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Meth and the Brain

Meth and the Brain

Meth and the brain

Methamphetamine aka meth is one of the worst drugs that are being abused in today’s society by individuals of different ages and statuses. As much as the brain may be made to be resilient and tough, the toxicity and stress levels that are brought about by meth abuse are very intense. One of several drugs that has been classified as a central nervous system stimulant. The brain is normally affected in severe ways in which it may take up to years to actually recover fully in the event that one actually comes all the way back. Users of the specific drug need to understand that the injuries it causes are often times permanent and severe to both the body and the mind.

Abusers of the specific drug normally try to find different ways in which they may consume the drug to achieve a high like no other. The next dosage always has to feel better than the previous one. This then leads to addiction of the drug which is basically one reaching the point where they cannot function well without using.

Various issues are normally associated with the extreme use of the drug and this may lead to it affecting the Central Nervous system which is inclusive of the brain and the spinal cord which basically control most of the things in the human body. Some short term damages that may occur to the brain and the whole CNS include:

The increased death of neurons as the chronic use of methamphetamine is known to kill most neuron in the body. The toxicity of the chemicals used to produce the drug normally attack the neurons in the body hence making them regenerate at a slow pace which after being damaged are actually not recoverable. This then may lead to brain damage as it affects the hippocampus, striatum, parietal cortex, frontal and prefrontal cortex, a number of subcortical structure and the cerebellum.

Nevertheless, it may also lead to the decreased production of the white matter, glycogenesis, levels of dopamine and serotonin transporters, increase of glutamate calcium in the brain, increased damage to the dendrites and neurons, damage of the cytoskeletal and circulatory system of the brain among many other effects.

In the long run an increased use of the drug may result in the in various cognitive effects such as one may have problems with paying attention, memory loss, movement issues, emotional control, paranoia, hallucinations, violent behaviors, psychological or psychiatric issues and judgment and problem solving just to mention but a few.

As for pregnant women, the use of meth during pregnancy may end up damaging the child’s brain as it is very sensitive. One may actually end up having problems dealing with normal issues as well as may cause the child to have slow responses in various thing and may affect even their performance in school.

Hence, in the event that one has a member of their family or even friend affected by the drug, then there is need for them to take action before things get out of hand and one ends up reaching a point of no return. There is still hope if treated early.

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioid Addiction and the Brain

Opioids are drugs such as morphine, OxyContin, percocet, Vicodin, and Demerol among others that are pain medication legally prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Ketamine, heroin, club drugs, or steroids are also opioids but illegal. Opioid drugs work by inhibiting the intensity of pain-signal perception through attaching to opioid protein receptors in the brain, gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord and other organs in the body.

Despite sparse evidence for their effectiveness when used long-term, frequent use of opioids has physically changed the brain to the point where it needs more of them to function normally, and users often become physically dependent, which in some cases can lead to addiction. This is because, in addition to alleviating chronic pain, opioids also activate reward regions in the brain, causing the euphoria very similar to heroin that increases the risk of addiction and overdose even in those who follow their prescription to a tee.

Case and point: a drug such as OxyContin is commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, but according to the Controlled Substances Act, OxyContin is classified as a Schedule II drug because it produces extreme positive feelings of euphoria, sedation, relaxation, reduced anxiety and rewarding sensations in the user, which has a high potential for misuse or overdose when used recreationally. In fact, a significantly slowed respiratory rate can quickly turn life-threatening, especially in overdose circumstances.

While physical dependence is predictable in most cases, not everyone who takes opioids becomes addicted to the euphoria they produce, even those on high doses for long periods of time. In fact, some users develop a condition known as opioid –induced hyperalgesia (OIH) whereby patients become increasingly sensitive to pain as a result of treatment with opioids.

Any addiction forms as a result of repeated stimulation of the brain’s reward system. The unusual levels of opioid stimulation exceed what the brain is equipped to handle at any given time and as a result, alters the brain and produce persistent cravings for opioids.

The brain construes the abundance of euphoric-releasing opioids as a positive familiarity necessary for the body’s survival. And as would be expected in the path of addiction, the development of tolerance and physical dependence occurs, and as tolerance increases, the body’s ability to maintain this stability is outdone, and the body becomes increasingly reliant on the drugs.

The physiological adaptations to chronic exposure to a drug are what leads to dependence and are not really part of addiction. Addiction, on the other hand, involves various changes in the altered brain biology and is distinguished by a very obsessive drug seeking, the inability to control drug use, and a compulsive drug use that prompt the destructive behaviors of addiction.

Misuse of prescription opioids is a risk factor for transitioning to heroin use and other life-threatening drugs. Building a new life which is not connected to drug addiction is a challenging task only a good counselor or therapist can guide anyone through.

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects on Americans Life Expectancy

The Opioid Epidemic and Its Effects on Americans Life Expectancy

Drug-related deaths caused by opioid overdose are rising faster than ever particularly for Americans under the age of 50. Suffice it to say that while any addiction lowers any life expectancy significantly, continued use and abuse of prescription medication that acts on the nervous system to relieve pain can lead to physical dependency and severe withdrawal symptoms.

