Category: Science

Applying for a job? – You may have to take a meaningless test

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world…An estimated 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that makes and markets the test makes somewhere around $20 million each year.

The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.

“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”

The test claims that, based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.

But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.

Yet you’ve probably heard people telling you that they’re an ENFJ (extraverted intuitive feeling judging), an INTP (introverted intuitive thinking perceiving), or another one of the 16 types drawn from his work, and you may have even been given this test in a professional setting.

RTFA. It goes through the stereotypes, explains why these labels are meaningless — and why no one in the 21st century should rely on the test for anything.

I had fun with the test before I moved to the Southwest. Interested in a job with a dynamic high tech startup, I applied to see what they might offer – and ran into this test. The HR dude was in love with its self-fulfilling prophecies. After all, if you tell people how to define their lives and lifestyle long enough and thoroughly enough – and they follow your so-called wisdom – then, results become appropriate. Even if they’re nothing more than imitation.

I drove him nuts answering segments of the test with two completely contradictory personality styles. He was dying to hire me; but, was equally afraid I might turn out to be an axe murderer.

About these ads

Children prescribed antibiotics twice as often as needed

Pediatricians prescribe antibiotics about twice as often as they’re actually needed for children with ear and throat infections, a new study indicates.

More than 11 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for children and teens may be unnecessary, according to researchers from University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital. This excess antibiotic use not only fails to eradicate children’s viral illnesses, researchers said, but supports the dangerous evolution of bacteria toward antibiotic resistance…

Antibiotics, drugs that kill bacteria or stop them from reproducing, are effective only for bacterial infections, not viruses. But because doctors have few ways of distinguishing between viral or bacterial infections, antibiotics are often a default treatment.

Based on the prevalence of bacteria in ear and throat infections and the introduction of a pneumococcal vaccine that prevents many bacterial infections, the researchers estimated that about 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria.

But antibiotics were prescribed for nearly 57 percent of doctors’ visits for these infections, the study found.

Thousands die unnecessarily every year from illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are no legitimate reasons for over-prescription. Only marketing and social pressures which should have nothing to do with the practice of medicine.

Thanks, Mike

He gave his parents a present of genetic testing — and then a divorce

I’m a stem cell and reproductive biologist. I fell in love with biology when I was in high school. It was the realization that every cell in my body has the same genome and DNA, but each cell is different. A stomach cell is not a brain cell is not a skin cell. But they’re reading from the same book of instructions. With 23andMe, you get your personal genome book, your story. Unless you have an identical twin somewhere, that genetic makeup is unique to you…

I had spent many years looking at the genes of other animals — particularly mice — but I never looked at my own. Because I was so excited about it, I got two 23andMe kits for my mom and dad as gifts. It’s a lot more fun when you can incorporate your family because you can trace not just the chromosomes but individual alleles on the chromosome so you don’t just see them, but where they came from. Also, I felt I had a good handle on my family’s medical history so I was very interested in confirming any susceptibility to cancers that I heard had run in my family, like colon cancer. I wanted to know if I had a genetic risk.

I found out I don’t have any genetic predisposition to any kind of cancer, which was a great relief to me. But I also discovered through the 23andMe close relative finder program that I have a half brother, Thomas.

…We figured out that at the very bottom of your profile, there’s a little box that says “check this box if you want to see close family members in this search program.”…Dad checked it, and Thomas’ name appeared in his list. 23andMe said dad was 50 percent related with Thomas and that he was a predicted son

At first, I was thinking this is the coolest genetics story, my own personal genetics story. I wasn’t particularly upset about it initially, until the rest of the family found out. Their reaction was different. Years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that have torn my nuclear family apart. My parents divorced. No one is talking to my dad. We’re not anywhere close to being healed yet and I don’t know how long it will take to put the pieces back together.

Sometimes, the truth really can hurt.

RTFA, wander through the twists and turns of this very modern tale. It’s not all unhappy. The anonymous author’s half-brother, Thomas, was adopted and had searched years for either of his birth parents. He has a daughter of his own who wondered about her family’s medical history.

