Closing Bell

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When It's More Than an Urge

By | February 16, 2004

Would popping daily citaloprams, I wonder, have restrained Jackie Kennedy's celebrated spending sprees and prevented the purported ensuing marital discord? How about a fluvoxamine prescription? Or natrexone? And what about publisher William Randolph Hearst who, at the peak of his purchasing power in the 1920s, spent $15 million a year? Even after achieving near bankruptcy, Hearst continued feeding his mania for antiquities, tapestries, oriental rugs, paintings, and other collectibles. Would medd


Pursuing the Perfect Cup of Coffee

By | February 2, 2004

Figure 1I did something heinous. After receiving a cup of Dunkin' Donuts Coffea arabica that had clearly exceeded the 15-minute half-life from coffee to sludge, and after abandoning Starbucks where the maker of my venti-no-fat-no-whip-mocha-valencia forgot the shot, I went home and mixed beans from both sources, grinding into intimate contact the helpless slivers of endosperm, mindlessly obliterating the embryos within. I don't know the farmers who grew the brew, whether it was fruity or bold, o


ELVIS Is Everywhere

By | January 19, 2004

Not only that, he controls our DNA


Haute Couture, Thy Name Is Not Scientist

By | December 15, 2003

"A [student] ther was of oxenford also ... Ful thredbare was his [overcoat] ... For hym was [rather] have at his beddes heed Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed, Of Aristotle and his philosophie, Than robes riche, or [fiddle], or gay psaltry." --Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, circa 1386 "I can understand why the faculty would want to wear sandals, but do they have to be flip-flops?" --Caltech postdoc, 2003 True, we now have teraflop computers instead of parchment, but in on


Pardon My Proper English

By | December 1, 2003

The English language, with its rich vocabulary and means of expression, has emerged as the lingua franca of scientific communication, prompting the thought that perhaps the term should be replaced with lingua anglica. Yet, that wouldn't be quite accurate, because many scientists claim that the true language of scientific meetings and manuscripts is "broken English." Latin, which provides considerable insight into scientific terminology, was a compulsory requirement for university studies in


A Biomedical DARPA? Yes, But Not at NIH

By | November 17, 2003

Creating a health-research counterpart to DARPA, the Pentagon's legendary Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, makes tremendous sense. DARPA, the freewheeling, cash-laden nest of sci-tech wizards, sired the Internet, stealth technology, the global positioning system, the Predator unmanned aircraft, and many more innovations throughout the Cold War and beyond. Call the biomedical version BARPA, and let it roll. Great. But if it's going to happen--and there's currently an influential prop


The Hirsute, the Hairless, and the Human

By | November 3, 2003

Homo sapiens has no shortage of distinguishing features: We alone among primates are furless (that most mammalian of characteristics); we are the only species clever enough to ponder why that might be; and we can ponder such matters while pacing back and forth on two legs. Our cleverness, however, hasn't helped us determine why we have these qualities, but as recent developments in the hirsute-less debate reveal, they make for interesting pondering. A mammal needs a good reason to discard it


If the NFL Can Do It, So Can Scientists

By | October 20, 2003

In America's National Football League, a player gets full credit only for a so-called sack when he alone brings down the quarterback. In the world of US patents, a patent holder rakes in all the royalties if he or she is the sole name on the invention. If there's more than one name, the money is equally shared. It's called Laplace's Principle of Insufficient Reason: Without grounds for specifying unequal portions, the rational approach is to apportion equally. And it is, I'm convinced, the m


Biology Is Hard

By | October 6, 2003

Many years ago, after finishing my residency, I decided to become a researcher. Around the same time, I went home to India for a visit. In those days, one of the standard accoutrements found in the living room of a Tamil Brahmin home was a wooden swing. My grandfather was still alive then and would occupy the swing each night. I remember once sitting by his side during this postprandial ritual. We sat swinging peaceably, no doubt immersed in our own thoughts, when he turned and asked, in his


Sins of Omission

By | September 22, 2003

Medical writers and editors for the general press don't intend to inflict cruelty on suffering people. But that's what they often deliver in the rote-journalism pursuit of informing the public of new developments in medical research, no matter how distant they may be from therapeutic application. News of direct health value to the public deserves the prompt coverage that it regularly receives. But not so the mere research fragments that raise unrealistic hopes, leaving distressed people empt


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