Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walkabout Wednesday: doublethink, and starving cancer cells.

My Health

Dr. Malcolm McKendrick always writes great posts, and this one is no exception. He uses some great Orwell quotes to highlight some shenanigans about public data from the European Heart Study. Between 2008 and 2012 they dropped a table showing the relationship between saturated fat intake and per capita deaths due to coronary heart disease. Guess what? The data don't support the orthodoxy.

Understanding the deep evolutionary origins of cancer might help us treat it. The idea is that prior to being multi-cellular, immortality and vigorous cell proliferation were survival traits. Environmental stresses then put cells back into "survival mode", forgetting their evolved functions.
So the team predicts that treating patients with high levels of oxygen and reducing sugar in their diet, to lower acidity, will strain the cancer and cause tumors to shrink.
The fact that they implicate sugar there is interesting, as I also came across another study that found starving breast cancer cells of sugar reverses the phenotype of cancerous cells back to non-cancerous cells. And remember that all carbohydrates in your diet ultimately end up as sugar in your bloodstream.

And as long as I'm thinking about cancer cells, soy protein changes gene expression in breast cells in vivo, and those changes relate to cancer growth rates. This study isn't completely conclusive though, because they did the experiment 7 - 30 days before removing the tumors surgically. As a result we don't know if gene expression changes would in fact have changed tumor growth.

And more on cancer! A large, randomized diet intervention in post-menopausal women found no effect of a low fat diet (< 20% kcal from fat) on risk of breast or colon cancer. 

I'm a fan of breastfeeding babies, and if you need more evidence it is a good thing, here you go. Breastfed babies have lower levels of chronic inflammation as adults.

Your Education

Over the last 2 years or so enrollments in the Fisheries and Wildlife major at UNL have fallen after more than a decade of strong growth. Turns out that reflects a broader trend, and it's at least a symptom of a good thing. For someone. Not us. (ht: Dynamic Ecology)

It's pretty common for professors to share course content around with colleagues. I benefited from course notes and lectures from Helen Regan when I started at UNL. But this article raises a different spectre; taking someone else's hard work on course development and using it without asking them. Made even easier by the widespread use of online course management software. (ht: John Janovy)

A long time ago, in a country far, far away, a University President wrote an op-ed piece bemoaning the surfeit of post-graduate students his faculty were writing into grant proposals. My response, which was actually published, was that it's obvious dude, they are cheap (below the poverty line), highly motivated (willing to work 60 hours a week motivated) and well trained workers. In an environment where funding for public  R&D gets tight, permanent research tech jobs get replaced with postgraduate stipends. Never mind that there's no work for them once they get their shiny PhDs. Now it appears the same perverse incentives are starting to bite here in the USA, with this piece in the Boston Globe highlighting a "glut of postdoc researchers". This quote says it all:
The problem is that any researcher running a lab today is training far more people than there will ever be labs to run. Often these supremely well-educated trainees are simply cheap laborers, not learning skills for the careers where they are more likely to find jobs — teaching, industry, government or nonprofit jobs, or consulting.
Yup. Unfortunately throwing money at this isn't the solution either; a fundamental rethink of how we train researchers and finance public R & D is needed. I guess they could always work as adjuncts, 'cuz that's such a satisfying career. (ht: Natalie West)

Our Environment

Emily Nicholson and Ben Collen have a piece in Science on measuring progress on Biodiversity conservation. I like their point that metrics need to be projected forwards under different policies if they are going to be useful. They also use the excellent approach of virtual ecology (see excellent introduction here) to test how well a biodiversity metric can track reality.

Regular visitors might have noticed that I don't believe improved knowledge leads to changes in behavior. This is a nice little piece summarizing some social science that demonstrates just how bad it really is. One of my FB colleagues wondered what it would mean if applied to scientists. Hint: see the link at the top of this post on disappearing data tables. Scientists are human, unfortunately for science, and the incentives to parrot the paradigm are rampant. (ht: Tala Awada)

Not really about environment, but MotherJones is running a series of charts on income inequality. This one caught my eye because of the increasing variance over time in the income of the top 1%. Rising variance is a signal of an impending tipping point between dynamic regimes in complex systems, as Trevor Hefley's paper in theoretical ecology demonstrates for simple population growth models (which is about our environment!). 

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