Still…

Transforming cancer cells into healthy cells

For almost thirty years, William Kuhens worked on Staten Island as a basketball referee for the Catholic Youth Organization and other amateur leagues. At seventy, he was physically fit, taking part in twenty games a month. But in July of 2013 he began to lose weight and feel exhausted; his wife told him he looked pale. He saw his doctor, and tests revealed that his blood contained below-normal numbers of platelets and red and white blood cells; these are critical for, respectively, preventing bleeding, supplying oxygen, and combatting infection.

Kuhens was sent to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in Manhattan, to meet with Eytan Stein, an expert in blood disorders. Stein found that as much as fifteen per cent of Kuhens’s bone marrow was made up of primitive, cancerous blood cells. “Mr. Kuhens was on the cusp of leukemia,” Stein told me recently. “It seemed that his disease was rapidly advancing…”

The only options were experimental. Stein had sent a sample of Kuhens’s bone marrow to be analyzed for the presence of thirty or so gene mutations that are known to be associated with blood cancers. The tests revealed one notable mutation, in a gene that produces an enzyme called IDH-2. Normally, the enzyme helps to break down nutrients and generate energy for cells. When mutated, it creates a molecule that alters the cells’ genetic programming. Instead of maturing, the cells remain primitive, proliferate wildly, and wreak havoc…

This past spring, Kuhens entered the AG-221 drug trial and received his first dose. Within weeks, the leukemic-cell count in his bone marrow had fallen from fifteen per cent to four per cent, and his counts of healthy blood cells improved markedly; he has been in complete remission for four months. The most noticeable side effect has been a metallic taste in his mouth. “For some reason, I can’t stand mayonnaise,” Kuhens told me recently. He just celebrated his fiftieth wedding anniversary. “I want to be around for a while,” he said, “and I don’t know how long this drug will last…”

The Agios drug, instead of killing the leukemic cells—immature blood cells gone haywire—coaxes them into maturing into functioning blood cells. Cancerous cells traditionally have been viewed as a lost cause, fit only for destruction. The emerging research on A.M.L. suggests that at least some cancer cells might be redeemable: they still carry their original programming and can be pressed back onto a pathway to health.

Most cancers, once they spread, are incurable. Cancer researchers are desperate to raise the number of patients who go into remission, to prolong those remissions, and to ultimately prevent relapse. So when a new way of attacking cancer comes along, it is often greeted with incautious euphoria and an assumption that the new paradigm can be quickly converted into a cure for all cancers…

Cancer does not have one fatal flaw. It advances along many paths, sometimes incrementally, often unpredictably, like the science arrayed against it. Nonetheless, these latest findings offer an unanticipated opportunity for scientists to reëxamine what many of us took for granted: that cancer cells must be destroyed if the patient is to improve. These discoveries could enable researchers to target cancers that were previously beyond treatment. For patients, they offer evidence that it is possible to live longer, and better, with cancer—and they provide hope that scientists are advancing on a cure.

The big CA scares all of us. Shuffling off this mortal coil is nothing any sentient rational human being looks forward to. Adding all the negatives of death by cancer increases anxiety and fear by an order of magnitude.

RTFA for an analysis of the treatment and research involved in this particular approach. Someday, it may help you through a difficult time.

Thanks, Mike

The coffee genome has been mapped — woo-hoo!

Scientists have now mapped the genome of the Coffea canephora plant species, better known as the Robusta, which constitutes around a third of coffee sold worldwide. The results were published in the journal Science.

Robusta only grows in the Eastern Hemisphere, and it is the parent plant of the Arabica bean. Robusta coffee is known for its use in instant coffees and supermarket coffees, while the more complex Arabica species is known for its use in more specialty coffees.

The mapping of the Robusta species helped the scientists learn how caffeine forms in the plant and how different genetics produce different flavors and caffeine strengths of beans. The study found that plants used for tea and coffee plants produce caffeine through a different biological process.

With the new information, coffee cultivators can identify different ways to breed coffee plants to produce desired results, like disease resistance or plants that can grow in environments they’re not accustomed to growing in.

