List of common misconceptions

Something really interesting from Wikipedia:  An extensive List of common misconceptions in history, science, religion, sports, travel, and technology.  The list includes my pet peeve, the myth that the ancients believed that the earth is flat, as well as many similar urban legends and scholarly bloopers.

Did any of these surprise you?  Do you want to challenge any of these misconceptions to argue that they are correct conceptions?

HT: Joe Carter

Organic chemicals on Mars

That Viking lander that did experiments 30 years ago on Martian soil found organic chemicals after all:

More than 30 years after NASA’s Viking landers found no evidence for organic materials on Mars, scientists say a new experiment on Mars-like soil shows Viking did, in fact, hit pay dirt.

The new study was prompted by the August 2008 discovery of powerful oxygen-busting compounds known as perchlorates at the landing site of another Mars probe called Phoenix.

Scientists repeated a key Viking experiment using perchlorate-enhanced soil from Chile’s Atacama Desert, which is considered one of the driest and most Mars-like places on Earth, and found telltale fingerprints of combusted organics — the same chemicals Viking scientists dismissed as contaminants from Earth.

“Contrary to 30 years of perceived wisdom, Viking did detect organic materials on Mars,” planetary scientist Christopher McKay, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, told Discovery News. “It’s like a 30-year-old cold case suddenly solved with new facts.”

“If the Viking team had said ‘Well, maybe there’s perchlorate in the soil,’ everybody would have said they’re crazy — why would there be perchlorates in the soil? It was only by having it pushed on us by Phoenix where we had no alternative but to conclude that there was perchlorate in the soil … Once you realize it’s there, then everything makes sense,” McKay added.

The Viking team’s verdict that Mars lacked organics was the lynchpin argument against another Viking experiment that looked for signs of microbial life. In the experiment, a bit of nutrient-laced water was added to a sample of Martian soil.

The air above the soil was then monitored for signs that the nutrients had been metabolized. The instrument detected tracer gases the first time the experiment was done, but subsequent runs did not. The results were considered inconclusive and remain contested.

New evidence for organics on Mars does not mean Viking found life, cautions McKay.

“Finding organics is not evidence of life or evidence of past life. It’s just evidence for organics,” he said.

But if NASA had realized there were organics on Mars, there might not have been a 20-year hiatus in sending landers for follow-up studies, said Rafael Navarro-González, with the Institute of Nuclear Science at the National Autonomous University in Mexico.

“We might have had continuing missions,” Navarro-González told Discovery News.

NASA plans to launch a follow-up mission to look for organics on Mars in November.

via Viking Found Organics on Mars, Experiment Confirms : Discovery News.

But do we know of “organics” apart from organisms?  Do organic chemicals exist in nature apart from life?  Maybe so.  Perhaps some of you can enlighten us.  But this seems pretty important in the quest to find extraterrestrial life.

A great new drug called “placebo”

This reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine, when he played a “wild and crazy guy” in a white suit with a fake arrow through his head.  He was going on about how he found this new drug that gave a mind-blowing high.  It’s called “placebo.”

Imagine your doctor gives you fake medication and tells you it’s nothing more than a sugar pill. Would it still work?

Incredibly, according to a new study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the placebo effect, even when patients were in on the secret, worked almost as well as the leading medication on the market.

It’s also a lot cheaper. And the best part about placebo – no side effects.

“I didn’t think it would work,” said senior author and Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Anthony Lembo in a statement. “I felt awkward asking patients to literally take a placebo. But to my surprise, it seemed to work for many of them.”

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center split 80 patients into two groups. One group was given placebos and informed of it. The other group was given nothing.

“Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle,” said Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine Ted Kaptchuk. “We told the patients that they didn’t have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”

After three weeks. the placebo group reported adequate symptom relief at double the rate of the group told to do nothing (59 percent vs. 35 percent). And those results are about as good as the leading irritable bowel syndrome drugs on the market.

Researchers sounded the usual cautionary notes. The study was small. It’s not clear what it would mean for other conditions and more research is needed.

via Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Placebo Works Even if Patients Know – Health Blog – CBS News.

Somebody should–quick–manufacture sugar pills under the brand name “Placebo” and market them as treatments for all diseases.

Anybody have any theories that would explain these results?  I’d be curious about a theory that explains the placebo effect in any event–how is it that a mental belief can affect a physical ailment?  Second, how can a mental belief affect a physical ailment when it isn’t a mental belief?

Fearfully and wonderfully made

From an article on the human brain:

A typical, healthy one houses some 200 billion nerve cells, which are connected to one another via hundreds of trillions of synapses. Each synapse functions like a microprocessor, and tens of thousands of them can connect a single neuron to other nerve cells. In the cerebral cortex alone, there are roughly 125 trillion synapses, which is about how many stars fill 1,500 Milky Way galaxies.

via Human brain has more switches than all computers on Earth | Health Tech – CNET News.

