December 18, 2007

Justin: Good morning, Kirsten.

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin. That was a loud one this morning.

Justin: Sweet too, lack of – is that pharmacological, pharmaceutical – no poison in the bloodstream still.

Kirsten: Well, that’s right, that’s right. How is it going?

Justin: Everything is under control.

Kirsten: Under control, yes exactly. Well, this is This Week In Science. We are here yet again to talk about all the science going on in the world and there is lots of it as usual, plenty going on to fill well more than an hour.

Today, we have Dr. Michael Stebbins on at the top of the hour. Did I say at the top of the hour? It’s on at the half hour.

Justin: The top of the second half hour.

Kirsten: Yes, the top of the second half hour.

Justin: Or is it at the bottom. I can never tell which is the bottom and which is the top. We’re going to have to look that up in a manual.

Kirsten: Go to the bottom and get to the top, and you’ll find (unintelligible).

Justin: I think the bottom of the hour is in the beginning of the hour. And then you reach the top of the hour and then you got to break. Is that right?

Kirsten: Michael Stebbins, the Weird from Washington on when we get to the halfway point. We also have a TWIStributor this month, this week.

Justin: Oh, very cool.

Kirsten: Jessica Spalding has sent in fabulous, fabulous contribution to our show for today. So, we have that coming up in the second half hour as well.

In the meantime, we’ve got science news coming at you. I’ve got stuff about space. I’ve got stuff about meat and cancer. What else?

Justin: It’s just two things that just go (crazy here).

Kirsten: Magma.

Justin: I’ve got all…

Kirsten: I like magma.

Justin: …brains and mice.

Kirsten: I like brains and mice too. Brain is one of my favorite subjects.

Justin: Hey, you got yourself…

Kirsten: Brains.

Justin: Now, Kirsten, this is something – this is actually an issue (of contention, real quick) because Kirsten claims to be a Ph.D. And yet…

Kirsten: I do claim that, yes.

Justin: I was at Kirsten house about a week ago and I ask, ask…

Kirsten: Where is it?

Justin: Where is the piece of paper that says so? She couldn’t produce one.

Kirsten: That’s because I haven’t actually picked it up from the (unintelligible).

Justin: I don’t believe, you see, like…

Kirsten: I’m not into all, the paper stuff.

Justin: I would have one shrunk down laminated and it’d be in my wallet and I would start conversations with it. I’ll be like, “Before we go forward, let me just pull this card out and let you know that I am a doctor. I have a Ph.D. in Neurology that which is I don’t. But Kirsten does.” So, I’d be pointing that out to people constantly.

Kirsten: Well, that’s the difference between you and I.

Justin: You got it, girl, flaunt it. Show a little paper.

Kirsten: Yes. Show the paper. Well, I have to go order it first and pick it up.

Justin: Seems like they just send that to you after all the hard work you’ve put in.

Kirsten: They don’t. You have to actually…

Justin: You have to pay a couple of dollars to get the frame?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Oh, that’s not just right.

Kirsten: After, yes, you don’t just get it. I mean, you get it but you don’t. You have to order it. You have to get it framed, pay money, all of these stuff.

Justin: That’s insane.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Japanese scientists reaching into their traditional past have genetically engineered mice in the ancient tradition of the samurai. Yes, this is original story about a Kaori Hitomi of the Associated Press.

Scientists in Japan have used genetic engineering to create mice without fear. Mice with a steely courage to steer down felines no less in a research development that may reveal their mechanism fear itself.

Scientist at Tokyo University say they were able to successfully switch off a mouse’s instinct to cower at the smell of presence of cats.

Showing that some fears.

Kirsten: Show no fear.

Justin: Some fear at least is genetically hard wired and not learned through experience, which is very commonly thought that you have to communicate all the scary stuff out in the world that needs to be communicated or experienced at least once before we are afraid of it.

Mice, it turns out are naturally terrified of cats and usually panic and flee at the very smell of one. But mice with a certain nasal cells removed, didn’t display any fear.

Now, in this experiment, the genetically altered mice approach cats, snuggled up to them, played with them. And Kobaykawa who is the leader of this researcher shows that some domesticated cats that are well-fed and cared for and therefore more docile – less likely to treat the mice as opportune snacks.

The findings published in the Science Magazine and Nature should help researchers shed further light on how the brain process this information about rats.

“And if we follow the pathway of related signals to the brain, I think we could discover what kinds of networks in the brain are important for controlling fear”, said another scientist involved, Kim Dae Soo, neuro-geneticist professor at Korea Advance Institute of Science and Technology and so, who is not actually part of this but just observing.

The real finding I think here might be – this is from my completely uninformed opinion – may have not less there with fear but with genetic memory because it seems that that’s a pretty impressive thing for the genes to be controlling from one generation to another – something that’s based on experiences of past generations.

Kirsten: Right. Well, I guess you can call it genetic memory in a sense. But the way the process that’s probably controlling it has to do with epigenetics. So, it’s actually the controls. What causes gene-expression or stops gene-expression.

And it’s these controls or there are certain hydroxylations, certain changes that are made to molecules that can be changed during a life time of an individual. Certain instructions get turned on or off during a lifetime of an individual that causes a chain reaction of events that can then be passed on.

It’s not actually the genes themselves changing. So, it’s a really an interesting, question of what is it during an individual’s life that can be passed on.

Justin: Oh, yes. And that’s what I mean.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Because it seems as though, it is passed on that the smell of cats causes a fear reaction…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …through the genes, which means that at some point, mice had to learn – I mean, mice have to experience some depredation for cats over many, many generations. And then, into the genes goes this alert system for the various smell of a predator which that generation may have never encountered before.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I mean we see it simply in a much more simple form like plants that next generations will time their life cycle based on the water and sun cycles that the plant was getting.

