Quick Roundup 550

Monday, July 19, 2010

Being busy, away from the Internet altogether, or both quite a bit lately, I'm playing catch-up with some of my regular haunts. I'll start with a couple of things you should see, if you've missed them, too.

Soccer and Productivity

Stephen Bourque discusses a very interesting point raised by a comment he heard on a sports radio show:

A group was discussing possible reasons why kids play soccer when they are young but do not go on to be fans of the sport when they grow up.


A commentator (I believe it was former NFL linebacker Steve DeOssie, but my apologies to the actual speaker if I got it wrong) offered this: Maybe Americans don't like soccer because it is so low scoring--and Americans admire, above all things, productivity. [bold removed]
Commenting on the post, Tito Sarrionandia raises pretty much the same point that I would have raised: that scoring isn't the only measure of productivity in an athletic contest. (This in no way detracts from the issue Bourque discusses.)

Paul Hsieh Does It Again

I'll read the whole thing later, but Paul Hsieh's latest article in Pajamas Media looks compelling:
Recent advances in biotechnology have allowed private companies to offer affordable genetic testing directly to consumers, to help them determine their risks of developing problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and various forms of cancer. In response, the U.S. government has told these companies that their tests must be approved by FDA regulators before they can be sold because, in the government's words, "consumers may make medical decisions in reliance on this information." [minor format edits]
Gov forbid we presume to make our own health decisions -- or attempt to make them with as much information as possible.

And, if you like that article, there's a pledge drive you may be interested in...

Soylent Green Meets Mad Cow

And speaking of genetic predisposition to diseases, I recently ran across an interesting example of natural selection at work among the Fore people in the South Pacific. The disease in question, kuru, is similar to mad cow disease, but is believed to have been transmitted by the ritual cannibalism once practiced by this tribe.
Kuru is a fatal prion disease, similar to [Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease] in humans and [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] in animals, and is geographically unique to an area in Papua New Guinea. In the mid 20th Century, an epidemic of kuru devastated a population in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The infection was passed on at mortuary feasts, where mainly women and children consumed their deceased relatives as a mark of respect and mourning. This practice was banned and ceased in the late 1950s.

Scientists from the MRC Prion Unit, a national centre of excellence in prion diseases, assessed over 3000 people from the affected and surrounding Eastern Highland populations, including 709 who had participated in cannibalistic mortuary feasts, 152 of whom subsequently died of kuru. They discovered a novel and unique variation in the prion protein gene called G127V in people from the Purosa valley region where kuru was most rife.

This gene mutation, which is found nowhere else in the world, seems to offer high or even complete protection against the development of kuru and has become frequent in this area through natural selection over recent history, in direct response to the epidemic. This is thought be perhaps the strongest example yet of recent natural selection in humans.
It has been some time since I thought much about prion diseases, which interested me somewhat during grad school. Had it been available to me then, I would have loved this article (pdf) about how the connection between ritual cannibalism and this disease was made. (Well, okay. Yes, I'll probably read this some time down the road. I never said I wasn't weird.)

Get the Crows off Your Couch

I found this home entertainment tip to be a simple and somewhat amusing way to apply an epistemological principle to the problem of guests using cluttered entertainment remotes.

-- CAV


: Corrected two links.

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