Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

Archive for February, 2010

Spending too long on the couch

Posted by Callum Anderson on 28 February, 2010

Couch potatoes beware!, or so says Faculty of 1000 member Paul Pagel in his evaluation of a paper studying links between television viewing time and mortality in Australia.

Television is the sedentary activity of choice for many of us in the developed world. And plenty of studies have already demonstrated a relationship between televison viewing time and various disorders such as cardio-metabolic risk, diabetes and weight gain.

This particular study into television viewing habits of 8800 by Professor David Dunstan and his team is valuable due to the large sample size and also the length of time the observation ran.

By studying a large sample (8800) of adults aged more than 25 for a median period of 6.6 years, the researchers were able to get results on a big enough scale to make some powerful conclusions.

Let’s look at the numbers.

•A total of 284 deaths were reported in the period
•Of which 87 were related to cardiovascular disease

After appropriate adjustments for age, gender, exercise and and body habitus were made, the authors were able to determine that the likelihood of cardiovascular related mortality was increased for each one hour increment of television viewing per day. As viewing time passed four hours per day, the risk was significantly enlarged.

See the results for yourself

After adjustment for age, sex, waist circumference, and exercise, the hazard ratios for each 1-hour increment in television viewing time per day were 1.11 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03 to 1.20) for all-cause mortality, 1.18 (95% CI, 1.03 to 1.35) for CVD mortality, and 1.09 (95% CI, 0.96 to 1.23) for cancer mortality. Compared with a television viewing time of or =2 to or =4 h/d. For CVD mortality, corresponding hazard ratios were 1.19 (95% CI, 0.72 to 1.99) and 1.80 (95% CI, 1.00 to 3.25).

Dunstan and his team at Baker IDI are also careful to note in this paper that television watching itself is not necessarily the danger. Rather it is the prolonged sitting time associated with watching television. I found this paper particularly interesting because it runs against the grain, and insists that as well as promoting healthy initiatives such as exercise and lifestyle modifications, we should also be looking at methods of reducing sedentary activities. What do you think? Is it more important to encourage a healthy lifestyle or discourage an unhealthy one, or is a balance of the two necessary?


Posted in f1000 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

On the run-26Feb10

Posted by rpg on 26 February, 2010

This week, I have mostly been in Philadelphia.

View of Philly

Philadelphia, sometime this week

That was to meet The Scientist team, and sit down with Sarah Greene and figure out exactly how we’re going to run this new beast. The bottom line is that F1000 will now be feeding into The Scientist much more directly, and my job suddenly got a whole lot more interesting (not to mention busy). I’m very much looking forward to it.

We’ve already made a start: our Facebook page is now displaying links from The Scientist (there’s a few glitches that I need to sort out, but it’s there) and I’ll be pitching in with The Scientist’s Twitter feed. And readers should soon notice changes in some of the regular features, as well as additional stuff in print and online. Keep checking back here for updates. Check back here to find out what we’re doing.

Now, I’m totally jet-lagged (the extra two hours on the tarmac waiting to be de-iced didn’t help matters) so I’m going to wish you all a splendid weekend, and I’ll be back Monday.

Dirty snow on the sidewalk

Much as it was a productive week and they’re a great bunch in Philly, I’m glad to be in London again.

Posted in Friday afternoon | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

When animal activists go too far

Posted by stevepog on 25 February, 2010

We have previously discussed the honorable activities of the Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) and its members, including Dario Ringach whose recent paper on animal activism was highly rated by our reviewers.

AMP send regular email updates to scientists and this item looked at an extremely important issue, so I am reproducing it here in full:


Five members of the Science Blogs community have posted strong commentaries today denouncing the activist targeting of a scientist’s child.

As background, UCLA professor Dario Ringach, one of the organizers and participants of last week’s panel discussion about animal research with AR adherents, and two of his colleagues had protests at their homes a few days in advance of the event. In an after-action communique about the protests, it was stated that activists knew where one of Dario’s children went to school and are planning to stage a protest there.

