Barbie's Malibu Dream Knee

Philosophical ruminations.
Sept. 22 1999 3:30 AM

Barbie's Malibu Dream Knee

News from academe.

Barbie Gives the Finger

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Jane Bahor--an anaplastologist at Duke University Medical Center--has discovered a new use for the Barbie doll. By placing one of Barbie's legs inside a hollow prosthetic finger, Bahor discovered that Barbie's transplanted knee joint gave patients greater mechanical flexibility and control over their artificial digits. "Although you could previously only move joints that were in the hand [as opposed to the fingers], the plastic in the legs of Barbie dolls allows patients to position fingers in different flexion," she told the Duke University Chronicle. Glenn Hostetter, the medical center prosthetics clinical supervisor, noted that the technique is an inexpensive way to provide articulation in a finger and that it will help prosthetic fingers become functional as well as cosmetic appendages.

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The Ascent of Darwin

A University of Kansas library has mounted a small exhibit illustrating the ideas of Charles Darwin in response to the Kansas Board of Education's decision to eliminate Darwinism from statewide science tests. The exhibit, "Is Man an Ape or an Angel?" at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, features both a first edition of On the Origin of Species and a letter from Darwin to geologist James E. Todd, who joined KU's staff in 1907. University librarian Sally Haines told the Associated Press, "Librarians, we don't censor. ... When there's a controversy, we like to bring out the books that caused the controversy." While the library staff isn't taking an official position on the board's decision, Haines did admit, "We have our personal opinions, and you can probably guess what they are."

No Ph.D., No High-Tech Laser Lab

E. Michael Campbell has resigned his post at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory after anonymous faxes revealed that he had never earned a doctoral degree. Campbell, formerly associate director for laser programs at Livermore and director of a $1.2 billion program to conduct weapons research, announced his decision to leave Aug. 27. Campbell had allowed the laboratory to believe that he had a doctorate from Princeton University, the lab said, when in fact he had only finished his Ph.D. course work. The spokesman also told the New York Times that the lab requires "all senior managers to hold a Ph.D. or its equivalent in experience." Campbell said only that he was leaving for personal reasons.

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Head of the Class

An unusual fossil skull, which may contain new clues about human evolution, was discovered in an Upper West Side curio shop. The New York Times reports that the skull arrived in the shop as part of a collection of rocks, minerals, and curios. The shop owner recognized its significance after he cleaned it and turned it over to scientists at the nearby American Museum of Natural History. Paleoanthropologists examining the skull have traced its origins to Indonesia and presume it to be that of a Homo erectus. However, they also note that the skull, which probably belonged to a man in his 20s, has a high, humanlike forehead, not the sloping kind typical of Homo erectus and other early hominids. "It's not like any other Homo erectus we know from Indonesia or anywhere else," said Dr. Eric Delson, the City College of New York paleoanthropologist directing the investigation. "Of course, it's only one individual, but it could represent a distinctive population."

Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!

A team of Canadian psychologists believes that Tourette's syndrome--the condition that leads patients to suffer muscular spasms and to blurt out obscenities--may be a psychological rather than a physical disorder. Sufferers may actually be able to control their sputterings, according to experiments led by Randy Flanagan at Queen's University in Ontario, BBC Online reports. In one experiment, a Tourette's patient was directed to hold a weighted box loaded with sensors. Anticipating the patient's regular tics, the researchers monitored how his grip on the sensor box changed as his arm twitched. They observed the subject adjusting his grip on the box just before experiencing a tic, indicating that at some level he was in control of his actions. Flanagan concluded, "[Tourette's sufferers] have motor control over these tics, and these movements look normal and have all the same sort of response we would expect to see in voluntary movement." He also suggested that his findings may point the way toward behavioral therapy for the syndrome. (Click here for a summary of the experiment.)