Monday, April 29, 2013

New targets for Breast Cancer treatments.

Researchers from Ohio State University recently published research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identifying 37 novel messenger RNA(mRNA) and MicroRNA(MiRNA) molecules associated with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), the most common type of Breast Cancer(BC).
The researchers generated an integrated profile of IDC BC by investigating common underlying mechanisms related to the overall survival of patients from various different BC subclasses. According to the authors, “the aim of this work is to assess the predictive value of such an integrated profile.”
They identified 30 new mRNAs and 7 miRNAs  molecules by integrating DNA Methylation, mRNA, and MiRNA genetic sequencing data from a 466 patient cohort from The Cancer Genome Atlas into one prognostic RNA signature. The researchers believe this signature can be used to determine the future status, e.g their survivability, of patients with Breast Cancer.
The researchers validated the integrated RNA signature by testing its predictions on eight different BC cohorts, comprising a total of 2,399 patients.  According to the publication, “The mRNA component of the prognostic signature was significantly predictive for outcome in all 8 of the BC cohorts.”
Most importantly, this new testing regime is most accurate when being used to detect early stage cancers. Given the costs associated with finding cancers in their final and most lethal stages research like this will give medical professionals the tools they need to more quickly and accurately diagnose potential cancers. Additionally these new molecules, having never been associated with BC before, represent new avenues for potential pharmaceutical therapies.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is that a pedophile next door or does he just like kids?

Researchers from the Behavioural Science Institute at Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, published an article, April 24, in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a Springer publication, entitled “Assessment of Implicit Sexual Associations in Non-Incarcerated Pedophiles”.
Researchers there successfully discriminated, with over 90% accuracy, between 40 study participants, twenty males with pedophilc sexual associations who had never been incarcerated, ten of which had self-reported actual sexual contact (paedosexual) with minors, and twenty heteronormative males, all from similar educational and economic backgrounds.
While various other studies have looked at the implicit associations between sex and young children in pedophiles,  these  researchers  “extended previous findings by examining whether a combination of two implicit tasks, the Implicit Association Task (IAT) and the Picture Association Task (PAT), were capable of differentiating pedophiles from non-pedophiles.”
IAT and PAT are methodological tools used by psychological researchers looking to tap into the unconscious associations that give rise to, or cause, certain preferences or beliefs.
These tasks are, according to the lead author of the paper Matthijs van Leeuwen, particularly well suited to observing preferences that an individual might not otherwise admit to.  “In a sense these tasks are not designed to get at the conscious responses, but the uncontrollable responses,” he said.
Participants in this study were given a mix neutral(box, car, theater) and sexual words(nude, sex, caress) along with images of adults(men and women) and children(boys and girls). They were asked to categorize the combination of words and images as either neutral-child, sexual-child, neutral-adult, or sexual-adult.
By measuring the speed with which participants categorized the words and images researchers were able to measure the association between the concepts in the participants minds. Meaning, even if they did not want to admit to it, their brains were giving their unconscious preferences or beliefs away.
Because the task required the men to quickly label the image/word combinations, autonomic non-conscious processes dominated over conscious ones, e.g you can’t fake it without extensive training. As a consequence response times are correlated with the congruity of the given word/image combination.
The more congruent the image/word combination is with the preexisting conceptions of the participant, the faster the response and thus the stronger the link between the concepts in their mind. Conversely longer response times denote an incongruity and thus a weak association.
Traditional methods for determining why an individual feels or acts a certain way rely on self-reporting, which is sensitive to faking and cultural norms and taboos, e.g few people who act in an ostensibly racist manner openly state that they are racist.
By measuring implicit associations researchers are able to observe indirectly, the inner workings of the mind without having to control for faking or social pressure to not admit to taboo preferences or beliefs.
The study also observed, for the first time, a negative-association between adult women and sex in pedophilic and paedosexual individuals. This association may represent a potential avenue or target for future treatment of offending individuals and a possible preventative treatment route for individuals with pedophlic associations, but with a desire to not act on them.
While the test results did allow for differentiating between individuals who had pedophilic preferences and those who did not, it could not, according to van Leeuwen, “ differentiate between those who said they had sex with minors and those who said they wanted to, but had not.
This combination of tests seems to show that distinguishing between individuals who have normative associations and pedophilic associations is possible, but that simply having implicit associations of children and sex, doesn’t necessarily mean that one will act paedosexually.
However, according to Van Leeuwen, “This test is potentially one of the best methods for detecting pedophilia,” which raises the question, should societies use these tests to determine who does and doesn’t have implicit pedophilic preferences?
If so, should individuals who implicitly, meaning unconsciously, associate sex with children be forced to go through therapy or be barred from working in contact with children or at risk youth?
More research is most definitely needed, not least in political science, but this study, and the hundreds done using similar methods, is pointing towards a future where knowing who is a danger and who isn’t will be as simple as clicking a few boxes on a screen.

