08 June 2010

Daily Digest, 08.06.2010

Today: Lesbian parents & their well-adjusted kids; recent books on social networking; streaming music; the future of peer review; the many meanings of "neuroplasticity"; excessive grooming in mice; Turkish bees in ancient Israel; why cats rub against your leg; snake shortage; New Savanna

80beats reports on the just-published results of the quarter-century-long U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. Bottom line: the 78 children in the study—who were all conceived through artificial insemination by lesbian couples (rather than being the product of prior heterosexual relationships) and raised by them—were at least as well adjusted on all measures as the children of heterosexual couples, and "proved superior in some areas, like academics, self-esteem, and behavior." The paper, published in the journal Pediatrics, is currently available for free download. Get it.

In the London Review of Books, Stephen Burt intelligently reviews several new books on social networking. A pleasant contrast to the generally shallow hubbub generated in the U.S. by the release of Nicholas Carr's shallow The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, about which more in a separate post.

A short but pithy piece by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker about streaming music, with references to Pandora, Spotify, MOG, the late lamented Lala (we hardly knew ye), and the potential gorillas in the Cloud, Google and Apple.

Robert B. Townsend has a thoughtful essay "Assessing the Future of Peer Review," at AHA Today; Townsend examines the question particularly from the standpoint of the humanities, and the rapid development of new digital forms for the production and dissemination of scholarship. A subject very close to my own heart.

Vaughan at Mind Hacks provides an excellent summary of the many meanings of that popular but vague and slippery word "neuroplasticity" (which I just used in a post yesterday, I hope with adequate specificity).

Mo at Neurophilosophy has an outstanding piece summarizing a new study that describes a possible neuroimmunological root (via mutations in Hoxb8) to excessive grooming in mice. Why should we care? Because excessive grooming in mice is strongly similar to trichotillomania (hair pulling) in humans, which is generally classed as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (yet another of the, um, "obsessive" themes of this blog, by way of BDD).  The world would be a better place if there were a lot more writers who could summarize a difficult technical paper this well.

The article is Chen, S., et al. (2010). Hematopoietic Origin of Pathological Grooming in Hoxb8 Mutant Mice. Cell 141:775-785. Mo's piece contains a (currently) functional link to a pdf download. Get it while you can. He also links to a pdf of Huey, E.D., et al. (2008). A psychological and neuroanatomical model of obsessive-compulsive disorder. J. Neuropsychiatry Clin. Neurosci. 20: 390-40, which I'm going to read. Hooray for access.

Beekeepers in ancient Israel imported bees from Turkey, because the native Syrian bees were too aggressive and unproductive (at 80beats).  Am studiously avoiding all temptation to draw analogies to current events.

Why do domestic cats rub up against your legs? Probably because their ancestors evolved the behavior to mark objects and each other with the scent from the glands in their heads. Not a new point, but well made in the context of an interesting musing about the evolution of behavior, both human and cat, over at Neuroskeptic. Among other things, the post links to the wonderfully peculiar English (if that's not redundant) site messybeast.com, which has a lot about cats. And double-decker busses. And albino animals. And a lot of other things.

Most arresting headline of the day: "Possible Snake Shortage Looms," at ScienceNews. There are those, like my mother and other ophidiophobes, who would claim that a shortage of snakes is impossible: you can never have too few snakes. This is a serious matter, however, as the article makes clear. Populations of many snake species are declining in Europe and Africa, which may upset ecosystems; snakes are, among other things, among the most important predators in many ecosystems.

I've just become aware of, and subscribed to, New Savanna: Intimations of a New World, the blog of Bill Benzon, author of Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture. I read the first third of this book at the end of 2008, when I was taking Evolutionary Biology, because it deals with a topic in which I am avidly interested, the evolution of music. Got distracted from finishing it at the time; looks like it may be time to return to it. The post that brought me to Benzon's blog was one on the "Rhythm Changes" (that is, the chord changes of "I Got Rhythm") as a "memetic entity." Now there's a man after my own heart. (Not that I think "meme" is a particularly coherent or useful concept, but simply that he's even trying to look at things in these terms.)
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