Kirsten: Previous, right.

Justin: But this sort of blurs a line between nature versus nurture that kind of actually adds both of them into the final equation. But there is quite a bit of nurture that goes on in your nature from your previous. To me, that’s the more interesting part of that. I don’t think we need more fearless mice.

Actually, last night, there was one…

Kirsten: We don’t need more fearless mice. But that’s not what the research is – in it and long been trying to produce a world full of fearless mice.

Justin: I think I was an escapee that got to my house last night.

Kirsten: Probably.

Justin: There was a mouse – and then I’m like, well, it’s raining, it’s pouring, it’s freezing outside, I can’t really blame it for coming in. Cute, little field mouse, oh he’s so sweet.

Kirsten: They are pretty sweet.

Justin: There are probably a hundred of them living under the sink now.

Kirsten: Well, you do live out in the country.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Expect the mice.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Yes. We have rats where I was growing up.

Justin: Now, were they fearful?

Kirsten: Not after they’d eaten the poison that was set out…

Justin: Oh, no.

Kirsten: …for them. They’re drunk, poisoned drunk rats coming out from underneath the stove to nuzzle my mother’s food as she wash dishes in the kitchen.

Justin: Oh, no. Oh, no.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: That’s not just right.

Kirsten: It’s not right. It’s not at all.

Moving on, if you feel that you need to change your environment or change your habits as…

Justin: As I have my (resolution’s list).

Kirsten: …as Justin seems to be doing. It’s pretty interesting, the way that you’re going about doing it. New Year is coming up. A lot of people are making plans for their New Year’s resolutions.

“I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to stop smoking. I’m not going to drink as much, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” we have this wonderfully – just this day that we decide as the beginning of everything. I love it…

Justin: Fresh starts.

Kirsten: …for everyone. Everyone gets a fresh start.

Justin: Every year.

Kirsten: Anyway, some researchers from Duke University studying Psychology of human behavior and willpower suggest that if you really, really want to stick to something, the best way to do it is to change your environment.

So, it’s long been known that for addicts, it’s very important for them to change aspects of their environment so that the stimuli that are within that environment do not continue to trigger their behaviors.

And there are lots of other habits that may be you don’t want to do that aren’t necessarily as damaging to your person as addiction. Exercise maybe being one.

Maybe you want to start doing something a little or maybe you want to not eat fast food as much. Well, maybe you should not walk the same way that you do at lunch passed the fast food restaurants as you have been.

Just change your behavior and it makes it easier, will make it easier for you to be able to maintain a change that you want to see happen.

Justin: Absolutely. Well, that’s just makes too much sense because if you’re surrounding yourselves with – for instance people who have very poor diet.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And that seems to be your group of people that you’re associating with at work or at home or whatever, or however it is, chances you’re not going to get too fit hanging out with these people.

On the other hand, if you’re going down and hang out at the gym, where there are lots of fit people, you start associating with more fit people, you might work out more.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I mean, it’s the same thing with education, same thing goes with drugs, same thing goes with money, same thing goes…

Kirsten: Toothbrushing.

Justin: I don’t know about that one. That was a little more in the privacy of the home.

Kirsten: Flossing.

Justin: I know. I don’t think that’s an environmental factor. But like drugs is a perfect example. If everybody you’re hanging out with is on drugs, the chances of you not becoming an addict, pretty slim.

Kirsten: Yes. They say that from the research that they’ve done, the studies that they’ve done, they’ve demonstrated over and over again that it’s basically a habit that you have to do one thing another. It’s basically, a really well practiced, repeated action.

So you’ve basically done the same thing over and over again. And what that suggest is that you have really heavily maintained maybe neural pathways within the brain that this is the pattern that you get in. And so, if you’re doing the beginnings of that pattern, you’re most likely to continue that pattern.

And another thing that they suggest is that changing physical locations of some things. So, if you need to take a pill everyday, or if you need – you want to brush your teeth, if you don’t brush your teeth enough for example.

Justin: Why do you keep pausing and looking at me every time you say that? They are yellow from the years of the tea drinking and the anyway…

Kirsten: Happy Holidays to the previous DJ’s, they’re off. Yes, happy holidays to all.

Yes, so move the pill to a location where you do something everyday. So, if you have to take medication, move it to where your toothbrush is. If you tend to leave your toothbrush in a cabinet that is not next to the sink, move your toothbrush next to the sink.

If you want to eat fruits more often, make sure you put up a fruit bowl in a location in your kitchen that you walk past on a regular basis. So, if you move the locations of items into the places where you…

Justin: Traffic more.

Kirsten: Yes, that you traffic more, that you run into more often at, you’re more likely to start falling into a new habit that’s a little bit better for you.

So, it’s all about the context of where or how your habit occurs. And understanding yourself and figuring out what little changes you can do to make yourself more, full of willpower.

I should talk.

Justin: Huh?

Kirsten: I said I should talk.

Justin: You have no willpower?

Kirsten: I do have willpower, just not all the time.

Justin: I have great willpower. I just don’t have the greatest attention span for the things I’m trying to do.

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Sometimes it’s like you go and you get all the way from the bowflex system…

Kirsten: I have too much attention span. I spent too much time, bowflex?

Justin: Whatever. You go and you get the dumbbells and the weights, you know. Yes, I’m going to work on my guns. And after, a couple of weeks working on them, you realize you actually have better things to do.

Kirsten: That’s hilarious.

Justin: Oh, it’s my turn to tell the story.