Janet Stemwedel, a panelist in the UCLA discussion, led the outcry on her widely-respected Adventures in Science and Ethics blog with a post entitled “Time to Get Mad. Time to Speak Up.”
(http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/2010/02/time_to_get_mad_time_to_speak.php ) Here is the thrust of her call to action:

“For just daring to stand up and share his view, Dario was targeted for more home demonstrations. And now, activists threaten to bring the demonstration to his children’s schools, to “educate fellow students what their classmate’s father does for a living”.

“Express the view that scientific research is worth doing, plan on your kids being harassed? Is that what we’ve come to? Is this really the society we want to live in?

“If it’s not, we need to stand up and say so, in no uncertain terms.

“Having differing opinions is not a crime. Nobody’s kids should be targeted for harassment because you disagree with their parents. We need to call this behavior out, no matter who does it, no matter what cause they hope to further with it.

“Each time these tactics are the ones that are used, we die a little as a pluralistic society, no matter which side we support. Any member of the public paying attention to such shenanigans should be outraged, and should say so.

“And members of the scientific community especially have reason to oppose these tactics. They reflect, after all, the impression that scientists aren’t really a part of our society, that they’re not really members of our moral community. You can bang on their windows and scare the crap out of their kids, and “normal” people won’t make a peep about it.

“Scientists are normal people, despite their specialized skills and interests. They need to see this bullying for what it is and raise their voices to reject it.

“Scientists, are you mad? Then stand up and say it.”

Four other prominent members of the Science Blogs community have already responded to her call, and other articles are likely to come in following days.   The Science Bloggers are:

PZMyers at Pharyngula:

Orac at Respectful Insolence:

Dr. Isis at On Becoming a Domestic as Laboratory Goddess:

Nick Anthis at The Scientific Activist:

(Please note that some of the posts link to animal rights websites.  If you wish to see what is connected to a specific link and are unwilling to visit activist sites, send us a note.)

How to respond to Dr. Stemwedel’s call to action?   A first step would be to participate in the lively discussion that is continuing in the comment sections of her blog and those of the other writers.  Also, sign the Pro-Test Petition if you have not already  – www.raisingvoices.net – and encourage your family, friends, colleagues and elected officials to do so as well. Consider becoming more involved in outreach about the research message, whether it is to schools or with adults in your community; we have a starter’s guide at www.amprogress.org/advocacy and would be delighted to send you materials and facilitate contacts with other research advocates in your area and with your interests.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Random | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

More food for thought

Posted by stevepog on 24 February, 2010

By Steve Pogonowski and Bea Downing

Work dramas, late bills, latent childhood trauma: adult life is full of potential for the average person to get stressed and deal with it by ‘comfort eating’.

As discussed in a previous post by Callum, labeled ‘Food for thought’ (hence my segued sequel/blatant rip-off title here), there are ongoing studies starting to appear in the earlier pages of top-ranked journals that look at the psychological, rather than purely physical, causes and effects of weight gain and obesity.

But the fact remains that there is still much to learn about the biological processes resulting from the mental stresses of daily life.

In a recent F1000 Biology Report, Faculty Member Achim Peters from the University of Luebeck and Dirk Langemann of Carolo-Wilhelmina-University looked at recent advances detailing how stress affects neurometabolism and eating behavior.

Stress increases the brain’s demand for glucose and, in some people, causes comfort eating and weight gain due to a weak sympathoadrenal response.

Under stress, the brain’s metabolic rate – and glucose demand – shoots up by 12%. Two mechanisms then come in to increase glucose availability to the brain: brain-pull and storage-push. Brain-pull mechanisms increase the percentage and amount of energy that the brain can withdraw from the blood across the blood-brain barrier, while storage-push mechanisms increase blood-glucose levels to flood the system with energy.

