Monthly Archives: October 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Science, do it right

Source: IFLS

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You might be a #scimom if…

Your kid brings a 50ml conical tube to Show and Tell.

Mabel showing off her tube.

Last week Mac and the littles came to visit me at work.  Mac and I got our free flu shots, compliments of the company, and then we had lunch in the cafe (I even nursed Nemo right there in the cafeteria and  surprised myself that I wasn’t more self-conscious about it).

After lunch, we took a walk past my office and lab space so Mabel could see everything.  She potty trained herself a few weeks ago after I told her she could come to my company’s Kids Day next year and do science, but only if she did all her pee pee and poo poo in the potty.  It was apparently a strong motivator because a few days later she announced she wanted to wear panties and that was that.

I didn’t take her into the actual lab, but because everything it very open with lots of windows, she could see in.  I showed her “where the scientists do their experiments” and “all the equipment for doing science.”

We visited with lots of my coworkers, and one offered her a Falcon tube as a souvenir.  Mabel was into it.  So into it that she wanted to bring it for Show and Tell the next day.

For Show and Tell they ask the students three questions:  1) What is it?  2) Where did you get it?  3)  Why is it special?

Mabel’s answers:  1) A tube.  2)  At mommy’s work.  3)  For scientists!

Another coworker had put some Trypan Blue in it for her- which seemed innocuous enough given that we all use it without gloves and it can’t even kill cells in suspension, but when I looked at the MSDS I figured it wasn’t appropriate for preschool.

Mabel didn’t want to leave her ‘solution’ home, but I promised her that I would put it back in the tube when she got home and replaced it with water, per her request.  When I got a Sharpie out to label the tube, she asked me what I was doing.  I told her, “I’m writing “WATER” on the tube, because a good scientist always labels her tubes.”

I also gave the teacher the head’s up.  I didn’t want anyone freaking that the scientist’s kid showed up with some kind of liquid in a tube.

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Wordless Wednesday: Just wash the damn spoon.

Wow.  We’re pathetic.

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From The Annals of the Obvious: HPV vaccination does not make girls more promiscuous

Yesterday it was all over the news what anyone with a brain cell might have been able to figure out on their own- vaccinating girls against Human Papilloma Virus does not make them whores.

Here’s the study:  Sexual Activity-Related Outcomes After Human Papillomavirus Vaccination of 11- to 12-Year Olds, by Bednarczyk et al.

To briefly borrow a summary for the NYTimes:

They selected a group of 1,398 girls who were 11 or 12 in 2006 — roughly a third of whom had received the HPV vaccine — and followed them through 2010. The researchers then looked at what they considered markers of sexual activity, including pregnancies, counseling on contraceptives, and testing for or diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases.

Over all, in the time that the girls were followed, the researchers did not find any differences in these measures between the two groups.  Source:  Anahad O’Connor, NYT.

When I was a tween and got vaccinated against hepatitis, I didn’t run out and spread my legs either.  I don’t think I even realized that hepatitis could be sexually transmitted at that age- or even paid close attention to what I was being vaccinated against.

I’m not sure why people think that being vaccinated against an STD would make a child more promiscuous, but apparently that’s the most cited reason given by parents for not vaccinated against HPV!

I can’t understand the reasoning, “Hmm.  Should I vaccinate my daughter against cervical cancer?  Give her protection against oral cancers as well?  All with this simple vaccination?  Oh, wait!  It’s an STD?!  Heck no.  I’d rather a daughter who died of cervical cancer than a daughter who engaged in premarital sex- because I know my precious little angel would never do that otherwise!”

Look.  HPV is an STD that causes genital warts.  It also causes cervical cancer.  It’s also now been linked to oral cancers as well, see here.  The HPV vaccine could guard your children, female and male (it causes penile cancer as well) against infection.  That means your daughters won’t get cancer and neither will your sons (they also won’t pass it on to your future daughter in law*).  Even if your precious little angel saves him/herself for marriage, who’s to say their spouse did the same?  Newsflash:  Almost one third of 14- to 19- year olds are infected with HPV!  Those are not odds I want to take with the health of my kids.

Just as I do with every other vaccine, I’m going to follow the CDC guidelines when it comes to the HPV vaccine.  Mabel and Nemo will both be vaccinated.