OxyContin, Vicodin, Codeine, Methadone, Roxanol, Demarol, Percocet, Ritalin, you name them and probably someone you know has used and abused them knowingly or unknowingly. Opiate addiction is a fast-growing issue, and the addiction can develop in a matter of one to two weeks of regular use but this does not stop the over prescription of opioid painkillers being sold in pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices to unsuspecting Americans who as research would show, 91 people, die every day from prescription opioid and overdoses.

Prescription opioids are used to manage moderate to severe pain associated with surgery or injury such as back pain or osteoarthritis or health conditions such as cancer. Despite serious risks or evidence in their long-term effectiveness in alleviating pain, there has been an unrestrained increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids.

Drug-related overdoses have killed more American people than vehicular accidents or guns. This because the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped and to avoid feeling sick, people will either up the dosage and some reported cases, combining them with drugs such as heroin or even alcohol to get a quicker fix.

Because opioid receptors regulate pain, which makes them powerful painkillers, they are debilitatingly addictive, and in addition to the serious risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, whether taken as prescribed, opioid dependency has a number of physical side effects and withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Increased sensitivity to pain tolerance
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped
  • Dry mouth, severe nausea, and vomiting
  • Chills, shivers, itching and profuse sweating
  • Confusion and depression
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Lower sex drive, energy, and strength
  • Hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Body tremors
  • Feelings of hostility or paranoia
  • Dangerously high body temperatures and irregular heartbeat
  • Suicidal thoughts

Opioids are vital, and when used appropriately they can improve the quality of life, particularly for cancer patients and those with suffering from debilitating pain, but it is a losing battle when weighed against the risks of overdose and addiction. Even though withdrawals aren’t necessarily fatal, there are cases of deaths during the withdrawal phase that occurs either from severe dehydration that leads to electrolyte disturbance or when the throes of withdrawal destabilize the addict’s body, leaving it susceptible to various health complication.

There is a lot being done to raise awareness of the American opiate dilemma because not many know that it is an epidemic on the rise and those people in the bondage of opiate and drug addiction can also seek treatment, specifically detox as well as opiate replacement therapy.

LINKAGE BETWEEN GENETICS AND ADDICTION

LINKAGE BETWEEN GENETICS AND ADDICTION

There is a convinced link between a person’s DNA segment and addiction they form. Sometimes it comes from your societal surrounding, peers, poor mental state or stress but that is not always the situation actually. One can be trapped simply in drug addiction of any kind due to its genetics which comes from family straight away. Everyone has certain probability to form an addiction, as the bodily mechanism of dependence occurs in your brain irrespective of liquor or drug exposure. When your mind practices something pleasing, it forms nerve pathways that crave the pleasurable substance repetitively. The illness of addiction forms when those nerve pathways become more continuing and swerve.

However, as exposed in a study directed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, those with direct family who fight addiction have a 50 to 60 percent more possibilities of becoming an alcoholic or drug abuser at some point in their lifespan. This increases the question as to whether addiction is triggered by inheritances alone, or the atmosphere in which a child is raised up. Conferring to a study led by the Colorado Adoption Project, a genetic association does increase the probability of addiction, even when children are not raised in an atmosphere that encourages addiction. Their genetics play a vital factor in general hazard of addiction even when they are not frequently uncovered to drugs and alcohol. However, a parallel research displays that atmosphere plays an even greater part in addiction problems and stoppage.

At least semi of a person’s vulnerability to drug dependence can be associated to genetic aspects. Announcers at an April 8 congressional hearing sketched new investigation on the genetic origin for addiction and suggested ways to incorporate those findings into cure. The hearing was prearranged by APA’s Science Government Relations Office.

Investigators first need to handle and solve public misinterpretation and disbelief regarding genetic testing. That means doctors and the public need to better realize the connections between genetics and addiction, stated Alexandra Shields, director of the Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital Center on Genomics, Vulnerable Populations and Health Disparities. Based on a state survey, lone 5 percent of primary-care physicians sense self-assured in their capability to understand genetic tests, and only 4 percent would feel self-confident telling treatment grounded on genetics.

There are very respectable explanations for physicians to pay consideration to the impact advances in genetic testing are expected to have on their capability to handle patients, said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Exploitation. “Understanding the multifaceted connections between the factors involved in drug abuse and habit is dangerous to their effective stoppage and treatment,” she said. With new statistics quickly piling up, doctors might soon be able to incorporate genetic tests in their training, permitting them to well match exact treatments to individuals.

The living rainbow: A fatal flaw in a classic study of sexual selection

The living rainbow: A fatal flaw in a classic study of sexual selection

06 Drosophila melanogater Mating

A key component of classical sexual selection theory is the idea that males maximize their evolutionary fitness—the number of children they ultimately have—by mating with lots of females, while females maximize their fitness by selecting only one or a few high-quality partners. It’s pretty clear that this model works well for some species (like ducks), but also that there are many it doesn’t fit so well. Now it looks like one of the “classic” experimental examples of sexual selection may actually fall into the latter category.