HT:  First Thoughts

Religion blocks consumerism

In another odd experiment, it seems as if religious people are less susceptible to buying things according to their brand, which to secularists is often a means of enhancing status and self-worth:

Prof. Ron Shachar of Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that a consumer’s religiosity has a large impact on his likelihood for choosing particular brands. Comsumers who are deeply religious are less likely to display an explicit preference for a particular brand, while more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations.

This research, in collaboration with Duke University and New York University scientists, recently appeared in the journal Marketing Science.

There is considerable statistical evidence that consumers buy particular brands to express who they are to the outside world, Prof. Shachar says. From clothing choices to cultural events, people communicate their personalities and values through their purchases.

Prof. Shachar and his fellow researchers decided to study the relationship between religiosity and brand reliance. . . .

Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression — specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren’t deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and well-being. According to Prof. Shachar, two additonal lab experiments done by this research team have demonstrated that like religiousity, consumers use brands to express their sense of self-worth.

via American Friends of Tel Aviv University: Shopping Religiously.

I suppose this simply proves that religious people are not as “worldly.”  It also suggests how pathetic it is to be “worldly,” having to turn to corporate logos as a substitute for religious symbols.

HT:  <a href=”http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/007649.html”>Future Pundit</a>

Cure for the common cold–and more

British researchers have made a breakthrough discovery that may not only lead to a cure for the common cold but for viral diseases in general.  It hinges upon a discovery that the human immune system is even more comprehensive than anyone dreamed, that it can even work within cells:

In a dramatic breakthrough that could affect millions of lives, scientists have been able to show for the first time that the body’s immune defences can destroy the common cold virus after it has actually invaded the inner sanctum of a human cell, a feat that was believed until now to be impossible.

The discovery opens the door to the development of a new class of antiviral drugs that work by enhancing this natural virus-killing machinery of the cell. Scientists believe the first clinical trials of new drugs based on the findings could begin within two to five years.

The researchers said that many other viruses responsible for a range of diseases could also be targeted by the new approach. They include the norovirus, which causes winter vomiting, and rotavirus, which results in severe diarrhoea and kills thousands of children in developing countries.

Viruses are still mankind’s biggest killers, responsible for twice as many deaths as cancer, essentially because they can get inside cells where they can hide away from the body’s immune defences and the powerful antibiotic drugs that have proved invaluable against bacterial infections.However, a study by a team of researchers from the world-famous Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge has shown that this textbook explanation of the limits of the human immune system is wrong because anti-viral antibodies can in fact enter the cell with the invading virus where they are able to trigger the rapid destruction of the foreign invader.

“In any immunology textbook you will read that once a virus makes it into a cell, that is game over because the cell is now infected. At that point there is nothing the immune response can do other than kill that cell,” said Leo James, who led the research team.

But studies at the Medical Research Council’s laboratory have found that the antibodies produced by the immune system, which recognise and attack invading viruses, actually ride piggyback into the inside of a cell with the invading virus.

Once inside the cell, the presence of the antibody is recognised by a naturally occurring protein in the cell called TRIM21 which in turn activates a powerful virus-crushing machinery that can eliminate the virus within two hours – long before it has the chance to hijack the cell to start making its own viral proteins. “This is the last opportunity a cell gets because after that it gets infected and there is nothing else the body can do but kill the cell,” Dr James said.

“The antibody is attached to the virus and when the virus gets sucked inside the cell, the antibody stays attached, there is nothing in that process to make the antibody to fall off.

“The great thing about it is that there shouldn’t be anything attached to antibodies in the cell, so that anything that is attached to the antibody is recognised as foreign and destroyed.”

In the past, it was thought that the antibodies of the immune system worked entirely outside the cells, in the blood and other extra-cellular fluids of the body. Now scientists realise that there is another layer of defence inside the cells where it might be possible to enhance the natural anti-virus machinery of the body.

“The beauty of it is that for every infection event, for every time a virus enters a cell, it is also an opportunity for the antibody in the cells to take the virus out,” Dr James said.

“That is the key concept that is different from how we think about immunity. At the moment we think of professional immune cells such as T-cells [white blood cells] that patrol the body and if they find anything they kill it.

“This system is more like an ambush because the virus has to go into the cell at some point and every time they do this, this immune mechanism has a chance of taking it out,” he explained.

“It’s certainly a very fast process. We’ve shown that once it enters the cell it gets degraded within an hour or two hours, that’s very fast,” he added.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved human cells cultured in the laboratory and will need to be replicated by further research on animals before the first clinical trials with humans.

One possibility is that the protein TRIM21 could be used in a nasal spray to combat the many types of viruses that cause the common cold. “The kind of viruses that are susceptible to this are the rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, noravirus, which causes winter vomiting, rotavirus, which cause gastroenteritis. In this country these are the kind of viruses that people are most likely to be exposed to,” Dr James said.

via A cure for the common cold may finally be achieved as a result of a remarkable discovery in a Cambridge laboratory – Science, News – The Independent.


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