Kirsten: This show is brought to you by listeners like you and your contributions. We couldn’t do it without you. Thanks.
Justin: Disclaimer. Disclaimer. Disclaimer. You don’t know everything. In fact, everything you do know when added up amounts to less than everything you don’t know and what you don’t know could kill you. What you don’t know could also save your life, or save you time, or make you money or provide an insight into something you thought to knew, or confirm suspicion, or make you more suspicious, or change the way you see the world for the better, or change the way you see the world for the worse.
It’s safe to say that what you don’t know could potentially do you more good or more harm than everything you know that you don’t know put together and with this in mind the following hour promises that while results will differ dramatically in terms of outcomes. The process of learning new things has been dramatically refined into a reliable system of questioning what we thought we knew, known simply as This Week in Science. Coming up next.
Justin: Good Thursday, Kirsten.
Kirsten: Hey Justin, back again for more science huh? You’re back.
Kirsten: Yeah. I’m back too. It keeps drawing me back every week. There’s so much. So much science.
Justin: There was really too much to choose from this week. We could have done two shows, three shows. In fact, actually every week we could stay on the air 24/7. We have enough material.
Kirsten: Probably. There’s so much information out there. Although, we’d have enough material but it would be hard to, you know, keep track of what’s actually going on.
Justin: We need lots of coffee.
Kirsten: Lots of coffee.
Justin: And cuts. And a system for the bathroom.
Kirsten: Yeah, a system.
Kirsten: Exactly. Well welcome everybody as of yet we don’t really have a system. Do we have a system? Maybe we have a system. We kind of have a system. This is This Week in Science. We come here weekly to talk about science news. I’m Dr. Kiki here with Justin Jackson and today I brought some fun stories for your listening pleasure. Stories about the x-factor, yellow bellied hornets, and the mouse’s two dads. What did you bring?
Justin: Sounds like it could make a wonderful movie!
Justin: I’ve got amazing powers of observation, challenging NASA on their alien life claim, how TV makes you smarter, why red heads bleed more than normal people do, and how not taking aspirin daily causes cancer.
Kirsten: Alright, moving into stuff I’m wondering about the red heads bleeding more than other people. I..
Justin: …the normal people.
Kirsten: I’m kind of naturally redheaded and I don’t know if I bleed more. Maybe I do. I don’t know but I’d love to find out. I’m always interested. I have the redheaded gene tolerance.
Justin: The question is Kirsten, how many other people have tried to bleed? To compare against yourself. See.
Kirsten: Lots. Lots.
Justin: Oh. Yeah. Actually.
Justin: Who may have conducted that experiment?
Kirsten: Exactly. Let’s get into the news here. Let’s get started with what I think is one of the biggest stories of the week. It’s got a lot of implications. Maybe, you know, but maybe not. Maybe it’s just kind of weird and fun for mice. This is mice research not humans but mice, two dads. Isn’t that a TV show, My Two Dads.
Justin: It was My Three Sons.
Kirsten: No that’s even older. You’re a little out of touch Justin. So anyway, this new study it’s a study by developmental geneticist at MD Anderson in Houston. These researchers have taken some mice. They started with a male mouse. This male mouse, they took cells from the male mouse and turned them into IPS cells. So Induced Pluripotent Stem cells.
Now Induced Pluripotent Stem cells, we’ve talked about many times before on this show. They’re cells that can now become any kind of cell in the body. So they’ve gone back to an early, early, early developmental state that has kind of reversed their programming like reversing a cassette tape – rewind – and allows those cells if they’re given the right instructions to then turn into any kind of cells at all. Now, normally the sex chromosomes for a male are X and Y and for a female are X, X.
When the researchers went about reversing the clock on Fred’s cells, this little mouse’s cells. They reversed the clock, a very small percentage of the cells lost the Y chromosome. They lost it and so then they’re just X the sex chromosome. The only sex chromosomes those individual cells had was X. That’s it. So they’re kind of X, 0 – X, not.
The scientists then took the stem cells without the Y. Those X, 0 cells and they injected them into really early stage mouse blastocysts, completely normal mouse blastocysts and those little blastocysts which we’ve also talked about previously. It’s a little ball of cells that occurs very shortly after fertilization. Fertilization happens, sperm egg come together and then the joined cells start dividing. Divide, divide, divide, they create a ball of cells called the blastocysts.
That’s what they injected these X, 0 stem cells into. They implanted those blastocysts into healthy females so that the blastocysts could develop into little embryos and born as little mice and everything worked as planned, individual little mice were born and they’re considered chimeras because some of their cells were these X, 0 cells which are derived from this original male mouse.
Some of the chimera they didn’t determine whether they were going to be male or female. So some of the chimera were female and then some of them would be males. Some of the females, some of their egg cells that they would be producing. The probability is they would have egg cells derived from that original male X, 0 cell because there’s a mix of these cells in the animal’s make up.
So they can take the female that might have some of those X, 0 cells, mate it with a regular old male mouse, and the resulting baby that would be little mouse baby that would be conceived from the X, 0 egg cell ’cause there’s no male chromosome. The Y chromosome’s gone, so it’s just an X, 0 and X cell. The resulting baby would have been born from the female mouse but technically, the genetic material that it would have because the X, 0 information originally came from a male mouse; that little mouse would have two dads.