That said, I’m not going to turn them loose without a healthy dose of info on sexuality and sexual health.  I hope they always make the wisest of decisions when it comes to sex.  I would be happy if they waited until they were married.  Do I know the odds of that are slim?  Yes.  Are young people inherently unable to make decisions based on the long-term consequences of their actions?  Heck yeah. That’s why this vaccine is so important-  I don’t want a single bad decision to result in a cancer diagnosis down the road- for them or for their future partners.

Also note, all of this is assuming that children only engage in consensual sexual relations.  We know that this is not the case.  Children should be protected from predators, but they should also be protected from being victimized twice- first at the hands of an abuser, and second from any STD that abuser might transmit to them.


*Pardon the hetero-normative language, but I’m guessing a person who fears a vaccine causing their daughter to have premarital sex, and that chance trumping her healthy, is NOT considering the possibility that their son or daughter could possibly ever be homosexual.


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Marriage versus the PhD

This cracked me up.

Probably because this is the guy I married on the day of my grad school graduation:

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I wish I was less of a scientist…

… when I’m getting a facial.

The moment they turn on that steam machine and point it at my face, I take a deep breath and think, “I hope they did a good job sterilizing this. I’d really hate to get Legionnaires Disease from this.  I can see the headlines now:  Tragedy strikes area mom- woman killed trying to remove blackheads!”

The funny thing is, a few months ago I went with my mom and sister for a facial. My mom is a nurse. After the facials, I said, “All I could think about when she put that steam on my face was…” and my mom finished my sentence with, “I hope it’s clean and I don’t get Legionnaires?”

So I think she also wishes, at times, she was less of a nurse.


Filed under I wish I was less of a scientist..., Scientist

Steals and Deals: Tea Collection and Target

I am cheap.  Really cheap.  It’s like that saying, “Champagne taste on a beer budget.”

So how do I make it work?  Deal sites and clearance sales.

For instance, I love Tea Collection stuff for Mabel.  I love the prints, the bright colors, the cut of the clothes.  However, free shipping on orders over $150 is no bargain!  Uh, I don’t care how cute it is, I’m not paying  $140 for four pieces of kids clothing unless it washes itself!

So, I head to my local children’s consignment store, or shop the seasonal consignment sales that pop up in my area.  I also frequent those flash sale sites- like Gilt, Haute Look, Totsy, Zulily, Mini Social, etc.*

A few weeks ago, Zulily had a sale on Tea Collection and I got the dress below for….$4.92!

Tea Collection Lotus Vines Dress

How?  Well, if I had gotten it on Amazon it would have been $39; however, Zulily was offering it for $21.99 and I had a store credit (combination of credits from referrals, see * below) and they were running a promotion where you could get free shipping on your first order placed with their new iPhone/Android app.

It’s super cute, Mabel loves it, and for less than $5, you can’t beat it!

It fits her just right now, but my other cheapskate trick is “this year’s dress is next year’s tunic!”  She wears cute dresses that are too short lengthwise with leggings and they work.  So we should easily be able to get a full year out of this.  She actually has one Tea Collection top that she’s been wearing since she was 9 months old!  It’s sleeveless (no too-short sleeves to give it away), and started out as a dress, so it went from dress to tunic to shirt.

My other recent deal was this super cute top from Target:

I had seen it online for like $7 and didn’t want to pay that.  Then a few days later I was in Target and found it on a clearance rack for $2.98 and picked it up.  Mabel wore this last Friday when we randomly had an 80 degree day in October, but she probably won’t wear it again this season.  Since I figured it was too late for this top for this year, I got it a size bigger (3T I think?) so she can wear it next summer.

I wish I had as easy a time finding bargains on plus-sized clothes for me as I do finding stuff for Mabel!


*Note- these links are my referral links.  All these sites are ‘invitation only’ for some reason.  I’m not sure if it’s so the low prices are less public or just to make people feel special that they’ve been invited.  Most of them you can join without an invite if you are willing to wait a while for membership.  The most likely reason they do this is free advertising.  If you invite someone and that person joins and actually buys something, you get a store credit.  Thus, members will be encouraged to get people to join just so they can get credits- like some money saving pyramid scheme.  So, if you use the links above to join any of those deal sites and you purchase something, I will get a store credit.  If you ask around amongst your friends and find that one of them is a member, get their referral link, join and buy something, they will get the credit.  Just want to be upfront about that.