Kirsten: It’s your turn. You get a story time now.

Justin: Oh, this one is…

Kirsten: Tell us a story, Justin.

Justin: I don’t know about this. I haven’t read through this one here, this maybe?. Do you know the Australians are potentially going to attack the Japanese with military force?

Kirsten: What?

Justin: Yes. There’s a (borer brewing) in the South Pacific. Well, it’s over the whaling.

Kirsten: Okay, yup.

Justin: It’s over the whaling. And the scientific tie-in here is that the Japanese are claiming that for scientific reasons they need to go on this massive, massive whale hunt because that’s the only way they can tell the breeding cycle of whales, is by killing them.

And there are some really weird science here that unfortunately I got the wrong story in front of me. This is not the one that actually goes into this a little bit better.

But for one thing they refer to them as fish which is I found is a policy…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …of Japan which is not to differentiate any marine creatures as anything but fish, whether they’re mammal or, (unintelligible) it doesn’t matter. And trying to keep it from being – I think it has to do with not wanting there to be special treatment for whales.

Kirsten: Right if everything is just a fish.

Justin: And I thought this is all based on this insatiable appetite for whale meat in Japan. Well, it turns out whale meats are falling out of fashion in Japan. And the rate at which it’s been consumed has been decreasing year after year after year. And the whole move to try to get it in schools is because they have literally tons of whale meat in deep freeze.

Kirsten: That people aren’t eating.

Justin: People aren’t even eating. So, there’s something really strange going on. Anyway, they’re doing the hunt down there in the Antarctic Ocean. And the Australian military is going to be dispatched…

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: …to observe them during the hunt.

Kirsten: Wow! To make sure that they don’t take more than they’re suppose to possibly.

Justin: Make sure they don’t take more than they’re supposed to. Make sure they don’t have the more leaky boat syndrome. And the other one is there’s a – this is the name I’m missing, maybe somebody out there knows. There’s an albino whale that goes up and down the coast of Australia that’s become a huge tourist attraction.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And the Japanese said, they hadn’t ruled out they wouldn’t be able to differentiate one catch from another and the Australian Tourist and Board like, “Excuse me, that’s our bread and butter for some times. We like to have these things, this beautiful whale.”

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: So, anyway, yes, Australian military is going to be shadowing them through war ships and helicopters during the entire hunt.

This is I think, such an odd situation because it seems like there’s not even really the call for it from the Japanese people to be eating whale meat and the researchers calling whales a fish. I hope Japan and Australia don’t go to war together. I really don’t.

Kirsten: They probably won’t go to war over this. But it’s not going to – it might not be friendly.

Justin: I don’t know. Wars have been started over less than, you know…

Kirsten: That’s true.

Justin: …shooting each other’s ships.

Kirsten: That’s true or each other’s whales.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: It’s a good thing that you have stopped smoking, Justin.

Justin: Oh, what would have happen to me?

Kirsten: Well, I don’t know. I mean, just don’t take up smoking marijuana now. Okay?

Justin: No, thanks.

Kirsten: All right? A report in the Chemical Research in Toxicology Journal has found that marijuana’s smoke contains more or higher levels of certain toxins than tobacco smoke.

Justin: Oh, yes.

Kirsten: Yes. A lot of people who do smoke marijuana say it’s healthier or they don’t get as much of bad compounds.

Justin: It’s like 20 times worst. What are they talking about?

Kirsten: Yup. There are people who say, it’s natural, it’s healthier, it’s not like smoking cigarettes and this is how they justify.

Justin: Hemlock is natural too.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I mean, I know, I don’t get the natural. It means nothing.

Kirsten: Here’s how they justify their use of this elicit substance. However, researchers from Canada have found that ammonia, hydrogen cyanide are among the toxic chemicals that are in higher levels than in tobacco’s smoke.

Ammonia levels were 20 times higher in marijuana than tobacco. Hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide and certain aromatic amines occurred at three to five times higher.

Justin: Ammonia is kind of a strange one because there’s – one of my favorite Danish candies, this is really strong liquors. And it got banned by the EU for export…

Kirsten: It contains a lot ammonia.

Justin: …because it’s got lot of ammonia.

Kirsten: That’s not so good.

Justin: Isn’t that weird? Kid’s candies, they’re really good.

Kirsten: Yes, like, “I love this candy.”

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Ammonia. Yes, of the toxins that are within – let’s see, so within tobacco smoke, we know that there are about 50 cancer-causing toxic substances. It’s unknown really how many are in marijuana smoke because there just hasn’t been that much research on it.

So, that’s what researchers are trying to do and they’re trying to find out what kind of a risk the public has for smoking marijuana.

Justin: Oh, well, the risk goes well beyond that because it’s unregulated. I mean…

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: …a lot of it is coming from criminal enterprises, who gosh knows what they put on there, to preserve that expensive product for, you know.

Kirsten: And to make it stronger.

Justin: To make it stronger.

Kirsten: What kind of – there’s also breeding – I mean since the 1960’s there has been intensive breeding on the different species of marijuana to create much stronger strains.

Justin: Better yields.

Kirsten: And how has that change other components of the plant in concert, how do we know that at all?

Justin: Absolutely, yes. But from the criminal aspect, when they’re growing this stuff in rural areas. They probably don’t hesitate to use insecticides or anything else they can use to preserve it because they’re not going to be monitoring it like 24/7.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: You know. I think it should be legalized absolutely. But I don’t think anybody should do it. I mean, it’s like anything that makes you not as smart or…

Kirsten: But there are all sorts of ways. I mean, you don’t have to smoke it to get the benefit of the medicinal aspects of marijuana. there are many other ways to get the THC into your body.