So, the researchers have actually created little mice this way. Little mice with two fathers, basically born of a female but with two fathers ’cause that’s where the genetic information came from originally and they think that down the line they quote, “It might also be possible to generate sperm from a female donor and produce viable male and female progeny with two mothers.” They also caution that the ability to replicate the findings in humans was a long way off. The generation of human IPS cells still requires significant refinements prior to their use for therapeutic purposes.
And from this post in 80 Beats Discover Magazine’s blog, the problem with human research is that with human, possibly maybe doing therapeutic uses for helping people have kids; it doesn’t work quite the same way because we can’t have X, 0. When an embryo inherits only one X chromosome it usually dies. It isn’t usually viable if it only has one X chromosome and nothing else. So the probability of an X, 0 offspring surviving is very, very slim. Females sometimes are born this way and it’s called Turner syndrome, this is from the Wall Street Journal and they are always infertile.
So scientists would have to figure out a way to create eggs without creating human chimeras which is ethically contentious. Could cause a little bit of debate don’t you think?
Justin: Yeah, just a little bit.
Kirsten: But I think this is just a really interesting study, taking these, you know, taking what we know about creating Pluripotent stem cells and genetics and mating and enabling something like this to occur. So everything in the mating sex sense was pretty straightforward aside from injecting the embryo’s with the X, 0 cells, implanting them into the female, little babies come out of that, and then from there the mating process is pretty normal. Just every once in a while, you end up with a mouse with two dads.
It’s kind of interesting. Things that make you go, “Hmmm. What are we going to do with this? What can we do with this knowledge and this ability?”
Justin: Well probably, directly nothing. Nothing that it’s going to do anything but perhaps benefit gay mouse couples…
Justin: Probably that’s not where that research is going to really take off. But yeah, anytime we learn a new way of doing a process like that it’s going to lead to other things or have some lateral use.
Justin: This is a great story. This is, it’s couched a little bit but it says your reaction to someone’s eye movements can reveal you’re politics. So now, we have two, we have (?) tests for somebody’s political view. We have a genetic test, right? That we covered a few weeks back that said there was a specific protein in the genome that liberals tended to have and conservatives tended not to.
This is a test where they track people’s attention while staring at this electronic face, this image of a face. Liberal leaners focused their attention and gaze cues much differently than do conservatives the study finds. Research from the University of Nebraska Lincoln suggest that not only do they see politics differently. They see other people differently too. The new study, U and O researchers measure both liberals and conservatives reaction to gaze cues. A person’s tendency to shift their attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements even if it’s totally relevant to their relevant tasks and found big differences between the two groups.
So I guess, in the study it’s basically, they’re watching an image of a face and they’re waiting for a little target to appear somewhere on the face that they’re instructed to look at when it appears. But in the meantime the subject that they’re watching has eye movements and, I guess, the liberal, more liberal minded which they determined after they did the test. They went back and evaluated the people’s political sensibilities.
The folks who were liberal leaning, sort of followed the view. If it looked over there they kind of looked over there. If it looked that way they kind of look that way. So they said, “Why?” Researchers suggest that conservative’s value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others and therefore less responsive to visual prompts. That sounds a little couched in..
Justin: ..and pre-existing. Another way of saying that is perhaps they lack empathy. Okay, so..
Justin: I mean it’s just kind of a weird thing though to notice here. “We thought that political temperament may modulate the magnitude of gaze cuing effects but we did not expect conservatives to be completely immune to these cues,” says Michael Dodd a UNL professor of psychology and author of the study.
They go on to say, “Liberals may have followed the gaze cues, meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others.” The study suggests. “The study basically provides one more piece of evidence that liberals and conservatives perceive the world and process information taken in from the world in different ways,” that’s from Kevin Smith UNL professor of political science another one of the author of the study.
Understanding exactly why people have such different political perspectives and where those differences come from may help us better understand the roots of a lot of political conflicts. Perhaps, when they lead to a cure.
Kirsten: If you can just teach people to look in the same direction.
Justin: You know, it’s really kind of, to sort of find all these biological deeply rooted, this is a deeply rooted perceptual difference in people. If they’re saying it was a 100% difference, you know, between the two groups that says quite a bit about what it means to be a liberal or a conservative in your general stance, your general perspective as having some sort of biological nature. Which, if that’s the case..
Kirsten: I was going to say there are arguments that there is a certain amount of the political leaning that you have coming from a biological source. Their brain structure that some studies suggest lead to being more or less conservative or liberal or religious or non-religious, whatever these different frameworks for looking at the world are and, you know, it’s another way of looking at it. However, you know, how much have they played with the statistics to make this, you know, to have a result for this. I mean, I don’t know.
Justin: It doesn’t say in here that they fudged their statistics. So..
Kirsten: I’m sure they didn’t fudge their statistics.
