Definitive Proof of Martian Water

Scientists now have definitive proof that many of the landscapes seen on Mars were indeed cut by flowing water.

The valleys, channels and deltas viewed from orbit have long been thought to be the work of water erosion, but it is Nasa’s latest rover, Curiosity, that has provided the “ground truth“.

Researchers report its observations of rounded pebbles on the floor of the Red Planet’s 150km-wide Gale Crater.

Their smooth appearance is identical to gravels found in rivers on Earth.

Rock fragments that bounce along the bottom of a stream of water will have their edges knocked off, and when these pebbles finally come to rest they will often align in a characteristic overlapping fashion.

Curiosity has pictured these features in a number of rock outcrops at the base of Gale Crater. (BBC News)

Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’

A leading neurologist at the University of Oxford said this week that recent developments meant that science may one day be able to identify religious fundamentalism as a “mental illness” and a cure it.

During a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor was asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years.

“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, according to The Times of London. “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”

“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults,” she explained. “I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness.” (The Raw Story).

The Paradox of Mental Health: Over-Treatment and Under-Recognition

Mental Health Room Renovations

Among all the conditions in the world of health, mental health occupies a unique and paradoxical place. On the one hand is over-treatment and over-medicalization of mental health issues, often fueled by a pharmaceutical industry interested in the broadening of the boundaries of “illness” and in the creation of more and wider diagnostic categories and thus markets for “selling sickness.” On the other hand exists profound under-recognition of the suffering and breadth of mental health issues affecting millions of people across geographies, which is a global problem. (PLOS Medicine).

The Saddest Tweeters Live in Texas

The town of Beaumont is known as “Texas … with a little something extra.” But the industrial town along the Gulf Coast now has a more dubious distinction: It’s been named the saddest city in America—at least, if you’re measuring sadness on Twitter.

That’s according to a group of researchers at the Vermont Complex Systems Center, who analyzed over 80 million words from more than ten million geotagged tweets written throughout 2011. The results of their study, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE, showed that the happiest tweeters in the U.S. live in Napa, California, and their sad counterparts live mostly in the Rust Belt and along the Gulf Coast border. (National Geographic).

Ask a Bartender: What Cocktail Should Disappear Forever?

I have next to no interest in alcohol and never frequent bars, but I now know what drinks to order if I want my bartender to look down on me. Most despised drink is Long Island Iced Tea, in case you were wondering. Bad things happen to people who order this drink, according to many of the bartenders polled. (Serious Eats)

On the other hand, I can see exactly where these baristas are coming from. (Serious Eats)

Last man alive born in 19th century

With the death in Barbados on Thursday of James Emmanuel ”Doc” Sisnett, at the age of 113 years and 90 days, Jiroemon Kimura, of Japan, has become the last man alive to have been born in the 19th century.

Literally the last man. There are, according to the Gerontolgy Research Group at UCLA, 21 women born before New Year’s Day, 1901, who are still with us, most of them living in the United States or Japan, with others in Europe and Canada.

But while the females born in the reign of Queen Victoria strongly outnumber him, Mr Kimura, born on April 19, 1897, has one record the girls can’t match – not just yet, anyway. At 116, the ”supercentenarian” is the oldest human on the planet. (Sydney Morning Herald via Boing Boing)

Some 100 Species of Fungus Live on Our Feet

Unknown species of fungus from Appalachia.

There’s a fungus among us—a hundred different species in fact—and nearly all take up residence on our feet, according to a study that appears in the journal Nature this week.

Only a few fungi species were found on other body parts known to house fungi—such as behind the ears and on palms—according to the most thorough analysis to date of our fungal “landscape.” (National Geographic)

You Don’t Have to Spend a Ton on a Funeral–Here’s Why

English: W Harbottle & Son, Joiner & Undertake...
English: W Harbottle & Son, Joiner & Undertaker. Complete with Chapel of Rest but soon to be converted into apartments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit that helps people avoid funeral fraud, I know all about mortuary mythology. (That’s what I call the collective “wisdom” about death, dying, funerals, and dead people.) Most Americans get their information about how to bury the dead from the people we pay to do it for us—not exactly the most disinterested source.

Funeral directors aren’t all crooks and making your living burying the dead is a perfectly respectable career. But they are in business to pay their bills. Even super-savvy shoppers let their brains go on vacation when they buy one of the most emotionally fraught and potential costly services. You don’t walk into the car dealer with a blank check and you shouldn’t do it at the undertaker’s.