Social media isn't a waste of time.

Over the past year bulling induced suicides, public figure trolling, amateur sleuthing for the perpetrators of the Boston Bombings and subsequent mainstream media coverage of these events has ignited a debate about the value and utility of social media.  
Often demeaned as either a vapid form of narcissistic navel gazing or a means for social aggrandizement, media pundits and concerned parents have taken to the airwaves and newspapers to decry this new technology and the danger that it poses to the youth and to society as a whole.
Not to be left behind, special interest groups representing various minority populations, who are often legitimately the victims of real world persecution, have jumped on the bandwagon decrying social media as nothing more than a cesspool of vitriolic anonymous trolling.
Yes, bad things happen on the internet, misinformation gets spread, prejudicial statements get made, and people say generally hateful and mean things. But this has always been true, and does not represent the bulk of activity done on social networking sites.
Did not the KKK publish thousands of pages of hate filled propaganda, should printing presses have been abandoned? Doesn’t Focus on the Family air hundreds of hours of sexist and homophobic video footage, should video recording technology be curtailed? Is Rush Limbaugh not spewing ideological diatribes and racial epitaphs on a daily basis over the airwaves, should government censor shock-jocks?
The fact of the matter is that hate speech, prejudice, and trolling have been a part of the human experience since the dawn of civilization. The only difference is that it can been seen by all now, and in a way that was simply impossible in bygone eras. Social media does what none of the other communication methods do, it allows for real-time and asynchronous feedback.
Sure letters can be written to editors, shows can be called into, and networks can be sued, but all of these require relying on the very people who offended you being willing to publish your reply.
On social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, this isn’t the case. Hate-speech can be checked in a way that was never possible before, bullies, celebrities, talk show hosts, presidents, even the Pope, can all be called out publicly for their misinformed, wrongheaded, bigoted, or hate-filled remarks.  
If an interviewer says something inaccurate or bigoted you can bet that their followers and criticisers will be letting them, and others viewers, know just how wrong they are on their social media platforms.  
Even bullying, something that does need to be addressed in the social media landscape, is a problem that originates in the meatspace, not the virtual space.
Bullying has always occurred, and it has always occurred for one reason and one reason alone. The great silent majority is just that, silent.
The bullying that occurs online, and cannot easily be blocked, is in the public view. Instead of confronting the bully, or at minimum offering sympathy to the victim, the silent majority of viewers either pretend that it isn’t there, or worse join in the furor.
Social media gives users and citizens the tools and the power to confront these oppressive bullies, but when individuals and societies choose not to use these tools, it seems a bit odd to blame the tool instead of the user.
Social media isn’t the source of casual agent for bullying. The problem is the same online as it is offline, individuals don’t step up and defend their digital brothers and sisters.
Beyond the power given to the viewer/reader/listener by social media, groups that focus on the tragic suffering of a few, ignore the hundreds of millions of young and old people who have found social acceptance, recognition, and validation through social media.
By finding like minded peers on social networking sites these individuals live a happier and more fulfilling life. Social media provides a foundation for niche cultures to flourish despite being geographically spread out.
Demeaning social media also requires ignoring the billions of dollars made by individuals leveraging these very social platforms to create new businesses and to generate new content. Youtube, yes its a social network too, alone has allowed individuals like Psy to go from local comedy gold to international star complete with millions of dollars in ad revenue from people watching his free videos.
While social media is still maturing as a medium for cultural exchange, it cannot be denied that it empowers citizens to challenge authority. It also provides a platform upon which individuals can congregate to share what gives their lives meaning.
Whether it be a person’s philosophy on life, what they had for breakfast,their feelings about Justin Bieber, or just a funny cat picture, the activities of persons on social media sites are more than just words and pixels on a screen, they are fundamental expressions of identity. These expressions, even if they appear from your perspective to be vapid and narcissistic, still have value and articulate meaning.
Instead of wasting your energy complaining about how social media sucks or worrying about how Twitter will lead to Idiocracy, why not try making the conversations on social networks better by adding your voice. The more people who participate, the more representative the conversation is.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

I would be a Democrat, but...

