population. But certainly anecdotally, people are suggesting that in a populations where people get together around technology, there maybe higher rate for autism. I think it needs to be tested.

Kirsten: I think it does too. I think it’s a fascinating question. And it would be – just an interesting idea of as we change the way our society is focus is it going to affect things like the rates of autism and is this a part of the puzzle?

Justin: Yeah. I think you should be only looking at something like severe autism in that case because if you have like information society that’s like really paying way too much intention to intelligence, they could be inferring things or catching all the borderline cases that otherwise would have gone totally unnoticed.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Simon: I think that’s a very good point. And in a way, it’s a much clearer test if you focus on the severe autism to see whether that got to do with, you know, the characteristics of the parent.

Kirsten: Yup. Well, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I apologize for the telephone difficulties.

Simon: No. It’s my pleasure.

Kirsten: I’m really glad that you were able to get on the phone with us here today. It’s been wonderful talking with you and the cartoon that you’ve helped develop is “The Transporters”. And is there a website that people can go to if they’re interested?

Simon: Yeah. It’s only available online at And profit from the sales of The Transporter DVD a proportion will be going to autism charities like Autism Speaks from the US and to Autism Research.

Kirsten: Fantastic.

Justin: Excellent.

Kirsten: Thank you so much. I look forward to hearing more about your research. I know there were some interesting news that came out this last week related to your research. I’m quite interested to see where else it goes. And I hope that we can speak to you again someday.

Simon: Thank you very much.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Simon: It’s been nice talking to you. Good night.

Kirsten: Have a great evening. Bye.

Justin: Bye-bye.

Simon: Bye-bye.

Kirsten: That was Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen from the UK.

Justin: At last.

Kirsten: At long last.

Justin: We’re way over. We got to bail.

Kirsten: We’re way over. We must go. I want to remind people that they can send contributions or not contributions, submissions for This Week in Science.

Justin: Submission. You don’t contribute the submission send at the information.

Kirsten: Contribute the submission to the This Week in Science 2009 Science Music Compilation Album at

I’d like to thank (Jonathan Drury), (Kevin O’Hara), (Brent Woodeker), (Jeff Johnson), (Thomas Cuckle), (Doug Perry), (Benjamin Hudgins), (Dylan Combelick), (David Eckert), (Luke Stone), (Andrew Walsik), (Kalidasa), (Eva Snyder), (David France) and (Ed Dyer), and many others for writing in during the last week.

Justin: Please remember, now we got to go, we got to…

Kirsten: No. Thanks for listening to the show today. You can go to if you want to find any information on the stories that we discussed today. And you can email us at or Be sure to include TWIS in the subject line and if you want to let us know to cover something or address a topic or suggest an interview, let us know. We’ll be back here next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific Time.

I want to thank the next DJ for giving us extra time.

Justin: Giving us – generously giving us time.

Kirsten: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much!

Justin: And if you learned anything from today’s show, it’s all in your head.

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