Justin: Or play with it. What I would find very interesting about that is how there’s sort of like a sexual ratio that takes place. As many men as women, more or less throughout the world, you know. We tend to keep it kind of close, right? It be kind of interesting that nature’s also selecting for conservative or liberal and have some sort of it’s one or the other…
Kirsten: It’s something in the agenda, nature’s political agenda.
Justin: Not that it has an agenda but, you know, it wouldn’t do if every baby in the, you know, whatever the group is was all one sex or the other. No good.
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s true. It’s true. You’re listening to This Week in Science, moving on forward into this show. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have written a paper published in Physical Review Letters and this paper is interesting. It’s a new idea that these physicists, theoretical physicists, think explains a couple of things at once: anti-matter and dark matter. So the question is, “Why do we have so much more matter in our universe than anti-matter? Why is there this discrepancy?”
Now they’re question is, “Where did dark matter come from? What is dark matter?” And this article from Wired says, “Why is there enough matter for us to exist at all?” You know, why do we have all this matter if there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter? They would have annihilated each other and there would be no matter. It would not be a problem. We would not be discussing this right now.
So these physicists, Sean Tulin and Kris Sigurdson have worked on this paper with Hoomen Davoudiasl at the Brookehaven National Lab and David Morse have triumphed and they think they’ve solved the problem. They think they can solve the problem with one particle. That there’s one missing particle that the have dubbed X. It is not the X particle.
Justin: It’s just getting sexier.
Kirsten: It’s getting sexier.
Justin: Dark Matter. Dark Energy. Particle X.
Kirsten: Particle X. Exactly. Exactly. Tulin says, “If our theory’s right it would tell you what dark matter is. The new theoretical particle is completely different from current theories that involve weakly interacting massive particles or WIMPS.
WIMPS are expected to be about a hundred times as massive as a proton and to be their own anti-particle. Whenever two WIMPS meet up in space they annihilate each other. This new idea with particle X has a separate anti-particle called anti-X.” So there’s X and anti-X. “Equal amount of X and anti-x were probably created at The Big Bang and ended up decaying over time into different lighter particles.”
They say that “The X would have decayed into a neutron or two dark matter particles and every anti-x would have into an anti-neutron or some anti-dark matter. It would rather that the X particles would rather decay into ordinary matter than dark matter and so more neutrons would be produced and the anti-X would prefer decaying into dark matter and so more dark matter would end up being produced.”
And so based on the preferences, what it comes down to is – based on the preferences of these X and anti-X particles, to decay into certain other types of particles and then come in, the probability of those particles coming into contact with each other. They think that based on this X and anti-X, it can completely account for the dominance, the preponderance of matter and dark matter in our universe.
That’s what they say. That’s what they think. So the question is whether or not they’re right and if they can actually detect this particle. They think that they can, that they can detect. They think that if they look at data from places like the Super-Kamiokande, it’s an underground tank of water – big tank in Japan that looks for proton decay. That’s one of the things that it looks for, decaying protons. These high-energy particles coming into contact with particular detectors at the Super-Kamiokande. If they were to go back and check their data looking for a slightly different range of energies. They might be able to find traces of dark matter.
So this idea they’ve come up with gives predictions that could possibly be confirmed or not confirmed based on existing experiments that we have. It would just take probably grad students going through the data in a different way to find out whether or not it’s right. It’s an interesting idea. So we may hear more about this X-particle as we move forward.
Justin: I like the fact they they’re going to use data that’s already out there. That’s inspiring.
Kirsten: Yeah. It’s not going to take billions of dollars and an entirely new, you know, physics experiment. You know, some giant detector…
Justin: Well they are building another one too.
Justin: They are. They will. They’re building another one already. I think it’s in Europe somewhere.
Kirsten: Well physicists are constantly, I mean, not for this particular idea to confirm or deny this idea.
Justin: Not specifically but it can be incorporated into it. Absolutely.
Kirsten: It could be incorporated into it. So it’s one more idea out there, a different idea. It’s nice to have competing hypotheses, you know, how science works. If you have, we could either find support for WIMPS or we can find support for the X-particles and it’s just, you know. The thing I like about this is there are predictions and they specific energies that they think these particles would exist at and they actually think that by going through data we already have again that they could find something.
Justin: That there may… Yeah.
Kirsten: You know, it’s not just a pie in the sky kind of throw out there idea. It’s like, “Oh. Look. We could actually do something about it.” So I expect that we actually will be hearing something about. That’s the kind of thing that I really like to see.
Justin: This next study was sent in by Pamela Taylor. A new study has shown that not taking aspirin everyday could cause cancer…
Kirsten: I don’t take..
Justin: In around..
Kirsten: Wait a minute. What? I’m not allowed to take aspirin right now.
Justin: Oh. Well then you’re going to get the cancer ’cause you didn’t it everyday. New studies show aspirin cuts down the death rates from a range of cancers. The study drew data from eight previous trials involving more than 25,000 patients, found that those who took just 75 milligrams of aspirin a day. That’s about an eight of a normal dose which is probably two pills. What is that half a pill? I don’t know it depends on your pill.