Justin: Isn’t quicker though? Doesn’t it go blood-brain barrier and all that kind of stuff (unintelligible)?

Kirsten: Yes. The smoke does go into the blood vessels directly through the lungs.

Justin: A little smoke isn’t bad. I mean, for the medicinal purpose, I think smoke is fine. But for recreational, it’s yes. I may have already smoked the cigarette that has a cancer in it. I don’t know. I don’t know which one it was. There was many there to choose from. It could have been in anyone of them.

Kirsten: It could have.

Justin: Got me a little nervous. Oh, my goodness. More science news coming up.

Kirsten: You sound excited. Okay, well anyway, Johns Hopkins University geologist Bruce Marsh has come up with the theory. His theory has become the accepted theory of how the Earth’s crust was formed.

His theory suggests that there’s this plumbing underneath the volcanoes that’s made up of a system – a very sheet-like chamber. So, not big voluminous chambers but more sheet-like, very thin.

And then, the pressure that’s produce when what’s called the magmatic mush pushes to the surface. It’s like a crystalline magma. It’s got a lots of crystal structures in it. And it gets pushed through pressures from underneath the Earth up through these sheet-like chambers. It gets pushed to the surface and then when it gets to the surface, it causes a cracking and then like a bursting of the surface of the crust.

And then, in similar, in effect to how an impact might cause a cracking of a wind shield and you can see where the impact came from.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Okay. So, you can see like the web of the cracks from the central point.

Justin: And then a big crack might come out from there but you can definitely where the…

Kirsten: Where it came from, where the pressure started. And from then, non-crystalline magma came up and would fill in those cracks. And so, this has been his theory that’s become relatively accepted.

And now, I guess back in the mid-90s he found the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. And in the Dry Valleys, there are basically these very, very well preserved valleys that have not changed in the millions of years since the continents split apart.

And unlike many other areas on the planet, they have undergone very little a tectonic shift or very little change in that time. So, it’s like this relic of what happened 18 million years ago or 180 million years ago, however long. Yes, 180 million years ago, add a zero to the end of that.

Justin: That’s long time.

Kirsten: Yes. So, he’s gone there and he’s taken a look at it and basically, he’s been able to verify that erosive properties of wind and water, snow, ice have been able to come and kind of dig away the softer magma that’s filled in those cracks in the surface of the crust.

And so, it’s almost as if the original cracking kind of formed where valleys and waterways would eventually be on the surface of the planet.

So, it’s like that initial pressure created what the surface features – the eventual surface features of the crust would be.

Justin: That’s right. So, then a lot of the – does that mean like a lot of even the creeks and tributaries are falling perhaps paths of this weathered cracking up north or…?

Kirsten: Possibly. I don’t know exactly how extensive the erosion would be. But yes, this article that was sent to me by (Ed Dire), he said he describes – it says it describes his findings at the American Geological Society Meeting that happened recently.

And it basically – I think it’s much on a larger scale than that. So, it’s like more like valleys and mountains as opposed to creeks and tributaries. Those are probably much smaller features that happen as opposed to the major features of the landscape.

Justin: Very cool.

Kirsten: Yes. So, it’s just an interesting thing to be able to go to a place and be able to actually just visualize what and how the surface of our planet came to be how it is now.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Yes. What are the forces that made our planet look like it does?

Justin: And supposedly we’re going back to the Pangea thing or the big Pangea.

Kirsten: Yes, in million of years again.

Justin: Oh, it’s going to take a couple of hundred – no, it’s like we’re like almost at the halfway one.

Kirsten: Hundreds of millions of years.

Justin: Two hundred and fifty million years or so, it’s going to be all one continent anyway, man.

Kirsten: Man.

Justin: Brains defy mechanical confines by adapting on the conditions change. Mechanism of dynamic connectivity describe for first time by Carnegie Mellon Pitt researchers.

This is a completely red story. Researchers from the Center of Neural Basis of Cognition, CNBC, which I thought was a cable network version of – but no.

Kirsten: No. it’s the Canadian…

Justin: Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, a joint project of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have for the first describe mechanism called the dynamic connectivity in which neuronal circuits are rewired on the fly allowing stimuli to be more keenly sensed.

The process is described in the paper in January issue of Nature of Neuroscience. This new biologically inspired algorithms for analyzing the brain at work allow the scientist to explain why when we notice a scent, the brain can quickly sort through input and determine exactly what smell it is.

Kirsten: Wow!

Justin: That’s pretty wow!

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: And then this is quoting. I don’t who I’m quoting here but I’ll give a shot. “If you think of the brain like a computer, then the connections between neurons are like the software that the brain is running. Our work shows that this biological software has changed rapidly as a function of the kind of input that the system receives.”

Well, that clarifies it, thank you Dr. Nathan Urban with your convolutions of analogy. Huh? This brain – if you know more about computers, then you do about – anyway.

When a stimulus such as an odor encountered, many neurons start to fire.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: When many neurons fire at the same time, the signals can be difficult for the brain to interpret. This is like a little bit of an overlay of all these things firing at once.

So, it sounds like kind of like a filter. There’s a lateral inhibition that the stimulated neurons send a ceasefire…

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: …messages to the neighboring neurons.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Reducing the noise, making it easier to precisely identify stimulus. I wonder if opposite, I’ve always wondered if that sort of what the opposite of which is happening in like some of the certain schizophrenia and things like that when there’s hallucinations (unintelligible)…

Kirsten: Where they do have overloads.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: That maybe they’re lacking that inhibition.

Justin: The filter thing, yes.

Kirsten: Mm hmm. The filter is turned off, yes.