During periods of chronic stress, the stronger storage-push response results in the blood being loaded with energy. When the brain’s demand for glucose falls, the storage-push is still releasing glucose into the blood. The remaining glucose is mopped up by insulin and stored as fat.

Peters and Langemann said:

“Evidence accumulates that the stressed mind can choose a metabolic coping strategy by switching its supply mode from brain pull to ‘comfort eating’.”

Chronic stresses in adult life, such as job-related demands and difficulty paying bills, may weaken the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system. In adults with depression and anxiety, weight gain and the risk of obesity were increased in a dose-response fashion with the number of episodes of these common mental disorders.

Problems can also strike earlier in life: early-life stress and juvenile trauma result in long-lasting changes in the activity of the autonomic nervous system and body weight. Prenatal psychosocial stress exposure is associated with hyperinsulinemia in later life, a strong predictor of weight gain and a typical marker of brain-pull inefficiency.

Posted in Communication, f1000, FMs, Press Releases, Science | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on More food for thought

Branching out

Posted by Callum Anderson on 22 February, 2010

We all know that given the right conditions, forests are prone to grow, but until now, it has been very difficult to define what can be considered normal re-growth (i.e. as a forest ages), and what might be considered exceptional growth.

In a paper appearing in PNAS, a team led by Sean McMahon and Geoffrey Parker, both of the Smithsonian Institute have been able to discover evidence for a recent increase in forest growth. Sean and his team were able to access a dataset of biomass from 55 temperate forest plots collected over 22 years.

In putting together weather and CO2 data collected over 100 years and recorded biomass levels over the last 22 years, Sean and his team were able to conclude that 1987-2009 represents a period of exceptional growth in the forests sampled. The interesting thing about this study is that is was perhaps the first to use large datasets in comparison with predicted growth, calculated by using the Monod function.

Once they realised that the biomass was growing much more quickly than expected, McMahon, Parker and the rest of the team attempted to hypothesize why this might be the case.

According to the team, the most likely factors affecting biomass are

1. A small increase in mean temperature over the last 100 years
2. Longer growing seasons over the same period
3. Increased atmospheric CO2 from 1970-2009

Yet again we see evidence suggesting that climate change (note the small ‘c’s) can have a wide effect on the ecosystem. Although this study is only limited to the forests around Maryland, McMahon and Parker believe that the phenomenon is representative of the Eastern deciduous forest biome as a whole.

Faculty of 1000 member Richard Houghton has also noted in his evaluation of the article that the findings here are contrary to results of previous studies. He says

The results are in sharp contrast to the study by Caspersen et al. {1} that found no evidence for increased rates of growth from forest inventory data across five eastern states. On the other hand, Caspersen et al. analyzed growth over the decade ending in the early to mid 1990s, while McMahon et al. analyzed data obtained between 1987 and 2009. Perhaps the different findings help to define ‘recent’ as post-1990.

So it looks like as well as growing at a higher rate than expected, the forests in question also confined growth almost entirely to the period between the mid 1990s and 2009. Should we therefore be looking at the 1990s as an ecological turning point in terms of biomass growth?

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On the run-19Feb10

Posted by rpg on 19 February, 2010

It’s been a short week for me. As I implied elsewhere, I was off sick on Monday, and I’d already booked leave to be out of town Thursday and Friday (which should be today, if this scheduling thing works). And when I got back into the office on Tuesday, I was told that I should take a trip to Philadelphia to say hello to the guys in The Scientist office. The idea is that I can get to know the members of the team, and work out how we’re going to work together to bring even better content to The Scientist magazine. We might also discuss how to use their know-how to build community around F1000 itself.

So on Monday morning I’ll be heading to Heathrow, for a trip to the land of ice and snow. I’ll be back Friday morning London time. News-wise, then, it’s going to be a bit sparse from me, although I hope Steve and Callum will keep the flag flying.