More coffee, more coffee, more coffee.

This should be one of those accomplishments uniting the Vegetarian Left and Science-Technoids. Unless you’re limiting yourself to Postum. :)

Scientists retrieve sea ice imagery from dawn of satellite observation

Images from the onset of the satellite age, long languishing in storage, have been recovered by University of Colorado researchers, shedding light on sea ice variations going back 50 years.

David Gallaher and Garrett Campbell have succeeded in digitizing more than 750,000 long-lost images off data tapes and black-and-white film from NASA’s early Nimbus satellite series, focusing on changes in sea ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Both scientists work in CU’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is part of the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Their project was fueled by $550,000 in NASA funding.

The Nimbus satellite series consisted of seven spacecraft launched over a 14-year period, its primary mission to capture clouds and other atmospheric features to aid the forecasts of hurricanes and other weather events. But now the satellites’ decades-old harvest is yielding further insights for contemporary study…

The modern satellite record of sea ice goes back only to 1979.

Gallaher learned about the stored data from the early years of the seven-satellite Nimbus series — Nimbus 1 launched Aug. 28, 1964 — during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union at San Francisco in 2009.

“We found out that it was sitting down in this warehouse in Asheville, North Carolina (at the National Climatic Data Center),” Gallaher said. “We called up and said, ‘Gee, could you send us the data for the Arctic and the Antarctic?’ And they said, ‘No.’

“They said there was no way, that it was truly ‘dark data.’ It was only on these giant rolls of film, and the only way to get what we really wanted was to scan all of it,” Gallaher said. “We asked, ‘How much are we talking about?’ And they said it would fill at least a pallet and a half.’ What? Really?”

From the efforts of Gallaher, Campbell and about eight CU students logging countless hours over the past three years — working with a $40,000 Kodak scanner picked up “dirt cheap,” according to Gallagher — more than 250,000 of the recovered Nimbus images have now been made public. The painstaking process involved having to consult NASA metadata to determine the orbit of the satellite at the point each image was recorded, and from that, identify the geographic location for each image.

Images they have recovered reveal that in 1964, Antarctica showed the largest sea ice extent ever recorded there, and that just two years later, in 1966, it registered a record-low maximum sea ice extent…

“If we had information about the winds and sea surface temperatures down there, we might be able to better interpret it,” said Campbell, a project scientist. “We have not had the time and energy to look into that. We’re still in the details of extracting all the information from these images.”

An interesting by-product of the scientists’ work is that they learned of a University of Tasmania study creating a 150-year proxy record of Antarctic sea ice change, extrapolating data from methanesulphonic acid concentrations drawn from the Law Dome ice core, south of Cape Poinsett, Antarctica. That study had indicated a 20 percent sea ice decline since about 1950.

“We’re able to validate (the Tasmanian study) with 1960s Nimbus (images),” Gallaher said. “Is it the end all? We don’t know, but if you look now at their record, validated by our records, it turns out the Antarctic started a major decline in 1950s.”

Such an interesting search. You’re tired of hearing this; but, given back, say, the last thirty years, I’d get serious about a new career in computational analysis. Though I think the craft can be used with broad strokes down to the finest, narrow quizzing of scientific data, I’d probably focus on work like this.

Of course, if you want to daydream, you could end up working for Craig Venter on genomics. Woo-hoo!

Thanks, Mike

Genetically-engineered E. coli poops out propane

bacteriagasolina1

Propane is an appealing fuel, easily stored and already used worldwide, but it’s extracted from the finite supply of fossil fuels – or is it? Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Turku have engineered E. coli bacteria that create engine-ready propane out of fatty acids, and in the future, maybe even sunlight…

With the premise of producing a fuel that’s more sustainable in a biological host and easier to bring to market, the research team engineered a pathway in E. coli that interrupts the conversion of fatty acids into cell membranes and instead couples naturally unlinked enzymatic processes to manufacture propane…

“Although this research is at a very early stage, our proof of concept study provides a method for renewable production of a fuel that previously was only accessible from fossil reserves,” said Dr Patrik Jones, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London. “Although we have only produced tiny amounts so far, the fuel we have produced is ready to be used in an engine straight away. This opens up possibilities for future sustainable production of renewable fuels that at first could complement, and thereafter replace fossil fuels like diesel, petrol, natural gas and jet fuel.”