Justin: That’s pretty wild. I like the idea that the brain is this smart that it can, control stimuli.

Kirsten: It is pretty smart. And sleep helps to make you smarter. In the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Belgium have published their results suggesting that depending on whether or not you sleep or are sleep deprived, that’s going to affect where memories are stored in the brain. They did…

Justin: That makes sense.

Kirsten: Or how it’s stored in the brain.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: Whether or not it actually gets processed and taken from like your kind of shorter term memory banks into the actual long term memory storage.

Justin: I think, I did recall you doing a bunch of stories about memory and study. And I think one of them was just get the good night sleep, you actually retain more information than if you stayed up all night rereading the same material.

Kirsten: Rereading, exactly. And what they actually showed through this MRI study was that in a sleeping group of people compared to a group that were sleep deprived, the sleeping group had greater brain activity in the left ventral-medial prefrontal cortex. And sleep deprived group had more active hippocampus.

The hippocampus is thought to be the area that once the information like comes in through, like you’re kind of like active working memory system, that’s where it kind of gets processed and the decision is made whether or not to shunt it to long term memory. So, it’s what’s considered consolidated for later use.

So, it seems that the sleep deprived people, maybe there’s some kind of like running over within the hippocampus. It’s not allowing the memories that neuronal signals to be able to be put some place for long term storage.

And whereas in sleeping people, there’s other activity happening that maybe that’s where maybe the memories are being stored. Who knows? We still have so much to learn about the brain.

Justin: It’s very fascinating.

Kirsten: It’s a fabulous, fabulous complicated machine.

Justin: And it’s the place where we live.

Kirsten: It is the place where we live. It is unless of course you believe in multiple dimensions and then maybe it’s just like the box which allows us to…

Justin: What?

Kirsten: Yes, whatever. Do you read sci-fi?

Justin: No. My brain is not intended for another dimension. I’m sorry. My brain is me. I am my brain. I’m actually a small gray, squishy, little creature…

Kirsten: What about all the quantum effects?

Justin: …that has control of all these mechanical arms (unintelligible).

Kirsten: What about quantum effects, Justin?

Justin: I’m a small, squishy, gray matter between (unintelligible).

Kirsten: You could be but a shadow of yourself.

Justin: I could be what? I always say I’m a shadow of my former self or a former of myself.

Kirsten: Of your current self.

Justin: Current self.

Kirsten: This is This Week in Science. We will back in just a few minutes with more science for you.

[music break]

Kirsten: And we’re back. This is This Week In Science. We are on the phone with Mike Stebbins from the Weird from Washington. Without further ado, I’m going to bring him on the line.

Justin: Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: Howdy.

Michael: I don’t deserve that. Wonderful!

Justin: You get that actually just about every week. I don’t think you get brought on until after that big entrance.

Michael: Yes. But no, I do hear it actually. But that one was really good.

Justin: Oh, yes.

Michael: It was two weeks for a start-up. So…

Kirsten: That’s right.

Justin: I’ve got extra lung power.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: And you have been using it, that’s for sure. I swear I’ve got him turn – his microphone turned all the way down and it’s…

Justin: It’s not even on.

Kirsten: …still hurting my ears.

Justin: And you think that one is different microphone.

Kirsten: I think maybe I’m just too sensitive today. That’s all. I’m just being sensitive girl. Bring stuff from Washington.

Michael: So, this week it is all about spending over in Washington now.

Kirsten: Yup.

Michael: It is crazy what’s been going on with this omnibus spending bill. So, basically what happened just over the weekend, democrats and republicans got together and put together a giant spending package.

And so, this 3,400 page bill is available starting Monday. And now, they are debating it. So, it’s basically, this gigantic package which has over 9,000 pieces of pork in it.

As you guys know, the president vetoed the labor (HS spending) bill a (log). So, this actually a really big thing if the Congress gets this passed because the last two years, we’ve been going on the theme budget. There’s been no increase. But when you actually dig into this one, it’s bad news, bad news, all over the place.

Kirsten: Yehey!

Michael: Oh, men. I feel so bad about it. I’ll give you some good news later. But basically the NIH budget goes from $28.9 billion to $29.2 billion which is a 1% increase. But when you actually look at it closely, a lot of that actually goes to the Global Aid fund. And so, the NIH budget only goes up really by 0.46%.

Justin: What is inflation anyway? What is that? Like 3%, something like that.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: So, it’s actually a drop of funding by a few percent (that count).

Michael: Yes. So, pretty bad.

Kirsten: Nice.

Michael: Now, but there are some good news for some people though. So, those people who are (friends) of the Open Access Movement which is – the movement is basically makes federally funded research available.

The publications, the language in this bill actually includes a directive to the director of National Institute of Health to require all NIH funded research to be put into the PubMed Central archive, an electronic version of the final pre-reviewed manuscript no later than 12 months after the official data publication. So, that’s going to be mandatory now.

So, there’s that. I know some people can get excited about that.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: Not in relation to some other things. But the reliable replacement war head was zeroed out.

Justin: Okay.

Michael: So, we won’t be making new nuclear weapon.

Justin: Bigger nucs…

Kirsten: That’s good.

Justin: …out of other nukes where we’re going to take our old nukes, get rid of our old nukes and make new nukes out of them that were bigger nukes that less of something…

Kirsten: Bigger and better nukes.

Michael: Exactly. Now, (absence) only education was frozen. So, they didn’t add more money to it.

Kirsten: That’s good.

Justin: Well, they should have stand from that anyway.

Michael: They should have zeroed it out. Yes. These nukes are really bad program. But the Office of Technology Assessment which was Congress’ branch until 1995, they gave them reviews of technology and advice on what’s coming up next was not funded again. But the GAO, the Government Accountability Office got $2.5 million to do some technology assessments. Really, it’s just all over the place.

