Sacrificing health for art

I realize art is, of course, subjective. I know what I like; sometimes I can explain why, and sometimes I’m not sure what it is about a piece that draws me to it. Certainly good art evokes emotion and can stir controversy and push limits. And like the notorious virgin Mary/elephant dung uproar, an undergrad at Yale has recently caused quite a stir with her own senior art project:

Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible” while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body. But her project has already provoked more than just debate, inciting, for instance, outcry at a forum for fellow senior art majors held last week. And when told about Shvarts’ project, students on both ends of the abortion debate have expressed shock . saying the project does everything from violate moral code to trivialize abortion.

More after the jump…
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Atlanta conference posts soon, I promise…

It’s been a busy 3 days here in Atlanta. My talk Tuesday was well-received, I have lots of new ideas for future projects, and I’ll have posts on the conference itself starting, hopefully, this afternoon (last night was family time, so no posting). In the meantime, I’m writing up the manuscript for the study I presented and I thought I’d ask for some input with one small portion.

The study itself is a sampling of swine for bacterial carriage. On the first farm we headed out to (and by “we” I, of course, mean my trusty graduate student), we only had on hand as many swabs as we were going to use–no extras. Swine aren’t always very cooperative, and one swab ended up getting contaminated .

So, how would you write this up? Of course in the end I’ll have to go with something dry, academic and boring, but I’m sure y’all can come up with something much more creative…

A note of thanks

Just wanted to say how appreciative I am to those of you who took the time to read and/or comment on this week’s guest posts from my students. Though a few of them did take part in the comments section (something I didn’t require), I know that they were all following along and appreciated the input and questions from y’all. I hope you’ll come back for the next installment in April!


…my grad students.

My spring semester course is on infectious causes of chronic disease, looking at the role various infections play in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions. Since I’ve often discussed the importance of having scientists communicate with the public, I decided to assign each of them to write 2 blog posts for the course, discussing anything of relevance to the course. Their first round of assignments was due last week, and I’ll be posting them beginning on Monday. Constructive comments on their posts are appreciated, but keep in mind that they’re students doing this as an assignment and still learning. Finally, these posts are the students’ own; I’m formatting them for publication here, but beyond that their words (and opinions!) are their own.

Progeria researchers, anyone?

I received a very nice email from a high school student looking for a mentor for a research project on progeria:

Currently, I’m in a science research program at school where we choose a topic of interest and study it for a period of three years, as well as design an experiment and carry it out based on this topic. Eventually, students are able to present their work for competition purposes or just to share their knowledge in symposia or other forums, such as the Intel Science Competition, or the Siemens Competition.

I am studying Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome for my project and have been researching it intensively for the past five months. During the next couple months or so, I need to gather as much information as I can regarding the disorder to give myself insight into potential experimental designs. At this point, I also need to locate a mentor in this field of study. Hopefully, with the guidance of my mentor, I can carry out an experiment and eventually present my results at a variety of symposia.

So, she’s looking for a mentor. If anyone out there works on progeria, or knows a colleague who does (and would be willing to help out a HS student), it would be appreciated if you’d drop me an email so I can pass along that information.

Orgasmic reading

Well, it sure is Monday. 2 grant decisions back, no money. In the meantime, I’m up to my ears in bacteria samples, so I’ll send you over to the LA Times, where they have an entertaining pair of stories: The Science of the Orgasm, and Call him Doctor “Orgasmatron:”

He was in the operating room one day in 1998, implanting electrodes into a patient’s spine to treat her chronic leg pain. (The electrodes are connected to a device that fires impulses to the brain to block pain signals.) But when he turned on the power, “the patient suddenly let out something between a shriek and moan,” says Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in North Carolina.

Asked what was wrong, she replied, “You’ll have to teach my husband how to do that.”

Medblog awards open for voting

Every year, the folks over at host the Medical Weblog Awards. I’ve been nominated a few times, and even did OK in the best new blog category a few years back. This year, I’m apparently nominated in the Best Clinical Weblog category–which, honestly, I don’t think I fit into. So I won’t ask for your votes here, but I’ll suggest you check out some of the other fine blogs that are nominated, and the others that are nominated for all the other awards (including fellow Scienceblogger Orac). If you see something you like, pass along a vote or two.

Revamping funding via powerpoint and IM?

Now that a proposed increase of funding to NIH has again been shot down, scientists have to once again face the reality of intense competition for very scarce funds.

However, the process of awarding research grants is, well, a bit crazy. Scientists work for months on a grant, drafting, revising, trying to winnow it down to fit the page limitations, finding collaborators and assembling potential research teams, obsessing about minutiae in the methods section. We then cross our fingers and send them off for review (which can take many months), and hope that they’ll be well-received. When they’re not, at least they usually come back with helpful comments and suggestions to strengthen the proposal for the next attempt at funding.

However, sometimes it’s clear that the reviewers either didn’t read the proposal carefully (somewhat understandably, as reviewing grant applications is a difficult and rather thankless job), or simply didn’t “get” what was being proposed. A problem with the latter is the time lag–again, it can take months from submission to the point where the researcher receives comments on the grant application, and by the time the grant is revised and resubmitted, another few months may go by. Therefore, quite literally years may be spent just trying to secure funding–sometimes longer than the project itself would take.

Many agree that the process is a problem. What’s more contentious is how to fix it. Michael at Only in it for the gold sends a plea to science funding agencies for a different tactic besides the traditional proposal:

I want to do what I would do in a business setting. I want to look you in the eye and explain to you why you would be foolish not to fund my proposal; i.e.;

1) that you have a problem,
2) that I know how to solve it
3) that my team has or can find the right people to solve it
4) that those objections which make any sense are already accounted for in the plan

If I can’t look you in the eye, could we at least try instant messaging?

Comments on the post range from agreeable to Michael as “another well-meaning gullible innocent to the slaughter…” What’s your take on it?

Ever wanted to host a science TV show?

WIRED Science host Ziya Tong reveals how she ended up where she is today, and the secrets behind her success. Check out her post to see how spamming, melting make-up, Jane Goodall, and Michael Jackson have played into her career trajectory.

(And if you’ve not watched WIRED Science yet, tonight Ziya will have a segment on the business of disease and direct-to-consumer drug advertising, using the example of Restless Leg Syndrome).