Friday, April 30, 2010

But you still take it orally...

A friend recently pointed me to this article in the Globe and Mail [Robitussin: Pregnancy in a $5 bottle of hope]. Apparently, couples having trouble conceiving are turning to the cough medicine Robitussin. And not just because nobody wants a partner with a wet, hacking cough. (Though I'm not up to date on the latest fetishes). The premise is simple: Robitussin contains guaifenesin which thins mucus. Women report that it also works on cervical mucus which facilitates the passage of sperm.

Unfortunately, while the theory makes sense there is little in the way of scientific study to back it up. The first report in the literature was in 1982 (described in the G&M article), and there is a single case study since then that involved guaifenesin use.

Not unexpectedly, that means most of the claims about guaifenesin and pregnancy remain in the realm of anecdote across message boards and in pregnancy books. Also unsurprisingly, many of the comments on the Globe and Mail piece blame the lack of study on Big Pharma conspiracy keeping down a cheap alternative to IVF. The original article is worth a read for a more balanced perspective.


Cancer Carnival: May 7

The Cancer Research Blog Carnival will appear here in a week's time. That's one more week to write something new on the topic of cancer research, or send us something cancer related from the past month. Submissions can be made on this form or emailed to us directly.


BBQ Season!

Grills have been firing up around the country since the snow melted, and often before. Sometimes, though, you might find yourself with a delicious steak but a shortage of propane, or no access to a BBQ. Over at Discoblog, you can find out how to cook your steak sous-vide without the need for a fancy or expensive machine - just some sealable bags and a beer cooler.
All you have to do is fill up your beer cooler with water a couple of degrees higher than the temperature you’d like to cook your food at (to account for temperature loss when you add cold food to it), seal your food in a simple plastic Ziplock bag, drop it in, and close your cooler until you food is cooked, writes Chef Kenzi on the blog Serious Eats. It’s really as simple as that.
Very simple and totally portable. Forget about beer-can chicken and try a sous-vide steak. The only obvious problem is this: With your cooler busy cooking meat, how is that beer staying cold?


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Circus or Zoo?

There's been some buzz lately about Stephen Hawking's comments that alien life almost certainly exists, but we should be doing everything we can to avoid it.
[A] few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity. [...] He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
This of course raises the age old question, for when our alien overlords arrive:

It seems slightly ironic that Hawking's warnings come at the same time that we celebrate the Hubble Telescope's 20th anniversary - a tool whose breath-taking pictures have undoubtedly inspired many people to wonder what, and who, else is out there.

I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, catching up on the new series, and re-enjoying the old. It's impossible not to revel in his awe and joy and wonder as he travels space and time unravelling mysteries and encountering new species - in a universe he knows to be full of monsters and bad guys. In that spirit, I have to side with optimism and Ethan Siegel:
But what irks me most of all is the cowardice behind a viewpoint that we shouldn't rush to meet a peer in this Universe. It would be like forgetting the best part of being human: our bravery, our sense of adventure, our will to explore, our thirst for learning and discovery, our curiosity, and our desire to experience all that existence has to offer.
And if we're swept up and forced into an intergalactic zoo, circus or worse, at least I'll get to ride in a spaceship.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Cell Phones and Airplanes

If you've ever wondered about the the phone use ban on airplanes, there's more to it than just potential interference with instruments. While that is also a factor, and the FAA's (Federal Aviation Authority) main concern, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has concerns that using cell phones at altitude could disrupt the towers themselves, possibly crashing the system or lowering network capacity.
If a mobile phone is operated from an aircraft in flight above a city, the towers of many different cells may be about equidistant from the phone. Multiple towers might assume that the phone is under their control."
This could cause problems with the tower software, interfere with other calls, or reduce the available network since the phone is now occupying the same channel on multiple towers instead of just one. Check out this infographic for more details.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

24 carat gold test tubes

Perhaps a more inert material should be used for test tubes. As we've discussed before chemicals leaching from test tubes can lead to enzyme inhibition. It has also been demonstrated that plastics can interfere with results in cell culture and even more recently it has been shown that plastics can affect protein and DNA measurements by UV absorption measurements, by as much as 300%.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


The air routes are clearing up and now that I've finally mastered the spelling, if not the pronunciation, of Eyjafjallajökull I can actually blog about it. Not that I have much to say on the topic, so here are some pretty pictures (click them for larger versions):

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day, April 19

From The Daily Mail. Follow the link for other great pictures.

To learn more about that volcanic lightning, check out this post at Starts With a Bang.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

parasitic wasp video


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

World Homeopathy Awareness Week

Right now, we're smack in the middle of World Homeopathy Awareness Week, which runs from April 10 - 16. As you can imagine, the science blogging community is taking the opportunity to raise awareness about the lack of evidence supporting homeopathy and the utter ridiculousness of its claims.