As of last Thursday, remember, we were talking about the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act?

Justin: Yes.

Michael: This is the piece of legislation that will prevent people from being discriminated against based on their family history of disease or a genetic predisposition to disease in the workplace or for health insurance. As of last Thursday, it was included in this bill. So, they had negotiated it. The house is all for it. It got yanked at the last minute over the weekend.

Justin: Now, any reasoning for it?

Michael: Well, yes. Actually, it’s bizarre how it happened. The White House actually – who put out a policy statement saying that they support the House version of the bill, actually sent a letter to the Congress with a list of things if they were included in this appropriation’s bill might trigger a veto. And Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act was on there.

Now, this is because Senator Coburn who had had a hold on the bill preventing it from coming to the floor for vote actually, apparently, kicked them again and reached Senator McConnell.

And word on the street is that Coburn, Senator McConnell and majority leader, Senator Reid came to an agreement where it would be yanked from the bill in order to make sure that the larger bill goes through.

So, it became a victim of this process where in order to get the votes stick at this thing and the procedure to get this thing to go through, they basically scripted it out at the last second.

Justin: It seems like one of these things so that eventually it’s going to go through. I mean, if it doesn’t go through in this form first, there will be an act of genetic discrimination that takes place that creates a lawsuit that makes it press (unintelligible).

Michael: There already have been.

Justin: There has been?

Michael: There already been lawsuits on this. It’s not happening really widely but it could. But even more important, it’s really preventing the wide use of electronic medical records.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: Now, also over the weekend, this coalition basically called the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination and Employment Coalition, which include like the U.S. chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation.

Actually, they put a letter encouraging it not to be placed in the bill because they said it differed from the original House version. And it was all technical details, all of it which had been hammered out well before hand. So, this is really just – it’s kind of disgusting from start to finish.

Justin: Yes. Because then, what happens is then there’s like some place that tries to gather information about your health that’s maybe even not a health care, sort of like a third party, like a credit agency, only for your health and your family history, in your lineage.

And so then, when you go in for a job and you fill out your application, they throw you Social Security Number out there to find out your credit history which they do credit checks now for most jobs.

And then, they’re also looking at your medical history as derived from these third party sources that may not be exactly your medical records but maybe things pieced together from it.

That’s terribly frightening. And you mention retail there. Retail does quite an extensive amount of information gathering on people and sharing on employees. It’s very weird.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: Well, so, this bill, I mean it’s been sitting around for ten years now. And it’s gone through iteration. And it passed the Senate before. Senator Coburn has voted in favor of it twice.

I mean, this is just ridiculous. And it really is special interests that are getting in the way of a bill that was more previously supported by the White House. I don’t know how the White House has a problem with it now. This president has stated on several occasions that he supports this bill and somehow, they reached in and plucked it out.

So, here’s the good news though. There is a group that is formed. Actually, there are many of the members of the board of advisors for Scientist and Engineers for America actually involved in Science Debate 2008.

Kirsten: Oh yes. I was hoping you’d bring this up.

Michael: Eleven (Nobel Laureates).

Kirsten: Oh, yes.

Michael: Norm Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, Bill Nye the Science Guy is on there.

Kirsten: Mm hmm, yup.

Michael: Also a nun to encourage the candidates for present and well, any office to actually discuss their science use. And what they are going to do on science policies that the U.S. can remain competitive. So, this is a big deal.

Justin: Yes. Because these are issues so much more important than what’s being currently placed out there which is a bunch of – I mean fluff.

Michael: Well, (Iraq force is) pretty important.

Justin: But even their conversations about the war are fluff. I mean, there’s not actionable discussion taking place on any of these issues. There’s no honest discussion thing.

Michael: Correct.

Justin: So, yes. We absolutely need some hard science policy, finding out where these people stand on it, where they stand on education. Are we going to take steps backwards, are we going to, stop doing research into genetics and stem cells with the next president or are we going to launch ourselves forward with the rest of the world? And nuclear too, I mean nuclear is an issue. I haven’t heard…

Kirsten: Nuclear?

Justin: I don’t know how to say it. But I know what the word means.

Michael: Work with that, nuclear.

Justin: Nuclear.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: Yup, (holding up).

Justin: The discussion about nuclear, this just feel right. Then, feel like nuclear. Nuclear sounds like they’re going to blow something up.

Kirsten: Nuclear. No, that was right.

Justin: Was it?

Kirsten: Nuclear.

Justin: How do I say it when it’s wrong?

Kirsten: “Nucular”, like the president.

Justin: Nucular?

Michael: Yup.

Justin: Okay. Anyway…

Michael: Actually, there’s an incentive. You sound like the president.

Justin: I sound presidential. Well, that used to be a compliment when people would say that about you.

Michael: I mean, basically, there hasn’t been a lot of discussion over the science issues. And most democratic candidates have actually put up their science piece on their website but not a lot of detail on them.

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: And of course, the big moment from any of these things like at least the one that got a lot of attention was when during one of the Republican debates, Huckabee, (Ten Cradon Brownback) all race their hands and say that they didn’t believe in evolution or didn’t raise their hand whenever it was.

Kirsten: I think that…

Michael: Speaking of presidential candidates, I don’t know if you guys saw this weekend, Meet the Press with Tim Russert. He was interviewing Mitt Romney. This was really fascinating what went on. where Romney really – I don’t have a problem with him that’s beating each other about for the issues as long as they don’t misrepresent them.

Kirsten: Right.