But as little as 75 milligrams of aspirin a day could reduce your death rate through cancer by 21%. The benefits continue long after the patient has stopped taking the pill. So this is kind of, very similar sort of study in that it this was going back over the data that the study was done not for, you know, the cancer rates of people who take aspirin. It had nothing to do with it but going back and looking over these 20 year studies they found the correlations.
So it came up after studies last year showing aspirin could cut deaths from colo-rectal cancer by one third. Now it seems that the benefit extends to other cancers as well. After 20 years, the overall risk of having died from cancer was 20% lower than those who had not taken aspirin for an average of four to eight years. The studies show that risk was 40% lower for the rectal cancer, 58% lower for the esophageal cancer and 30% lower for lung cancer. Whoa.
Kirsten: Wow. So somehow the anti-inflammatory is the mechanism. Are they guessing that somehow the anti-inflammatory action of aspirin over time, it diminishes chances of cancer forming.
Justin: They’re just looking at the correlation right now. I don’t see a, they say that, “…findings are very important but more research is necessary for finding the appropriate dose, duration, timing.” They added that, “…even though it’s a really interesting study. That something that’s cheap and easily available could have a profound effect.” He’s been taking for several years and personally believes this. This is Professor Peter Rothwell of Oxford University. He’s the lead author of the study.
Kirsten: Yeah. Well any study like this again, you know, let’s take it with a grain of salt. You know, talk to your doctor.
Justin: No, take it with 75 grams of aspirin.
Kirsten: Talk to your doctor. Find out what’s healthy for you personally. Some people it’s not prescribed that they take aspirin on a daily basis. Some people it’s totally fine. There are pros and cons to taking aspirin. We do know that it has benefits for cardiovascular health as well. I’m just curious to find out if now that this study has come out, you know, if there will be further research looking at how inflammation affects cell division.
So if it is some kind of specific pathway that’s just a chemical cascade that blocks cancer formation in some individuals or if it’s strictly aspirin blocking inflammation. Inflammation has some kind of effect on cell division, increasing it. If you block inflammation then it would decrease it. I would love to find out more details, man. More details. I want to know.
Justin: Yeah. Well you’re on, you know, the brink of the discovery right now. This is hot off the presses. You know, they need time to research these things Kirsten. Can’t just be deliver, you know, pre-packaged there you go. People have to work on these things.
Kirsten: I know. People are hard at work. Yeah. Again this is one of those things where, is it going to end up being something similar to like mega doses of Vitamin C, mega doses of Vitamin D. Where researchers involved, you know, were very, very behind a particular result. Is there going to be a bias found for that reason. I don’t know.
Justin: Cranberry juice for urinary tract infection, yeast infections, whatever.
Kirsten: Oh yeah.
Justin: No. Doesn’t help.
Kirsten: It does.
Justin: Recent study says there’s really no difference to having water.
Kirsten: Really? Really?
Justin: But if you believe it I won’t tell you ’cause then it’ll stop working.
Kirsten: No. No. I was just trying. There was a study from a couple of month ago about Cranberry juice and researchers had, I think, they went through a number of steps. They cultured cells in dishes and Cranberry juice, something in Cranberry juice blocks the ability of bacteria or I don’t know if it was yeast infections, bacterial infections. But whatever it is, it blocks they’re ability to form, to adhere to the urinary tract wall. And so they..
Kirsten: Yeah, and so they showed it in dishes in the laboratory and they also showed increased expulsion of stuff for people who were drinking Cranberry juice. I’ll have to find it. But it’s interesting that this recent study and come out and say I don’t know..
Justin: The opposite.
Kirsten: The opposite. Yeah. That’s interesting to me. I like it.
Justin: I’m going to have to find that one. I’ll try to get, put that up on this chat room over at the break.
Kirsten: Yeah. There are always so many, this is the thing, I mean, last week we had the Vitamin D thing that came out. So it’s a huge study where they looked at, it was a meta-review, where they looked at over a thousand studies to come to the conclusions that they came to. And those studies are so important. You have a panel of individuals. You look at all the research that is currently available. All the literature that’s been published. This, you know, it’s great. I love looking at one study here, one study there. Oh look at what they found. This is, you know, it’s interesting to do that. But to actually make decisions for your life based off of one study is not necessarily..
Justin: Probably as good as doing it off of a lot of studies. It’s probably the same.
Kirsten: Yeah. Probably. Sure probability says…
Justin: As long as its the right study.
Kirsten: Right. As long as you got the right study. Exactly.
Kirsten: Got one in a thousand chance. This week very successful launch and recovery of space excess Dragon. It was their reusable spacecraft. And so, this is just really exciting. The Dragon capsule was lofted into space by a Falcon 9 rocket, completed a low Earth orbit before splashing down the Pacific Ocean exactly as planned. Everything went without a hitch. I mean, to hear people talk about it online. It’s basically been, “Oh. That was kind of uneventful,” because it worked and it worked really, really well.
So we’re excited about this. This test according to this article from Yahoo! News written by Brad Sylvester. It says that, “this test flight marks the first time that a private company has successfully completed re-entry from low Earth orbit.” And this is according to a press statement by Space Ex themselves.
