A simple vitamin supplement in a pregnant mouse’s diet can make her offspring fatter, according to research presented on 1 June at the Human Genome Organisation meeting in Helsinki, Finland. The effect is thought to be due to chemical changes made to the mother’s DNA, which can be passed down the generations.

This is an extremely important discussion. The mice were given folic acid, in doses similar to what pregnant mothers are told to take. The supplement has the effect of changing the colour of the offspring’s coats, but it also makes them obese, and there is a cumulative effect through subsequent generations. The question then is: Do vitamins and supplements such as folic acid have strong genetic effects in humans, and are they similar to those observed in mice.


The Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles this week about the toxicity of many of the components of modern stuff. As a chemist and science teacher, I’m typically very sceptical of the way reporters talk about all things science, and I am usually extremely wary when the scare factor is high, like in this case. That being said, this series seems to be pretty solid.

As a chemist, this is something I have been concerned about for some time. The issue is that most of the compounds that are introduced into our environment has undergone little or no testing for health related problems. As we surround ourselves with more and more synthetic stuff, from electronic gadgets to stain-resistant pants (very good when you hold a barfing baby alot), we are exposing ourselves to more and more compounds that have noxious long terms effect.

The Philosopher Dad will be taking a long hard look at these articles, and others, in order to help you understand what the safest thing for your family is.

While having an infant at home doesn’t necessarily leave too much time for social activism (at least not early on), having a child has only reinforced my desire to be more environmentally and politically aware. Before, my worries for the future were more abstract since I didn’t have a clear stake. Now, I do.
This article from Wired News got me thinking this morning.

I was in high school then. I quit the baseball team because, frankly, sports seemed frivolous. In 1968, there were more important things to worry about than perfecting a curveball. All very high-minded and, in retrospect, more than a little pompous. But nearly 40 years down the road I don’t regret having done it. My political consciousness was awakened and I was actively engaged in the world around me.
But as bad as things were then, they seem infinitely worse now.

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Corporal Punishement

May 26, 2006

The Chrisitian/Protestant fundamentalist movement is not particularly vocal here in Canada (and even less in Quebec) so debates like this are not so common. I think, however that this is something that deserves a great deal of attention and discussion. Here’s some reading to get us going.
Spare the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, spoil the child: “Saying no to ‘timeouts,’ some fundamentalist Christians ‘train up’ their children by carefully hitting them with switches, PVC pipes and other ‘chastening instruments.'”

Light-to-moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure Can Lead To Cognitive Deficits 10 Years Later: “Although deficits in measures of intelligence are well documented among children exposed to high amounts of alcohol during pregnancy, deficits among children prenatally exposed to low-to-moderate amounts of alcohol are much less understood. A study in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that even light to moderate drinking — especially during the second trimester — is associated with lower IQs in offspring at 10 years of age.”

Life’s Harsh Lessons ‘Make You More Gullible’: “People who have suffered life’s hard knocks while growing up tend to be more gullible than those who have been more sheltered, startling new findings from the University of Leicester reveal.”

Here Comes The Sun: New Solutions For World’s Energy Woes: “The number is staggering: Approximately 2 billion of the world’s people — nearly one-third of the human population — have no access to electricity. One Florida State University researcher is working to break that cycle through the development of new energy technologies that are easy to install, environmentally sound and — perhaps most importantly — inexpensive to produce.”

The idea here is to have small scale – even home sized- generators, say on the scale of 5 kW. Instead of converting light directly to electricity using solar panels, the concept involves converting solar energy into heat, which is much easier, and using the heat to drive a high-efficiency steam turbine. While the primary goal is to produce these for developing nations, there is an important place for these in North America and Europe. The question is, while the big power companies (state run or private) let this happen?