Michael: And he really misrepresented Hillary Clinton’s record on stem cell research. It was really quite remarkable where he claimed that she did not support alternative methods of getting stem cells, which is ridiculous. She absolutely voted for a bill that did. She just wouldn’t vote for a bill that didn’t lift the president’s ban.

But this is so remarkable for this man who, in the past actually said, “ the United States has representative voted for a bill that was identical to what I proposed. They voted to provide surplus embryos for the in vitro fertilization process being used for research and experimentation.” That’s what I said, I support.”

Now, he’s sort of back pedaling on that. And has really flip-flopped on the entire issue. But yet, he’s misrepresenting Hillary Clinton view on it.

Kirsten: Other people.

Michael: And this is not to be partisan about this. But I mean, come on, let’s not, enough with the misrepresenting everyone’s record on this. This is pretty clear stuff. So again we’re getting into the mud here…

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: …over and over and over again. Even on something as basic as stem cells.

Kirsten: And I think we’re going to continue to get into the mud on all the issues. I mean, the research shows that majority of people do not educate themselves, go to the different places that are available to them to find the information about the different candidates. They rely on information that they hear in the news…

Michael: Yup.

Kirsten: …that they read, in newspaper articles, magazine articles that they see on shows like Meet the Press. People rely on almost hearsay.

Justin: That’s what I’m suggesting.

Kirsten: No. I’m just saying that research shows that this is what people rely on and their opinions are mostly based on emotional judgments as opposed to logical reasoning when it comes to electing somebody in politics.

And so, I think we’re just going to continue to see misrepresentation because the candidates know that who’s going to go check?

Justin: (Lying wins).

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: This is why I suggest instead of voting for people, we go into the voting booth, we take a 500 question test of what we would like to see in our government. And then, whoever matches up best with the majority of those answers, they are the people who end up in office.

It’s just a double blind. You don’t know who you’re voting for. You don’t know their religion. You don’t know how charismatic they are. You don’t know any of that. All you get is a match up through the computer of your policies, the consensus on policy, with the consensus candidate and that’s the person that wins.

Michael: At the same time though, when we’re talking about all of this, that is the way a lot of Americans make their decision. But part of that is because a lot of the information really – we have all these conflicting information out there.

Kirsten: Oh, yes.

Michael: And so they just ignore a lot of it.

Kirsten: Yes, right. There is also that.

Michael: So, actually what Scientists and Engineers for America is actually going to be putting up in the next couple of weeks and this is going to be really cool list is a tool to allow you to track the science and health policy record of every congressional candidate and presidential candidate.

Justin: Awesome.

Michael: It’s going to be awesome.

Kirsten: Looking forward to it.

Michael: I mean you’re going to really find out where this person has been on it. No bones about it. You’ll find out by going to this. And people will be able to participate in it too.

So, this is going to be a cool tool. I’ll talk about it when it actually goes up but you guys should watch for that.

Kirsten: Exciting.

Michael: Now, one last thing, the Senate over the Thanksgiving break, the Senate remained in session gabbling in and out of the session about twice a week to prevent a recess appointment of James Holsinger, the Bush’s nominee for surgeon general. This is the guy who actually wrote this very sort of dodgy piece on the biology of homosexuality…

Kirsten: Yes.

Michael: …at one point for the Methodist church. Now, at this point we’re not sure what’s going to happen. But it’s possible that the Senate might actually stay in session during the Christmas break gabbling in and gabbling out to prevent a recess appointment of this surgeon general.

Bush’s had over – it’s close to a 170 recess appointments. I think it’s 165 or something is the number…

Justin: Wow!

Michael: …recess appointments, which is really, really high.

Kirsten: You’re on vacation. We’re going to put somebody else in. We’re going to put someone in. Oh, good. Take advantage.

Justin: The thing I notice – they got to change that. Because it seems to me like once you came back from the recess that you could clean up like those should be just temporary. I think that’s why they were designed.

Michael: Yes.

Kirsten: In the first place. Yes.

Justin: Install somebody temporarily in there, once you’re back in session, you should be able to yank them right back out again.

Michael: Yes. It really is a misuse of…

Kirsten: Should be (able to).

Michael: …the recess appointment. At this point, it’s been used so many times that I think we’re bordering on the misuse. Now, granted last year when the do-nothing Congress that really just – they didn’t work. They were in break all of the time.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Michael: You can understand a lot of recess appointments because they really didn’t work.

But this Senate, there’s no excuse. They’ve been working, day and night. It’s pretty remarkable. Well, at least, more than they have in the past about that.

So, anyway, we may be preventing – the Senate maybe gabbling in and gabbling out just to make sure that doesn’t happen but we’re not make sure on that yet. I’ll let you guys know in the New Year.

Kirsten: Fantastic.

Justin: Yes. Are we not going to see you for the whole year?

Michael: You haven’t seen me ever in person.

Kirsten: I have.

Michael: Yes.

Justin: Yes. I haven’t. You were the one listening in the first half of the show. I was at Kirsten’s house and I ask her to produce her PhD to see the actual document. And she couldn’t.

So, I’m now starting to doubt both two things. I’m doubting now that Kirsten is a PhD and I’m doubting that you actually exist…

Michael: That’s true.

Justin: …because I haven’t seen neither.

Kirsten: Oh, my goodness.

Michael: Yes. People want to see this omnibus bill, I have a link to it up on my website which is so people can go check that out. If you don’t know how to navigate to it, you won’t be able to find me.

But there you can find out where your favorite institution is going to be financially in the next year if this passes.

Kirsten: Great.

Justin: I believe there’s a book by that same title. You might need to check that out.

Michael: (Unintelligible) Kirsten, yes.