Dragon hit speeds of 17,000 miles per hour as it was in orbit and it was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Space Ex’s contracted the flight 12 missions to the international space station taking crew back and forth and carrying supplies. This is the commercial orbital transportation system program contract and they plan to use the Dragon platform as a space laboratory for scientific research.
Looks like Dragon’s next test flight will be a fly-by within 10 kilometers of the international space station. It’ll exchange radio data with the station and the crew, demonstrate its ability to send and receive commands.. What are you laughing at?
Justin: Look what I can do. No hands. Look at me. I’m going to get you.
Kirsten: Is that the Dragon? “I’m Dragon. I’m up here too.”
Yeah. So everybody’s very excited about this. NASA administrator Charles Bolden says, “This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the international space station and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama and Congress and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy.”
And the timing of this is great. Especially with the space shuttles having only two more flights. We have space shuttle discovery STS-133 and STS-1, I don’t know which shuttle it is. But mission STS-134 that are planned for launch in January and April respectively. And then there’s no more space shuttle. No more. Done. What are we going to do? Rely on the Russians? Rely on the Chinese?
Justin: Yeah. The Russians just had a great rocket launch the other.. Ooh. Wait. It didn’t make it.
Justin: …might be in trouble. As long as we have enough food for anybody who’s still left up there in the space station. You know, until we get another one of these built.
Kirsten: Yeah. Leave them some food.
Justin: Leave them some Tang and dehydrated ice cream. I don’t know what do they eat up there?
Kirsten: Delicious food.
Justin: I think we should just start sending the robots. We don’t really need the people up there anymore. I mean…
Kirsten: We are sending the robots. There’s a robot going up in the next mission.
Justin: Yeah. I don’t think we… We need to pass the baton to the robots. Let the robots do what the robot will be good at. They’re already on Mars. They’ve already taken pictures. They’ve taken tons of pictures. Video send it back to us.
Kirsten: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s fine for to say that but there are a lot of humans. A lot of people on this planet who would love to get up into space. Who would love to be astronauts. Who would like to be in a space station.
Justin: Right. And I actually have suggested before that we put them all in a big Russian rocket. Bye!
Kirsten: To the moon Alice. To the moon.
Justin: Bye! See ya.
Kirsten: Bye. Bye. All right everybody. It’s time that we take a break. This is This Week in Science. We have a second half to this show. So stay tuned. We will be back. We’re coming back. Right at ya. Just a few minutes.
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Kirsten: And you can read Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archeology and the Wrath of God by Amos Nur with the TWIS book club. That’s the TWIS book club’s book of the month for December. Again the title is Apocalypse: Earthquakes, Archeology and the Wrath of God. The author is Amos Newer. Really, really interesting read. That archeology, geology, all sorts of fun stuff like earthquakes. It just, it pits earthquakes against society and culture. It’s a really interesting read. I’ve already gotten started. I’m already into the book. Yeah I have a paper book it’s not an audiobook right now. But I’ve gotten started on my copy and you can join in too. All you have to do is head on over to TWIS.org there is an announcement in the announcement section about the book. You can get your copy. Join in the conversation and let’s enjoy the book together. The TWIS book club.
We’re back from our break. Just when you just…
Justin: This is the planet I want to continue visiting for all of my years. There’s much. See how big this is. This is a big..
Kirsten: Big planet.
Justin: I’m like in a very tiny little. You can’t even see. I’m somewhere, I don’t even. It’s over here somewhere. I’m over there somewhere. I haven’t even seen all of this. Let alone all of this. There’s like all this and look all this water. There’s water like everywhere on this planet. Who knows what’s under there? We need to get those underwater cities built, submarine tours.
We can see what’s in space. We have telescopes. We see there’s not a lot of life out. We’re looking for life we haven’t seen before. It’s in here. It’s in the ocean. Somewhere out here in the middle of this Pacific somewhere South of Hawaii is a place where all the Great White Sharks go to breed. But they go there and it’s so deep that we can’t track them. We don’t know really where they go. They just sort of disappear.
Kirsten: The disappearing Great Whites. And then the juveniles come back and they bite you.
Justin: Yeah they do. They do. But they’re afraid. They’re a little nervous about it. They’re like, “I bit you but I don’t know if I meant to.”
Kirsten: “I don’t know if I wanted to do that. That’s not a taste that I wanted.”
All right. There’s a lot going on here on planet Earth. I will agree with you on that one. For sure. A lot of stuff that’s definitely worthwhile. We don’t have to run away but some people want to go up to outer space. I’ll let them do that. You can stay here. I’ll stay here. Give me a study. What’d you bring? Give me a story.
Justin: Oh me, oh.
Kirsten: You’re turn.
Justin: Does teething make you smarter? You’re first reaction.
Kirsten: Most people would say no these days.
Justin: Okay. So in that case, is Sesame Street dangerous to mental health of children? Is it possible that this (?) of early childhood education via television is silently causing millions of children worldwide to be less intelligent and more maladjusted? This is a little freaky.
Children exposed to Jalan Sesama, an the Indonesian version of the children’s television show Sesame Street, had improved educational skills, healthy development according to the study by researchers at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Over just a 14 week period, the children who had the greatest exposure to Jalan Sesama improved significantly in literacy, mathematics, early cognitive skills, safety knowledge, social awareness compared to those with no or low exposure to the program.
