Archive February 2012

Homeopathy in NZ pharmacies revisited: Wartoff and more Grant Jacobs Feb 29


It’s a while since I’ve put homeopathy in my sights.[1]

Most of what I’ve written in the past have been general observations. Let’s look at an actual product I’ve seen sitting on the shelves in a New Zealand pharmacy.

Before looking at my chosen remedy, to recap on homeopathy briefly: repeatedly diluting the original ingredients eventually eliminates the ingredients. While the starting solution may have contained some herbs or other substances, if many repeated dilutions are applied, the final solution will have none. Describing the mixture by a dilution ratio is misleading, as this describes part (not all) of the process of the making of the mixture, not the amounts in the final mixture being sold.


Most stores I visited carried Naturo-Pharm’s range of homeopathic products.

In my earlier article I mention NaturoPharm’s ‘Wartoff’ product.

It isn’t the most startling product, but it’ll do to illustrate the point.

Like other products NaturoPharm offers, it’s claimed that it ’assists the body’s normal immune response and maintains the skin’s defences against warts.’

One of Alison’s articles addresses the issues of claims to ‘boost the immune system’; I’ll let her article cover that. Suffice to say here that that claim makes little sense.

But what about the claim to maintain ’the skin’s defences against warts’?

Read the rest of this entry »

Elsevier withdraws support for the Research Works Act Grant Jacobs Feb 28


The Research Works Act raised concerns that it threatened the NIH open-access policy and statements from many organisations expression opposition to it. Elsevier emerged as one of the key players behind the act.

Tonight Elsevier has put up a web page withdrawing their support for the Research Works Act. One would hope that this might signal the end of the RWA.

They note, however, that ’[…] while withdrawing support for the Research Works Act, we will continue to join with those many other nonprofit and commercial publishers and scholarly societies that oppose repeated efforts to extend mandates through legislation.’

I’m struggling slightly to read their specific meaning, but they seem to on one hand (claim to) want dialogue and to support open-access (their take on this, at least), provided they are part of it (that’s my reading of it), but will continue to oppose government mandates to ‘push’ open-access policies.

Given government is the major funder of the research, why should a publisher to oppose the government having a mandate for the research they fund? Surely if they paid for the research, they have a right to say how they’d like it to be distributed?

But at least it’s a step in the direction of leaving the open-access policy stand.

Update: Cameron Neylon has shared his initial thoughts, which run to similar lines as to my own but with a better understanding. (Neylon has followed this much more closely than me!) Note in particular his remarks about FRPAA, the Federal Research Public Access Act, which I did not mention.

(H/T Cameron Neylon, Fabiana Kubke and @openscience, via twitter.)

Tweeting from space Grant Jacobs Feb 27

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The world moves a little closer to a bizarre social media sort of science fiction reality when astronauts start tweeting from space.

Today my twitter stream included this photo astronaut André Kuipers sent of the North Island of New Zealand from the International Space Station:

Andre ; Credits ESA/NASA

Andre Kuipers; Credits ESA/NASA

You can follow the astronauts that currently are tweeting from space using NASA’s astronauts in space now twitter page. It’s well worth exploring this page and the image galleries they lead to.

Imagine yourself inside this viewing bay, looking down on the world. What a place to be. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s that brainy week again! Grant Jacobs Feb 27

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My favourite factoid about brains is still that some people have only half a brain. For real.

About this time every year New Zealand universities offer a series of events for Brain Awareness Week. The website has all the details – there are BrainDay events in most centres.

Click for full-size PDF file

Click for full-size PDF file

Not this week, but coming soon – pop the dates in your diary:

Queenstown, Monday 12th March, Events Centre 10am to noon.

Whangarei, Saturday 10th March, Forum North 10:30am to 4pm.

Hamilton, Saturday 24th March, The Pavillion 10:30am to 4pm.

Auckland, Saturday 17 March, Owen G Glenn Building 9am – 4pm.

Wellington, Saturday 17 March, Rutherford Hourse, 10.30am – 4.00pm.

Christchurch, Saturday 17 March, Aurora Centre (Burnside HS) 10.30am – 4.00pm

Dunedin, Saturday 10 March, St. David Lecture theatre complex 10.30am – 3.15pm

Schools or just anyone can download the poster to the left.

Other articles on Code for life:

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

The littlest chameleon?

Aww, crap.

The software developer’s generalisation dilemma

Online lecture series on genomics and bioinformatics

Looking for our inner Neanderthal Grant Jacobs Feb 26


This Friday Professor Chris Stringer spoke at the University of Otago about the origins of man.

Another working in this area is Svante Pääbo a geneticist who now specialises in evolutionary genetics, particularly the origins of modern humans.

The title of his TED lecture, DNA clues to our inner  Neanderthal (shown below), echoes the title of Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish that explores our teleost (i.e. fishy!) origins. His talk relates how a little part of us is Neanderthal.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are bioinformaticians gods? Grant Jacobs Feb 25


Apparently, when asked by Stephen Colbert on the subject of man-made life ’What makes you think you can do a better job with life and genetics than God?’, Craig Venter replied ’We have computers.’