Excepting the shrill talking heads, paid to carry water and vomit up political diatribes on cable news and over paid columnists spilling ink in the halls of once venerable institutions, actual discourse between citizens has all but ceased and voter participation has remained at dangerously low levels. Over the last 2 decades American political dialogue has come to a near standstill, in no small part because of the vitriolic relationship between the two parties.  

The pajama clad bloggers, supposedly our saviors and disintermediators of the political punditry class if you listened to the techpress back in 2007,  have instead taken the fight to the third and fourth rails of the internet offering no hope that the fractious nature of political discourse was any closer to changing.
The blogosphere divided itself into personal fiefdoms and tribes just as quickly as the traditional press did. Coupled with the vitriol enabled by anonymous communication, past resentments  have been revived and various -isms and bigotries have found new ground upon which to fester and grow. All of this has served to limit the actual influence of the virtual space on the political space.
That the Congress can’t seem to get it act together or that the president was four months late in preparing his budget comes as no surprise, without an actual dialogue the nation has no unified voice to speak out against these absurdities.
That both major political parties are blaming the each other, vehemently stating that if they could just have their way everything would be fine is just basic failed state, pre-collapse, politics.
Sadly what both parties fail to realize is that they are both right, and both wrong. Both parties have poisoned the well of political discourse in this country. All too often Democrats reduce their arguments to “Republicans are evil, so support my side”. Alan Grayson perfectly illustrated this in the health care debates of 2011 when  he said that the Republican plan was, “Don’t get sick, and if you die quickly”.
Instead of giving concrete reasons why he opposes privatizing the health care system, he reduced himself to a primate flinging metaphorical poo across the hall. This doesn’t move the discussion forward, but it does give the media something to talk about. It doesn’t even clearly articulate something, it poisons the well and prevents future discussion.
Beyond just, now standard, congressional polemics and hyperbole, the Democratic party engages in hypocrisy matched only  by the hypocrisy of religious objections to equality for homosexuality despite the proclivity of such adherents for illicit activities in airport bathrooms.
One would think that the party that tried to co-op the 99% and Occupy movements would eschew financing and political contributions from such institutions as BP, GE, Exxon, JP Morgan, Chase Bank, Bank of America, or Goldman Sachs, and yet collectively they have taken in tens of millions of dollars in contributions from these companies. All the while fanning the media firestorm over corporate business profits. It is simply hypocritical of Democrats to hate them in public, but love their money in private
Topping off vitriol, poisoning the well of political discourse, and hypocrisy are the following three things that Democrats have done that are simply beyond the pale. Starting with the Digital Millenium Copyright act, that singular piece of legislation that turned owning electronic hardware into a lease agreement and made it possible, through the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, to receive a jail sentence for violating the terms of service of a product you bought(leased) that exceeded the sentence for raping a classmate. If you want to know why you can’t unlock your phone without the Librarian of Congress okaying it, thats why.
As bad as that is, it is nothing to the repealing of Glass Stegal in 1999 that was directly related to the need for bailouts less than 10 years later. By acquiescing to Bill Clinton and the DLC’s new corporate friendly liberalism through deregulation, the Democrats spread the seeds, that the Republicans than tilled, that brought the global economy to a grinding halt in 2007. To be sure there were a variety of mechanisms that intensified the crash, but at its heart, depositor banks gambling with consumer pensions and savings made the whole ponzi scheme of collateralized debt obligations possible.
But it is the hail to the chief, follow the leader mentality of Democrats, matched only by Republican support for the expansion of power of the DHS and NSA under Bush, in support of Obama’s continuation of whistleblower persecution and expansion of the Drone War that is simply unforgivable. 3 American citizens, 1 of them a minor and one of them a journalist, have been summarily executed without Due Process, without Judicial approval, and without legal precedent all for their political beliefs.
That this happened without Congressional Democrats(Bernie Sanders doesn’t count he’s like a token minority in an all white film) raising a fuss  is testament to how the priorities of the Democratic party have changed. No longer the party of liberal values like hard work and community involvement, the Democratic party has become an illiberal institution more interested in keeping itself in power and serving its corporate masters than serving its citizens.