Here’s how to get the send-off that fits your tastes and your budget. (Lifehacker)

Annals of the Age of Insanity (cont’d)


North Carolina 2-year-old puts dad’s unattended gun in his mouth and fires: A 2-year-old boy in North Carolina is expected to survive after shooting himself with his father’s gun over the weekend.

Randolph County deputies said that the toddler found the handgun in his parents’ room at their home just outside Asheboro around 2 p.m. on Saturday. The boy put the gun in his mouth and fired it.

According to WGHP, the boy was listed in critical condition Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem on Sunday, but was expected to live.

“The bullet missed all the vital arteries there in the neck in the head and also missed the spinal cords, so I said it’s a miracle the child is still with us,” Randolph County Sheriff’s Office Captain Derrick Hill explained to WGHP. (The Raw Story)

R.I.P. Ray Manzarek


Cofounder of The Doors dies at 74 after battle with cancer: …Manzarek, keyboardist and founding member of The Doors, died Monday in Germany after a long battle with cancer, according to a statement on the iconic band’s Facebook page… Manzarek formed the group… with Jim Morrison in 1965 after the two met by chance in Venice Beach, California. He died surrounded by his wife Dorothy and brothers Rick and James in a clinic in Rosenheim, Germany after “a lengthy battle with bile duct cancer,” said the statement. (The Raw Story)

Right-wing radio host: I want to shoot Clinton right in the vagina

Senator Clinton @ Hampton, NH

Fringe right-wing radio host Pete Santilli made disturbing comments about Hillary Clinton last week, calling for sexual violence against the former secretary of state because of her alleged involvement in a bizarre conspiracy theory.

“Miss Hillary Clinton needs to be convicted, she needs to be tried, convicted and shot in the vagina,” he said. “I wanna pull the trigger. That ‘C U Next Tuesday’ has killed human beings that are in our ranks of our service.”

Santilli alleged Clinton was involved in drug trafficking in Arkansas and the killing of U.S. troops overseas.  (The Raw Story)

Suicidal behaviour is a disease, psychiatrists argue

“As suicide rates climb steeply in the US a growing number of psychiatrists are arguing that suicidal behaviour should be considered as a disease in its own right, rather than as a behaviour resulting from a mood disorder.

They base their argument on mounting evidence showing that the brains of people who have committed suicide have striking similarities, quite distinct from what is seen in the brains of people who have similar mood disorders but who died of natural causes.

Suicide also tends to be more common in some families, suggesting there may be genetic and other biological factors in play. What’s more, most people with mood disorders never attempt to kill themselves, and about 10 per cent of suicides have no history of mental disease.

The idea of classifying suicidal tendencies as a disease is being taken seriously. The team behind the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM-5) – the newest version of psychiatry’s “bible”, released at the American Psychiatric Association’s meeting in San Francisco this week – considered a proposal to have “suicide behaviour disorder” listed as a distinct diagnosis. It was ultimately put on probation: put into a list of topics deemed to require further research for possible inclusion in future DSM revisions.” (New Scientist).

New Scientist has by far the best coverage of the core issues around diagnostic revision in psychiatry, as an aside. This issue is yet another challenge to diagnostic categorization. I have long felt that suicidal behavior cuts across labels, that suicidal patients with different diagnoses have more similarities than differences, and there is a dissociation between treatment of the underlying disorder and treatment fo the suicidal behavior. Suicide may have a distinct biocmistry and neurophysiology, or it may be an epiphenomenon of another phenomenon which cuts across diagnoses, namely impulsivity and dyscontrol.

When disaster strikes, it’s survival of the sociable


With the promise of more and more extreme weather, officials rush to make infrastructure improvements. But they may be ignoring the greatest factor in survivability, a robust social infrastructure among the affected. What can we do, in the face of the ongoing breakdown of community in modern life? (New Scientist)

New Efforts to Overhaul Psychiatric Diagnoses Spurred by DSM Turmoil

‘With the new manual on the eve of its official debut, many experts are already looking beyond it. Some envision a future in which psychiatric diagnoses are based on the underlying biological causes instead of a description of a patient’s symptoms. Others caution that such a single-minded focus on biology ignores important social factors that contribute to mental illness. If there’s any area of agreement it’s this: There has to be a better way.

The DSM is used by doctors to diagnose patients, by insurance companies to decide what treatments to pay for, and by pharmaceutical companies and government funding agencies to set research priorities. The new edition, DSM-5, defines hundreds of mental disorders.