Studies now available online in the International Journal of Behavioral Development. “I was amazed at how much television young children in Indonesia watch,” says Dina LG Brodsky. She’s the study’s lead author and associate professor in the Bloomberg school’s department of health behavior and society. She continues, “Most of the children were seeing were of adult nature or dubbed episodes of Sponge Bob SquarePants and Scooby-doo. In contrast, Jelan Sesama was created in Indonesia for Indonesian children. Let this study represent evidence that when a culturally and age-appropriate show is offered it can change the lives of preschoolers or that a show that four, five and six year old learn important and healthy messages from watching the show.”
So this is only over a 14-week period. Fourteen weeks that they did this. And then, the children were apparently weren’t watching on a regular basis. They sat them down. They had them watch the show. A 160 children in one of the schools. Children age ranged from three to six, questioned on their knowledge and skills at the beginning and at the conclusion of the 14-week intervention.
In addition to showing improvements in literacy, mathematics, and early cognitive skills. The study found that children with the greatest exposure also performed best in any of the study groups. Even after adjusting for baseline scores, age, gender, parents, education, exposure to other media. Wow.
So there’s a similar study done also by (Berkowski) and the Kilimani Sesame, the Tanzanian version of Sesame Street. In that study, as published July 2010 they found that children with greater exposure showed more gains in cognitive, social, health outcomes than those with less exposure. Specifically, even children who were the most receptive to the Sesame Street content also had higher scores on tests, literacy and primary math skills, ability to describe appropriate social behavior, emotions and because perhaps this is more subject on Sesame Street than here. They also knew more about Malaria and HIV/AIDS. So..
Kirsten: Sounds educational. Sounds good.
Justin: The quick takeaway, Sesame Street better than school.
Kirsten: Very possible. I think it’s arguable in some places. Depends on what their teaching and you know, all that. But it definitely sounds as though kids are paying attention to it and kids are learning important information and it’s yeah. Sesame Street good for your kids.
Justin: Did you grow up watching? Did you watch it as a child?
Kirsten: I did.
Kirsten: I watched Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers.
Justin: Now you had a PhD.
Justin: See. See how that works?
Kirsten: 3-2-1 Contact. That was nice.
Justin: That was a good show. It’s on again. Not so.
Kirsten: Yeah. But I would come in to dinner after watching my little afternoon television stint of public broadcasting and I’d tell my parents things that they were like how did you learn that. I was watching television. I learned it on TV. Mr. Rogers told me.
Yeah. I definitely think television could, if it’s done right educational programming could be absolutely beneficial. I think Sesame Street is doing a great job. I’m glad that they’re..
Justin: Yeah. They have been for years now. My goodness.
Kirsten: Yeah. I’m excited to see..
Justin: It was kind of experimental. Like when we were kids it was like, not to give away the age of Sesame Street but, it was new. It was pretty now.
Kirsten: Yeah, pretty new. Now it’s been around for over 30 years. Over 30 years, I think and they’re adapting and they’re growing. You know, they’re global as you said – many different countries, different languages. They adapted to different cultures to be able to get the information across. It’s a pretty cool model that seems to be very successful. Yeah. I’m excited to see that there’s research that shows that it’s a very positive show. That’s good. I like that.
Justin: In fact, we have the only show that’s really sort of not themed up.
Kirsten: Our show? Science show?
Justin: Yeah, the Sesame Street American style. It’s like get a big bird there’s a wooly mammoth, you know, and a lot of these other countries they’re taking native animals. In the Indonesian example, there’s a white rhino, there’s an orangutan.
Kirsten: We have imaginary animals.
Justin: It’s that makitty up stuff. Slap a wooly mammoth in there. Have some grinchy green guy come out of the garbage can and be grouchy.
Kirsten: What do you think that does to American kids? What are they learning? Yeah. Moving on to another story. This story I thought was super cool. Speaking of animals, this is an insect story. Oriental Hornets.
The Oriental Hornet, this discovery was reported in a journal Nature Naturwissenschaften by a group of researchers in Israel and the UK. Looking at Oriental Hornets, Vespa orientalis, which range from the near east to India. These hornets are most active in the middle of the day and as the sun gets brighter. There’s more and more sun during the day the worker hornets dig nests and they get more and more active, morph into the full day goes.
And so scientists are trying to figure out, you know, why does they’re activity increase? A lot of animals usually slow down towards the middle of the day. This doesn’t quite match up with stuff that we would expect. So what’s actually going on? They started looking at the hornet’s skin or its cuticle. The structure that surrounds the body. The cuticle is this, it’s a very hard layer. Part of it is colored brown and part of the abdomen is bright yellow. Totally different from the rest of the hornet’s coloration.
They took a look, microscopically, to see what was going on. They found that there are several layers within the cuticle that actually work to absorb and trap sunlight. So that in the yellow area around the body, in the abdomen of the hornet. The cuticle basically has this special structure that traps light and it contains a pigment that’s called Xanthopterin and Xanthopterin gives the hornet its bright yellow color but it also acts to harvest the light and turn it into electrical energy.
