I’ve always had an irrational fear of sharks. Every time I go surfing, I get this horridly vivid thought of a massive shark creeping below the surface, ready to pull me into the water. Hamish Jolly shares my fear. He’s an ocean swimmer in Australia, a country with 892 shark attacks on record since 1791, 217 of which have been fatal. He set out to create a suit designed to keep humans safe in the water, and the early results look promising! The designs work by using rather simple patterns that apparently confuse the shark just enough to avoid an attack.
I’ll definitely look into wearing one of these wetsuits next time I hit the open water.
When I first read these headlines, I was understandably intrigued. Had someone REALLY found good evidence in MRI data that there are differences in the brains of casual marijuana smokers? The idea is not totally far fetched. Alcohol is known to be neurotoxic and it can shrink the size of the brain through dehydration, but this is mostly corrected after you quit drinking. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke is also a known neurotoxin, but I’ve never read about any changes in the size of anatomical regions of the brain from smoking tobacco, unless you count brain tumors. However, no one has ever really found evidence to support major anatomical changes in the brain following marijuana use. So could this really be true?
Even before reading the paper, my intuition said the answer was no… brain imaging research is notoriously fraught with spurious findings linked to inappropriate use of statistics.
I gave the paper a casual read, and immediately, I noticed problems, MAJOR problems. First of all, sample size… only 20 people were included in the cross-sectional study. That is low. A cross-sectional study means that they had no within-subject comparisons. In other words, all of the data was collected at one time. A much stronger approach would have been to image subjects before they smoke and then through time as they begin to “casually smoke” marijuana. Of course, this is much more difficult, but with a study design containing so many potential confounds (see below), it’s pretty much required (imho) to say anything definitively.
Second of all, the confounds… the investigators did not control for various other aspects of these people’s lives that may cause changes in brain anatomy. How much did each subject drink? smoke tobacco? do other drugs? etc… These all could be equally correlated to the differences in brain anatomy which they discovered. Or it could something entirely different like genetics?
And lastly, the statistics… I came across this article by computational biologist Lior Pachter, and that was sort of the nail in the coffin. I suggest reading through it because Lior does a great job of highlighting the problems with multiple comparison statistics, causation vs. correlation, and many other mistakes.
He even calls it “quite possibly the worst paper [he’s] read all year.” The Journal of Neuroscience is a rather prestigious journal, so this is all the more upsetting.
I do not study the effects of marijuana use on the brain, so I can’t tell you how it may or may not cause harm. I am absolutely positive it has some effect. But it’s important to remember that pretty much everything you do creates changes in your brain. Reading a book, riding a bike, talking with your friends… these all create lasting memories that are encoded in your neurons. However, after reading this most recent article, there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY you can assert that marijuana use is harmful, or creates anatomical changes, or anything really…
It’s just another case of sensationalist reporting of poorly conducted science.
There is something enchanting to be found in chalkboards, an intellectual canvas where remnants of hypnotic scribbles and fantastical ideas are scattered. They epitomize that moment where knowledge and imagination meet to foster new ideas. Academic brainstorming sessions in fields such as quantum mechanics often result in a flurry of mysterious equations, symbols, and geometric shapes, and Alejandro Guijarro set out to capture them.
Alejandro is an artist based in London and Madrid who works primarily in photography. Over a three year period, he traveled the world visiting institutions known for their prowess in quantum mechanics: CERN in Switzerland, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, and UC Berkeley.
From the artist:
“I’ve visited top universities all over the world for this project: Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Berkeley, Cern in Switzerland, Brussels, Vienna and institutions in China and Spain. It was a challenge to find places that still had blackboards rather than whiteboards or interactive screens. Many of the boards were in professors’ own rooms where they do their research. Some of them were intrigued, wondering why I wanted to photograph work they didn’t consider important. They didn’t see what they had done as art.”
Quantum mechanics (you can read about here, good luck!) is a branch of physics dealing with the strange, quantum realm of atomic and subatomic matter. You would have to work hard to find a more confusing (and compelling) topic to capture in photographic form. All of this mystery builds the intrigue found in Alejandro’s photographs. The aesthetic is certainly a nice interaction of line, color, and form, but the real magic lies in knowing these symbols represent the very fabric of our reality. It’s fascinating stuff!
If you’ve enjoyed these, you can find more from Alejandro Guijarro at his site.
The ocean is full of trash. If you don’t believe me, check out this post. Just like Mandy Barker, artist Gilles Cenazandotti was inspired by the mass of ocean debris which affects our habitat. The animal sculptures above (from a project titled “Future Bestiary”) were formed from recycled products found on beaches — plastic bottles, lighters, combs, bags, etc…
Speaking about his work Cenazandotti said:
“Impressed by everything that the Sea, in turn, rejects and transforms, on the beaches I harvest the products derived from petroleum and its industry. The choice of animals that are part of the endangered species completes this process. In covering these animals with a new skin harvested from the banks of the Sea, I hope to draw attention to this possible metamorphosis – to create a trompe l’oeil of a modified reality.”
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival of color and love celebrated at the arrival of spring in India and Nepal. Music, dancing, and explosions of colored powder create these incredible visual landscapes. The celebration starts with a big bonfire, and the next morning, everyone runs around the city with water guns, balloons, and powder painting the city rich with color.
Several groups form impromptu musical parades with drums and other musical instruments. At the end of the day, people dress up and visit with friends and family.
It’s a wonderful place to capture photos. I imagine it would ruin your camera, but it’s worth the risk!
I’m loving these illustrations by Zao Dao, an artist based in Kaiping, China. She wields earth-toned watercolor paint to create these beautiful, Dalí-esque illustrations. I honestly don’t know too much about the artist. I suppose she doesn’t have the biggest presence in the Western world, but maybe that will all change soon.
You can check out the whole collection at Zao Dao’s facebook site.