Sexual selection was first proposed by Charles Darwin, in his 1871 follow-up to The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex; but one of the earliest experimental tests of the model wasn’t published until 1948 [PDF]. The biologist A.J. Bateman allowed small groups of fruit flies—good old Drosophila melanogaster—containing equal numbers of males and females to mate at random, then reared the resulting eggs and reconstructed the parentage of the offspring to determine (1) the number of offspring each of the male and female parent flies had produced and (2) how many parters each parent fly had had.

How did Bateman reconstruct parentage decades before the advent of modern genetic testing? He used mutations with known, visible phenotypic effects as “markers”:

The fertility of individual flies of both sexes was measured by means of dominant marker genes. Several flies of each sex were mated together in one bottle, each fly carrying a different dominant marker gene. In this way, assuming the complete viability of all the marker genes, half the progeny of each fly could be identified.

That’s a pretty clever design given the technological limitations of the time. But it also turns out to be the fatal flaw in Bateman’s experiment.

Using this approach, Bateman reconstructed parentage for his offspring flies, and found that the reproductive success of males varied more than that of females; and that males were more likely than females to finish the experiment without producing any offspring—both suggestive of stronger competition for mates among the males.

Examining the number of mates for each of the parent flies, Bateman found that the number of mates also varied more in males than in females. In fact, his data showed that males with more mates tended to have more offspring—while for females, having a larger number of partners didn’t do much to improve offpsring production.

The results Bateman described are the epitome of the sexual selection model, with males competing to inseminate as many females as possible, while females instead try to select only one or a few very fit males to father their children. But those results hang on the assumption that Bateman’s marker mutations didn’t create any bias in his parentage reconstructions—and some of the marker mutations were pretty wild: gene variants that distorted the flies’ wings or eyes, many of which were lethal when a fly carried two copies.

Drosophila melanogater Bar One of Bateman’s marker mutations, “Bar,” results in dramatically distorted eyes. Photo via FlyIU.
In a paper that’s just been released online at PNAS, Patricia Gowaty, Yong-Kyu Kim, and Wyatt W. Anderson present the results of the first attempt to replicate Bateman’s experiment since he first performed it in 1948. To the best of their ability, they collected the same laboratory lines of Drosophila, with the same marker mutations, and conducted the same controlled matings.

Gowaty and her collaborators replicated Bateman’s discovery that different parental marker mutations were represented in the offspring with varying frequency—but they also discovered some substantial biases in the results. One of the most glaring was that, using Bateman’s approach to reconstruct parentage, they found that mothers were less often identifiable as parents than fathers were—which, as they note, is “a biological impossibility.”

Gowaty et al. also found that the fraction offspring carrying two mutant marker genes substantially deviated from 25%, which is the frequency expected if the marker genes truly have no impact on mating success and offspring survival.

In short, Bateman’s key assumption, “the complete viability of all the marker genes,” proved to be incorrect, and incorrect in a way that seems to have systematically biased his results so that his data can’t actually tell us anything about whether or not his fruit flies were experiencing sexual selection. Fortunately, we have methods available to us nowadays that Bateman didn’t, and I’m sure we can look forward to a new test of his hypothesis using DNA fingerprinting and behavioral observations of mating frequency in the near future.◼

Thanks to Daniel Decanini for pointing me to the Gowaty et al. paper on Twitter.

References

Bateman AJ (1948). Intra-sexual selection in Drosophila. Heredity, 2 (Pt. 3), 349-68 PMID: 18103134

Gowaty, P.A., Kim, Y.-K., & Anderson, W.W. (2012). No evidence of sexual selection in a repetition of Bateman’s classic study of Drosophila melanogaster. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. : 10.1073/pnas.1207851109

Evolutionary psychology: A dialogue

Evolutionary psychology: A dialogue

A Biologist went down to the coffee shop one day, because the walk out to the edge of the University campus provided some brief respite from the laboratory. Along the way the Biologist encountered an Evolutionary Psychologist, who was also going to the coffee shop, and they fell to walking together.

As they entered the coffee shop, they found it crowded with undergraduates, for it was almost Finals Week. Accordingly, they joined the long queue of prospective customers waiting to place an order. Said the Evolutionary Psychologist to the Biologist, “My dear colleague, do you not see this crowd of fertile young people as I do, engaged in a dance of mate selection and competiton that predates our ancestors’ descent from the trees?”

And the Biologist replied, “I don’t believe that our ancestors had access to steamed milk and espresso. Or free wi-fi.”

“You are being amusingly obtuse!” chortled the Evolutionary Psychologist. “The environment may have changed somewhat since the days of our Darwinian origins, I will allow, but ova remain much dearer than sperm cells.”

“That much is certainly true,” said the Biologist. “But I am not sure how much it matters to the coffee-shop flirtations of undergraduates, almost none of which will result in procreative intercourse.”