Kirsten: That’s right. Well, thanks so much for joining us again. Have a fantastic holiday.

Justin: Merry TWISmas.

Kirsten: Meery TWISmas.

Michael: I love you.

Kirsten: I love you too.

Michael: Bye-bye.

Kirsten: See you in the New Year. And that was Dr. Michael Stebbins.

Justin: Michael Stebbins.

Kirsten: Yes. That was Dr. Michael Stebbins. We have a few minutes left here. So, I would like to play a TWIStribution by Jessica Spalding before we head out of here. She is spending a year on the road and she recorded this from her van.

Justin: Almost.

Kirsten: She’s got a van.

Justin: She’s a homeless contributor.

Kirsten: She’s got a van for a home. She’s blogging and podcasting from And she’s traveling the country for no apparent reason.

Justin: Great stick.

Kirsten: Yup. And she said that she tried to record this and had to record her segments in between cars driving pass her on the road. So, there was a lot of work that went into this recording and I just want to say thanks a lot Jessica. It’s a great recording. I did not cut anything out of it as much as, you know…

Justin: Just play it so we can hear…

Kirsten: …it was just good. Oh, yes.

David: When we excavated was in a standing posture around 13 feet tall.

Jessica: Dr. David Gillette at the museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. He’d like to introduce us to the Therizinosaur also known as the sickle-claw dinosaur.

David: It weighed at least a ton, really heavy hind legs and weak front legs with these three large sickle shaped claws on the hands curve almost to a half circle and they were bladed like a sickle. And so, the name sickle-claw dinosaur is really appropriate.

Jessica: It’s those sickle-claws that make these dinosaurs so unique. Though similar dinosaurs have been found in China, this was the first of only three such claw dinosaurs to be identified here in North America.

David: They were only known from partial skeletons and they were freely enigmatic anyway. And now, with the discovery of the Therizinosaurs in North America, it’s possible they actually originated here. And their populations expanded and became more diversified in China.

Jessica: Dr. Gillette and his team started off with the discovery of a bone from the toe of the Therizinosaur. When excavating, you always hope that the first bone you find is the first bone that’s been uncovered by erosion. You want to begin in excavation that sets at the start of the original cycle.

David: That what it was. And so, it was really exciting to follow the bones into the hill. And it wasn’t until we got into the middle of the excavation that we could see the hips and realize based on the hips there was a dinosaur unknown in North America.

So, those are really exciting. I have been involved in a lot of exciting excavations and this ranks right up there at the top.

Jessica: Therizino relatives are also an interesting part of the story.

David: As big and cumbersome as our Therizinosaur is it’s still a close relative of the group of dinosaurs that became birds with long slender necks and more agile bodies than the Therizinosaurs. But that group ultimately led to the birds.

Jessica: Ninety-two million years ago, huge T covered most of the Midwest. It split the continent in two, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic.

David: Our skeleton was on the western shoreline of that seaway but 60 miles from shore. And part of the mystery is how did that skeleton get so far out to sea, all those skeletons except for the hip. But it hadn’t been torn apart by scavengers and that’s part of the mystery here.

Jessica: If you’re in Flagstaff, check out the Therizinosaur at the Museum of Northern Arizona. The exhibit will be on display until early 2009 and then it will travel the country. I’m Jessica Spalding, out on the road for This Week In Science.

Kirsten: Thank you very much Jessica. Jessica also sent a few notes on the story. Within the exhibit in Arizona, they have feathers, the artist renditions of Feathers on the Therizinosaurs.

However, Dr. Gillette thinks that only young Therizinosaurs had feathers to stay warm and then they lost them as they grow into adulthood.

Additionally, there was seven-year turn around from discovery to identification and actually getting this display, so which in paleontology is super fast.

Justin: Yes. I mean, there are a couple of discoveries they made this year that were found in museums that had been lost for nearly a hundred years…

Kirsten: I know.

Justin: …compared to this year.

Kirsten: And if you like to know more about the place where the Therizinosaur fossils were found in the inland sea, maybe take a look at the IMAX movie Sea Monsters.

It’s recommended by Dr. Gilllette. Says it’s done very well and paints an accurate description of what the Therizinosaur would have floated through.

Justin: (Existing).

Kirsten: Yes. They don’t know if it died before it entered the sea. But it’s pretty amazing that it survived aside from its head.

Justin: Jessica Spalding, this is a minion on the move.

Kirsten: In many ways.

Justin: TWIS minion reporter in the field, scouring the nation for science stories, that’s really awesome.

Kirsten: I know. Thank you, Jessica. It was a wonderful story. It’s the end of our show for today. I’d like to give a big shout out to everyone who sent in stories for this week. I appreciate all your help and I try to get to as many as I could this week. Unfortunately, that was not possible because there’s just not enough time.

Justin: I didn’t get any mail this week. Wait a second. You got to put TWIS in the subject otherwise it goes right to the spam trash filter.

Kirsten: And additionally, I’d like to give a big hi to Rodrigo who I met yesterday at Citizen Cupcake in San Francisco. We talked about elephants and neuro-economics. And it was fabulous.

He actually knew This Week In Science. And it was a wonderful chance meeting. It was great meeting you. Thanks for the book. And I hope to run into more TWIS minions out there in the world. So, if you recognize either of us, say, “Hi.”

Justin: Don’t say, hi to me. If I’m not in here, I’m a jerk. I really am, out on the street. No, I’m just not a nice person in general. I come across very affable on the air but I’m just not nice.

Kirsten: Yes. That’s why I’ve spent so much time with you. That’s it.

Justin: If you learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: It is all in your head.

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