corporation of 2008: congrats.

and the winner is . . . (muchisimas gracias jb for the link)

The System Implodes: The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008
by Robert Weissman

2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Multinational Monitor’s annual list of the 10 Worst Corporations of the year.

In the 20 years that we’ve published our annual list, we’ve covered corporate villains, scoundrels, criminals and miscreants. We’ve reported on some really bad stuff — from Exxon’s Valdez spill to Union Carbide and Dow’s effort to avoid responsibility for the Bhopal disaster; from oil companies coddling dictators (including Chevron and CNPC, both profiled this year) to a bank (Riggs) providing financial services for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet; from oil and auto companies threatening the future of the planet by blocking efforts to address climate change to duplicitous tobacco companies marketing cigarettes around the world by associating their product with images of freedom, sports, youthful energy and good health.

But we’ve never had a year like 2008. . . (keep reading)


sfn roundup: true love & sexual identity

True Love and Sexual Identity
What goes on in the brain when someone falls in love? And how do the brains of people in long-term relationships differ from those of people who just hooked up? Mice may fall in love, too–and they’re more likely to fall for a member of the same sex if researchers disrupt their odor-detecting brain circuits.

the other side of evolutionary biology: promoting polyandry

Science 21 November 2008:Vol. 322. no. 5905, pp. 1241 – 1243
DOI: 10.1126/science.1163766

Selfish Genetic Elements Promote Polyandry in a Fly
T. A. R. Price, D. J. Hodgson, Z. Lewis,G. D. D. Hurst, N. Wedell

It is unknown why females mate with multiple males when mating is frequently costly and a single copulation often provides enough sperm to fertilize all a female’s eggs. One possibility is that remating increases the fitness of offspring, because fertilization success is biased toward the sperm of high-fitness males. We show that female Drosophila pseudoobscura evolved increased remating rates when exposed to the risk of mating with males carrying a deleterious sex ratio–distorting gene that also reduces sperm competitive ability. Because selfish genetic elements that reduce sperm competitive ability are generally associated with low genetic fitness, they may represent a common driver of the evolution of polyandry.

4:02pm (*sh)

4:02 p.m.

poem supposed to be about
one minute and the lives of three women in it
writing it and up
the block a woman killed
by her husband

poem now about one minute
and the lives of four women
in it

haitian mother
she walks through
town carrying her son’s
head—banging it against
her thigh calling out
creole come see, see what
they’ve done to my flesh
holds on to him grip tight
through hair wool
his head all that’s
left of her

in tunisia
she folds pay up into stocking
washes his european semen
off her head
hands her heart to god
and this month’s rent to mother
sings berber the gold
haired one favored me, rode
and ripped my flesh, i now
have food to eat

brooklyn lover
stumbles—streets ragged under sneakers
she carries her heart
banged up against
thighs crying ghetto
look, look what’s been done with
my flesh, my trust, humanity,
somebody tell me
something good

(suheir hammad)


when a man is in love
how can he use old words?
should a woman desiring her lover
lie down with
grammarians and linguists?

i said nothing
to the woman i loved
but gathered
love’s adjectives into a suitcase
and fled from all languages.


race. real or unreal.

10 years ago the american anthropological association published a statement that “race” is not a product of biological inheritance, rather an assimilation of environmental milieu. namely, a coupling of socio-economics, politics, and education.

juxtaposed with the predilection of certain “populations” for disease susceptibility and/or inherited phenotypes and traits this was all the fuss at the National Human Genome Research Institute (an NIH institute) this week. . .

what is it about the word race that brings about a banter of paranoia, unease and panic in folks. always a great/disastrous cocktail party discussion . . . yalda.

check out the read below:

The Touchy Subject of ‘Race’

Constance Holden

Nothing makes scientists more nervous than the topic of “race,” so much so that they’d like to find a way not to talk about it at all. That was the core issue last week at a meeting* at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in Rockville, Maryland, where about 40 scientists and ethicists debated how to present the torrent of new findings from human gene sequencing studies to the public.