What I can say is that the competition we ran on twitter appears to have been a great success, and some people are already asking when the next one will be. They’re actually asking for the same thing again, but I don’t know whether that has legs. What do you think? Should we limit it to historical papers, or maybe to your own stuff? What else would be fun to do in 140 characters (minus a hashtag)? I’m all ears.

And with that, I have to dash. I’m hoping there will be a new design on the development site when I get back, and I’ll post some screenshots for you to enjoy. Have a nice weekend!


Posted in Friday afternoon | Comments Off on On the run-19Feb10

Is there an alternative?

Posted by Callum Anderson on 19 February, 2010

I read an article recently in a well-known London newspaper which raised an issue I have been thinking about for a long time. What happens when unregulated medicine actually causes more harm than good?

I won’t name names (although the original article does), but in a nutshell, a woman was prescribed pills by a practitioner of Chinese medicine containing the (subsequently banned) substance [aristolochic acid] to treat her acne. On the one hand the pills did their job, and the acne cleared up, but on the other hand they were destroying her kidneys, inducing urinary tract cancer and eventually led to a heart attack. The woman now needs dialysis treatment three times a week and is no longer able to work.

The problem here stemmed from the fact that the sale of Chinese medicine is completely unregulated, and it is pretty unlikely that a practitioner selling the pills is going to have a subscription to Mutagenesis, in which a 2002 article reported the following

It is concluded that there is significant evidence that AA is a powerful nephrotoxic and carcinogenic substance with an extremely short latency period, not only in animals but also in humans. In particular, the highly similar metabolic pathway of activation and resultant DNA adducts of AA allows the extrapolation of carcinogenesis data from laboratory animals to the human situation. Therefore, all products containing botanicals known to or suspected of containing AA should be banned from the market world wide.

And anyway, this study proved to be too little, too late. By the time the ban was in place, the woman had been taking the pills for a little over five years, and the damage was irreversible.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should blanket ban alternative therapies because of one mistake (albeit a pretty huge one). And as my esteemed colleague RPG has previously noted, many alternative remedies have active ingredients which really do work.

However, I can’t help feeling that if alternative medicine (and I use the term ‘medicine’ with the lightest touch) wants to be taken seriously, it really needs to become self-regulating, and ensure things like this can’t happen again.

What form might that regulation take? Well for a start we could insist that all practitioners of alternative medicine are registered with and accredited by their respective council. For Chinese medicine this would be The Chinese Medicine Council, UK. Secondly we need to give these independent bodies real power, the ability to blacklist practitioners and ban substances without exception, and ensure that the medicine suppliers are subject to rigorous product testing before bringing new products to market.

Posted in f1000, Medicine | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Is there an alternative?

Food for thought

Posted by Callum Anderson on 17 February, 2010

A recent evaluation on Faculty of 1000 Biology highlights a novel advance in the fight against adolescent obesity.  In what could be considered the first behavioural trial to treat obesity (i.e. not based on a drug treatment), a team led by Anna L Ford at The Bristol Care of Childhood Obesity Clinic found that by retraining the eating habits of obese patients, sustained weight loss can be achieved.

The trial centres around a new technology called the Mandometer, which has previously been marketed as a device to cure Anorexia-Bulimia.

Mildly humorous instructional video.

The device is essentially a set of weighing scales, linked to a computer, which monitors how much you are eating and how fast you are eating it. Participants record how full they feel on a 100 point scale at various times throughout the meal, and the device then tells them to eat more slowly or quickly depending on their answers.

In recent years, we have come to redefine Anorexia-Bulimia as a behavioural or psychological rather than a medical condition. This study puts forward the argument that it may well be time to look at obesity in the same manner.

As the authors say

An intervention aimed at slowing down speed of eating and reducing portion size through retraining eating behaviour is a useful adjunctive therapy to standard lifestyle modification in obese adolescents.