So that the sun comes in, hits the cuticle, gets trapped within the layers of the cuticle, hits the Xanthopterin pigment, the pigment then takes the photon of light and turns it into electricity and they think then that the electricity then powers the metabolism of the hornets. So they can work harder and better in the middle of the day.
Kirsten: Yeah, solar powered hornets.
Kirsten: Isn’t that neat?
Justin: Yeah. We need to figure out how incorp…
Kirsten: It’s such a …
Justin: You see now, right there, that’s a healthy adaptation that we should all move to. We don’t have to buy coffee anymore. Just go outside and just get a completely new rush of energy. And like, oh yeah, I’m going to go now.
Kirsten: Yeah, instead of getting a tan.
Justin: Yeah. Just out there…charging.
Kirsten: Just charge yourself up. Exactly, the researcher say the pigment melamine gives the hornet its dominant brown color. The Xanthopterin in the head and abdomen in the form of stripes and bands gives the oriental hornet its bright yellow color. Xanthopterin works as a light harvesting molecule transforming light into electrical energy. We assume some of the energy is transformed in a photo-bio-chemical process which aids the hornet with their energy demanding digging activity.
Additionally, we have found that the main metabolic activity in the oriental hornet is actually in the yellow pigment layer. So yeah, it seems as though everything is tied to their ability to harvest light from the sun. And I guess because it is being turned into electrical energy, it just makes me think of plant versus animal. At what point do you draw the line in the process of – what is the dividing line sometimes? I think that there are more and more organisms that we are coming across that have these really neat adaptations- biochemical processes that mimic other complete classes of life. You know, it’s very interesting. Go solar bees!
Justin: So this sort of erupted sideways on the chat room. Yeah, the study on the kids watching TV to improve language through Sesame Street is not to be confused with babies who were put in front of like, Baby Einstein movies.
We’ve covered those studies in the past that show actually that they developed language- it takes them longer to develop language. Because they would do much better with a face. An image with a lot of contrast sure but really a face and hearing language of a parent.
By the time kids are three, they’re kind of over the parents. They want to go out and explore the world. But babies are going to be sponges through that personal communications. They’ve done studies with like those Baby Einstein things and the ones where they sit you down in front of you know, the babies in front- supposed to make them brilliant by playing Beethoven. And found that actually they tend to lag in language skills. We covered that, I think a couple of years ago.
Kirsten: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. Do you have any other stories? You want to talk about …?
Justin: I’ve got one… oh yeah… last thing I had was the – it’s the arsenic…right?
Kirsten: Right. Right. I wanted to talk about that too. So why don’t you…
Justin: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Kirsten: No, no. I was just talking. It’s your turn.
Justin: Okay. Let’s see..
Kirsten: I insist..
Justin: NASA … poor NASA. This is not sounding good. They are getting a little thrashed here by some local scientist- by some UC Davis local scientists and others. They announced recently, was it last week? Week before last?
Kirsten: Last week.
Justin: New Life form! They had – it wasn’t just last week. It’s been like for months. Even like, huge Earth shattering announcement we are going to make- game changer.
Kirsten: Right. Right.
Justin: Something kind of alien – in having to do with life. Got everybody’s interest. Everybody was like tuning in to hear the announcement. And it was pretty amazing, you know, it was an arsenic eating microbe that they found in Mono Lake. And at the time, they were saying “we have cracked open the door to what is possible for life everywhere in the universe” from Felisa Wolfe-Simon NASA Astrobiology Institute and US Geological Survey who led the study said at the news conference.
But now, other scientists are beginning to look through the paperwork and finding problems with the way the work was done. And now they are pretty much coming out and say “..your research is flawed”.
It’s not in minced word or anything. It was “I was outraged.” “How bad the science was”– two University of British Columbia microbiology professor Rosie Redfeld. She told Carl Zimmer of Slate. She also posted a scathing critique of the report on her blog. Redfeld and other detractors point out that when NASA scientists removed DNA from the bacteria for examination, they didn’t take steps necessary to wash away other types of molecules. That means according to the critics that the arsenic may merely have clung to the DNA of the bacteria and just sort of – wasn’t actually ingrained in it.
So when they sorted it all out and saw what was in there, they’re seeing arsenic in there might not have been in the DNA- might have just been like lint – arsenic lint.
Kirsten: Arsenic lint. Right
Justin: They go on “this paper should not have been published”.
Justin: You know I mean it’s one thing to publish something – or how to be peer reviewed – I guess you peer review it before you publish it a little?
Kirsten: Yeah, not just …a little. Like peer review is a very stringent process. I’ve tried to publish a few paper and had them rejected. You know, you usually have the three independent reviewers, sometimes more, depending on the journal – who read your paper, who look at your methods, who are experts in the field that you are publishing in. So that they are not just, you know, science enthusiasts who are looking at your paper. These are people who know the field. A panel of your peers are looking at that paper. And..
Justin: And I guess the problem was that it wasn’t – it was- they’re not peers…apparently.
