Thursday, September 27, 2007

Body Size and Athletic Ability

According to an article in the on-line version of The New York Times today (“Bigger is Better, Except When It’s Not”), world-class rowers usually are big. Swimmers are tall. Distance runners are small and light. It’s all according to the rules of physics, exercise researchers say.

Previously I speculated that in a high-tech future world, children and their parents will be able to choose what sports the child is most likely to excel in based on hard scientific evidence (see the Directions in Science feature in Human Biology 5th ed., p. 132). Apparently some of the evidence is now known. But this does not mean that size, body form, and muscle biochemistry are all that matter. As the experience of Lance Armstrong has shown, good training and desire also count for something, too. Unless you aspire to be the best in the world, go out and do what you enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Artic Ice Loss Accelerates

The artic ice cap may be melting much faster than previously thought, according to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The scientists tested 20 different climate change computer models for their ability to replicate the sea ice conditions that actually existed between 1979 and 1999. After discarding the models that couldn’t accurately replicate the actual data, they used the remaining models to predict the artic ice melt to 2050. They report that the arctic ice cap may shrink by more than 40% by 2050, even if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels remain where they are today. But it's more likely that carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise, given our appetite for fossil fuels. The original article is published in the September 8 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

A major loss of arctic ice would be bad news not just for polar bears, but for marine ecosystems in general. The winners: oil and gas companies would be able to explore more of the arctic sea bed for new sources of oil and gas, and ships might be able to use northern shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific during the summer months.

Note added Sept. 28: The Oct. 1 issue of Time magazine has a cover story which discusses the political and economic implications of the loss of arctic ice due to global warming. Apparently, nations are rushing to lay claim to the land (and mineral resources) previously under the ice, and shipping companies are eagerly awaiting the time when the Northwest Passage is open, at least for some of the year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Twist on Steroid Use in Baseball

According to a report on CNN’s Sports Illustrated website ( this week, three major-league baseball players received shipments of banned performance-enhancing (anabolic) steroids over several years. The report cites records obtained from unnamed sources. Although Major League Baseball has asked to talk to the players, none of the three has yet tested positive for steroids.

Huh? Perhaps we’ll hear a variation of the old “I smoked but I didn’t inhale” defense - “I bought them, but I never used them…”.

Anti-doping experts believe that players may be escaping detection by using human growth hormone in conjunction with very small doses of performance-enhancing steroids such as testosterone. Although there is no reliable test for exogenous human growth hormone, its use is banned by Major League Baseball.

The use of anabolic steroids in sports is discussed in Human Biology, 5th ed., pp. 134-135.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Merck Avoids a Class-Action Lawsuit Over Vioxx

Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected a class-action lawsuit brought against Merck by a union health plan. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68 in Caldwell, N.J. was seeking a class-action lawsuit representing all of the insurance companies nationwide that had ever paid for Vioxx prescriptions as part of their health care plans. The court ruled that a single nationwide class-action lawsuit was not appropriate under the circumstances. Each insurance company will now have to sue Merck on their own (or not).

The ruling is a victory for Merck. However, Merck still faces an estimated 27,000 lawsuits from individual patients who claim that Vioxx causes strokes and heart attacks, and that the company knew it long before the drug was pulled from the market. Merck has vowed to fight each and every lawsuit one at a time. So far the strategy is working – Merck has won nine and lost five. At this rate, most of the patients will be dead from other causes long before they ever see a dime from Merck.

By the way, remember Mr. Leonell Garza, the 71-year-old man described in the Current Issue feature in Human Biology, 5th ed. (pp. 182-183) whose family was suing Merck for $1 billion in damages? A Texas jury awarded the family $32 million, but that had to be reduced to $7.75 million by Texas law. Merck is appealing. Stay tuned!