Now it isn’t particularly surprising that when told what to eat, and how quickly to eat it, the trial participants lost weight. Nor is the conclusion that behavioural based eating interventions are a good way to sustain weight loss a real revelation. However this trial does offer some hope for making sure that patients retain a healthy weight after observation has ended, mainly because the device can be used at home and without supervision. Perhaps technology based solutions may provide a fruitful area of study in the future?

Posted in f1000, Literature, Medicine | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

My kind of guy

Posted by rpg on 17 February, 2010

As you might know, Steve is leaving F1000 next month. I’m going to be ever more busy with The Scientist, and so that we can continue to entertain, amuse and inform on a reasonably frequent basis, I’ve recruited my very young apprentice onto the blog team.

Callum came to us from Cases Network last year and has been doing a lot of valuable donkey-work on our journal and institutions databases. He’s also been figuring out how to get our stuff into PubMed Central, which is why he’s a firm believer in the maxim XML is like violence: if it’s not solving all your problems, you’re not using enough of it. He will be writing about evaluations that catch his eye, and other newsworthy bits and pieces.

This is Callum’s first time blogging, so please make him feel welcome.

Posted in f1000, Meta | Comments Off on My kind of guy

On a new publishing model-the winner!

Posted by rpg on 16 February, 2010

Ladles and gentlespoons, the results are in. We had an amazing response, and after sifting through a mass of #sci140-tagged tweets, discarding all the retweets and publicity (and a huge thank-you to everyone who spread the word), we had 197 unique entries (grep saved my life).

Many of you posted very witty ‘historical’ paper summaries, but there were several who managed to squeeze their own papers into 140 133 characters too. This, I think, was far more difficult, even if it did not lend itself so readily to humour.

It turned out to be quite an interesting social experiment, too. There were a number of themes, possibly the most popular being the structure of DNA (not surprising seeing as most of my twitfriends are at least vaguely biochemical). This from @SelectAgent was one of the best:

Salt of DNA structure= double helix. Strands anti-parallel; has implications. (PS Rosie didn’t help)

Physics, especially quantum mechanics, also featured heavily, and @pssalgado deserves a special mention for

Where are you, Heis? “Don’t know exactly, but I can tell you how fast I’m going!”

Galileo was another favourite among physicists, @sciencebase almost scooping the prize with

Dropped heavy and light ball at Pisa; saw landed at same time. Peer review problems now, especially after telescope incident.

Many entries had fun with Mendel; here’s @marymulv:

Peas for tea. Again! (Damn that gardener.) Smooth, wrinkly, smooth… Is that a pattern? Hm. Should I tell that Darwin fellow??

Stanley Milgram was the subject of a couple of tweets, @sciencebase again making me laugh with

Stanley, is this circuit really 450 Volts, those people look like they’re in real pain? Shut up and just push the lever

Some of you are obviously budding behavioural psychologists, as Pavlov’s famous experiment also attracted a lot of attention? My favourite? @enniscath‘s

Rang bell, fed dogs. Rang bell again, dogs drooled. NO FOOD FOR YOU! BAD DOG! (heh heh. Stoopid dogs).

Honorable mentions should also go to silentypewriter and yokofakun for sheer wit and volume dedication.

But there can be only one winner, I’ve decided. For his poetic take on Watson & Crick’s structure of DNA, and for a smart paper of his own, the winner of the #sci140 competition is…

@CameronNeylon (Cameron Neylon)

The winning entries from Cameron are

Take bacterial cell wall chemistry. Replace proteins + wall with any prot + beads. Easy protein labelled beads! (link)


2 interwound helices, with handedness right, and a 3.4 pitch, and hydration just right + keto not enol or they don’t zip up right (link)

A bag full of f1000 goodies will be winging its way to him very shortly.

Mad props to Cameron, and a big thank you to everyone who participated. It was such good fun, I rather think we might run something like this again. Keep an eye on @f1000 on Twitter for the next one. The full list of #sci140 entries are below the fold.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Competition, Friday afternoon | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »