Category Archives: life sciences


What’s Driving Human Evolution Now?

Sterling Hayden as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper (left), with Peter Sellers as Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Last year, when Sir David Attenborough, the British naturalist and broadcaster, speculated that human beings had ended natural selection through cultural and technological innovations, he got a deserved amount of blowback. The criticism started with his toy-model view of evolution, and went from there. But beneath it all, there was one lingering…


Major Fraud Plea Has University Scientists Regretting Journal Article

Just days after federal prosecutors concluded one of the nation’s largest fraud settlements involving a single drug, at least some university researchers are retreating from a medical-journal article that helped sell the medicine to children.

Denis Daneman, a professor and chair of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, said he had asked the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, which published the 2003 article evaluating the schizophrenia medication Risperdal, to remove his name from it.

And one of…


A Disease Ecologist and His Discontents

The white-footed mouse, a favored home of the Lyme bacterium. Copyright John White

The white-footed mouse, a favored home of the Lyme bacterium. Copyright John White

If we save the animals, do we, in the end, save ourselves?

There is so much nature can do for us. It can clean our water. Absorb our carbon. Inspire us. Each of those benefits can be quantified, in the language of modern conservation, as an “ecosystem service,” as I describe this week in The Chronicle Review.

The stories behind some services are more alluring than others: Few people become environmentalists out of…


In Vancouver, a Young Science Confronts Its Limits

Black rockfish

Consider, if you will, the black rockfish.

Its skin a mottled black-gray, its belly white, and its dorsal fin spiny, the black rockfish is a saltwater species of unremarkable size and value. It’s a common catch off Vancouver Island, but only a blip in British Columbia’s commercial fishing haul. Sport fishermen, many from First Nation tribes, catch the rockfish occasionally, sure, but if you were appraising a fishery solely on the monetary value it provides—a strategy at the core…


Critics Say Sting on Open-Access Journals Misses Larger Point

Perhaps months from now, when the dust settles and academics really look back at it, they’ll find some hard lessons in the elaborate Science magazine exposé this week by the journalist John Bohannon.

After more than a year of work, in which Mr. Bohannon, who has a Ph.D. in biology, crafted a fraudulent cancer-research article and painstakingly tracked the responses to it from more than 300 journals, he gave his industry the embarrassing news that 157 of them had agreed to publish it.

“The data…


Hallucinations Happen, and That Can Be OK

Fish feeding

One hallmark of the revolution in psychiatric research begun by the National Institute of Mental Health, as I explored in The Chronicle Review last week, is the sliding scale of the many symptoms that, together, compose the traditional psychiatric disorders. There is no on or off switch for mental illness, researchers say. There is only a dial.

For some disorders this makes intuitive sense; few people balk at the idea of being a little depressed or anxious. We’re human. It comes with the territ…


High in Sky, a Refrain: ‘Squawk, Data’

A red kite, sans blog. Copyright Sean Gray

A red kite, sans blog. Copyright Sean Gray

Like any young adult moving to a strange new land—a common occurrence at this time of year—Wyvis, a resident of Scotland, took to blogging about her new home in late August.

Out on her own, far from relatives, she was making long trips around the farms of Durisdeer Mill, a village in the country’s southwest lowlands, she wrote. She loved the isolation. She would rest in the woodlands around Sanquhar. Then came the odd journey to the moors, worms squishi…


As Brain Research Expands, It May Not Need Major Ethical Overhaul

Not long after he proposed giving researchers $100-million to improve fundamental understandings of brain function, President Obama was worried.

How, Mr. Obama asked his bioethics commission last month, might improved technologies for reading the brain affect society in areas that include personal privacy, moral and legal accountability, stigmatization, discrimination, and measures of intelligence?

On Tuesday the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues began tackling that ques…


As Sharing of Clinical-Trial Data Gains Acceptance, Methods Get Scrutiny

In the quest to improve the scientific transparency of human medical trials, the first hurdle is getting researchers and companies to agree that they really want to do a better job of sharing with one another.

In that regard, after years of pressure from patients and their advocates, there are indications lately that attitudes may be slowly improving.

The next challenge is figuring out how best to share. And that could be just as daunting. Three articles published on Wednesday in The New England…


Claims of Detection Confuse Hunt for Football’s Brain-Trauma Disease

For football fans, there is no time longer than the two weeks, in late January, between the NFL’s conference-championship games and the Super Bowl. It’s a news wasteland, a long pause in the postseason’s frenetic action, and sports reporters scramble to find the slimmest fresh angles to corral their fickle, and hungry, readers.

So you can imagine that a press release sent out by the University of California at Los Angeles just before this year’s Super Bowl, “UCLA Study First to Image Concussion-…