“Ah,” said the Evolutionary Psychologist, “Perhaps this is a subject wherein my own field has surpassed the expertise of yours, my dear colleague. For instance, we have recently discovered [PDF] that men are more attracted to unintelligent, inattentive women—precisely what one would expect if men have been naturally selected to seek out easy opportunities for impregnation. And this search is doubtless underway all around us at this very moment.”

“That is a remarkable and possibly misogynistic hypothesis,” said the Biologist. “I am most curious to know how it was tested.”

“O! It was most elegantly done,” said the Evolutionary Psychologist. “Some of my colleagues simply asked a small class of undergraduate psychology students—males, of course—to examine photographs of women which were previously selected for their various appearances of vulnerability, and tell whether the photographs indicated vulnerability to sexual exploitation, suitability for a one-night stand, and suitability for a long-term relationship.”

“I see,” said the Biologist.

“Most surprisingly,” continued the Evolutionary Psychologist, “My colleagues discovered that the young collegiate males felt that women who looked drunk, or were standing in compromising postures, or indicating vulnerability in any of a dozen different ways, were both more vulnerable to sexual assault and more suitable for a brief sexual dalliance—but not more suitable for matrimony.

“So you see, my dear Biologist, it is not we Evolutionary Psychologists, who proposed the hypothesis of sexual exploitability, that are misogynists—the only misogynist here is Natural Selection itself, which confirmed our hypothesis.”

“I must beg your pardon, dear colleague,” said the Biologist, “but I am afraid I do not understand the basis for your conclusion. In order for this discovery to have any bearing on reproductive success, is it not the case that most human reproduction would need to occur via coerced intercourse?”

“I must confess that this seems to be what the data indicate,” replied the Evolutionary Psychologist. “But we must not conclude therefrom that all men are rapists! By no means, dear colleague. I think it is quite plain that this result demonstrates no more then that all men are potential rapists.”

“But I remain perplexed!” said the Biologist. “Surely rape is an inefficient way to reproduce, since babies traditionally require a good deal of care after impregnation, and women have long known how to un-plant unwanted seeds.”

“That,” said the Evolutionary Psychologist, “is an important question to be resolved by additional study! But of course it need only be the case that the occasional coercive impregnation could increase a man’s reproductive success, however slightly, for Natural Selection to grab hold.”

“I suspect,” said the Biologist, “that you attribute greater efficiency to Natural Selection than this evolutionary force truly possesses, my dear colleague. But even if drunken collegiate hook-ups were a viable avenue for procreation, you must concede that there would needs be some genetic basis for the tendency to reproduce in this fashion, if Natural Selection is to act upon it. Do you truly believe this to be the case?”

“What a peculiar question!” exclaimed the Evolutionary Psychologist. “I thought that you Biologists were well aware that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is quite safe to assume that any and all aspects of human nature have a heritable genetic basis. Would you truly require the demonstration of heritability in order to conclude that an observed trait or behavior is adapted by Natural Selection?”

“Indeed we would,” said the Biologist. “Such a demonstration, in the case of a tendency to sexual coercion, would be considered most remarkable in its own right, in the scholarly journals of my discipline.”

“What a boring and backward discipline you practice!” said the Evolutionary Psychologist. “Truly, it is no wonder that your field has seen no great advance this last half-century, even as we Evolutionary Psychologists dissect the very nature of humanity.”

“Your ambitions,” said the Biologist, “are indeed remarkable.”

At this juncture, the two colleagues found that they had reached the front of the queue, placed their orders, and went their separate ways.◼

References

Goetz, C., Easton, J., Lewis, D., & Buss, D. (2012). Sexual exploitability: Observable cues and their link to sexual attraction. Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.12.004

Science online, socially un-contagious edition

Science online, socially un-contagious edition

Treatment For Married Couples Addicted To Heroin

Heroin addiction can take a heavy toll on any relationship, but the effects can be even more damaging when both spouses share the addiction.

Studies show that marriages are 4 to 7 times more likely to end in divorce if one or both spouses has a substance abuse problem. For married couples addicted to heroin, getting help is crucial to a lasting relationship.

Addiction Can Spread

Much like a virus, addiction can spread�

 

“through friends, family, and even in a relationship. The people in our lives influence us in many ways, and too often substance abuse is no exception.

This also applies to relapsing. If one partner tries to get clean while the other is reluctant or ambivalent about quitting, then the partner who is still using is going to have an influence on the partner who is not. This may be through deliberate temptation or it may be a subconscious way of sabotaging the other person’s recovery.

How A Relationship Can Be Harmed For Married Couples Addicted To Heroin

Relationships in which both people abuse drugs are common. But a happy marriage is difficult enough to maintain, without adding in the additional stress of addiction. When your judgment is impaired by heroin, it becomes much harder not to say hurtful things, or do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.

Your marriage could be in trouble if using heroin is the only thing you enjoy doing together, or if you need it in order show each other affection or discuss your marriage. You may also be in trouble if using heroin leads to verbal or physical abuse by one or both of you, or if one or both of you neglect important responsibilities, like caring for the children or the house.