From Sandwalk:

Homeopathy Kills
Here's what can happen if a homeopath treats his own daughter. He ends up in jail, she ends up dead.

The "Science" Behind Homeopathy
Here's John Benneth explaining the "science" behind homeopathy. This is woo of the highest order. [...] There are no reputable scientists who believe what John Benneth claims. If he's implying that there's scientific support for homeopathy, then what he's saying is not true.

From Pharyngula:

More Magic DNA Snake Oil
Drink a DNA solution? Are they insane? That's just going to get broken down and do nothing, and besides, it's not as if your body contains some shortage of Klotho genes — every cell in your body has a copy. Of course, even that objection is pointless, because you aren't actually drinking any DNA. This is a homeopathic solution.

And of course Respectful Insolence has a couple of posts up in honour of the event: Part 1, Part 2. (There is some overlap with the above links as well)


A Guest Post

We received the following guest post from a friend of the Bayblab, looking for a bit more exposure for his own writing and blog, Health and Life. If you recognize the site, it's recently hosted the Cancer Research Blog Carnival twice.

Are the chemicals we’re putting into the environment causing disease?

Maybe. Almost certainly yes in that there are chemicals that are widely used today that cause toxic effects of some sort. To think otherwise would be hubristic. In the 1970s, for instance, we widely used the chemical DBCP only to learn that it can, at fairly low doses, make men sterile. Oops.

On an unrelated note, mens’ sperm counts may have halved over the past few decades. Instead of making 20 million sperm per ejaculation, the men of today make only 10 million. The exact numbers aren’t established science and there is the possibility for variation but that is fairly chilling.

The worst cases are blatant and perhaps not so bad because of that. When a factory in Japan dumps toxic sewage into its neighborhood, we shake our heads but don’t worry too much. After all, that doesn’t happen in America, right?

Even as we point at specific molecules as being toxic and completely unsafe reality is more perplexing. Mercury was present in some form in vaccines and advocates argued (although the science seems to be against them) that it was a cause of autism. Yet the new type of lightbulb, the fluorescent light bulb, happens to contain mercury which could be an issue if one breaks.

Things are rarely black and white. As science is able to discriminate with greater precision practices that seemed safe are revealed as dangerous. Levels of exposure to something that used to be OK can be revealed to cause birth defects in mice. Bisphenol A came out of nowhere but suddenly can cause a whole variety of toxic effects.

Still, certainly we are better off than those who came before us. After all, at least we don’t drink wine from lead cups as was a Roman practice.

The worst case scenario is that the environmental toxins and toxicants are gradually killing us in a subtle manner. Or that they are causing a rising epidemic of problems like ADHD, autism and male feminization or that they may be behind certain types of cancers.

The best case scenario? That environmental toxins and toxicants do cause damage and problems but our bodies are hardy. We can, and do, handle a great deal daily. Cells grow, cells die, possibly become cancerous, and are possibly removed by an immune response. Or not.

And it’s the or not that scares rational people.

David is a blogger who enjoys analyzing medications and health issues. You can see writing of his at Health and Life.


Thursday, April 08, 2010


Just a quick reminder to the Bayblabbers to continue to listen to the radiolab podcast. The latest episode has a very interesting section near the end about scientific answers generated by computers that we can not grasp with our limited cognitive abilities. The impossibility of the human brain achieving genuine insight into complex biological systems is also briefly touched upon. Of course, as usual, the whole episode is great. mp3.
I find this stuff so interesting to think about as I really enjoy the theme of the impending artificial intelligence singularity in science fiction. (I know that one could argue this theme has been overdone in science fiction but perhaps that's because it's so plausible.) As an aside, I am finally becoming more interested in the spin-off of the Battlestar Galactica series, Caprica, which also explores these themes. (albeit using extremely lame looking robots)


Friday, April 02, 2010

Cancer Carnival #32

The 32nd edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival is now live at Health and Life. Go check it out - we've got ERVs, breast cancer genes and more! The next edition is still homeless, but will appear here or elsewhere on May 7. In the meantime, you can send your cancer-related posts using the form found here.


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Kamel self-publishes first book!

We are pleased to announce that Bayblab's own blogger "Kamel", whose prose you may have encountered in the Open Laboratory editions of 2008 and 2009, is finally releasing his first self-published book. During two years of sweat and tears, like a hermit in a crypt, with 2 computers running at all times and only a couple of rats as company, Kamel has been toiling away on his debut book: "A Brief History of Dicks: Penile Self-Experimentation Through the Ages". Already, pre-release copies which were sent out to various ScienceBlog writers have been received with critical acclaim. PZ Myers had this to say: "irrelevant: despite the title this has nothing to do with wingnut conservatives", Greg Laden also published a full commentary of the book on his blog, but it was too long for me to get through it. We wish the best of luck to Kamel and we will soon be taking pre-orders for the book...