I’m wondering what bioinformaticians make of that.

We’re the ones with the computers in biology…*

Does this make us gods? :-)

Or, following Colbert’s question more closely, better than gods.**

Should all experimental biologists bow deeply towards the computational biologist’s office upon entering and leaving the lab?

Clearly this is a weekend, this god  is very bored and wants to be amused. Please do indulge.


* Well, mostly.

** Atheist pendants might argue that this doesn’t amount to much. Shush!


In a similar vein, on Larry Moran’s blog, Sandwalk, there is this sound-bite: ’There will be no difficulty in computers being adapted to biology. There will be luddites. But they will be buried.’ – Sydney Brenner. (See ‘Quotations’ on the bottom left.)

And, oh yeah, I have been considering changing my name to The Bioinformatic. This so that CIHR, CathVWXYNot? and her readers might  consider me a deity. Cath Ennis, she of quick wit, must rank high for the truly deistic title of silliest science blogger (see ‘About CathVWXYNot?’ at the end of her posts. In the nicest way, there’s plenty of nonsense over there.

IAS talks about vaccination Grant Jacobs Feb 24


[Update: those looking for a breakdown of the IAS article, it’s in the Appendix.]

The suggestions they make are appalling.

I was tempted to add to the title ’, does this really help anyone?’

Seriously: is encouraging people to be defensive in a tit-for-tat fashion using potted answers really helpful?

I have seriously mixed feelings about writing this sort of thing. On one hand I’d much rather be examining some interesting science. I’ve a lot of that lined up. One out recently is how a rare aggressive thyroid cancer syndrome dominantly found in children of older men is likely to be caused by mutations accumulating in sperm, possibly through germline selection.[1] But I hate to let things like this article on the IAS website stand unanswered. And it’s Friday. There’s always that excuse.

The Immunisation Awareness Society (IAS) has come under question here on sciblogs for it’s advocacy of anti-vaccine stances under the guise of a charitable organisation (see under ‘Related articles’) and for remarks offered to journalists.

This post is on the long side (given how busy I am) so allow me to offer equally busy souls a condensed take before elaborating.

IAS claim to offer an ‘informed choice’. It’s a common among some people and groups who oppose vaccines to claim that they are, for want of a better term, ‘pro-choice’ when all they write is ‘anti-’. IAS reads that way. In order to be true to offering informed choice, information presented should be sound and presented fairly without pushing a particular viewpoint. This article from IAS does none of these. My key objection isn’t even the individual errors [which I’ll address later], bad as they are, but the larger thing of taking a totally negative oppositional approach. If they sincerely want to take vaccine issues forward don’t ‘tell people what to say’, as their article does–that’s the rote evangelism of overbearing ideology–instead investigate what they believe is true using sound sources and present their arguments to open discussion. My challenge for them [is] to live up to what they claim to represent.

Read the rest of this entry »

One year on Grant Jacobs Feb 22

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This is scheduled to appear at 12:51pm, February 22nd – a small nod of remembrance to last year’s aftershock that hit my hometown. Rather than offer an essay, photos or videos I ask readers to spare a moment’s thought.

Kia kaha

ISCB response to Research Works Act HR-3699 Grant Jacobs Feb 22

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Below is the response from the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) to the Research Works Act (HR-3699) bill that threatens the NIH open-access policy.

An earlier article on this same issue on this blog links to a few of the early commentaries on-line. Since then has branched out, drawing very wide commentary elsewhere, with one arm of protest largely directed at major academic publisher Elsevier. One of many places to pick up the thread on this on-going story is the latest of four articles* by crystallographer Stephen Curry at his blog, Reciprocal Space. Another source of commentary would be to draw from the References in the wikipedia entry, or simply search on-line. There’s more than you can possibly read. One of the more off-beat developments has been a satirical twitter stream,@FakeElsevier.

The ISCB represents those working in computational biology or bioinformatics. As this is my field, it’s good to be learn what they are offering as their response, which is, of course, what you expect: Read the rest of this entry »

Rosie Redfield on ‘Arsenic life’ Grant Jacobs Feb 21

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This one is for the Rosie Redfield fans. (I know you’re out there!)

Those who want a concise take on the ‘arsenic life’ story will like it too.

Redfield features in this short video, summarising the ‘arsenic life’ story and her work testing the reported claims:

YouTube Preview Image

Not really related, but for some reason spurred on by Redfield’s remark that she has no idea what is in ‘that’ tube, I can recommend Jennifer Rohn’s excellent article In which I sort it out and the comments that follow, mostly about scrounging to make the lab run.


Excuse the continued ‘lite’ posts–I’m deep in reading & writing for work. Hopefully they’re entertaining enough to keep you going! I hope to get back to writing original material and to offering things closer to my own research interests soon.

Other reading on Code for life:

Trust science, not scientists

Wolinsky, Kendrew and others on science blogging

A Geek Nation reviewed

Arsenic life — more criticism, formally published

NASA: science shouldn’t be debated in media and blogs?!

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