Seeking Treatment

It takes great courage to break the cycle and seek drug rehab for married couples. But no matter how difficult it may seem to get help, it’s essential if you want to prevent further destruction in your life. Continued drug use leads to relationship problems, the loss of family or friends, financial instability, and growing risk to your mental and physical health.

Seeking help alone is possible, but your chance at successful recovery is much higher if both spouses go into rehab at the same time. You’ll learn the tools to manage your own addiction, while also learning how to be supportive and communicate better, which will lead to a healthier marriage.

Treatment Options

There are a variety of options for receiving treatment, and it’s important to seek help from professionals and facilities who specialize in helping couples. You’ll need a plan that is tailored to each of you individually, as well as to both of you as a married couple.

If you have a strong relationship and are both equally committed to recovery, you could attend rehab together. You’ll reaffirm your commitment to your marriage and learn the tools and techniques to function better as a couple.

If your marriage has been badly damaged, or domestic violence or threats have occurred, or if one partner has more challenges to overcome, such as emotional or mental issues, then it may be better to work separately on your own recovery first, so that you can both stabilize and be healthier and stronger before you come back together and work on your marriage as a unit.

You could also participate in couples therapy. Studies have shown that couples therapy can provide many benefits and can reduce the risk of relapse.

The Future

After the completion of rehab, you and your spouse can continue with therapy together and offer each other support by helping each other avoid triggers, stay on track, and keep using the skills learned through rehab.

By taking the first step toward recovery, married couples addicted to heroine can break the chains of substance abuse and begin working toward a healthier, happier life.

Lesbian and gay married couples seeking treatment can have a rough time finding a facility that accepts LGBT partners. We found a few treatment centers that will accept LGBT. There are special group sessions at lesbian couples drug rehab for married or unmarried gay partners. The society of LGBT addiction Treatment offers literature and brochures on the subject.
You probably won’t catch bad eating habits at that cocktail party. As long as you go easy on the canapés. Photo by rocketlass.

Big blogging news this week: Bora Zivkovic and the team at Scientific American have launched a big new network of science blogs, sweeping up a large chunk of my RSS subscriptions, including Kate Clancy, Eric Michael Johnson, Christie Wilcox, Krystal D’Costa, Kevin Zelnio, Jason Goldman, and SciCurious. And just like that, SciAm is the center of the science blogosphere. Congrats to everyone involved!

  • When the press release precedes peer review, check your wallet. A whole series of studies proposing that behaviors from divorce to overeating are “contagious” via social ties may be bunk.
  • Hoisted on their own statistical petard. A study of dinosaur morphology data using statistical methods invented by Creationists ends up confirming descent with modification.
  • Solution: either more funding, or fewer deaths. US Federal funding for research into solutions to infection by drug-resistant Staphylococcuscomes to less than $600 per MRSA death.
  • Darwin was polite even in pencil. Robert Krulwich examines Charles Darwin’s marginalia.
  • They’re elephants with wings! Why you should never piss off a crow.
Diversity in Science Carnival: Pride Month 2011

Diversity in Science Carnival: Pride Month 2011

Even though the queer nerd is a long-established phenomenon, and a pretty common one these days, we’re not necessarily very visible in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics disciplines. Even cutting-edge fields can be surprisingly conservative, and a lot of us end up in industries or academic departments where people are still not asking or telling. And on the other hand, science often has a lower profile within the queer community than it deserves—how many queer scientist types have you seen on TV lately? Yeah, me neither.

(Maybe Willow Rosenberg? But she ditched computer science for magic, and she’s been off the air since 2003!)

As just one example of this, when Alberto Roca and I went looking for science-related videos on the “It Gets Better” project website, where queer adults can post their stories to encourage queer kids who are dealing with bullying, neither of us found much. Big tech companies like Microsoft, Pixar, Bayer, and Eli Lilly are well represented, but search for individuals’ videos labeled “science” and you get … not a lot.

So where are the examples of queer scientists for today’s nerdy gay, lesbian, bi, and trans kids to look toward?

Well, actually, we’re all over the place. For last October’s National Coming Out Day, Steve Silberman and Maggie Koerth-Baker put together a wonderful double feature at BoingBoing, compiling the personal stories of LGBT scientists, and presenting an in-depth interview with endocrinologist Neena Schwartz. Now, for the Pride edition of the Diversity in Science blog carnival, we have another array of voices from across the science blogosphere: queer and allied scientists and science fans, discussing everything from gay history to the science of sexuality to their personal experiences as sexual minorities in scientific workplaces.

The carnival commences after the jump!

Our stories

We’re nerds, so I think we tend to be fairly accepting of variance.
—A respondent to Rick MacPherson’s survey of LGBT folks in ocean science

To kick things off, here’s one notable exception to the lack of science-y personal “It Gets Better” vidoes, and it’s a queer nerdy delight: Borja’s even wearing my favorite xkcd shirt.

Carnival contributor AstroDyke also suggests the IGBP video by Apple employees.