In different parts of the world, different gene mutations become advantageous and spread quickly through a population, making some variants more prevalent in particular ancestral groups. Some are innocuous enough–such as the emergence of lactose tolerance in farming populations. But there’s already much debate over the use in medicine of findings of racial differences in the prevalence of genes associated with certain diseases. Many scientists predict that it won’t be long before they have solid leads on much more controversial genes: genes that influence behavior–possibly including intelligence.

Everyone at the meeting agreed on the need for non-“fraught” terminology–“geographic ancestry,” for example, instead of “race.” But specifying such ancestries is also a minefield. “Amerindian,” for example, is offensive to Native Americans, according to one speaker. “Caucasian” is also unacceptable because it implies racial rather than geographic ancestry. Some speakers even advised that it is inappropriate to refer to a “European allele” for lactose tolerance, because it also occurs in other groups.

Participants acknowledged that however they characterize their findings, they can’t control what the public makes of them. “When translated into popular culture, society reads whatever term we pick as ‘race,’ ” said Timothy Caulfield, a health law professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Carlos Bustamante, a population geneticist at Cornell University, said that when his group published a study in Nature this year indicating that European-Americans had more deleterious gene mutations than African-Americans, some publications touted the report as suggesting that blacks are fitter than whites.

Some tense moments came during a discussion of a paper on brain genes. In 2005, geneticist Bruce Lahn and colleagues at the University of Chicago in Illinois reported evidence for selection in mutations of two genes regulating brain development that are more common in Eurasians than in Africans (Science, 9 September 2005, pp. 1717 and 1720). They hypothesized that these mutations were related to the human cultural explosion some 40,000 years ago (Science, 22 December 2006, p. 1871). Celeste Condit, a professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia, Athens, criticized the way the papers were written, saying they could be seen as having a “political message embedded” in them: that the genes might contribute to racial differences in brain size and therefore perhaps to racial differences in IQ. Lahn denied any political message, telling her she was “putting words in [my] mouth.”

Figure 1 Ancestry, not race. Researchers are grappling with how to communicate genetic data on differences among populations.CREDIT: PHOTOS.COM

Later, Lahn commented that some scientists “are almost like creationists” in their unwillingness to acknowledge that the brain is not exempt from selection pressures.

At the end of the day, Allen Buchanan, a philosophy professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, warned the group against going overboard. “A visible, concerted effort to change vocabulary for moral reasons is likely to trigger a backlash,” he said. There’s “risk of … stifling freedom of expression in the name of political correctness,” he said, and losing credibility in the process.

*Workshop on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues in Natural Selection Research.

decisions. decisions. and control processes.

Science 7 November 2008:
Vol. 322. no. 5903, pp. 904 – 909
DOI: 10.1126/science.1159276


Wired for Sex: The Neurobiology of Drosophila Mating Decisions

Barry J. Dickson Decisions about whom to mate with can sometimes be difficult, but making the right choice is critical for an animal’s reproductive success. The ubiquitous fruit fly, Drosophila, is clearly very good at making these decisions. Upon encountering another fly, a male may or may not choose to court. He estimates his chances of success primarily on the basis of pheromone signals and previous courtship experience. The female decides whether to accept or reject the male, depending on her perception of his pheromone and acoustic signals, as well as her own readiness to mate. This simple and genetically tractable system provides an excellent model to explore the neurobiology of decision making.

Read the Full Text

med school burnout (nyt)

The New York Times

Not too long ago, I read a paper titled “Burnout and Suicidal Ideation Among U.S. Medical Students” in The Annals of Internal Medicine. It brought back a flood of memories.

Medical school was not easy for me. I knew that I wanted to become a doctor to help people, but I had given little thought to the process. I was poorly prepared for many things: the pressure to excel in ways that seemed so far from caring for people; rapidly mounting debts I signed off on every semester; a roller coaster existence from chronic lack of sleep; hazing from the more experienced students and residents; and the realities of patient suffering despite my best efforts.

