You can’t sacrifice a taxi driver

This is what I have decided that the programme I have been working on this week should be called. It is about brain plasticity; in particular the mysterious phenomenon of adult human neurogenesis. For obvious reasons, this is easier to study in rats, marmosets, and other creatures which can be killed when you want to find out what has been going on in their brains. By a rough count — and all my mental operations are rough right now — my producer1 and I have been travelling a thousand miles a day for the last seven days in search of enlightenment.

It turns out of course that we were completely wrong in the idea we started with, which is normal, natural, and the sign of a worthwhile story, except when one of you has sold it on the basis of the the story you first thought of. Still, that’s showbiz.

One answer would be to go ahead and make the programme we first thought of. I suspect something like that is what led to the story which two people have drawn to my attention already, about hamsters getting their jetlag cured by viagra. OK, so I have the following symptoms right now: an intermittent migraine, an upset stomach, sudden nosebleeds, and an inability either to sleep or to wake up properly. How, exactly, would my life be improved by an attack of priapism? Especially if it came on while I was queueing at immigration?

Besides, I can’t help wondering what would happen to a priapic hamster who got himself caught in the exercise wheel …

Anyway, the serious point is that you really can’t and shouldn’t extrapolate from rodents too much. As Liz Gould, at Princeton, said, the normal environment for a laboratory rat is so profoundly dull and unstimulating that we have no idea whether it is the exercise that perks them up, or simply the pleasure of a new activity. Besides — not that anyone could say this on the campus at Princeton — the thought occurs that if exercise makes you smart, how come there are athletic scholarships?

But to give an idea of the kind of thing underlying these results, if you want to measure how depressed a rat is, one standard test is simply to throw it into a basin of water and time how long it struggles for. This is not really an entirely convincing analogue of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ fathomless deeps.

1 Louise, sometime of these comment pages.

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8 Responses to You can’t sacrifice a taxi driver

  1. Since Princeton is an Ivy League school it’s very unlikely it offers athletic scholarships. It’s my understanding that none of the Ivy Leagues do.


  2. rr says:

    Interesting that you concluded you’d get a raging hard-on. The article mentions that the dose required to recover more quickly from jetlag does not “cause penile erections”. But yes, also that extrapolating directly from hamsters (why not guinea pigs?) to humans is not a good idea.

  3. Wendy is right, but many of the Ivies favour athletes in their admissions decisions.

  4. Rupert says:

    However, it most certainly was possible to be very non-academic and get into Cambridge with a choral scholarship – which, as far as I can tell, is or was an exact equivalent to an athletics scholarship in purpose, method and effect. My direct evidence of this dates from the 50s, so I don’t know whether it’s still true. But I’d be surprised if nothing of the sort still existed.


  5. acb says:

    rr: yes, but since the whole damn story is bogus, I don’t see why I should pretend to take it seriously.

  6. Andrew, totally off topic, your latest CT column is as amusing as ever but just to clarify, no ‘letters of apology’ have been written to the Blairs, the Cardinal or Father Michael Seed, and nor will they be. Unlike you to make a mistake!

  7. Ruth Gledhill says:

    Ha ha! It was indeed unlike you to make a mistake. Having been encouraged by you to read the column to the end before firing off my missive, I see it was written by someone else, Joe Jenkins. Sorry Andrew! Ruth

  8. acb says:

    Huh? I didn’t write anything for the CT this week, and still haven’t seen what my stand-in wrote.

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