David Kroll highlights an in-depth report on LGBT folks in the chemical sciences, many of whom don’t feel safe to be out at work—as well as recent findings from the Center for Work-Life Policy that making a workplace LGBT-friendly benefits employers as well as employees. Rick MacPherson reports the results of his survey of LGBT folks in the oceanic sciences, covering broad trends and individual responses. Marcelo Vinces—who started a blog just to contribute to this carnival—says that early neurological and genetic studies of same-sex attraction helped him come out.

It gets better in the sciences for a lot of us, but it also gets complicated. EcoPhysioMichelle finds she must “write her own history” as a bisexual and a scientist. Gerty-z explains how coming out at work doesn’t happen just once—it happens over and over again.

For your enjoyment, here is a representative conversation:
person: So, what does your husband do?
me: there is no husband. But, my wife is a [redacted]
person: …
person: OH. *looks awkward*

Sarcozona wonders where the other queer ecologists are, and suggests we should, er, recruit:

I think science should be doing more to recruit young queer students. So many queer students major in gender studies or queer theory because those subjects help us understand ourselves better, validate our experiences, and focus on making the world a better place. But science can do that, too!

Finally, Alberto Roca of Minority Postdoc covers (with coauthor David G. Taylor) the first career summit organized by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals—an event that both recognized how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

Our history

Gay history is intertwined with the history of science, sometimes quite closely. Romeo Vitelli recounts the story of Alan Turing, who helped defeat Nazi Germany with groundbreaking innovations in machine calculation, only to find himself sentenced to hormonal “castration” for being gay.

Sculpture of Alan Turing by Stephen Kettle, at Bletchley Park National Codes Centre, UK. Photo by Leo Reynolds.
Several of Turing’s colleagues from his Bletchley Park days also supported him. His mentor, Max Newman, and fellow cryptanalyst Hugh Alexander acted as character witnesses during his trial. This was a courageous stand for them considering the “guilt by association” mentality that often tarred anyone who supported convicted sex criminals. Many of Turing’s friends, homosexuals themselves, felt obliged to distance themselves out of fear that they would be suspected as well.

Astrodyke wonders when groundbreaking gay rights activist Frank Kameny will be recognized by his fellow astronomers. And last but not least, in a post with strong contemporary relevance, David Kroll discusses the sometimes uneasy relationship between the Civil Rights movement and the later gay rights movement.

Our science

One of the major challenges of dealing with sexual minorities in a scientific context is that human sexuality means very different things in different cultural contexts. Eric Michael Johnson describes how a 5,000-year-old, possibly-male skeleton buried laying on its left side turned into a “gay caveman” in the retelling—even though he certainly wasn’t a caveman, and probably wasn’t gay.

By all accounts it seems that the UK Telegraph had the dubious honor of being first in this case, and in so doing committed two wrongs in just as many words: “Gay Caveman.” First off, a person living during the Chalcolithic (a period previously referred to as the “Bronze Age”) was not a caveman. This highly inaccurate term is usually used for Neandertals or Cro-Magnon humans, both of whom lived about 35,000 years ago.

In an incisive piece for the magazine Orion this March, Alex Johnson proposed queering ecology to better understand on humans’ relationship with nature. Earlier this year, I discussed the diversity of sexuality Joan Roughgarden found across the animal kingdom, and last week I delved into how natural selection might—or might not—act on human same-sex sexuality. Meanwhile Luke Swenson, a doctoral candidate in virology at the University of British Columbia, has been steadily producing great posts about the latest HIV research at his blog Going Viral since it launched back in February.

And that’s it for the Pride 2011 Diversity in Science carnival. Look for new editions of DiS in the near future!

Thanks to the contributors who sent in all these great posts, and many, many thanks to Alberto Roca at Minority Postdoc, who chose to relaunch Diversity in Science with this Pride Month carnival, and relentlessly rounded up a host, contributors, and a long list of cool resources to include in the Carnival.

We need to hear what we’d rather not

We need to hear what we’d rather not

The issues faced by women in the blogosphere—higher expectations, less recognition, and casual sexism—have officially emerged as the most important discussion topic in the wake of ScienceOnline 2011.

Kate Clancy kicked things off with her recap of the conference panel “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.” Christie Wilcox followed up by calling out the flagrant sexism of many of her male readers, which made David Dobbs righteously angry—and, seriously, who actually believes that any sentence containing the word “tits” is complimentary in any context? Emily Willingham noted that her voice is unique in ways beyond her gender. And now Clancy is rounding up the rapidly propagating conversation.

The conversation’s ongoing in the comments on all these posts, and (barring a handful of amazingly clueless folks) mostly great reading. My major thought on the subject remains what I said in first tweeting about the post that started it all: the most valuable parts of this conversation are the things that men are probably not all that happy to hear. When I read
We are all very, very tired of making a point on a blog, on twitter, or in a meeting, being ignored, having a man make the same point, then having that man get all the credit. Very tired.
my first thought was defensive: I’ve never done that! My second was, Oh, crap. Have I done that?

