Elsewhere on the Interweb (3/26/08)

Megan McArdle posts about the psychology that causes parents to associate their child illnesses with vaccines, but she also reminds us what we can look forward to if parents fail to vaccinate their children:

* Leg braces and iron lungs for people with polio (57,628 cases in 1952)

* Encephalitis and sterility for people with mumps (200,000 cases a year in the 1960s)

* Congenital rubella syndrome for children whose mothers contracted the illness during pregnancy.

* Blindness, pneumonia, encephalitis, and death--one per thousand--for people with measles (nearly 1 million cases a year in the US before vaccines).

* Encephalitis and pulmonary hypertension for people with whooping cough--thanks to people who don't vaccinate their kids, in 2001, 17 people, mostly infants, died of pertussis (200,000 cases in 1940).

* Cardiac arrest and paralysis for people with diptheria (207,000 cases and about 15,000 deaths in 1920).

Failing to vaccinate your kids is not an isolated immoral act (unless you live in the woods in some commune). It is a serious negative externality. This makes it in my opinion completely fair game for government intervention to ensure that all kids attending school are vaccinated. McArdle has more on the ethics here.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed, the gender gap in wages doesn't just depend on what field you're in; where you teach also matters:

Mr. Umbach chewed over data concerning nearly 8,000 faculty members at 472 four-year colleges and universities who were surveyed in 2003-4 by the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, a project of the National Center for Education Statistics. He used a "nested model" that attempted to isolate the effects of colleges' characteristics, scholarly disciplines' characteristics, and individual scholars' characteristics.

The bottom line: Mr. Umbach found that the salary gap is more strongly driven by women's concentration at certain institutions (public, master's-level institutions where faculty members tend to teach more sections and draw less outside research money) than by their concentration in certain disciplines, like education and anthropology.


Even after controlling for women's concentration in disciplines and institutions, Mr. Umbach found an unexplained salary gap between men and women -- the sort of gap that might be caused in part by sheer discrimination on the part of administrators -- of roughly 4.2 percent.

That gap is smaller than many other scholars have found, but Mr. Umbach stressed that it is not trivial. "That's roughly $3,200 per year, in this sample," he said.

Mr. Umbach makes a point that you have to consider where people work as well as discipline. I know a lot of young female researchers who are drawn to work at liberal arts colleges because those jobs are more conducive to family and having a life. However, they also pay less. This explains part of the wage gap.

On the other hand there is still an (albeit smaller) gap in wages even when factors like this are controlled for. This suggests a certain level of discrimination -- probably subconscious in my opinion -- and we need to address it as a continuing issue.

Researchers use Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) -- a way of following axons using an MRI -- to show that the arcuate fasciculus is larger and more diffuse in humans than in other primates. The arcuate fasciculus connects two important areas involved in language processing: Wernicke's area involved in speech comprehension and Broca's area involved in speech production. This suggests that changes in the arcuate fasciculus may have been important in the evolution of language:

To explore the evolution of human language, Yerkes researcher James Rilling, PhD, and his colleagues studied the arcuate fasciculus, a pathway that connects brain regions known to be involved in human language, such as Broca's area in the frontal lobe and Wernicke's area in the temporal lobe. Using DTI, researchers compared the size and trajectory of the arcuate fasciculus in humans, rhesus macaques and chimpanzees.

According to Rilling, "The human arcuate fasiculus differed from that of the rhesus macaques and chimpanzees in having a much larger and more widespread projection to areas in the middle temporal lobe, outside of the classical Wernicke's area. We know from previous functional imaging studies that the middle temporal lobe is involved with analyzing the meanings of words. In humans, it seems the brain not only evolved larger language regions but also a network of fibers to connect those regions, which supports humans superior language capabilities."

Mo has more on this paper here. I discuss the functions of Broca's and Wernicke's here.

Read the whole thing.

More like this

A comparative neuroimaging study performed by researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Oxford, provides clues to how human language evolved. In the past, it was believed that the increase in brain size during human evolution…
Yesterday I reviewed several detailed architectural asymmetries between the right and left hemispheres, but presented little information on asymmetries in long-range connectivity. Recent advances in a form of magnetic resonance imaging called "diffusion tensor MRI" have made possible whole-brain…
THINKING of and saying a word is something that most of us do effortlessly many times a day. This involves a number of steps - we must select the appropriate word, decide on the proper tense, and also pronounce it correctly. The neural computations underlying these tasks are highly complex, and…
The French anatomist, anthropologist, and surgeon Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) is best remembered for his descriptions of two patients who had lost the ability to speak after sustaining damage to the left frontal lobe of the brain. Broca's observations of these patients, and the conclusions he…

And again, I must step in to repeat, Thimerosal is NOT out of all vaccines except adult flu shots. It is still in the full amount in childrens flu shots. Doctors can order mercury free versions, but there is not enough to go around. --It is a very small amount of the total production of vaccine.

Chances are the flu shot at your doctor's office has mercury in it.
Also, once a child turns 7 and needs a tetnus shot, they are given the adult version which has 25 mcg of mercury in it.
And again, all shots still have trace amount of mercury from the manufacturing process.

Thimerosal was never tested, and was grandfathered in under new FDA regulations in the 1930's. Let me correct myself, it was tested twice. Once on adults who were already sick with TB, all test subjects died. And on some dogs... the scientist wrote back saying something to the effect of, "check your data b/c this stuff isn't fit for dogs"

And let's get something straight --b/c I get tired of people viewing parents like me with pity, or thinking that we are desperate for some cure --so much so that we go off the deep end. Those who know me know there is no grief, there is no desperation, and I spit on pity.

I am a mom, who knows how to read, who keeps up to date on autism and vaccines. The science is convincing, the link is biologically plausible and there is no other explanation.

I am however baffled that we stand on this line and look at two possible explainations for autism, and somehow when people accept the most probable theory they are seen as the "fringe". On one side we have the "Mysterious Enigma" theory. Oh that silly quirky autism! We will never know!!
Vs. a theory that is plausible, that is backed up by science and research. We have a neurological disorder in kids who were taxed with a neurotoxin as babies, kids who cannot excrete that neurotoxin b/c of cell metabolism issues.

--I cannot wrap my head around the fact that scientists are more willing to accept the mysterious enigma theory than to take a shot at the sacred cow that is vaccines.

But I am not pushing ideas that contradict extensive study. There has not been one study disproving the link. There are a lot of flawed studies that get pushed and spun as the "final word" on the link and then later are found to be in error --here for example, read this:

The probability of vaccines causing autism is, in my mind, Very Low.

But vaccines are also about game theory. For many infectious diseases, the more people around you that are vaccinated, the less necessary it is for you (or your child) to get a vaccine.

And injecting things like weakened variants of germs and mercury into a developing child is not a priori safe.

At some point the personal marginal risk you're taking will outweigh the personal marginal reward.

jenny, as a scientist in training, i can tell you that the reason scientists are not "taking a shot at the sacred cow that is vaccines" is because we (or at least some of us) have looked at the data in the field, and the majority of the data supports the conclusion that thimerosal does not cause neurological problems in the amounts given to children. i understand you see thimerosal, and you think mercury, and mercury is bad, but there really is a lot more to it. ive seen the data that suggests thimerosal may be the culprit in causing autism, and its quite weak. in fact the link that you gave is one of the weakest. anyway, i dont want to make this post longer than it already is, but going into it with an open mind (and it sounded plausible), i came to a conclusion that differs from you.

By scientist (not verified) on 27 Mar 2008 #permalink