Amy Wallace's Wired feature, "An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All" looks at the life and times of Paul Offit, vaccine inventor and advocate, and the anti-vaccine pseudo-science he battles as he attempts to convince parents not to give in to fear and disinformation, and to follow the science that will keep their kids safe.
At this year's Autism One conference in Chicago, I flashed more than once on Carl Sagan's idea of the power of an "unsatisfied medical need." Because a massive research effort has yet to reveal the precise causes of autism, pseudo-science has stepped aggressively into the void. In the hallways of the Westin O'Hare hotel, helpful salespeople strove to catch my eye as I walked past a long line of booths pitching everything from vitamins and supplements to gluten-free cookies (some believe a gluten-free diet alleviates the symptoms of autism), hyperbaric chambers, and neuro-feedback machines.
To a one, the speakers told parents not to despair. Vitamin D would help, said one doctor and supplement salesman who projected the equation "No vaccines + more vitamin d = no autism" onto a huge screen during his presentation. (If only it were that simple.) Others talked of the powers of enzymes, enemas, infrared saunas, glutathione drips, chelation therapy (the controversial -- and risky -- administration of certain chemicals that leech metals from the body), and Lupron (a medicine that shuts down testosterone synthesis).
Offit calls this stuff, much of which is unproven, ineffectual, or downright dangerous, "a cottage industry of false hope." He didn't attend the Autism One conference, though his name was frequently invoked. A California woman with an 11-year-old autistic son told me, aghast, that she'd personally heard Offit say you could safely give a child 10,000 vaccines (in fact, the number he came up with was 100,000 -- more on that later). A mom from Arizona, who introduced me to her 10-year-old "recovered" autistic son -- a bright, blue-eyed, towheaded boy who hit his head on walls, she said, before he started getting B-12 injections -- told me that she'd read Offit had made $50 million from the RotaTeq vaccine. In her view, he was in the pocket of Big Pharma.
With pigeons, he developed the ideas of "operant conditioning" and "shaping behavior." Unlike Pavlov's "classical conditioning," where an existing behavior (salivating for food) is shaped by associating it with a new stimulus (ringing of a metronome), operant conditioning is the rewarding of a partial behavior or a random act that approaches the desired behavior. Operant conditioning can be used to shape behavior. If the goal is to have a pigeon turn in a circle to the left, a reward is given for any small movement to the left. When the pigeon catches on to that, the reward is given for larger movements to the left, and so on, until the pigeon has turned a complete circle before getting the reward. Skinner compared this learning with the way children learn to talk -- they are rewarded for making a sound that is sort of like a word until in fact they can say the word. Skinner believed other complicated tasks could be broken down in this way and taught. He even developed teaching machines so students could learn bit by bit, uncovering answers for an immediate "reward." They were quite popular for a while, but fell out of favor. Computer-based self-instruction uses many of the principles of Skinner's technique.
Jeremy sez, "Shareable tells the story of sharing. We cover the people, places, and projects that are bringing a shareable world to life. And share tools and tips to help you make a shareable world real in your life.
In a shareable world, things like car sharing, community gardening, and cohousing bring us together, make life more fun, and free up time and money for the important things in life. When we share, not only is a better life possible, but so is a better world.
The remarkable successes of Wikipedia, Kiva, open source software, Burning Man, Freecycle, and Creative Commons point the way. They tell a hopeful story about human nature and our future, one we don't hear enough in the mainstream media."
Zoran sez, "The night before Halloween is known as Mischief Night because it is a time for young people to act out and do things that may get them in trouble with neighbors, with the law, and with satan.
One of those pranks is downloading music illegally, usually in search of a fitting soundtrack for All Hallows' eve, one that will frighten the trick or treaters.
Well this year, we can all focus on bigger and better things, thanks to a set of demonic artists who believe that it is in their interest to give away some of their sonic concoctions for free, because it will help them to cast their spell on a wider audience."
Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy has a stirring editorial in defense of Hallowe'en and kids in today's Huffpo:
It's not that I'm cavalier about safety. I'm just a sucker -- so to speak -- for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger's goodies on Halloween, ever, as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And...he didn't find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween, no one would notice one more...