I’ve long believed that the value of a sermon is proportionate to how uncomfortable it makes its audience. No one needs to be told they’re doing just fine as they are. But if we’re not doing fine, we need to hear about it. So to the women science bloggers leading this conversation, I want to say: keep calling out male thoughtlessness, in specifics as well as in general. If I miss that you said something first because I’m not reading your blog, drop a link in the comments. If I write something stupid, e-mail me and complain. I may not be thrilled to be corrected, but that probably means I needed it.

Evolution’s Rainbow, from sparrows’ stripes to lizard lesbianism

Evolution’s Rainbow, from sparrows’ stripes to lizard lesbianism

Evolutionary biology is not just the study of how living things change over time, but the study of how the diversity of living things changes over time. Diversity is the raw material sculpted by natural selection, carved into more-or-less discrete chunks by speciation, and lost forever in extinction.

Joan Roughgarden is even more preoccupied with diversity than most evolutionary biologists. Some of her earliest published studies examine the evolution of optimum niche width, the range of resources a species uses, using mathematical modeling [$a] and empirical studies of resource and habitat use in Anolis lizards [$a]. Roughgarden didn’t treat a species as a uniform group, but a collection of individuals all making a living in slightly different ways. Among other subjects, her work informed thinking about ecological release, the changes that reshape populations freed from predators or competitors.

White-throated sparrows are just one species with more than two gender roles.

 

This interest in the evolutionary context of diversity would eventually become much more personal. In 1998, she came out as transgendered, taking the name Joan after decades spent establishing her scientific reputation under the name she was given at birth, Jonathan. In addition to the challenges inherent to gender transition, Roughgarden’s expertise intersects with her identity in one awkward question: in a biological world shaped by natural selection, how can we explain the evolution of lesbians, gay men, and transgendered people—individuals who are not interested in sexual activity that passes on their genes?

Roughgarden’s answer was to begin a program of research questioning the dominant way of thinking about sex in an evolutionary context. In 2004, she presented her conclusions comprehensively in the book Evolution’s Rainbow, calling for biologists to re-think they way they understood and described sexual behavior throughout the animal kingdom. As another biologist with an admitted personal interest in the question, I’ve found Evolution’s Rainbow to be a great starting point for thinking about sexuality in an evolutionary context.

Human sexuality as one stripe in nature’s rainbow

Cover image from Google Books.Evolution’s Rainbow takes aim at the idea that most sexual species are divided into neat, binary reproductive roles, in which males aggressively court females who judge them to find the healthiest mate—a model with little room for same-sex attractions, or more than two gender roles. Darwin conceived of this sexual selection to explain traits and behaviors that did not improve an individual’s odds of survival—or, indeed, could even reduce them—but that were, he suggested, involved in demonstrating a male’s health and virility.

However, Darwin’s very Victorian thinking doesn’t have much place for same-sex sexuality, or gender roles outside the male-female binary. Roughgarden argued that sexuality in the animal kingdom is much more varied than the aggressive males-choosy females binary. She holds that this diversity of behavior is better explained by a new model, which she terms social selection. The first several chapters of the book are dominated by the first of these points, and Roughgarden rounds up a tremendous array of sexual behaviors. To highlight just three that particularly struck me:

White-throated sparrows (pictured above) have evolved social roles separate from their sexual roles. Male and female white-throated sparrows may have one of two plumage morphs, each associated with different levels of aggressiveness—sparrows with bright white facial stripes sing and respond to other sparrows’ songs to defend a nesting territory; birds with duller, “tan” stripes sing less frequently and are less territorial. Mated pairs of sparrows are most successful when they’re mixed, but it doesn’t matter whether the male or the female in a pair is the aggressive one. Mated pairings between tan-striped males and white-striped females have just as many chicks [$a] as pairings between white-striped males and tan-striped females. Roughgarden proposes that, like the sparrows’ stripes, many traits biologists have understood to be signals for sexual roles are actually signaling social roles that need not be strictly associated with males or females.

Are smaller bluegill males “sneakers,” or helpers? Photo by IcK9s.To take another example, male bluegill sunfish may follow one of two developmental pathways, with differing reproductive strategies. Some male bluegills—large males—do not reproduce until they grow big enough to defend a nesting territory; females lay eggs in territories defended by males they favor. Other male bluegills begin their reproductive lives at a much smaller size, by fertilizing unattended eggs in the large males’ territories whenever they get the chance. As they grow larger, though, these now-medium-sized males change strategies—they join in the large males’ courtship of females, and fertilize some of the eggs laid in the large males’ territory. Medium males’ coloration resembles that of female bluegills, and their strategy has been described as deceptive, mimicking females to “cuckold” large males [PDF]. Roughgarden favors another explanation: that medium males are collaborating with large males [$a], helping to attract females in return for a chance to reproduce.

Finally, in several species of whiptail lizards, females have evolved that don’t need males to reproduce—their eggs are fertile without sperm. Yet these parthenogenetic females copulate with each other, and this same-sex activity helps to stimulate egg-laying. Parthenogenetic females form longer-term associations and share burrows [$a], which is much less common in related, sexually-reproducing species. Roughgarden suggests that for parthenogenetic whiptails, sex has an important role in social interaction even though its reproductive function is diminished.

