When a neuroscientist uses the term “firing”…

July 31st, 2014

What does a neuroscientist mean when he or she uses the term “firing?”

In October 2013 Peter N Steinmetz, director of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, published this study:

Testing for effects of different stimuli on neuronal firing relative to background activity,” Peter N Steinmetz and Chris Thorp, Journal of Neural Engineering, vol. 10, no. 5, October 2013.

In July, 2014, Steinmetz was arrested after he carried an AR-15 rifle into the Phoenix airport, according to this and other news reports:

A man who works as a director at the prestigious Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix was arrested Friday after he carried a rifle into Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix police said…. When confronted, Steinmetz said that he went to the airport only to buy a cup of coffee and had no other business there, police said. Steinmetz is director of the neuroengineering program at the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, according to Barrow’s website.

It is not immediately apparent, to most observers, how those two facts are connected.

Some or many references to Steinmetz turn up if you search the Barrow Institute’s web site, but his name no longer appears on many (or maybe all) of the pages those references refer to.

It is unclear whether the Barrow Institute is firing Steinmetz.

BONUS (probably unrelated): “Regular coffee: A magic bullet or a naked gun? Regular coffee but not espresso drinking is protective against fibrosis in NAFLD,” Guglielmo M. Trovato,  G. Fabio Martines, Francesca M. Trovato, and Daniela Catalano, Journal of Hepatology, vol. 58, no. 6 (2013): 1264-1265.

Should you lose sleep over losing sleep over the economy?

July 31st, 2014

Three economists issued a wake-up call of some sort about the economy and sleep. The economists say that people who say they lose sleep over the economy are — in the aggregate, statistically speaking, based on some data and cogitation —wrong.

Marina Antillon of Yale, Diane S. Lauderdale of the University of Chicago, and John Mullahy of the University of Wisconsin explain themselves in a new study called “Sleep behavior and unemployment conditions” [published in the journal Economics & Human Biology, vol. 14, July 2014, pp. 22–32]….

—so begins another Improbable Innovation nugget, which appears in its entirety on BetaBoston.

Rodrigo F. Fuck: The physical meaning of TOE tensors

July 31st, 2014

Rodrigo F. Fuck made a small stir in the geophysics community, as did Ilya Tsvankin, with publication of this study:

Analysis of the symmetry of a stressed medium using nonlinear elasticity,” Rodrigo Felício Fuck and Ilya Tsvankin, Geophysics, vol. 74, no. 5, 2009, pp. WB79-WB87. The authors write:

“Velocity variations caused by subsurface stress changes play an important role in monitoring compacting reservoirs and in several other applications of seismic methods. A general way to describe stress- or strain-induced velocity fields is by employing the theory of nonlinear elasticity, which operates with third-order elastic (TOE) tensors. These sixth-rank strain-sensitivity tensors, however, are difficult to manipulate because of the large number of terms involved in the algebraic operations.”

The second section of the paper is headlined “PHYSICAL MEANING OF TOE TENSORS”:

TOE-tensorsBONUS: On tensors of elasticity

BONUS (unrelated): Third order



The case for medical fist bumping, then and now

July 30th, 2014

Last year, 2013, medical researchers at West Virginia University published the study “Reducing pathogen transmission in a hospital setting. Handshake verses fist bump: a pilot study,” P.A. Ghareeb, T. Bourlai, W. Dutton, W.T. McClellan, Journal of Hospital Infection, vol. 85, no. 4, December 2013, pp. 321–323 (epub September 19, 2013). (We mentioned that here then.) That study says:

Handshaking is a known vector for bacterial transmission between individuals…. We have determined that implementing the fist bump in the healthcare setting may further reduce bacterial transmission between healthcare providers by reducing contact time and total surface area exposed when compared with the standard handshake.

This year, 2014, researchers at Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, UK, published a study: “The fist bump: A more hygienic alternative to the handshake,” Sara Mela, David E. Whitworth, American Journal of Infection Control, vol. 42, 2014, pp. 916-7. The new study says:

We developed an experimental model to assay transfer of bacteria during greeting exchange, and show that transfer is dramatically reduced when engaging in alternative so-called dap greetings known as the high five and fist bump compared with a traditional handshake. Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious disease between individuals.

The 2014 study does not cite the 2013 study. It’s yet another example of how medical knowledge can travel slowly, if at all.

The new study includes some near-poetic language, especially in this passage:

An experimental model and assay for bacterial transmission via physical contact was developed using standard microbiologic methods. A greeting donor immersed a sterile-gloved hand into a dense culture (2.4  109 CFU/mL) of nonpathogenic Escherichia coli and allowed a film of bacteria to dry onto the glove. A greeting was then exchanged with a sterile-gloved recipient.

The two co-authors cooperated in the making of a short educational video:

(Thanks to Ig Nobel Prize winner Mahadevan, and several other investigators, for bringing the new study to our attention.)

Fear of flying (amongst pilots)

July 30th, 2014

FlyingAlthough there are a good number of academic papers which examine ‘fear of flying’, [recent example] the number of scholarly dissertations which cover ‘fear of flying’ amongst a specific subset of air travellers – viz. pilots – is very low. Perhaps just one.

May we recommend the work of aviation practitioner, aviation historian, aviation philosopher, author and lecturer, Andrew Beniger – whose treatise : ‘Significant role of civilizations on fear of flying amongst flight deck’ was presented at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 3rd World Conference on Fear of Flying, Montreal, 2007