Kirsten: No, they are peers and the people who would’ve reviewed this paper probably made many comments. Probably sent the paper back to the authors a couple of times for revisions to make the paper more accurate. To address any problems with the methods, that’s the normal process that takes place. Sometimes papers get sent back and the reviewer will say “You will need to do another study before this gets published. You need more data or you need to this a different way” And if, and it’s usually the paper is not going to get published unless there is a pretty good consensus from that group of your peers that the paper is worthy to be published.
Now this does not mean that some papers don’t get published that have errors in them. That happens all the time. Things pass, slip through the cracks. Reviewers are busy. They’re human. They don’t see things. They don’t – they take things for granted. They don’t look at things with a critical eye for whatever reason. Yes. There are flaws. Papers get through. However this is where the scientific process really kicks into full gear and you know, its unfortunate that a lot – some of these stuff is coming out in the blogosphere.
But this is part of the scientific process. These critics are coming in and saying “ This is fatally flawed”. “This paper should never have been published”. So that’s- and they have every right to say this. Absolutely every right to say that, because that’s the way science works. What they need to do now. Some scientists need to get samples. They need to replicate the study. They need to see if it can be replicated. They need to make changes themselves. Maybe even have a discourse that takes place through the scientific publication model, which is usually what happens. Someone will publish a rebuttal to a study. It will get published in the journal where the original study was published. The authors will go back and forth. Maybe an author, the original author will come back and say “We did it again”. “We tried it over again.” “We took your suggestions into account, this is what happened”.
And so the scientific process goes on. Just because people are critiquing it doesn’t mean that the paper should never have been published…
Justin: No, no, I agree but there is a level of critiquing that I haven’t seen before in this. This is John Roth who is a UC Davis Biology professor. He says “I suspect that NASA may have been so desperate for a positive story that they didn’t look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people”.
“That’s kind of sleazy given how they cooperated with all the media hype before the paper was published” then says Redfeld. I mean it’s like – it’s really harsh word, so I am wondering – I am wondering if somehow these harsh words, these harsh statements are reaction to a type of science that is being allowed to go on in NASA. It’s just a very interesting question.
Kirsten: On whether the responses are to a particular- like what they think?
Justin: Oh yeah, I mean…
Kirsten: Is that the kind of science that is happening at NASA?
Justin: Perhaps. I mean I’ve never seen — I mean, I’ve seen people arguing about the results – about whether or not the study was done and you know, maybe challenging the results and stating that. But I’ve never seen sort of – there is a little bit of vitriol in there. I don’t know. There is some angry people involved.
Kirsten: Yeah. I think it’s a little bit unprofessional. You know, that kind of vitriol is not necessarily warranted. And if you can you know, it is kind of using – they’re using the media the same way that NASA used the media initially to hype their initial announcement right? So now these detractors are like – they’re full of vitriol and bile and all sorts of terrible things. And they are using the media now to get their counterpoint out in the public view. I don’t know.
Kirsten: ..Maybe it’s a smart move. We are talking about it.
Justin: Does that mean that there’s politics in science.
Kirsten: There’s politics everywhere.
Justin: Can I hide with you?
Kirsten: Yeah. Science is not immune. We would love it to be. Wouldn’t we? Yes, yes. Anyway, I think that this is something that is ongoing. I think it’s healthy that there is criticism of this research. Some of the ways that it is being critiqued, not so professional – not done in the proper format or forum. But at the same time, NASA did their big giant hyped press release. Why not have your big giant hyped response? The results, this will quiet down over time. People will do the relevant studies and the results, whatever it is – the truth – is this a real result or not. It will come out. It’ll come out in the wash. It always does.
Justin: Well that was the problem is that they didn’t wash it. The first time.
Kirsten: Well, well maybe they did. There are – people are mis reading some of the things in the methods. Yeah, I think we just have to wait it out.
Justin: I really hope it’s true still.
Kirsten: One week…
Justin: I like that story. It was my favorite one for like … one time.
Kirsten: Yeah. It would be cool. And even if we find that it’s a particular normal bacterium that adapted really well in the laboratory in living off of arsenic, I mean that’s really a cool find too. It’s not as – you know, like you mentioned last week, it’s like the bacteria in the clean rooms that adapted to eating the paint.
Justin: It’s much more likely an adaptation from being locked in the lake from the water of arsenic.
Kirsten: Yeah. I don’t know.
Justin: But they have found that they turn it into food. They do it quickly. I mean somebody sends a link, I don’t know if its true or not, but there is a new bacteria that they’ve named, that just eats the rust on the Titanic.
Kirsten: Yeah, yeah, yeah. These bacteria…
Justin: Very specialized creatures…
Kirsten: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. We are running out of time here. I think that it’s a great way to kind of finish it up. But we have minion mail bag. I have a couple of letters for you, Justin.
Justin: For me?
Kirsten: Yeah for you. Minion Bruce…
Justin: How come all the minion mail bags sort of like directed …?
Kirsten: Yeah, these aren’t bad. Don’t worry. This is fun.
(Transcript ended at 1:06:15, rest of the audio was not transcribed)
Listen to the TWIS podcast here: http://www.twis.org/2010/12/17/773/