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November 3, 2014 Archives

I came across this story on Science's 'science sifter' page:

The next CEO of Australia’s leading research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), is in hot water after suggesting the cash-strapped organization spend scarce research dollars investigating water divining, or dowsing.

The editors at Science do have a sense of humour & my first thought was to check the date, but no, the story didn't break April 1st. 

Before any science funders start spending their scarce funds on this particular brand of woo (for dowsing is not based on any known physical principles), those making the funding decisions might be best considering the fact that it doesn't stack up in controlled conditions. First up, James Randi (in Australia) - and note that those participating all agreed to the methods used before the test began.

Richard Dawkins did something similar, & again, those taking part agreed to the methods before beginning (which makes the special pleading in the comments thread rather amusing)

I feel a facepalm coming on.

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One of the topics we cover in first-year biology is human blood groups - it's discussed during genetics classes & also touched on when looking at how immune systems function. I give the genetics classes and, being a regular blood donor myself, thought I knew a bit about at least the common blood groups and their inheritance. But there's always more to learn, something I was reminded of when I read a fascinating story about people with truly rare blood types: "The man with the golden blood"

There's 'Thomas', for example: a man who lacks the Rhesus markers completely & so is classified as Rhnull  - in 2010 he was one of an exclusive global club of 43 individuals (of whom only 6 regularly donate their blood). And James, who is 'Lutheran b negative', and one of only 550 active donors for this blood type.

This makes known donors precious, in that if someone else with the same group needs a blood transfusion, there are very very few people around the globe who might be able to help them. And helping comes at a cost to the donors, for - as the story tells us - it's actually easier in many cases to move people across borders than it is to move blood, but because many countries don't pay donors, then that movement may well be at the donor's expense. It's also difficult for people like 'Thomas', with his vanishingly rare blood group: his blood can be used by anyone who's Rhesus negative, but he can receive blood only from another Rhnull person, which means he has to be reasonably careful not to put himself in harm's way (although he does still go skiing!).

Quite an eye-opener - and a tale I'll be including in next year's class.

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