Good Health for Haiti

Vaccines are a tried and true mechanism for controlling disease, but they are not always a magic bullet. Researchers who study the spread of cholera in Haiti recently modeled what would happen if 150,000 vaccines were administered in Port-au-Prince. They concluded “the benefits would have been negligible.” Liz Borkowski writes, “this intervention’s small effectiveness is due partly to the slow pace at which full immunity builds up and to the likelihood that many vaccine recipients would’ve already built up natural immunity.” A better way to control a water-borne disease like cholera is to nip it in the bud, as John Snow did in 1858. In Haiti, this means providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene education. Mike the Mad Biologist clarifies, “The simple reason we don’t have shigellosis or cholera outbreaks in the U.S. is that we don’t have to drink our own shit.” He concludes, “Like I said, let’s build some sewers.”

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United Against the Axe

House Republicans are pushing a bill that would cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by $1.6 billion, over five percent. Isis the Scientist issues a call to action, saying “Whether you are a scientist, a student, or a member of the public interested in the future of science, I join with Dr. Talman in asking you to call your Congressional Representatives and ask them to oppose HR1.” DrugMonkey offers a cheat sheet full of facts, figures, and talking points so we can know what we’re talking about when we contact our representatives. Orac calls the savings “minimal and symbolic” compared to federal expenditures on defense and entitlements. PZ Myers agrees with Paul Krugman that Republican willingness to gut science spending while refusing “to touch anything that might cause immediate pain to the electorate” amounts to cooking our seed corn and eating the future. And Steinn Sigurðsson lists all the other scientific agencies facing cuts on Dynamics of Cats. So let your congresspeople know that while HR 1 may be fine with creationists, geocentrists, and alembic-succussing sorcerers, those who care about the future of science know that tax dollars should be spent on research.

Love: A Four-Letter Word

For the last few years, Claire L. Evans and friends have been producing a television show designed to teach computers about the human experience. On Valentine’s Day, the term technophile got a new meaning on Universe. Claire explains, “we made some valentines for you and your computer to share. After all, you do spend all day staring at each other.” On Pharyngula, PZ Myers looks at love throughout the animal kingdom, including among tortoises and penguins who look downright ecstatic in their couplings. Meanwhile, Mike the Mad Biologist encourages forethought before foreplay, showing us a pie chart of all the services that Planned Parenthood provides. Contraception and STD testing take up equal slices; so be smart, and be safe, or just take it slow. Brush up on the science of kissing on Page 3.14, where Dean Toney shares insights on Sheril Kirshenbaum’s new book. Then visit The Thoughtful Animal for Jason G. Goldman’s latest article in The Guardian, which outlines seven scientific strategies to seal the deal. And remember, no matter who (or what) you love, today’s as good a day as any to tell it how you feel.

Aesthetic Tech

On Universe, Claire L. Evans takes us all the way back to 1966, when an event called 9 Evenings happened in New York City. This “epic art salon” brought together ten artists with a bevy of engineers from Bell Laboratories, who “helped the artists with complex technical components to their pieces.” FM transmitters, infrared cameras, amplifiers and photoelectric cells contributed to “performances, installations, and dances that blended technology with fine art to somewhat legendary effect.” Claire has pictures and video of the event on Universe. And on Bioephemera, Jessica Palmer shows us a “clever little feat of engineering and product design,” a watch which displays the time in braille. Called the Haptica, this watch has a novel aesthetic informed by its function, making it (shall we say) timeless.

The Stupor Bowl

Deservedly or not, jocks have a reputation for being less cerebral than beaker jockeys and bookworms. But when it comes to American football, brain damage can be all in a day’s work. On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski highlights a recent article by Ben McGrath in the New Yorker, addressing “the effects of repeated brain trauma, which football players often experience during games and practice alike.” Even if a player walks off the field, repeated brain-rattlings can lead to dementia and other long-term health problems. But thanks to journalists like Ben, the NFL is starting to pay attention to the impact of concussions. And on Dean’s Corner, Jeffrey Toney takes a look at 417 hits to the head of an actual football player, modelled in 3-D by National Geographic.