It's not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don't go out on their own. It's not just the fact that Bobtown, Pennsylvania has gone so far as to "cancel" Halloween altogether -- for the sake of "safety." (The authorities there were surprised to find this decision unpopular.) It's not even that those of us who'd like to hand out homemade cookies know they'll be instantly tossed in the trash.
No, the truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself. The website Halloween-Safety.com recommends that if your child is carrying a fake butcher knife, make sure the tip is "smooth and flexible enough to not cause injury if fallen upon."
Rachel Maddow, host of all that is worth watching on television, very kindly invited me back to The Rachel Maddow Show tonight for a "Moment of Geek" on the big ICANN news today: starting soon, domain name extensions will be available in non-Latin character sets. Chinese, Greek, Arabic, or any one of the more than 20 official languages in India. In other words, the alphabet you're reading this blog post in will no longer be the default for web addresses.
First up for the "non-Latin" extensions? Country-specific domain names (.cn for China, for instance). Later on, everything else (.com and the like). Don't expect to see "dot china" in Chinese characters right away, explained Rebecca: starting November 16, registrars can begin to apply, but it'll be a while before the domains show up in the wild.
Some US tech reporters covering the news ran with but what about meeee! headlines. "This is a bad day for the English language," wrote one. Well, someone call the whaambulance -- it's an awesome day if you read in Farsi or Hebrew. It's not about our language, it's about the languages spoken by the next billion people to come online, and most of them don't speak English or write in a language based on our Latin character set.
Behold: A GG Allin designer toy! Specifically, this fine collectible is an "Extra Filthy Bloody Edition" Allin figurine "loaded into a full color "splatter" box." I remember watching a dub of Hated, the documentary about the transgressive punk performer, on a pre-release review VHS at Mark F's pad in 1994 and being thoroughly disgusted, which, I guess, was the whole point. (Here's the NSFW trailer.) The GG Allin figure, limited to an edition of 500, is 7-inches tall and sells for $16.95 from Aggronautix. Here's what my pal Gil Kaufman wrote about it at MTV.com:
Aggronautix, the same demented people who have created wobbly-necked figurines of such similarly obscure punk rock icons as Tesco Vee of the Meatmen, Milo of the Descendents and the barely-legal Dwarves, have truly gone all out for the second edition of the Allin figure, which commemorates the scat-loving punk icon in all his messy glory.
From the bloody hematoma on his forehead to the true Manchu beard-mustache combo, bloody cuts on his body and guaranteed-to-offend tattoos, this seven-inch tall likeness of the late punker best known for using the stage as a toilet, performing naked and attacking his fans is for the hardcore only.
Here are some of my recent posts about money for Credit.com.
Charts to Help You Succeed in Online Dating: "If you're investing your time and money in an online dating service and want to increase your chances of getting a reply from someone you're interested in, don't tell them they're "hot." Instead, tell them you dig zombie movies."
Strategies for Happiness: "The shift from being a rat racer to pursuing happiness is not about working less or with less fervor but about working as hard or harder at the right activities -- those that are a source of both present and future benefit."
New Boom on Metal Detectors: "A 55-year-old metal detector enthusiast discovered a cache of Anglo-Saxon treasures earlier this month, estimated to be worth $10 million, in a farmer's field in Birmingham, England."
Weird headsets that read people's minds? It sounds like dystopian science fiction, but these gadgets (helped by a little old-fashioned muscle measurement) are set to be the holiday season's hot toys. The promised future, of mind games that lapse into punishing tension headaches, is finally upon us.
If you're old enough to remember the early 1980s, you'd be forgiven a degree of skepticism. Atari's Mindlink introduced the headband form factor and some of the tech seen in its modern counterparts, but didn't even get the chance to be a pioneering flop.
When I posted about the lives of lovable native lampreys a couple weeks ago, commenter Allegra pointed me to some great videos of vegetarian lamprey in Vancouver's Morrison Creek. For the first couple seconds of watching, I honestly mistook the lamprey for water plants. And then they started building nests and spawning. Which plants don't tend to do.