Females of some whiptail lizard species don’t need a male to reproduce—but copulating with another female helps. (Pictured: a male little striped whiptail, who may be feeling a mite left out.) Photo by jerryoldenettel.This survey of the animal kingdom showcases instances where sexual selection doesn’t seem to fit very well. It also provides a broader evolutionary context for human sexual minorities. The point is not to show that same-sex sexual activity is “natural”—Roughgarden explicitly and scrupulously avoids the “naturalistic fallacy”—but to seek the evolutionary roots of human sexuality. Just as we can learn about the history of human cognition from the problem-solving skills of our closest evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, the fact that bonobo social interactions are structured by sexual relationships between females tells us something about the history of human sexuality.

Social, not sexual, selection?

Roughgarden argues that the diversity of sexual behavior in nature cannot be explained by sexual selection as Darwin originally conceived it. Instead, she proposes that sexual behavior is shaped by social selection, in which individuals cultivate social relationships to obtain resources or reproductive opportunities. She has since developed the verbal model presented in Evolution’s Rainbow as formal game theory models, showing how individuals might cooperate to raise offspring [PDF], including in coalitions more complicated than male-female pairs. Under Roughgarden’s view, sexual interactions, including homosexual ones, can be part of the social interaction that binds together such coalitions.

Roughgarden’s ideas are still under considerable debate. The 2006 game theory paper mentioned in the previous paragraph attracted no fewer than 10 written responses objecting to its rejection of sexual selection theory with varying degrees of vehemence. Tim Clutton-Brock explicitly responded to Roughgarden in a 2007 review arguing that sexual selection remains a useful framework [PDF] for describing most animal mating systems. In his review of Evolution’s Rainbow for the journal Evolution, Douglas Futuyma praised the book’s survey of diversity in animal mating systems. However, Futuyma cautioned against throwing out the idea of sexual selection altogether, quoting Hamlet’s exhortation to his mother: “O throw away the worser part of it/ And live the purer with the other half.”

The debate is outside my immediate expertise, but I would not be surprised if we eventually come to understand sexual selection and social selection as related models with differing degrees of specificity. In forming scientific theories, there is an inherent tension between the goal of explaining as wide a range of observations as possible, and doing so with the simplest possible model. Sexual selection is a simple model that may explain the majority of animal mating systems. Social selection, on the other hand, is potentially much more complicated, proposing a different reproductive game for every animal species—but this also means that a social selection model can be found to fit mating behaviors that cannot be explained by sexual selection.

However the debate over explanatory models is resolved, Roughgarden’s work to broaden the evolutionary perspective on sex has been truly important. Evolutionary biology aims to explain the entire scope of the living world. Evolution’s Rainbow reminds us how endless, and how beautiful, the forms of life truly are.

Joan Roughgarden has since written a second book, The Genial Gene, which elaborates key themes from Evolution’s Rainbow, such as the idea that cooperation may be a better model for the evolution of social interactions than competition and selfishness. For more background on Roughgarden and her work, see the New York Times profile and this piece by Jonah Lehrer for SEED Magazine, as well as Roughgarden’s lab website, all linked in the text above.

References

Clutton-Brock, T. (2007). Sexual selection in males and females. Science, 318 (5858), 1882-5 DOI: 10.1126/science.1133311

Crews D., Grassman M., & Lindzey J. (1986). Behavioral facilitation of reproduction in sexual and unisexual whiptail lizards. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 83 (24), 9547-50 PMID: 3467325

Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. John Murray, London. Google Books.

Dominey, W. (1981). Maintenance of female mimicry as a reproductive strategy in bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 6 (1), 59-64 DOI: 10.1007/BF00001800

Futuyma, D. (2005). Celebrating diversity in sexuality and gender. Evolution, 59 (5), 1156-9 DOI: 10.1554/BR05-4

Kopachena, J., & Falls, J. (1993). Aggressive performance as a behavioral correlate of plumage polymorphism in the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). Behaviour, 124 (3), 249-66 DOI: 10.1163/156853993X00605

Leuck, B. (1982). Comparative burrow use and activity patterns of parthenogenetic and bisexual whiptail lizards (Cnemidophorus: Teiidae). Copeia, 1982 (2), 416-24 DOI: 10.2307/1444623

Roughgarden, J. (1972). Evolution of niche width. The American Naturalist, 106 (952), 683-718 DOI: 10.1086/282807

Roughgarden, J. (2004). Evolution’s Rainbow. University of California Press, Berkeley. Google Books.

Roughgarden, J., Oishi, M., & Akçay, E. (2006). Reproductive social behavior: Cooperative games to replace sexual selection. Science, 311 (5763), 965-9 DOI: 10.1126/science.1110105

Rummel, J., & Roughgarden, J. (1985). Effects of reduced perch-height separation on competition between two Anolis lizards. Ecology, 66 (2), 430-44 DOI: 10.2307/1940392