Invitation link to Gilt.

Invitation link to Zulily.

Invitation link to Totsy.

Invitation link to Haute Look.

Invitation link to The Mini Social.

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Wordless Wednesday: Mark of an educated mind

I spend much of my time doing this.  Looking at data and trying to think up models to explain it.  Scientists spend much of their time entertaining thoughts- being skeptical of their own conclusions ensures they are well supported.

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Weekend Getaway: Lewes, Delaware September 2012

A few weekend ago we went down to Delaware to stay with friends at their beach house.  It’s the same trip we made last summer, that I wrote about here.

It’s crazy to see how different Mabel is one year later.  We didn’t do much- another trip to the Farmer’s Market, a couple trips to the park, flying a kite on the beach, collecting shells and crab parts, board games, pulled pork, ferry rides, etc.  All around a good time (except for the motorcycle gang, see below).

It’s also crazy to think that the last time we went down to Delaware (in February to meet up with my in-laws over President’s Day Weekend) Nemo was still in utero.  This trip, he was able to enjoy the view from the ferry.

Nemo on his first trip on the Lewes-Cape May Ferry!

On the way down, there were about a dozen bikers (on motorcycles, not bicycles) headed down to some kind of rally.  As we were waiting to get off the ferry, in the enclosed space of the car park, the bikers started their bikes and revved their engines incessantly and unnecessarily.  Mabel complained about the noise (which was loud despite having the car windows closed).  I made the near fatal error of saying, “I know it’s loud.  There’s no need for them to do that.  Those guys are being jerks.”

I thought nothing of it, other than patting myself on the back for saying ‘jerks’ instead of ‘*ssholes” which would have been a more apt description.  (I mean if you have to rev your engine that much you are either showing off and being a jerk, you need a new carburetor, or you need to learn to drive.)

Fast forward to the return trip home.  The biker rally is over and now there are DOZENS of bikers lining up to get on the ferry with us.  We’re sitting in the car waiting for all of them to check in and proceed to their lanes and await the ferry when Mabel pipes up from the back seat, “That guy’s a jerk!”  I assured her that he was just driving his bike, which was loud, and not really being a jerk.  So, then, seeking clarification as another bike engine revved, “Is that guy a jerk?”

At that point Mac and I looked at each other and said, “Uh, oh.”  When a group of bikers pulled up Mabel stated, “Those are a lot of jerks!”  Mac and I then looked and each other and I said, “I really hope we don’t get in a fistfight on the ferry.”

As we boarded the ferry- bike engines roaring- I tried to explain to Mabel that just driving your loud bike doesn’t make you a jerk.  Only someone who is really inconsiderate is a jerk.  I shouldn’t have used that word, because it’s not a nice word.

Thankfully that seemed to satisfy her and she didn’t call anyone on the ferry a jerk.  No fisticuffs ensued, as Mabel did nothing but charm all the tattooed, beer drinking (the ferry opened the bar for the 11:15AM trip), wallet on a chain wearing bikers.

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Curiosity for its own sake

Recently my on-line science pal Emily J. Willingham asked on Facebook,

“You are a consumer of science. As one, what bothers you about how science is offered to you? What questions do you have? How do you consume scientific information? How do you use it?”

She’s going to be blogging on the Forbes network, see her here, and I’m guessing this was the impetus for that particular set of questions.

Source: IFLS

I had much to say in answer to her questions.

One of my biggest pet peeves is that the most sensational headlines are used- even if they are entirely inaccurate scientifically.  For example the recent news about small pox and breast cancer.  Headlines like, “New smallpox virus could ‘cure’ breast cancer, studies reveal.”  How many ways is that wrong?  Well, it’s not smallpox the researchers were using, it’s a vaccinia virus, which is in the same family as the smallpox virus.  Big difference.  For instance, there wasn’t a global effort to eradicate cowpox– another vaccinia family member.  Just because the viruses are related doesn’t mean they are the same thing.  Also, what’s with the quotation marks around cure?  Maybe because it’s not actually a cure, not even a treatment, just an interesting experiment done in mice- but cure (even in quotes) makes for a better headline.  [If you want to learn about the real science behind that crappy headline, here’s the original paper- “Vaccinia Virus GLV-1h153 Is Effective in Treating and Preventing Metastatic Triple-Negative Breast Cancer“]

Articles rarely cite their scientific sources- i.e. linking to the actual journal article they are writing about.  For instance, the craptastic example above where the ‘journalist’ (how’s that for quotation marks?) not only failed to link to the original article, he didn’t even mention the journal it was published in, when it was published, or any other info (other than the lead author’s name) that would help a reader find the journal article or additional info on it.

