Laws Block the Study of Gun Violence

Violence happens.  People use guns to kill other people, and if not guns, then some other weapon.  Murders are so common, in fact, that homicides claim roughly 1,000 victims everyday and images of guns and violence fill our TV screens.  Although mass-killings like those in Columbine and Aurora continue to horrify us, they no longer surprise us.  We understand that humans kill others and that violence is just one aspect of human social behavior that we sometimes accept — think war — but often reject — think bullying, fistfights, and Aurora.

But why?  Why do will hurt, hit, and occasionally murder one another?  Social scientists could shed light on the causes of gun violence and means of preventing it.  But, unfortunately, politicians and lobbyist have stymied research into both the social sciences and gun violence.  In a new op-ed for the Washington Post, Jay Dickey and Mark Rosenberg lament the dramatic cost of gun violence — over 30,000 deaths a year, more than those murdered on September 11th and almost as many that die each year from car-crashes — and their own failure to fund research into its causes. Continue reading

Old Misconceptions Die Hard: Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions

ResearchBlogging.orgTeachers operate on the assumption that students are “empty vessels” they can fill with new information.  But many students begin classes with assumptions about the world that, although intuitive, are actually incorrect.  For example, many students incorrectly believe that individuals can evolve or that all members of a species evolve together.  Teachers assume that instruction and testing will make students understand that both of these assumptions are wrong and that only populations evolve.  However, recent research suggests that simply providing students with factual information doesn’t make them drop their faulty assumptions.  As it turns out, old misconceptions die hard.
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Everything is Illuminated: Restoration of vision after transplantation of photoreceptors

ResearchBlogging.orgThe retina is a paper-thin layer of tissue found at the back of the eye that allows us to see light.  Without a retina (or the cells that make it up), we’re blind.  Because mutations that cause the retina to break-down affect nearly 1 in 4,000 people world-wide, researchers eagerly study new ways to treat this condition.  So far, they have identified over 50 genes that, when mutated, cause retinal degeneration and blindness.  In fact, some of the earliest successes in gene therapy involved cases of retinal degeneration and blindness. Now researchers are trying something new: retinal transplants, or physically moving cells from healthy eyes to those that are unhealthy.  In a recent study published by Pearson et al. (2012) in Nature (not open-access, sorry), researchers moved rod photoreceptor cells from healthy mice to those that suffered from night-blindness and — boom! — restored vision to the mice. They even have a cool video. Continue reading

Evolution, Genomics, and J. Craig Venter’s Vision for Your Future

Biologist J. Craig Venter

The Washington Post Magazine published an interesting profile yesterday of biologist J. Craig Venter: “Rad Scientist: Maverick biologist J. Craig Venter is in a race to save the planet.”  The profile discusses Venter’s company Synthetic Genomics, the J. Craig Venter Institute (JVCI), and his recent effort to create a new species of algae that can generate biofuels and process green-house gases.  Venter’s work is truly ground-breaking and will one day change our lives — in fact, it already has (see below).  The article by Susan Okie is terrific and is a must-read for anyone interested in genomics and the future of biotechnology. Continue reading

Should We Market Prescription Medicine to the Masses?

One thing that always frightens me when I turn on the TV is the sheer volume of commercials for prescription drugs.  The commercials are usually highly-polished, with nice-looking actors and gentle piano music in the background. They’re so common that you can probably think of a few right now: Cymbalta, Advair, Ambien, Latisse.  Although it’s certainly bothersome that drug companies market drugs to people who cannot purchase them directly (without a prescription), the thing that bothers me most is that they used highly polished adds to gloss-over some very serious side effects.  This just seems so dangerous.  Should we allow drug companies to market powerful prescription drugs to the masses? Continue reading