Thursday, January 01, 2009

In A Name - 
Nominative Determinism

From the London Times:

10 cases where moniker maketh man

The New Scientist gave it the name nominative determinism - the idea that there is a link between people's names and their occupation.

In their book Yes!, Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini cite the classic piece of research that supports the idea that nominative determism really exists. A study of the rolls of the American Dental Association shows that more people called Dennis become dentists than you would expect if the choice of profession were purely random.

And now we have the exquisitely named Bernard Madoff, making off with his client's cash.

Here are my top 10 examples of nominative determinism.

1. Theodore Hee. Mr T. Hee was responsible for most of the early comic storylines for Walt Disney films.

2. Cardinal Sin. The classic example, I think. Jamie Sin was an Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines. Wikipedia helpfully notes: "His name should not be confused with "cardinal sin", which is synonymous for the seven deadly sins".

3. Judge Judge. In July of this year Sir Igor Judge was appointed Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

4. Amy Freeze. Fox News Chicago's Chief Meteorologist could hardly have chosen a different profession. Save, perhaps, setting pay for Government employees.

5. Patty Turner. The inevitable name of the wife of McDonald's CEO Frank Turner.

6. Governor Blagojevich. The man responsible for introducing Americans to the British slang term "blag" which as the dictionary puts it means "To rob, steal [origin unknown]

7. Dr Fred Grabiner. This is what the internet is for. A forum on appropriate names yields this brilliant moniker for a gynaecologist.

8. J. W. Splatt and D. Weedon. The New Scientist campaign was spurred on by the discovery of these two authors of an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology (vol 49, pp 173-176, 1977).

9. Usain Bolt. Surely his surname influenced the career of the world's fastest man? The same cannot be said of Marina Stepanova. This is the ideal name for an elite hurdler. But she earned her first titles under her maiden name of Marina Makeyeva, so her name can't have influenced her choice of career. Perhaps, though, it influenced her choice of husband.

10. Paige Worthy. Nominative determism has also fascinated the Freaknonomics blog ever since they discovered this fact checker for Good magazine.

Here are some more:

1) Bill Gates - The overarching goal of Bill Gates' life has been to find a way to bill you every time you pass through a gate on the internet.

2) Ralph Nader - he sees himself as being the Nadir, or the person who is the oppositional character to those who are in power.

3) Jorg Haider - Racist European politician.

4) Johnny Unitas - One of the greatest team-leading quarterbacks in NFL history.

5) Karl Marx - He was a German Philosopher (a country in which the basic unit of money is referred to as the Deutsche mark) who was "all about the money," in that he was the father of Economic Determinism.

6) Neel Kashkari - The guy who's in charge of the American economic bailout. Need I say more. 

I'll think of some more and add them to the list. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grape extract kills cancer cells


An extract from grape seeds can destroy cancer cells, US research suggests.

In lab experiments, scientists found that the extract stimulated leukaemia cells to commit suicide. 

Within 24 hours, 76% of leukaemia cells exposed to the extract were killed off, while healthy cells were unharmed, Clinical Cancer Research reports

The study raises the possibility of new cancer treatments, but scientists said it was too early to recommend that people eat grapes to ward off cancer. 

"What everyone seeks is an agent that has an effect on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone, and this shows that grapeseed extract fits into this category" 
Professor Xianglin Shi
University of Kentucky

Grape seeds contain a number of antioxidants, including resveratrol, which is known to have anti-cancer properties, as well as positive effect on the heart. 

Previous research has shown grapeseed extract has an effect on skin, breast, bowel, lung, stomach and prostate cancer cells in the laboratory. 

It can also reduce the size of breast tumours in rats and skin tumours in mice. 
However, the University of Kentucky study is the first to test its impact on a blood cancer. 

Lead researcher Professor Xianglin Shi said: "These results could have implications for the incorporation of agents such as grapeseed extract into prevention or treatment of haematological (blood) malignancies and possibly other cancers. 

"What everyone seeks is an agent that has an effect on cancer cells but leaves normal cells alone, and this shows that grapeseed extract fits into this category." 
The researchers exposed leukaemia cells to grape extract in a range of different doses. 

One of the higher doses produced a marked effect, causing large numbers of the cells to commit suicide in a process known as apoptosis. 

This is a natural method of getting rid of damaged and potentially dangerous cells. 
When the mechanism behind apoptosis breaks down, cancerous cells can survive and multiply. 

The researchers found grapeseed extract activates a protein called JNK which helps to regulate apoptosis. 

When they exposed the leukaemia cells to an agent that inhibits JNK, the grapeseed extract effect was cancelled out. 