As for sources, the media seems unable to distinguish between peer reviewed journal articles and mere opinion pieces on blogs.  Take for instance the blog post I wrote about here that appeared on the website of Psychology Today.  Many news outlets picked it up and touted it as research that showed it was dangerous to let your infant ‘cry it out’ when really it was just a post (poorly researched, lacking citations, and full of unsupported conjecture and opinion) on the blog of a psychologist.  A blog post is NOT the same thing as a peer reviewed journal article.  Please journalists, know this!

Another gripe, accuracy is sacrificed for the sake of brevity, which completely defeats the purpose of sharing the science.  See above yet again about smallpox as a ‘cure’ for breast cancer.

Another problem I have is the way the media handles funding sources for research studies- they always matter, it’s imperative that scientists report any conflicts of interest that funding sources might prove to be.  However, they are not always a sign that researchers are ‘in cahoots’  with the companies that fund them.  For instance, would  you trust RJ Reynolds to fund unbiased research on smoking and cancer? Probably not.  Thus, if at the end of a research article you see a company with a known bias and the findings support their assertions, you are right to be skeptical.  However, sometimes the funding merely means a company paid for work to be done, regardless of the outcome.  For instance, a pharma company that partners with an academic lab on basic science and published the results in a peer reviewed journal. Or, a drug company that funds the clinical trials for it’s drugs.  That’s just the way it works- who else would fund the trial if not the manufacturer?  If those types of studies are published in peer reviewed journals, they have been vetted to that extent.  Further, with clinical trials, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) oversees all those trials to help ensure they are unbiased and protect the patients involved as well as the public as a whole.  The media seems unable to distinguish.

As for how I generally consume science/scientific information?  It’s usually as follows- hear about it on the radio or read a lame article via Yahoo News/Strollerderby/The Stir/etc., assume the author is either full of bologna, got the science partly/mostly wrong, had their more level-headed title replaced by an editor, is totally biased, etc., then I track down the original research article, and possibly seek out commentaries on the work from reliable sources (SciAm blogs, Double X Science, fellow scientists, etc.).

What about how I use it?  Well, obviously I’m a scientist, so I ‘use’ science/scientific information professionally every single (work) day to try and cure (no quotation marks) and/or treat cancer.  In my personal life, science helps me make healthcare decisions for myself and my family, decide which products to buy or to avoid, answer questions about the natural world when my toddler asks, as  material to blog about and use to dispel misconceptions held by myself and others.

However, a lot of the time I don’t necessarily even use the science I consume. Sometimes I just want to know it. I’m curious.

Pretty frequently people ask me, “How do you know that?” or “Why do you even know that?”  I’m not sure how to answer.  If it’s a medical question, a lot of the times the answer is, “Well, I have that body part and I want to know how it works.”  Or, “Well, I’m taking that medicine, so I looked up how it works.”  People forget that science is the basis of everything- it’s how everything works or came to be.  While others seem to find it odd that I’m always looking up the science behind was I see/do/hear about, I find it odd that other don’t seem to question enough.

You’re taking that medicine, you’re having that surgery, you’re using that product right now- don’t you wonder how/why it works?  Why aren’t you wondering?

Where’s your curiosity?  Don’t you just want to know why the sky is blue?  How did you came to be?  Why are roses red and violets blue?

Aren’t you curious?


Emily is curious about how you consume science and what you do with it.  Find her on Twitter (@ejwillingham), on her blog, or on DXS and let her know.



A version of this post appeared on Double X Science as “Aren’t you curious?

Emily’s blog post is up on Forbes as “5 Changes Consumers Want To See In Science News.”


Filed under #scimom, Mother, Scientist, Wife