Author: Jenni

Links to immune system imbalance with chronic fatigue syndrome

After a 5-month road trip across Asia in 2010, 22-year-old college graduate Matthew Lazell-Fairman started feeling constantly tired, his muscles sore and head aching. A doctor recommended getting a gym membership, but after the first training session, Lazell-Fairman’s body crashed: He was so exhausted he couldn’t go to work as a paralegal for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., for days. Lazell-Fairman has never fully recovered. He can now do a few hours of light activity—cooking, for example—per day but has to spend the rest of his time lying flat in bed. Lazell-Fairman is among the estimated 17 million people worldwide with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a disease whose trigger is unknown and for which there are neither standard diagnostic tools nor effective treatments. In the largest study of its kind, researchers have now found that the blood levels of immune molecules that cause flulike symptoms such as fever and fatigue track the severity of symptoms in people who have received a diagnosis of CFS. The results may provide insight into the cause of …

Chinese cracked down on scientific misconduct

A massive peer-review fraud has triggered a tough response from the Chinese government. Officials last week announced that more than 400 researchers listed as authors on some 100 now-retracted papers will face disciplinary action because their misconduct has seriously damaged China’s scientific reputation. Some institutions have barred the scientists linked to the fraud from pursuing their research—at least temporarily. And they have imposed other penalties, including canceling promotions, honors, and grants. Government ministries have also announced new “zero tolerance” policies aimed at stamping out research fraud. “We should eradicate the problem from its roots,” said He Defang, director of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s (MOST’s) regulatory division in Beijing. Although China has previously cracked down on scientific misconduct—a chronic problem—these penalties “are the harshest ever,” says Chen Bikun, an information scientist at the Nanjing University of Science and Technology in China who tracks trends in scientific publishing. MOST’s 27 July announcement marked the culmination of an investigation into the mass retraction this past April of 107 papers by Chinese authors that appeared in a single journal, Tumor …

Khot’s insight

One summer afternoon in 2001, while visiting relatives in India, Subhash Khot drifted into his default mode — quietly contemplating the limits of computation. For hours, no one could tell whether the third-year Princeton University graduate student was working or merely sinking deeper into the living-room couch. That night, he woke up, scribbled something down and returned to bed. Over breakfast the next morning, he told his mother that he had come up with an interesting idea. She didn’t know what it was, but her reserved older son seemed unusually happy. Khot’s insight — now called the Unique Games Conjecture — helped him make progress on a problem he was working on at the time, but even Khot and his colleagues did not realize its potential. “It just sounded like an idea that would be nice if it was true,” recalled Khot, now a 36-year-old computer science professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. When Khot returned to Princeton, he mentioned the idea to Sanjeev Arora, his doctoral adviser, who advised him …

The false dichotomy feminism

The occasion is provided by recent controversies concerning the delicate concepts of gender and race, where once again — as in both the cases of trigger warnings and of Islamophobia — I see well intentioned progressives needlessly (in my mind) and harshly attacking fellow progressives, or at the least, people who ought to be their natural political allies. (As in the other two cases, I will ignore contributions from the right and from libertarians, on the ground that I find them both less constructive and less surprising than those from the sources I will be discussing here.) Let me start with gender. I recently read with fascination an two year old New York Times op-ed piece by feminist Elinor Burkett entitled “What makes a woman?” explaining why a number of feminists have issues with certain aspects of the transgender movement, and in particular why Burkett had mixed feelings about the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner. First, Jenner: Burkett says that of course she supports a member of an often vilified gender minority when …

Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution

In the US there have been many attempts to expunge evolution from the school curriculmor demand that creationism – the idea that all life was uniquely created by God – is given equal treatment in science textbooks. While all these have failed, the government in Turkey has now banned evolution from its national curriculum. US creationists want both views to be presented, to let children decide what to believe. Bids to reject this are wrongly characterised as attempts to shut down debate or free speech – to promote a scientific, atheistic, secular, ideology over a more moral, ethical, commonsense religious worldview. Turkey’s decision goes much further. This isn’t about claiming equal treatment, it’s an outright ban. The government justifies it by claiming evolution is “difficult to understand” and “controversial”. Any controversy however is one manufactured by ultra-religious communities seeking to undermine science. Many concepts in science are more difficult than evolution, yet they still get taught. Creationist arguments Evolution, creationists argue, is just a theory – it’s not proven and so up for debate. Evolutionary …