News Roundup for May 7

News Roundup for May 7

News Roundup for May 7

Science, technology, and life.
May 7 2008 1:26 PM

News Roundup for May 7

I'm digging out after returning from a Pew Forum conference . I'll try to give you some highlights of it later. For now, I'll just pass along my favorite quote, from Penn Prof. Andy Newberg , on his terror of doing brain scans on people speaking in tongues: "Part of the problem is that I have to know when to give these people this injection of radioactive material."

See? Neuroscientists are just normal folks like us.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


Just giving Andy a hard time. His work on meditation, religion, and the brain is really cool . Plus, he was fun to hang out with. Plus, he has this awesome prom photo .

I'm thinking of instituting a quick daily post that at least highlights some of what's most worth noting from the morning news batch . In this case, I've led with two items about food addiction and regulation. We have a study that compares the brain effects of food to the brain effects of addictive drugs , and we have a report on the first citations issued to restaurants for violating New York City's new law that requires posting of calorie counts for menu items. The important trend to notice is that scientists are moving to substantiate the case for regulating junk food like drugs. The comparison is no longer just metaphorical. It's becoming literal.

We also have a couple of surveys designed to show that other kinds of addiction are uncomfortably widespread: hookah use among college students, and gambling among young people. You can see how the idea of addiction is spreading from substances to behavior.

But -- oops -- we also have a study that shows the limits of controlling drug use through culture, since early use, at least in the case of alcohol, is influenced by genes .


We'd better figure out how to rationally classify which substances are drugs and which aren't, and which drugs are worse than others, since differential enforcement for different drugs in different neighborhoods is raising questions about official racism .

Shifting gears to neurotech: A report on Medtronic, a leading maker of implanted medical devices, illustrates that the brain is increasingly being treated as just another organ that's sometimes in need of electrical intervention .

Today's Catch-22: If you've got mental illness in your family, beware. It can double the risk of autism in your biological children. But if you're thinking of adopting instead, beware again: Adoption can double a child's risk of disruptive behavior disorder . In medicine, the grim joke is that everything gives you cancer. In psychology, I'm starting to get the weary feeling that everything gives you mental illness.

Also, keep your eye on stem-cell technology that mimics the human body . This was the theme of a series I wrote three years ago: To make tissues grow as they do in the human body, you need to supply living environments that resemble the body. The twist is that this work becomes increasingly creepy as we replicate in the lab more and more of what we previously regarded as living creatures.

Finally, don't miss today's study of pregnancy discrimination . Looks to me like classic meaningless soft science, simultaneously complaining that women who looked pregnant suffered "hostility" in some cases and "overfriendliness" in others.

I realize this kind of quick roundup can't substitute for a more thorough post or piece, but I hope it at least sheds some light on the news of the day, which otherwise might go unremarked. It's an experiment. Let me know if you'd like to see it instituted as a regular thing, or not.