Manufacturing useable quantities of propane is the goal for future experiments, along with recreating the process in photosynthetic organisms, so that propane could truly be manufactured with the power of sunlight.

Genetic manipulation continues to forge ahead in the realm of molecular biologists. While I share the humor of fellow sci-fi fans, I doubt the fear of synthetic overlords is justifiable – given the requisite conservatism of the craft.

Though, poisonally, I ain’t holding my breath until this process is productive enough to be commercially viable.

Seals and sea lions probably distributed tuberculosis to humans around the globe


“You sneezed on me!”

Scientists who study tuberculosis have long debated its origins. New research shows that tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America and transmitted it to Native people there before Europeans landed on the continent.

The paper, “Pre-Columbian Mycobacterial Genomes Reveal Seals as a Source of New World Human Tuberculosis,” was published in Nature…

Modern strains of tuberculosis currently circulating are most closely related to those found in Europe, and there was a complete replacement of the older strains when European disease reached the Americas during the age of exploration. Researchers found that genomes from humans in Peru dating from about 1,000 year ago provide unequivocal evidence that a member of the tuberculosis strain caused disease in South America before Europeans arrived, so the question among the scientists was, “What types of tuberculosis strains were present before contact..?”

In the study, researchers collected genetic samples from throughout the world and tested those for tuberculosis DNA while utilizing advances in technology during the past five years that enable more accurate genome capture from ancient samples. Of 76 DNA samples from New World pre- and post-contact sites, three from Peru around 750 to 1350 AD had tuberculosis DNA that could be used. The researchers then focused on these three samples and used array-based capture to obtain and map the complete genome.

These were compared against a larger dataset of modern genomes and animal strains. Research results showed the clear relationship to animal lineages, specifically seals and sea lions.

“Our results show unequivocal evidence of human infection caused by pinnipeds (sea lions and seals) in pre-Columbian South America. Within the past 2,500 years, the marine animals likely contracted the disease from an African host species and carried it across the ocean to coastal people in South America,” said Anne Stone, one of the principle investigators.

Don’t pet everything that looks cute. Don’t eat everything you can catch!

Thanks, Mike

NASA’s “swarmies” robots designed to explore alien worlds


What could possibly go wrong?

A collection of autonomous robots designed to scuttle around on distant planets looking for resources and materials in much the same way that members of insect colonies do on Earth are currently being tested by NASA engineers. The robots, dubbed “swarmies,” are designed to individually survey an area, signal the others when they have found something of value, and then divide up the task of collecting the material and returning it back to base.

Currently, four of these robots have been built, each of which is fitted with a webcam, a Wi-Fi system to communicate with each other, and a GPS unit. Whilst the test terrain is a little less alien than they one day may encounter – the swarmies are being deployed in an empty car park at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the tests are meant only to prove that the software is functioning as it should and that the robots are operating as expected.

In the tests the robots are searching for barcoded pieces of paper. However, in the future similar robots deployed on an asteroid, the moon or Mars could continuously scan the surface for water, fuel resources or other commodities vital to an away mission…

“Assuming this pays off, we know somebody’s going to take this and extend it and go beyond the four or five rovers we have here,” said Kurt Leucht, a Kennedy Space Center engineer working on the project. “So as we design this and work it through, we’re mindful about things like minimizing bandwidth. I’m sure there will be a team whether it’s us or somebody else who will take this and advance it and scale it up.”

A proper hive mentality, hive consciousness with complex interrelationships and specialization is an obvious avenue.

Of course, anyone who fears – or is comfortable with – the Borg will have interesting dreams. I’m not worried about any variety developed by government agencies. Redundancy will always be designed to guarantee the safety of the slow.

Now, when surplus gear becomes available on the cheap in some 22nd Century flea market – that’s a different story.

Thanks, Mike