The fundamental problem, according to many of DSM’s critics, is that these definitions don’t carve nature at its joints.

“An obvious, easy example is schizophrenia,” said Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Liverpool. “If you’re a 52-year-old man who hears voices, you’ll receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia. If you’re a 27-year-old woman with delusional beliefs, you’ll also receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia,” Kinderman said. “Two people can receive the same diagnosis and not have a single thing in common. That’s ludicrous scientifically.”

In most areas of medicine, diagnoses are based on the cause of illness. Heartburn and heart attacks both cause chest pain, but they’re different diagnoses because they have different underlying causes.

‘Two people can receive the same diagnosis and not have a single thing in common. That’s ludicrous scientifically.’

In psychiatry, however, the underlying causes are poorly understood. What doctors now diagnose as schizophrenia may in fact be several disorders with different causes that happen to produce an overlapping set of symptoms. Conversely, two people with the same underlying biology could conceivably end up with two different DSM diagnoses — one with schizophrenia, say, and the other with bipolar disorder…’ (

Although I certainly know how and when to ‘label’ (e.g. to help my patients secure coverage from their insurance companies) I have long been a critic of the DSM, not merely as the 5th edition is released. Diagnostic nihilism is the only way to treat individual patients, given the modern state of psychiatry.

Let’s Fight Big Pharma’s Crusade to Turn Eccentricity Into Illness

My wife reading in bed. And it wasn't because ...

As both a psychiatrist and a confirmed eccentric, this is dear to my heart:

“With an assist from an overly ambitious psychiatry, all human difference is being transmuted into chemical imbalance meant to be treated with a handy pill. Turning difference into illness was among the great strokes of marketing genius accomplished in our time.

All the great characters in myths, novels, and plays have endured the test of time precisely because they drift so colorfully away from the mean. Do we really want to put Oedipus on the couch, give Hamlet a quick course of behavior therapy, start Lear on antipsychotics?

I think not. Human diversity has its purposes or it would not have survived the evolutionary rat race. Our ancestors made it because the tribe combined a wide variety of talents and inclinations. There were leaders high on their own narcissism and followers content enough to be dependent on them; people who were paranoid enough to sniff out hidden threats, compulsive enough to get the job done, and exhibitionistic enough to attract mates. Perhaps the healthiest individuals were those who best balanced all these traits somewhere near the golden mean, but the best bet for the group was to have outliers always ready to step up to the plate as the particular occasion demanded.

I like eccentricity and eccentrics. The word eccentric comes from Greek geometry meaning “out of center.” It entered English as an astronomical description of the rotational paths of the heavenly bodies. Now it is used to describe people who are different — mostly with pejorative connotations, not often enough with admiration for their particular genius.

Nature abhors homogeneity and simply adores eccentric diversity. We should celebrate the fact that most humans are at least somewhat eccentric and accept ourselves as we are, warts and all. Human difference was never meant to be reducible to an exhaustive list of diagnoses drawn carelessly from a psychiatric manual.” (

This is by Allen Frances MD, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Duke University School of Medicine. The Chairman of the DSM-IV Task Force and part of the leadership group for previous editions, Frances’ book Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life was released this week.

New Approach Raises Hope for Development of Heroin Vaccine

Finding vaccines to combat drugs of abuse is an ongoing and challenging quest. The goal is to find compounds that produce antibodies that bind to drugs in the bloodstream, stopping them from entering the brain, and thus eliminating their effects. A heroin vaccine is even more difficult to develop because the drug quickly metabolizes into other active compounds. However, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., have tested a new approach that that takes heroin metabolism into account.” (Psychiatric News)

The Science of Loneliness: How Isolation Can Kill You

Please Help the Cause Against Loneliness

“Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn’t know that germs spread them, we’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven’t been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking.” (New Republic).

Trying to Be Hip and Edgy, Ads Become Offensive

“Some of the biggest names in marketing, including Ford Motor, General Motors, Hyundai Motor, Reebok and PepsiCo, have been forced recently to apologize to consumers who mounted loud public outcries against ads that hinged on subjects like race, rape and suicide.” (NYTimes)

NIMH Skewers DSM

 Patients with mental disorders deserve better: “The goal of this new manual, as with all previous editions, is to provide a common language for describing psychopathology. While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.”

As a result of their misgivings, the NIMH announced that it would abandon DSM-based diagnostic categories as a basis for its research projects. (NIMH)