Articles to 2011-08-18

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First the link to this week’s complete list.

In centuries past it was hard to antagonize the church or the monarch and still keep your university position. This has passed but as Kupferschmidt demonstrates in the case of Edzard Ernst another powerful religious belief system coupled to vested financial interest holds the same power and state protection now as the church did then. 100 million dollars per year are not to be sneezed at, methinks.

According to Gullberg the targeted breeding of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains has left the human and animal environment is now ongoing in ambient nature. The short time of effective treatments is nearing its end and young doctors had better reacquaint themselves with cold calf packings and chicken soup. Perhaps the most important result from figure 4 is the only very slight advantage of nonresistant strains in clean environments. So even if doctors and breeders were unexpectantly to see sense now it would take a long time to undo the extant damage.

At first glance, the results by Entringer et al. do not seem plausible. Pregnant women did not have it easy through most of the last two million years and epigenetic effects during pregnancy usually are beneficial, turning maladaptive only in a substantial change of circumstances, like overweight people more prone to diabetes if their mothers were malnourished during pregnancy. Figure 1 does not look like two distinct distributions. Taking values from the figure we get 1.22 +/- .18 for the PSG and 1.26 +/- .19 for the control group. After eliminating three bottom outliers from PSG and two top ones from CG those become 1.241 +/- .160 and 1.241 +/- .158. Of course this group-level argument would become meaningless if a dose-effect relationship could be demonstrated, but in spite of a beta-coefficient in table S1 the text gives no hint of that being done or attempted but of a binary variable stress / no stress having been used. Further table S1 shows a negative beta for females only while that for males is actually positive. The latter is not significant due to the small number of male participants, but their confidence interval for beta is actually more distinct from zero than the female one. The group-level effect comes out solely as an artefact of there being five and half times as many females in the PSG group as males and two and a half in the control group. N.B: I love their way with words. For their "was more pronounced in women" read "was only present in women" in normal parlance. In all I take the result, published in about the most prestigious science journal, to be spurious and meaningless.

More than half of science’s current issue is dedicated to a special section on population. I’ve picked three articles.

Malakoff points to an intriguing conundrum. From a general theoretic standpoint Malthus just has to be right, there can’t be unlimited growth (of anything) on a limited globe. You simply can’t substitute food and energy through a service economy. On the other hand all concrete Malthusian predictions so far have been proved wrong and the economists like Boserup proved right. What exactly is going on here and for how long can it keep going this way?

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