Today has been a very bitty lab day. At lunchtime I was carolling, and I spent the afternoon lying in an MRI scanner in the name of science. I haven’t achieved much since I got back, though whether I’m actually reacting to magnetic waves, or just being stuck in a box with my head pinned down for 90 minutes remains to be seen.
Nevertheless I’m determined to get one more qPCR run on before the week is out… except I foolishly put everything back in the freezer. While I wait for it to defrost, here are a few things that have caught my eye this week, but that I haven’t yet had a chance to write about:
PhD 2 Published have released a snazzy little app to keep track of how writing is going.
Prof Serious has some tough love advice for people about quitting their PhD (*gulp*)
PubMed have announced a new science writing competition (primarily aimed at biomedical researchers, but I can’t see anything to stop me entering provided I can write about biomedicine…)
The new edition of DSM-5 has been published, and along the way a whole bunch of non-neurotypical conditions have been reclassified (including autism). Long post on that probably coming over the weekend or early next week.
There is a school of thought, as championed by Simon Baron-Cohen, that thinks of autistic disorders as ‘an exaggerated version of maleness’. The theory goes that autists are systematic, unable to articulate feelings, not great at empathising. They tend to gravitate towards logical subjects like maths and science. They often don’t have close friends. The same things are broadly more true of men than of women. Female diagnoses of high-functioning autism are much rarer (4:1 for profound autism, maybe even 9:1 for Aspergers). Ergo, maybe autism = extreme maleness. Girls are less likely to be diagnosed because a particularly “male” girl is… well, a tomboy. Whereas an extra-“male” boy is more of an anomaly.
It’s a nice theory, but has not been conclusively shown to have a physiological or endocrinological basis. The empathising / systemising nature of humans in general has been shown to correlate well with testosterone levels in foetuses. Testosterone has been shown in vitro (i.e. in a petri dish) to have an inhibitory effect upon a transcription factor called RORA, and biopsies show that autists have lower levels of RORA in their brains than the general population. There could very well be a link, but it’s not conclusive. It also doesn’t tell us much about why there is a link.
Advance warning: this is a bit ranty, and more opinion than scientific. But please read it anyway. This is important.
For anyone who has had their head stuck in the sand since Friday, on 20th June 2012 a young man ran into a midnight preview showing of the new Batman film where he released gas cannisters and opened fire with three guns, killing 12 and injuring 58 others. James Eagan Holmes was in court yesterday for the first time to be charged with 142 counts of murder and attempted murder.