Random Samples

Science  10 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5924, pp. 155
  1. THE URGE TO LIFT

    CREDIT: SIMON MARCUS/CORBIS

    For compulsive shoplifters, covertly pinching a lipstick or a blouse brings a rush “similar to a cocaine or heroin high,” says Jon Grant, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis. That's why some psychiatrists prescribe naltrexone, a drug used to treat addicts, for the problem.

    Naltrexone blocks the same brain receptors used by opioids, but there's little published evidence about its effectiveness in treating kleptomania. Now, in the April issue of Biological Psychiatry, Grant and colleagues report the first placebo-controlled trial of any drug against the disorder.

    Subjects were 25 kleptomaniacs aged 17 to 65, 18 of them women. Almost all had been arrested for shoplifting at least once. For 8 weeks, half were given naltrexone daily and the rest a placebo. “Two-thirds of those on naltrexone had complete remission of their symptoms,” says Grant. Psychiatrist Samuel Chamberlain of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. says the results “suggest that the brain circuits involved in compulsive stealing overlap with those involved in addictions more broadly.” Grant hopes to get funding for a larger study.

  2. GRAD STUDENT SENTENCED

    As a graduate student in anthropology at Stony Brook University in New York since 2006, Ian Wallace has done fieldwork in Kenya with Meave Leakey and published at least five papers. But he also has a past that's come back to haunt him.

    In 2001, Wallace and an accomplice in the radical environmental group Earth Liberation Front (ELF) tried—unsuccessfully—to firebomb two buildings at Michigan Technological University where scientists were doing research on genetically modified plants.

    On 23 March, a federal judge sentenced Wallace, 27, to 3 years in prison after he pleaded guilty and admitted to participating in several other acts of ecoterrorism that caused more than $1.6 million in property damage.

    Wallace faced a maximum sentence of 10 years but apparently received consideration for helping authorities solve a 2000 ELF attack that damaged 500 research trees in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. In a brief e-mail to Science, Wallace said, “My future plans are still taking shape, but this experience has not altered my dreams of receiving a Ph.D. and pursuing a career in science.” His graduate adviser, Brigitte Demes, is standing by him. “He is an extremely talented young man and has great promise,” she says. “He has turned his life around.”

  3. OLD AGE NOT FOR PESSIMISTS

    Having negative ideas about old people may harm your own health later in life, a longitudinal study suggests.

    Yale University social psychologist Becca Levy and colleagues at the National Institute on Aging analyzed data from 386 subjects in the long-running Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. On joining the study, the participants—healthy adults under 50—filled out a questionnaire that asked about “stereotypes” such as whether old people are “absent-minded” or “less intelligent.”

    The researchers found that people with worse-than-average age stereotypes were likely to have heart attacks or strokes at younger ages. For example, 30 years after filling out the form, 25% of those with negative attitudes had had a cardiovascular event, compared with 13% of those with positive attitudes (see graph), the researchers reported last month online in the journal Psychological Science. Levy believes, on the basis of earlier research, that people with negative age stereotypes are also more susceptible to stress.

    CREDIT: B. LEVY ET AL., PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE 20, 3 (2009)

    “What's unique about [this study] is that they show the effects of attitudes at relatively young ages on health many years later,” says David Weir, director of the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Because the analysis controls for the effects of depression, “in theory, their finding is of something more specific than just ‘general negativity,’ “Weir says. It remains to be seen, he adds, whether the finding will hold up in a larger sample.

  4. BIG TEETH, TINY BRAIN

    Rebecca Meah of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City works on a reconstruction of the Coryphodon, a bog wader that lived above the Arctic Circle 50 million years ago. It will form part of a diorama recreating the warm, humid environment of Ellesmere Island, Canada's northernmost tip, to be featured in an exhibit on “Extreme Mammals” opening 23 May. The meter-tall creature had short tusks that helped it uproot swamp plants. One of the extreme things about Coryphodon was that it had one of the smallest brains for its size of any mammal.

    CREDIT: RODERICK MICKENS/AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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