Even surgical residency, despite the relentlessly long hours, seemed so much closer to what I wanted to do.

Some of my professors tried to “humanize” the process. They invited us to dinner in their homes, supported our extracurricular efforts to set up health screening clinics in low-income neighborhoods, and tried to make our basic science courses more relevant to working with patients. But sitting where I am now, as someone who teaches medical students and who loves helping others as a doctor, I can understand the challenge they faced. Given the fire hose of information medical students must learn in just four years, how does one ever gently take a sip?

Despite my teachers’ efforts, I was about as miserable in medical school as I had ever been. I felt alone. Neither I nor my classmates could admit to failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was to let anyone but my closest friends know just how unhappy I was. Success in medical school was the first step to a future of helping others, and I was not about to jeopardize that.

Last week I had dinner with two former classmates from that time. We had not seen each other in over a decade, and after catching up on personal news and reminiscing about gross anatomy lab and our first nights on call, one of them said quietly, “I hated med school. I wanted to quit.” The elephant in our collective memories had broken free.

With that elephant now running loose, and the three of us more comfortable with our own professional accomplishments, the conversation grew more honest. “If you look over my entire lifetime,” my other friend said, “those four years were the lowest point in terms of self esteem.” He held his hand out in the air, plotting an imaginary line that dropped precipitously to his knees.

It took nearly 20 years for the three of us to learn that we had each been miserable as medical students. It has taken even longer for researchers to discover the extent to which such feelings exist among American medical students.

In 2006, Dr. Liselotte N. Dyrbye and her colleagues at the Mayo Clinic found that nearly half of the 545 medical students they surveyed suffered from burnout, which they defined as professional distress in three domains: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low sense of personal accomplishment. Moreover, the researchers found that each successive year of schooling increased the chances students would experience burnout, despite the fact that they had entered medical school with mental health profiles similar to those of their peers who chose other career paths.

More recently, in the paper on burnout that had first caught my eye, Dr. Dyrbyre and her colleagues widened the scope of their research, analyzing survey responses from 2,248 medical students at seven medical schools across the country. Again, nearly half of the students surveyed met the criteria for burnout. But the investigators discovered an even more ominous finding: 11 percent of all the students surveyed also reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year.

Dr. Dyrbye notes that we are just starting to learn about the high levels of distress in medical students. “It’s incredibly disconcerting,” she said. “What are the causes? And what can we do as educators to facilitate their well-being? We need a better understanding of the causes of stress to design interventions that will help improve student wellness. Students, just like doctors, need to take care of themselves in order to take care of their patients.”

Medical schools have more recently recognized the importance of this issue. For example, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting authority for medical schools in the United States, now mandates that all schools have a program for student wellness in place that includes “an effective system of personal counseling for its students.”

But beyond the personal implications, what are the ramifications of medical student burnout for patients?

In a third study, Dr. Dyrbye found that when tested for empathy, medical students at baseline generally scored higher than their nonmedical peers. But, as medical students experienced more burnout, there was a corresponding drop in the level of empathy toward patients.

“What do they really need to know before graduating from medical school, and how could they most efficiently learn?” Dr. Drybye asked, reflecting on one of the central challenges of medical education. “All the information we want to share with them is not necessarily what they really need to learn.”

By the time my dinner with my former classmates last week had ended, we had made plans to stay in touch and to do something I had never been sure I would ever do: return to my medical school in two years’ time to celebrate our 20th reunion. Over the course of our dinner conversation I felt strangely connected and nostalgic about medical school; I was deeply moved by what my two classmates had chosen to do with their education. One is a well-loved community obstetrician/gynecologist; the other is a psychiatrist devoted to teaching, working in a county medical clinic and caring for severely traumatized Hmong refugees. And both love their work as doctors.

As I listened to them talk about their work, I was reminded of one other thing Dr. Dyrbye had told me. “We need to change things,” she had said, “because maybe the students who are most vulnerable are the ones who are most empathic.”

free esha momeni