Author Archives: lordwrigglesworth
I wrote a couple of bits across the last year related to worrying news stories; this last fortnight has seen further happenings in both stories, and I’ve been a lazy bugger writing-wise, so I’ve done a joint update.
In April, animal researchers broke into a psychiatric animal facility in Milan, and, because Italy is a ridiculous place sometimes, part of the deal allowing them to walk away scot-free (having caused several million Euros of taxpayer-funded damage) was to take some of the animals with them. Some of these animals were immuo-compromised, and as such required careful treatment to make sure they didn’t die; as such, their enclosures were specially designed, and their handling precisely controlled. Below is a picture of where animals from the lab were kept after their liberation:
Source: Nature News Blog
Fan-bloody-tastic. The compassionate liberators showing such care for the animals they’ve saved, by putting them in a load of tubs in a bathroom. Certainly, the animals will be suffering far less crammed together in someone’s bog than they did in their individual cages in a controlled atmosphere. The lady who posted this on Facebook ensured she contacted Nature News, having seen this plastered on their blog, to assure them that this was a temporary step, before movement to more suitable accommodation. So that’s alright, then. Viruses and bacteria are well-known for their honourable respect of temporary weakness, and never exploit it.
So things in Italy remain such that they resemble the scientific equivalent of the drunken pervy uncle at a wedding. They should have elected that clown bloke, he’d personify their country’s current world status perfectly. However, in the USA, some brighter flowers bloom, science-wise at least (this isn’t the forum to discuss possible gross miscarriages of justice). A year ago, I wrote a piece condemning the top-dog nation in the world for allowing anti-intelligent views to persist in the face of evidence, with the pathetic excuse that mentally-deficient rednecks should have as much right to decide what is true as evidence-based investigations. In particular, I was irked by the passage of anti-evolutionary laws by the Tennessee legislature. This month, the Next Generation Science Standards, a programme of science education reform across the States (for which I am taking all credit) has started kicking in. Five state education boards – Rhode Island, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland and Vermont – have accepted the standards, with several more to vote in the next few months. The battle to stop lying to American children about evolution and climate change is far from over, with other states to be won over, and legal challenges to be defeated in those states that have accepted already. There are powerful people, including Kentuckian Senator Mike Wilson (R – of course), who are opposed to teaching children established scientific opinion, and these are not foes to be written off lightly. The passage of 11 anti-evolution/climate change bills in the States in 2013 alone shows that this has become a war for the minds of American children; both sides have fired their opening volleys long ago, but the bloodiest battles are just beginning…
They say that a dog is a man’s best friend (although asking one to be a godparent is “weird”, apparently). However, an increasing body of evidence suggests that furry companionship is not merely an enjoyable, if expensive, experience, but may in fact influence human health.
It is quite probable that you have come across the concept of the “therapet”. In the last few years, a variety of universities, retirement homes and hospitals have begun bringing small fluffy animals in for their collective inmates to stroke and interact with. This therapy comes in a variety of flavours; puppy is popular, although others, such as kittens, have their followers; porcupine has not proven successful.
It is tempting to dismiss pet therapy as a fad, chiming too strongly of the cat café and reiki for cats. Au contraire: pet therapy may actually be an excellent model for the application of alternative therapies. The use of animals as support is probably as ancient as domestication, and certainly several centuries old; the Quakers established a retreat in York specifically supplying such therapy in 1791. Animals were being used as companions for psychiatric patients in the USA by the early 20th century (although the treatment of psychiatric patients in the USA at the time is a whole other issue).
Human life is a fragile, precious thing. From the moment of conception, the world is against us in all its fury, and science has shown this to be true. Today, a report in the Lancet reveals that the iodine in a mother’s diet determines their child’s future IQ. The finding, that children of mothers who ate a low-iodine diet had an average 3-point deficit on their more iodine-rich brethren, is compounded by the fact that taking too much iodine results in “adverse consequences for the mother and fetus”.
The iodine problem is just one more example of the need for total control in the diets of pregnant women. Obviously, there are negative effects of maternal addictions to drugs, including nicotine and alcohol. However, it has also been shown that women who are depressed and sleep-disordered have children who cry and fuss more and that children of obese women are significantly more likely to require specialist care. Mothers who are too young place their child at risk, as do mothers who are too old. Not just iodine, but also folic acid must be carefully controlled unless the mother wishes to harm her baby.
I’ve been intending to write this piece for a while, but I have to confess to some trepidation. I started working in anxiety genetics in October, knowing that it was somewhat of a backwater compared to spearhead fields such as schizophrenia. It’s not that no-one cares about anxiety – there are some incredibly clever people working in the field – but there is a definite feeling that it is understudied. With this in mind, it was with some reticence that I told people what I was to do in my PhD. To my surprise, nearly everyone I’ve spoken to, from those who’ve known me since before I was born, to the drunk woman singing Les Miserables on the train, has responded incredibly positively; folk really think anxiety is important, and the value of improving treatments of the disorder is seemingly obvious.