Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Basic mathematical ability appears to be innate

Those pesky genetics again! Note that the findings concern differences between Aboriginal groups, not black/white differences. Note also that once again culture is not found to be the explanation for ability differences that Leftists routinely claim. Leftists would have predicted that the more acculturated blacks would have done better. The finding of zero differences due to culture makes it very hard to assert that culture is the explanation for lower black average IQ. Mathematical ability is of course a major component of IQ

Basic mathematical ability appears to be innate, or hard-wired into the human brain, according to an international study. The research found that outback Aboriginal children with only a few number words in their language can still "count" just as well as English-speaking children.

The results of the joint study by University College London and Melbourne University, challenges notions that we need language in order to think and count. It also suggests that mathematical disabilities such as dyscalculia, the little known maths version of dyslexia, is a genetic or neurological disorder rather than a memory or language deficiency. The results have been published this week in the Washington-based journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study co-researcher Bob Reeve, associate professor at Melbourne University's School of Behaviourial Science, said the findings may have implications for early maths teaching as well as the early identification and treatment of dyscalculia. "The (teaching) language needs to support or focus on the more basic concepts and that may be slightly different to what is going on now," Professor Reeve told The Australian.

The study tested 45 indigenous children aged between four and seven years old. Researchers contrasted children of the Walpiri language group in the Central Desert and that of the Anindilyakwa language group on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria with a group of English-speaking indigenous children in Melbourne.

Using simple tasks with sticks, counters and play-dough, the study found that the outback children, despite having just three or four generic number words such as "one", "two" and "more than two", still demonstrated strong numeracy skills matching the English-speaking children in Melbourne. This contradict earlier results that found that some indigenous communities in the Amazon with similarly few number words in their language had difficulty with some basic mathematical tasks.

Professor Reeve said the Australian findings suggested that while language is needed for more complex mathematical tasks, humans nevertheless have an innate "starter kit" for mathematics that is likely in the genome. "Nobody is disputing the fact that you need language to build a more complicated set of ideas, but (language) isn't the starter kit," he said. "There is a clear basis on which children can build, but it isn't a linguistic basis."

One of the co-authors is UCL's Professor Brian Butterworth who has written about dyscalculia in his book The Mathematical Brain, and and has written a test to screen for the disorder. Studies have suggested that dyscalculia, in which sufferers are unable to carry out basic mental arithmetic without a calculator, could affect between 3.4 and 10 per cent of the population. "Whether we can remedy the situation (for dyscalculacs) by particular forms of instruction is interesting, but recognising the problem is the first point here," Professor Reeve said.


Breast cancer hope as brittle bone drug gets clinical trial in UK

A treatment for brittle bones can have a dramatic effect on breast cancer when combined with chemotherapy, research has shown. Scientists found that the two drugs acted together to slow down the growth of tumours. In mice given the therapy, growing breast tumours were almost stopped in their tracks.

A clinical trial is under way in the UK that could lead to the treatment becoming widely available to patients. Since both drugs are already well established, and need only the terms of their use to be changed, this may not take long, the researchers suggest. The therapy involves the breast cancer chemotherapy agent doxorubicin and the bisphosphonate drug zoledronic acid.

In the mouse study, doxorubicin was given first, followed 24 hours later by zoledronic acid. When the order was reversed, or the drugs administered on their own, the treatment had little effect. The scientists said that the chemotherapy drug appeared to "prime" the tumour and make it sensitive to the bisphosphonate. Tests showed that the treatment triggered a "suicide" response known as apoptosis in the cancer cells, causing them to self-destruct. It also blocked angiogenesis, the process by which blood vessels are created that fuel tumours with oxygen and nutrients.

The researchers, from the University of Sheffield and the University of Kuopio in Finland, published their findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Bisphosphonates are normally used to prevent bone thinning in patients with osteoporosis. They also protect bones from the destructive effects of tumours. For this reason they are sometimes given to men with prostate cancer, which has a habit of spreading to the bones. The new study showed that zoledronic acid can have a powerful direct effect on breast cancer without any bone involvement.

The results of the clinical trial, led by Professor Robert Coleman, of the University of Sheffield, should be known this year.


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