Silencing the gene that makes JNK also blocked the extract's ability to kill cancer cells. 

Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's senior cancer information officer, warned against jumping to firm conclusions. 

She said: "This is yet another story highlighting the potential cancer-fighting properties of naturally-occurring chemicals. 

"Although interesting, it's still a long way from being a treatment that we can give to patients." 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Surfer Dude 
Stuns Physicists 
With Theory 

An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists.

Garrett Lisi, 39, has a doctorate but no university affiliation and spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii, where he has also been a hiking guide and bridge builder (when he slept in a jungle yurt).

In winter, he heads to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he snowboards. "Being poor sucks," Lisi says. "It's hard to figure out the secrets of the universe when you're trying to figure out where you and your girlfriend are going to sleep next month."

Despite this unusual career path, his proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be possible to test his theory, which predicts a host of new particles, perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that will go into action near Geneva next year.

Although the work of 39 year old Garrett Lisi still has a way to go to convince the establishment, let alone match the achievements of Albert Einstein, the two do have one thing in common: Einstein also began his great adventure in theoretical physics while outside the mainstream scientific establishment, working as a patent officer, though failed to achieve the Holy Grail, an overarching explanation to unite all the particles and forces of the cosmos.

Now Lisi, currently in Nevada, has come up with a proposal to do this. Lee Smolin at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, describes Lisi's work as "fabulous". "It is one of the most compelling unification models I've seen in many, many years," he says.

"Although he cultivates a bit of a surfer-guy image its clear he has put enormous effort and time into working the complexities of this structure out over several years," Prof Smolin tells The Telegraph.

"Some incredibly beautiful stuff falls out of Lisi's theory," adds David Ritz Finkelstein at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. "This must be more than coincidence and he really is touching on something profound."

The new theory reported today in New Scientist has been laid out in an online paper entitled "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything" by Lisi, who completed his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego.

He has high hopes that his new theory could provide what he says is a "radical new explanation" for the three decade old Standard Model, which weaves together three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the electromagnetic force; the strong force, which binds quarks together in atomic nuclei; and the weak force, which controls radioactive decay.

The reason for the excitement is that Lisi's model also takes account of gravity, a force that has only successfully been included by a rival and highly fashionable idea called string theory, one that proposes particles are made up of minute strings, which is highly complex and elegant but has lacked predictions by which to do experiments to see if it works.

But some are taking a cooler view. Prof Marcus du Sautoy, of Oxford University and author of Finding Moonshine, told the Telegraph: "The proposal in this paper looks a long shot and there seem to be a lot things still to fill in."

And a colleague Eric Weinstein in America added: "Lisi seems like a hell of a guy. I'd love to meet him. But my friend Lee Smolin is betting on a very very long shot."

Lisi's inspiration lies in the most elegant and intricate shape known to mathematics, called E8 - a complex, eight-dimensional mathematical pattern with 248 points first found in 1887, but only fully understood by mathematicians this year after workings, that, if written out in tiny print, would cover an area the size of Manhattan.

E8 encapsulates the symmetries of a geometric object that is 57-dimensional and is itself is 248-dimensional. Lisi says "I think our universe is this beautiful shape."

What makes E8 so exciting is that Nature also seems to have embedded it at the heart of many bits of physics. One interpretation of why we have such a quirky list of fundamental particles is because they all result from different facets of the strange symmetries of E8.

Lisi's breakthrough came when he noticed that some of the equations describing E8's structure matched his own. "My brain exploded with the implications and the beauty of the thing," he tells New Scientist. "I thought: 'Holy crap, that's it!'"

What Lisi had realised was that he could find a way to place the various elementary particles and forces on E8's 248 points. What remained was 20 gaps which he filled with notional particles, for example those that some physicists predict to be associated with gravity.

Physicists have long puzzled over why elementary particles appear to belong to families, but this arises naturally from the geometry of E8, he says. So far, all the interactions predicted by the complex geometrical relationships inside E8 match with observations in the real world. "How cool is that?" he says.

The crucial test of Lisi's work will come only when he has made testable predictions. Lisi is now calculating the masses that the 20 new particles should have, in the hope that they may be spotted when the Large Hadron Collider starts up.

"The theory is very young, and still in development," he told the Telegraph. "Right now, I'd assign a low (but not tiny) likelyhood to this prediction.

"For comparison, I think the chances are higher that LHC will see some of these particles than it is that the LHC will see superparticles, extra dimensions, or micro black holes as predicted by string theory. I hope to get more (and different) predictions, with more confidence, out of this E8 Theory over the next year, before the LHC comes online."