Somebody is going to lose the World Series. It's true. I have heard this is how these things work. But, when the inevitable happens, where do all their commemorative hats, T-shirts, shoelaces, giant foam hands, etc. go? After all, nobody knows which team will win. To meet the instant, post-game demand, manufacturers have all that championship memorabilia--for both teams--made up and sitting in a warehouse before the final game is even a twinkle in an announcer's eye.
The merchandise doesn't go to waste, people living in poverty receive new, clean clothes, and the clothing makers recoup some of their losses--they get tax credits for the charitable donations. Why don't the clothes go to needy families in the United States? Overseas donation is part of the agreement between World Vision and the leagues. The farther away the clothing is, the less likely it is to offend a losing player (or heartbroken Buffalo Bills fan).
In fact, fear of fan alienation used to keep the MLB from donating. Up until two years ago, they required all inaccurate championship clothing be destroyed.
Your nostrils will absolutely not be taking any crap from each other. Scientists have long known about binocular rivalry--a sort-of competition between your eyes. If you control a person's vision so one eye sees one image, and the other eye sees a completely different image, the images won't merge. Instead, the person will experience a tug of war between one scene and the other, with neither eye coming out the winner. Turns out, our noses may be doing something similar. In a small, but interesting, study, researchers presented evidence for what they're calling "binaral rivalry"--competition between the nostrils.
Wen Zhou and Denise Chen presented twelve participants with the smell of rose to one of their nostrils and the smell of a marker pen to their other nostril. After each break in the smells, the participants indicated on a visual scale whether they had detected the scent of rose or of marker pen. Just as with binocular rivalry, the participants' perceptual experience fluctuated back and forth randomly between the two scents.
The researchers believe this nostril rivalry is related in some way to the process of adaptation, both in the receptor cells in the nose and in the part of the brain that processes smells. For example, when repeatedly presented with a balanced mix of both smells, the participants' sensory experience fluctuated between rose and marker pen, presumably because of adaptation in the brain: as central neurons tired of one odour, their response to the other became more dominant and back again. The researchers also showed that adaptation occurs in the nose: swapping the bottles of odour around from one nostril to the other reinstated participants' experience of a given smell after it had previously faded through continuous sniffing.
With that in mind, the crew from Dr. Sketchy's Los Angeles is packing the van and hitting the asphalt to bring Dr. Sketchy's Roadshow to a town near you. Beginning with an inaugural haul around California between November 2nd and 14th, the roadshow will make stops in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Long Beach, Sherman Oaks, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Monterey, San Jose, Sacramento, Alhambra, and two more cities TBD.
Artist and art voyeurs need only bring a $10 donation and their favorite drawing supplies. Dr. Sketchy's and the Roadshow's art-centric host venues will provide everything else (top notch models, refreshments, casual networking opportunities, and an all around good time).
Boing Boing guestblogger Connie Choe is a health and culture writer by day and a professional kimchimonger by night.
If you're not already planning to convert that old fridge into a kegerator, perhaps you should consider making your own cheese "cave." Why? Because cheese deserves your adoration, and you could use another hobby. I am planning to steal my husband's mini-fridge for this purpose (this is probably news to him) because it would be so appropriate for the rock star of dairy products to hang out in a unit that looks like an amp. If anyone can figure out how to effectively lower fridge temperature without purchasing a separate thermostat, I would be happy to send you some amateurish homemade cheese.
Pop surrealist Andrew Brandou has a mind-bending new show of paintings opening Halloween evening at the Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City, California. The show, titled "In The Garden of the Mystic," runs until November 18. Above, "Vulpes Vulpes" on left and "Midnight Blooms" on right. From the gallery:
Influenced by 1960’s posters, music and psychedelia, Brandou’s new work takes a walk on the wild side and a more organic narrative ensues. The artist’s iconic flower motifs, skulls, bunnies and boxes transform into a kaleidoscope of stunning psychonautic imagery. Ornate gold leaf accents decorate mind-expanding dreamscapes where the ego merges into the id, fear is released and beauty resides. The exhibition will also include a rare series of limited-edition silkscreens on wood block based on vintage rock posters.